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Figgins Figures Big in Win

He shows versatility and ability with a diving catch in a soggy center field and two key hits for Angels.

October 08, 2005|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Chone Figgins doesn't play for the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. He doesn't hit home runs. He doesn't even have a position to call his own.

If America knows him at all, it's as the guy who steals all those bases. But his Angel teammates voted him their most valuable position player, and he showed America why in the Angels' 11-7 victory over the Yankees on Friday.

Garret Anderson homered and drove in five runs, Bengie Molina homered too and Darin Erstad had three hits.

But, in the game that moved the Angels within one victory of a spot in the American League championship series, no player displayed the versatility and ability of Figgins.

"I'd like to see him play in the bullpen," New York Manager Joe Torre said, "so he wouldn't be on the field."

After playing third base for the first two games of this series, he started in center field -- perilously wet after daylong rains -- and made a splendid diving catch that snuffed out a long-running Yankee rally.

And, after a miserable postseason last year and a sluggish start this year, he connected for two critical hits. He had two hits in 14 at-bats last October, none in his first 11 at-bats this October.

"It's like the start of the season," Erstad said. "You want to get that first hit and get it out of the way. It's no different in the playoffs. You want to get that goose egg off the board."

In his first three at-bats Friday, all outs, Figgins hit the ball hard every time. In the sixth inning, his two-out single drove home the run that put the Angels ahead for good. In the eighth, he tripled and scored.

"Just keep swinging and you'll find a hole somewhere," he said.

Figgins started games this season at every position but first base, catcher and pitcher. On Wednesday, at third base, he smothered a would-be double down the line with a diving stop and throw that Alex Rodriguez called "one of the greatest plays I've ever seen."

On Friday, in center field, he made a play he rated better, a diving catch of a screeching line drive headed directly at him.

"I'm not out there every day," Figgins said.

The Yankees started the fourth inning down, 5-0. Four runs and two outs later, they had the tying run at third base, the go-ahead run on base and Gary Sheffield at bat.

He hit a laser into center field, a line drive spinning wickedly as Figgins charged. If he missed the ball, one run would have scored, probably two.

He did not hesitate to dive, and he did not miss.

"That's one of those chances I have to take, to try and kill the rally," he said.

"That was the play of the game," Erstad said.

"It's almost like you were running in a marsh or a swamp," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He got a great jump. I couldn't see a better play by a center fielder."

Figgins couldn't believe it, at first. He did not get up until he had reviewed the evidence.

"I wanted to look at it," he said, "and make sure it was in my glove."

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