Darin Erstad has reestablished himself as one of baseball's top young players after struggling last season.
Just ask the Dodgers.
The Angel outfielder had another show-stopping performance Friday night in a 5-3 interleague victory against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.
Erstad hit a go-ahead, two-run home run in the seventh inning against Dodger starter Kevin Brown, and then helped preserve the victory defensively in the ninth. With no outs and a runner on first, Erstad robbed Paul LoDuca of an extra-base hit with a sliding catch after moving from left to center.
His overall performance overshadowed Gary Sheffield's fifth multi-homer game--Nos. 29 and 30--of the season, and helped the Angels win the second game of the three-game series before a sellout crowd of 53,115.
Sheffield hit 30 homers faster than any player in franchise history.
Mike Piazza previously reached the mark fastest in Los Angeles, hitting his 30th Aug. 17, 1996 against the Montreal Expos. Duke Snider set the mark in Brooklyn, accomplishing the feat July 16, 1955 against the Cincinnati Reds.
Brown (8-3) was forced to leave the game in the eighth inning because of what was diagnosed as mild muscle strain in his right shoulder, adding to the bad news for the Dodgers.
Manager Davey Johnson said pitching coach Claude Osteen told him Brown has been experiencing discomfort more than a week, though he only learned about the situation after Brown left the game. Brown will be reevaluated today.
The news was much better for the Angels.
Starter Kent Bottenfield (6-7) gave up three runs in seven strong innings. Troy Glaus homered for the second time in as many days against the Dodgers, and Troy Percival got his 21st save when Shawn Green bounced into a game-ending double play.
They all played key roles--but Erstad was the Angels' leading man again.
"He's a great player," Dodger first baseman Eric Karros said. "Two years ago, they were talking about him being an MVP candidate year in and year out, then he had that subpar season a year ago.
"But he single-handedly beat us tonight with the homer off of Brownie, and then that catch in center. I don't think anybody else on their team could have made that catch."
Said Angel Manager Mike Scioscia: "There's really nothing this guy hasn't done this year."
Alex Cora walked in the ninth and LoDuca represented the potential tying run. On a 1-1 pitch, LoDuca hit a sinking line drive to right-center and Erstad, who started the game in left field, made a spectacular catch after moving from left in the eighth.
"This guy has got to be close to a league MVP," said Bottenfield, who outdueled his more celebrated counterpart despite giving up Sheffield's two homers. "He doesn't hit 50 home runs or drive in 150, but the things he does for our team. He's all over the field getting everything."
He's pretty good at the plate too, but he's not cocky. Asked about maintaining his first-half pace, he replied: "You're talking to a guy who hit .253 last year. You're talking to a guy who stunk in the second halves of the last two seasons. You talk about maintaining a pace?"
The Dodgers staked Brown to a 3-1 lead in the sixth on LoDuca's sacrifice fly. Leadoff batter Cora tripled with one out and jogged to the plate on LoDuca's deep fly to right.
Brown doesn't squander many late-inning, two-run leads. But Friday wasn't a typical outing for Brown.
Glaus led off the seventh with his 27th homer. Brown retired the next two batters and only needed to retire Bottenfield to get out of the inning.
But Bottenfield singled to right for the second time to extend the inning, and Erstad crushed a 1-1 pitch, sending it off the back wall in the visitors' bullpen in right for his 18th homer.
The stunned Dodger fans sat in silence, and the Angel portion of the crowd celebrated the rare occurrence. Brown last gave up two homers in an inning June 15 last season against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"Against a guy of his caliber . . . you can't cover the whole plate with his movement and his variety of pitches," said Erstad, batting .383 this season after hitting .253 last season. "I guess I guessed right in the right situation and took advantage."
Brown threw one pitch to Mo Vaughn to start the eighth and then put up his arms in disgust. Johnson and trainers Stan Johnston and Matt Wilson rushed to the mound, and Brown also was encircled by teammates.
Wilson escorted Brown off the field after a shaky outing for him. He gave up two homers among nine hits and worked with runners on base in every inning except the third and sixth.
Catcher LoDuca helped his batterymate by throwing out two runners attempting to steal.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The Angels lead the 2000 interleague series with the Dodgers, 3-2. The Dodgers lead the four-year series, 11-8:
Angels 5, Dodgers 2
Dodgers 8, Angels 3
Angels 8, Dodgers 7
Dodgers 4, Angels 3
Angels 5, Dodgers 3
Davey Johnson knows the score. He knows that if the Dodgers don't play better in the second half, regardless of injuries and suspensions, he's probably gone. Page 6
The Angel pitcher, besides a strong outing on the mound, sets up his team's victory with a clutch two-out hit in the seventh inning off Kevin Brown. Page 6