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AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Angels Need Him, so Anderson Dives Right in

October 12, 2002|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Maybe it was the emotion of a tense playoff game or the fevered pitch of a Thunder Stix-wielding crowd of 44,234 in Edison Field, but something swept Angel left fielder Garret Anderson off his feet Friday night.

The result was something so out of character, so out of the ordinary, so remarkable, that center fielder Darin Erstad said he "almost did a cartwheel out there," and the usually stoic Anderson actually broke into a grin as wide as the left-center field gap.

After ending an 0-for-8 American League championship series drought with a solo home run off Eric Milton in the second inning, Anderson, who is about as foreign to grass stains as Erstad and shortstop David Eckstein are to clean uniforms, made a lunging, diving shoe-string catch of A.J. Pierzynski's flare for the last out in the Angels' 2-1 Game 3 victory over the Minnesota Twins.

"G.A. leaving his feet like that--wow, you don't see that very often," said Angel right fielder Tim Salmon, an eight-year teammate of Anderson's. "But these kinds of games bring out the best in you. This time of year, you're going to see guys do things differently. That was a great reaction, a great play."

Anderson will receive strong consideration for AL most valuable player honors this season after hitting .306 with 29 home runs and 123 runs batted in, and he has been the Angels' most consistent run-producer for the last three or four seasons.

But he has never won a Gold Glove Award, he rarely shows up on ESPN's web gem segment, and Angel bench coach Joe Maddon, who has worked with Anderson at the minor league and big league levels, doesn't understand why.

"G.A. is probably the best left fielder in the game, and people don't know that," Maddon said. "Why? Because he doesn't get dirty. He doesn't dive around. That's not a rap. He stays on his feet because he positions himself so well, and he studies hitters so much, so why should he [dive]?"

Case in point: With a 1-and-2 count in the ninth inning on Pierzynski, a left-handed hitter with a reputation for opposite-field bloop hits, Anderson took a few steps in from his already shallow position.

"He cheated in a bit," Maddon said, "and no one told him to do so."

Those few extra steps before the pitch were the difference between a highlight-reel catch and a two-out single and a potential rally against Angel closer Troy Percival, who retired the side in order in the ninth and has not allowed an earned run in 37 1/3 career innings against the Twins.

"I wasn't going to stop running," Anderson said of the play. "I knew it was soft enough to where if I missed it, it wasn't going to get too far away from me. I didn't really think about it. It just happened."

Anderson's actions in the field are usually measured, calculated. He rarely dives for balls or crashes into walls because he knows he is not as athletic as Erstad or former Angel center fielder Jim Edmonds and would probably get hurt if he played with the reckless abandon they play with.

That the left-handed-hitting Anderson, who hit .389 with one homer and four RBIs in the division series against the Yankees, came up with a clutch hit Friday night was no shock.

He has always hit left-handers (.284) almost as well as he hits right-handers (.316), and he had a .364 career average (eight for 22) with four homers and six RBIs against the left-handed Milton before jumping all over an 0-and-1 fastball in the second, sending it deep into the right-field seats for a 1-0 lead.

"Sometimes left-handers keep me more honest," Anderson said. "You really have to be on your game against them, especially the tough ones. Something about hearing in the minor leagues that you can't hit left-handers still motivates me to prove them wrong."

He won't have anything to prove to Milton, who gave up one run and five hits, including Anderson's sixth-inning double, in six innings.

"Milton didn't make many mistakes, but one of them was a fastball he didn't get where he wanted to with Garret," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. "And Garret didn't miss it."

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