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THE WORLD SERIES / ANGELS VS. SAN FRANCISCO

A Reason to Smile

Tim Salmon's postseason dream finally within reach

October 20, 2002|From Associated Press

There was a time when Tim Salmon considered leaving the Anaheim Angels.

Perhaps after last year, they wouldn't have minded.

Now, Salmon and the Angels are happy together -- and going to their first World Series.

"I can't put into words what it means. It's something you dream about as a kid and as an adult," he said Wednesday. "Even now, it's dreamlike. We're riding with it. After 10 years of not happening, it's like it still hasn't sunk in.

"Sunday night, I could hardly even eat, my jaws were so sore from smiling."

That was the day the Angels beat the Minnesota Twins 13-5 to win the American League championship series 4-1 and advance to the World Series, which begins Saturday night at Edison Field.

Salmon joined the Angels in 1992 and was the AL Rookie of the Year the following season, hitting .283 with 31 homers and 95 RBIs.

The 34-year-old right fielder is the Angels' career leader in home runs (269), RBIs (894), extra-base hits (576) and total bases (2,558).

Salmon entered the playoffs with the most games played (1,388) and at-bats (5,009) of any big-leaguer without postseason experience.

"This guy has been a championship-caliber player for a long time," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "This core, which Tim has led, has gotten close a number of times. I think of all the guys in the clubhouse, he realizes the journey to get here better than anyone. He's taken nothing for granted."

Salmon has acknowledged thinking about leaving the Angels before signing a four-year, $40 million contract extension in March 2001 because he was concerned that there wasn't enough emphasis on winning.

But he stayed and his decision

paid off with a postseason appearance.

"There's no guarantee in life," Salmon said. "After 10 years, I can testify to that. You've got the Derek Jeters and Chipper Joneses who are there every year. You do start wondering, maybe it's not to be."

Salmon hit .286 with 22 homers and 88 RBIs this season -- not nearly as good as some of the years he's had, but far better than last season, when he hit .227 with 17 homers and 49 RBIs.

And that was right after he signed the contract extension.

"It was sad to see him go through that, he turned the page," hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said. "It was tough for him. It gets to be a mental thing when you miss pitches you know you can hit."

Salmon had surgery on his left shoulder after the 2000 season, and it affected his bat-speed.

"He was just a tiny bit late, wasn't able to get out there on the fastball," Hatcher said. But it was back to normal this year.

"The first time he grabbed a bat in spring training, I saw it," he said. "I didn't have to say anything -- let's play."

And that's what Salmon did, after getting past his typical slow start.

Center fielder Darin Erstad has also bounced back from a miserable year in 2001.

"I remember last year, we are kind of bosom buddies saying, 'Let's just make it through the year,' " Salmon said. "He made it a point to come to me the other day and say, 'Fish, we really did it.'

"Here he and I both are. We can both appreciate it."

Outfielder Orlando Palmeiro, who first played with the Angels in 1995, called Salmon a true professional.

"We've had some frustrating seasons since I've been here. I can only imagine what he's been through," Palmeiro said. "To see him soaking up the moment is really special for me. And he really has -- I heard something about his face hurting from smiling.

"He's always ready to work, he does everything right. That's all you can ask for from a player. He shows up for work every day. I'm very happy for him, for all those people who are here who never reached the playoffs."

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