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Angel Loss Speaks for Itself

Baseball: Metrodome overhang stops Vaughn's drive in 1-0 defeat.

September 18, 2000|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MINNEAPOLIS — Angel batting instructor Mickey Hatcher was asked how far Mo Vaughn's sixth-inning drive would have traveled Sunday had it not been rudely interrupted by a speaker hanging down from the Metrodome roof.

"Shoot, man," Hatcher said. "That ball would have hit Kirby Puckett right in the head."

Puckett, of course, no longer plays in the outfield for the Minnesota Twins. Hatcher was referring to the giant banner of Puckett that is draped from the top of the upper deck in right field.

Vaughn would have needed to hit a ball well over 450 feet to reach Puckett's head, and in this case, Hatcher wasn't exaggerating. The Angel first baseman hit an absolute bomb to right-center, but the ball hit a speaker about 150 feet above the playing surface and dropped in right field.

Instead of a two-run home run, Vaughn wound up with a no-run single, and instead of a victory that would have kept them on pace in the division and wild-card races, the Angels wound up with a devastating 1-0 loss to the Twins before a crowd of 7,231.

Minnesota right-hander and Angel nemesis Brad Radke went the distance on an eight-hitter to improve his career record against the Angels to 10-4 with a 1.69 earned-run average and drop the Angels seven games behind Seattle in the American League West and five behind Cleveland for the wild card with 13 games remaining.

Radke outdueled Angel right-hander Tim Belcher, who was superb in defeat, giving up one run and five hits in eight innings, and the Twins' ace got three huge breaks when Garret Anderson and Tim Salmon ran into key outs on the basepaths and Vaughn's drive ran into the speaker.

That marked only the second time in the Metrodome's 18-year history a ball has hit a speaker--former Twin Chili Davis hit one on July 5, 1992, and the ball was caught by Baltimore second baseman Mark McLemore for an out.

"We got beat by a good pitcher and maybe a bad ground rule," Belcher said. "We can put a man on the moon; there ought to be a scientist who can figure out that if you hit that speaker, that one or that one, it's a home run, and if you hit this one or this one, it's not."

Metrodome ground rules--unlike those in Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field, where balls that hit two of the four catwalks circling the roof are home runs--dictate that a ball that hits a speaker is live and in play wherever it drops.

"It should be a home run," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Can you imagine any ball off those speakers not being a home run? The speakers are over the field of play, but they're so far out that any ball, no matter the trajectory, to hit off them would be a homer in any park."

Vaughn said he couldn't imagine hitting a ball any harder, but he did not feel robbed.

"That's the way it is, and that's why this is the greatest game in the world, because different things happen in different parks," Vaughn said. "All I can do is swing the bat. I can't guide where it's going to go. It's just a long single."

Trailing, 1-0, Orlando Palmeiro had reached on a fielder's choice in the sixth when Vaughn stepped to the plate. The second the ball came off Vaughn's bat, Scioscia had one thought: "We're winning, 2-1," he said. "I was looking up in the stands to see where it was going to land. I didn't even see it hit the speaker."

Vaughn stopped at first and Palmeiro reached third, but Salmon popped to first and Anderson hit a fly to right, extending the Angels' afternoon of exasperation.

After Cristian Guzman's infield single and Luis Rivas' RBI triple gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead in the first, the Angels loaded the bases with no outs in the second.

But Adam Kennedy struck out, and Anderson ran right through third base coach Ron Roenicke's stop sign on Kevin Stocker's fly ball to right and was thrown out at the plate by outfielder John Barnes to end the inning.

Roenicke was about halfway down the line when Anderson tagged and was so close to the runner when he thrust both arms into the air that it appeared Anderson could have high-fived Roenicke on the way home. But Anderson said he didn't see the sign, and it was too late to turn around.

Salmon led off the fourth with a double and tried to take third on Anderson's fly ball to center. But Twins outfielder Torii Hunter gunned down Salmon with a perfect throw to complete another double play.

After Vaughn's un-homer in the sixth, Troy Glaus doubled to lead off the seventh. But Matt Walbeck, after fouling off one bunt attempt, struck out, Kennedy grounded out and Stocker popped up to end the inning.

"Radke was like Houdini out there, the way he was getting out of jams," Belcher said. "He's really fun to watch . . . until he beats you."

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