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Rodriguez Giving a Sneak Preview

October 18, 2002|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

No need to sway the voters with novelties, videos or mass mailings. With each postseason strikeout before a national media contingent, Francisco Rodriguez takes another giant step toward winning the American League rookie-of-the-year award--in 2003.

The Angel phenom pitched only 5 2/3 innings during the regular season, so he retains rookie eligibility next season. In September, he tied Nolan Ryan's franchise record with eight consecutive strikeouts. In October, he became the first pitcher in major league history to record his first four victories in postseason play and the first to earn four postseason victories before age 21.

"He certainly has name recognition," Angel pitching coach Bud Black said.

That name recognition, among the baseball writers who vote for the award, makes Rodriguez the early favorite for 2003. Although setup men rarely receive consideration for rookie of the year--Troy Percival finished fourth in 1995, when he set up Lee Smith--Rodriguez's postseason heroics this year do more to promote him than any marketing campaign could do next year.

"This is the biggest stage in our industry," said Tim Mead, the Angels' vice president of communications. "Even if you put the best marketing machine in the world behind him, you can't market any better than this."

In the Angels' 42-year history, only outfielder Tim Salmon has won the rookie award. Rodriguez said he is not concerned with following in Salmon's footsteps.

"It's too early to worry about that," Rodriguez said. "This year comes first. Next year, we'll see."

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The Angel hitters tore through the American League playoffs, hitting .328 with 17 home runs in nine games. Because timing is so critical to hitting, are the Angels concerned that the five-day layoff between the end of the league championship series and the start of the World Series will disrupt their timing?

"Not at all," center fielder Darin Erstad said. "It's not going to matter. It's like taking five days off if you're hurt. You come back and, once you get in there, everything is fine.

"You wait your whole life to play in the World Series, and I think I can wait five days."

*

Erstad took ground balls at first base Thursday, for what he said was the first time since spring training. With National League rules in force when the World Series shifts to San Francisco, the Angel coaches told Erstad he could play first base for an inning or two, after a double-switch or other substitution.

"I told them, let me at least stand out there and take some ground balls so I can get the crust off my glove," he said.

*

The way Angel Manager Mike Scioscia figures it, Dodger fans will be rooting for the Angels during the World Series, if only as the lesser of two evils. As a former Dodger catcher, Scioscia is well aware that a Dodger fan's two favorite teams are the Dodgers and whoever is playing the Giants.

"They might be die-hard National League fans, but I can't imagine them rooting for the Giants," Scioscia said. "That might be one step too far."

*

John Wooden, perhaps the most beloved sports figure in Southern California, is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 2 Sunday.... Jarrod Washburn, the Angels' Game 1 starter, was excused from workouts Thursday because he had a mild case of flu. Dr. Lewis Yocum, the Angels' medical director, said Washburn is expected to start as scheduled Saturday.... Those big red noise sticks cost about 60 cents a pair to make. At mlb.com, the official Web site of the major leagues, you can buy a pair -- for $4. The Angels will give away 20,000 sticks at a 6:30 p.m. rally tonight at Downtown Disney, adjacent to Disneyland. Admission is free.... Angel first baseman Scott Spiezio on the World Series media onslaught: "I usually do one interview a week. Now I'm doing one every couple of minutes."

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