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AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES: ANGELS VS. MINNESOTA

It's Wrong Start at Wrong Time for Twins' Jones

Baseball: Leadoff man struggles with no hits in first nine at-bats against Angels, including the final out in Game 2.

October 10, 2002|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MINNEAPOLIS — Jacque Jones is fighting himself as well as the Angels, and that's one opponent too many in the American League championship series.

The Minnesota Twin leadoff batter hasn't had much fun recently, and things didn't get easier for Jones and his teammates Wednesday night in a 6-3 loss in Game 2 before 55,990 at the Metrodome.

The largest, and one of the loudest, crowds in franchise history watched in disappointment as the Angels evened the best-of-seven series, and another bad experience for Jones was good for the Angels.

He was hitless in five at-bats, striking out twice, ending the game swinging and missing against Angel closer Troy Percival. The Twins outhit the Angels, 11-10, chased starter Ramon Ortiz in the sixth and applied pressure until Manager Mike Scioscia summoned Percival with two out and runners on the corners in the eighth.

Pinch-hitter Bobby Kielty struck out looking and Percival worked a 1-2-3 ninth, completing the victory against the Twins' suddenly struggling sparkplug.

"I'm just not hitting," said Jones, a former USC standout. "It's just not happening."

That's for sure.

Jones failed to get a hit in nine at-bats during the first two games at the Metrodome. Including the division series, he is hitless in his last 15 at-bats, batting .172 overall in the postseason with a .226 on-base percentage.

"The problem with Jacque is some of their pitchers are really throwing good right now," Minnesota Manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We're having some guys struggle a little bit. Jacque is getting after it. He's missing some pitches right now."

His teammates have noticed.

"Some guys talk to him; try to tell him to just calm down," Twin center fielder Torii Hunter said. "But Jacque knows how to play. He hit .300 during the season, so he's going to get out of it, and he's still helping us."

The left fielder has left his problems at the plate, continuing to provide the Twins with solid defense. But the four-year veteran is much more than a defensive specialist, having batted .300 with 27 home runs, 37 doubles, 85 runs batted in and 96 runs during the season.

Jones, not the type to over-analyze things, said he doesn't feel increased pressure to get the offense going in the AL championship series. And he's not going to change his approach now.

"All I can do is just go out and swing," the San Diego native said. "I'm not going to stop swinging because I've been doing it all year.

"Some days it's going to happen, some days it's not. But I'm not going to stop going out playing and swinging. Whatever happens, happens."

That's the attitude, the Twins said.

"He'll be fine," designated hitter David Ortiz said. "The same way people might be looking at Jacque right now is the way they were looking at me [in the division series against Oakland]. I had eight at-bats and I didn't get any hits ... everybody was asking about me. But you know Jacque can come out at any time and get two, three, four hits.

"And you've got to know that this is the playoffs and pitchers don't make mistakes as much. People sometimes need to chill when they watch [the] playoffs because [the] playoffs [are] not like the season. The season ... it's a little bit different. Pitching is a little bit different now.

"Pitchers know Jacque can hit the ball out of the ballpark, so they don't want to make mistakes against him. That's why Jacque just has to keep playing. Jacque just keeps doing what he's doing and he'll be OK."

Gardenhire says he's sticking with the left-handed batter against Angel left-hander Jarrod Washburn in Game 3 at Edison Field.

"I won't take him out against Washburn," Gardenhire said. "He's our left fielder. He plays very well out there. He'll get some hits.

"Jacque has been there all year for us. I don't think you give up on our guys right now."

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