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Gonzalez KOs Angels With a Low Blow, 6-5

April 27, 2001|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CLEVELAND — It's a good thing Angel reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa didn't throw a waist-high fastball down the middle and Cleveland cleanup batter Juan Gonzalez didn't swing with both hands and hit it with all his might, because the ball might have wound up in Lake Erie.

As it was, Hasegawa threw his "best pitch," a 1-and-2 slider down and away that even the best of hitters would have missed or tapped for a weak grounder.

But Gonzalez reached out for the shin-high offering and golfed a high fly ball that cleared the left-field wall by about two feet, a solo home run that lifted the Indians to a 6-5 victory over the Angels Thursday night before 29,427 in Jacobs Field.

"It was crazy," Gonzalez said. "It was a slider down and away, I reached out, got it with one hand, the ball goes out, we win."

That simple. Gonzalez, as the Angels were reminded Thursday night, is one of baseball's best bad-ball hitters. He's also one of baseball's best good-ball hitters, but he continually amazes with his ability to get the most out of pitches others can do nothing with.

"Half of the homers he's hit off me have been [on pitches] farther outside than that one," said Angel starter Pat Rapp, who gave up five runs in the first inning but blanked the Indians for the next five. "I've thrown him stuff a foot off the plate, and he can reach it.

"You can throw a good pitch in the dirt, he can golf it out of the park, and it doesn't even look like he swings, it's like he just makes contact. Maybe his wood is better, I don't know."

Gonzalez's shot pushed the Angels nine games behind Seattle in the American League West and spoiled a breakout night by Angel right fielder Tim Salmon, who had a double, a home run and four runs batted in after going eight for 47 with three RBIs in his previous 14 games.

Salmon's two-run homer in the third was his fourth home run in four games against former teammate Chuck Finley, the Indian starter who gave up five runs--three earned--on five hits in seven innings, striking out seven.

"I can't explain it--sometimes the real good pitchers bring out the best in you," said Salmon, who is seven for 11 against Finley. "Playing behind him all those years, I saw how tough he is, and maybe I'm more up for him, knowing you have to be on top of your game to hit him."

The Angels were not on top of their game for much of Thursday night, though.

Salmon's error on Russell Branyan's blistering line drive in the first led to an unearned run, Jose Fernandez was picked off first after opening the seventh inning of a 5-5 game with a walk, and Orlando Palmeiro popped up a bunt after Troy Glaus opened the ninth with a single. Scott Spiezio then grounded into a game-ending double play.

"You can't take one play like Orlando's bunt, Shige's pitch, Salmon's error and Fernandez's pickoff and say that lost the game," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. "But you can't open the door for them by making mistakes."

Rapp made plenty of mistakes in the first and was unable to protect a 3-0 lead the Angels forged in the top half of the inning on Salmon's two-run double and Glaus' sacrifice fly.

Gonzalez followed walks to Lofton and Roberto Alomar with an RBI single to center, Jim Thome lined an RBI double to left, and Ellis Burks' sacrifice fly made it 3-3.

Marty Cordova's RBI single to left made it 4-3, and Branyan's sinking liner bounced off the heel of Salmon's glove for an error. Eddie Taubensee capped the rally with an RBI single to right, making it 5-3.

The Angels tied it, 5-5, in the third when Darin Erstad singled and Salmon pounded a 436-foot home run to center. But Finley retired the next 12 batters, including Benji Gil on a rare Finley highlight-reel play to end the fourth.

Gil smashed a one-hopper to the mound and Finley, the momentum of his follow-through turning him toward third base, swung his glove hand around his back. With his head facing center field, Finley made a no-look catch of the ball and threw to first.

"I don't know how that ball found his glove," Scioscia said.

Probably the same way Hasegawa's pitch found Gonzalez's bat.

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