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Eckstein's Contribution Is Short and Very Sweet

October 21, 2002|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

He had scored the go-ahead run in what turned out to be the Angels' first World Series victory, scampering home ahead of Tim Salmon's two-run blast to left field in the tumultuous eighth inning.

But David Eckstein, at the center of a red storm at home plate, had only one thought as he waited for Salmon to complete a joyful trip around the bases:


"Didn't you see that I leaned back?" Eckstein said, smiling. "The first guy he hits after he hits a home run, he hits hard. He's hit me before. I've learned."

Eckstein braced himself for Salmon's greeting and survived with nary a scratch. He'd be more than willing to put himself in danger of being bowled over again if that means Salmon has ignited the Angels' offense as he did Sunday, when he hit two two-run home runs in the 11-10 victory over the San Francisco Giants that tied the World Series at one game each.

"I was just very happy, very happy," said Eckstein, who had three hits and scored three runs, the first ahead of Salmon on the right fielder's two-run shot off Giant starter Russ Ortiz in the second inning.

"Everybody knows what Tim's been through with this organization. There was probably a lot of frustration on his part."

Eckstein's own frustration ended resoundingly Sunday.

He is a severe critic of his own play, and he had insisted he was not doing all he could to keep the Angels' postseason journey on a triumphant course. But in a game the Angels felt a pressing need to win before the Series shifts to San Francisco's Pacific Bell Park Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Eckstein seemed to be constantly on the basepaths, never letting the Giants pause for breath.

He also got his jersey smeared with brown dirt from the Edison Field infield, a sure sign he had been active and involved on offense and defense.

"I need to get dirty," he said. "If it's clean, I didn't play well."

He played exceptionally well against the Giants Sunday. He led off the first inning with a single to right and scored on Darin Erstad's double. He led off the second with bunt single and scored again, this time ahead of Salmon's first homer.

He grounded out in the fourth and sixth innings, but he ignited the offense in the eighth with a single to right. After Erstad was retired on a fly ball to left, Eckstein scored on Salmon's two-run blast off Felix Rodriguez, as the Angels took an 11-10 lead.

"I was very happy, because that gave us a two-run lead, and I knew Percy [Troy Percival] was coming into the game," Eckstein said. I was also happy for Tim ...

"My main thing is to get on base. I really haven't done my job as far as scoring runs. My job is to get on base and score runs, and it feels good to finally do it."

Although the rally monkey has become the Angels' good-luck charm, Eckstein certainly brings them more luck through hard work. Generously listed on the Angels' postseason roster as 5 feet 8 -- a height he might reach on tiptoes while wearing hockey skates -- he is accustomed to facing doubters and proving it's not the size of your frame but the size of your heart that matters.

He has never been given a free pass from anyone, and that was true Sunday. Ortiz and the Giant relievers saw him not as a little guy but as a big threat.

"I'm not the biggest guy in the world," he said, "and so guys are going to come after me. I hit a slider [Sunday] and [Robb] Nen struck me out on a breaking ball [Saturday], so they're not just throwing fastballs over the plate."

His tenacity has won him many new admirers. Sitting in his locker stall were more than a few fan letters -- "No proposals, no," he said -- and most had arrived since the Angels' late-season and postseason success.

Eckstein gets a steady stream of requests from all ages to sign baseball cards. Many say he's an inspiration to them, a sentiment that touches him deeply. His athletic hero was Doug Flutie, who never let a similarly small build squelch his competitive fires.

"I get that a lot," Eckstein said, "from kids saying they like my style, the game I play, and parents saying the same thing. It's very humbling to see how you can affect someone's life."

Yet Eckstein knows the team still has a long way to go.

"We're planning on five more games," he said. "This series is so even, that's probably how it will go."

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