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BASEBALL PLUS

King Fish

Salmon Climbs Humbly to Top of Angel Home Run List

August 13, 2000|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tim Salmon stood on two good feet. His swing was not only sweet but pain free.

He hammered a 3-2 pitch against the Boston Red Sox Wednesday, the ball landing deep in the Angel bullpen. He had just tied Brian Downing as the team's all-time leading home run hitter.

An extended fireworks show was set off at Edison Field. Angel fans cheered, and continued to cheer while the Red Sox made a pitching change. Salmon remained in the dugout until, finally, he was nudged out by teammates and gave an ah-shucks wave.

"I only tied it," Salmon said with a smile before Friday's game. "I saw them do the fireworks and went, 'Oh man.' You kind of expect that if you break it. But I just tied it, so I wasn't going to do anything.

"The fans were standing and the guys were going, 'Hey they want you.' I saw people were looking in the dugout and I had to acknowledge that. But I'm not comfortable doing things like that. I kind of had to be pushed out there."

Few players find gut-wrenching agony in such blissful moments. But that is Salmon. He has weathered two injury-plagued seasons. He survived the turmoil of last season and suffered through the uncertainty of the off-season.

Salmon is back on his game. The Angels have played better than expected, and even speak to one another. Thoughts of leaving have dissipated.

All Salmon has to stress about these days are curtain calls--not cat calls--from fans.

"I don't know why I feel embarrassed by it," he said.

Salmon has time to work it out. Everything else seems to be going smoothly.

He had a career-high 17-game hitting streak (it ended Friday) that raised his average from .262 to .296 in a little more than two weeks. In that time, he had eight home runs, giving him 222 in seven-plus seasons with the Angels.

Of course, whether he would be around to add to his Angel totals was something Salmon wondered during the off-season, sometimes publicly.

When long-time Angel pitcher Chuck Finley was allowed to leave as a free agent during the winter, Salmon took it hard. He said, "loyalty was not a word I use with the Angels now." He said he wasn't being critical, just realistic.

Business was business.

There was talk that Salmon would play out his contract, which runs through the 2001 season, then sign with Arizona. He lives in Scottsdale during the off-season. The Diamondbacks reportedly inquired about Salmon before the trading deadline.

"There was a lot of hype and speculation with the new management coming in and what they would do," Salmon said. "The situation has changed. We realized that [General Manager] Bill Stoneman was not going to get rid of guys because someone said to get rid of them. He's going to make decisions based on a lot of thought and a lot of instinct.

"With all the doom and gloom talk by the media and others, and everyone talking about getting rid of guys, it was very easy for a veteran to look around and say, 'Maybe I'm the guy to go.' At this point in the season, that's not the kind of thinking that's going on. I don't know what they're going to do with me at the end of next year. But at the same time, I do know that the grass isn't always greener and I'm happy and comfortable here.

"All I want to do is be on a team that has a chance to win."

I look at the club now and can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

This time it might not be an oncoming train.

Salmon has remained healthy this season, at least until leaving Saturday night's game because of tightness in his groin. Considering what he went through the last two seasons, this latest injury seems no more than a speed bump.

In 1998, he suffered a torn ligament in his left foot, which limited him to designated hitter duties. Still, he played 136 games, hitting .300 with 26 home runs and 88 runs batted in.

Last season, he got off to a rare fast start. By the end of April, Salmon was hitting .349 with seven home runs. But on May 3, he injured his left wrist while trying to make a diving catch and missed 62 games.

He hit .266 with 17 home runs and 69 RBIs in 98 games.

"There was no doubt that this year was going to be a success, regardless of what I did statistically, if I just played the whole year," Salmon said. "So far, it has been a success."

Well, Salmon's success has gone beyond merely being a warm body in the lineup, especially lately.

He hit .453 during his 17-game hitting streak.

"Tim is one of those guys that when he gets hot, he gets sizzling hot," left fielder Darin Erstad said. "He has the ability to carry a team for quite a while. That's a nice guy to have around."

It's also nice to have other guys around. The Angels have five players with 19 or more home runs. Salmon has 26 and has driven in 70 runs.

"We're all healthy this season," Salmon said. "I think we're showing what we're capable of doing. That's been our redemption."

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