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Kennedy Plays It Right

April 24, 2006|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND — The Angels barely flinched when they let third baseman Troy Glaus go after the 2004 season and catcher Bengie Molina go after 2005.

Glaus missed most of 2003 and 2004 because of injury, Molina's defensive skills were eroding, and the Angels felt they had capable and cost-efficient replacements in third baseman Dallas McPherson and catchers Jose Molina and Jeff Mathis.

All signs point to a similar move at second base next winter. Adam Kennedy's contract is expiring, the Angels have one of baseball's top prospects in Howie Kendrick, and General Manager Bill Stoneman has a track record of clearing spots in Anaheim when top minor leaguers are ready for the big leagues.

But discarding Kennedy won't be that easy, a point the veteran second baseman drove home again Sunday when he made a spectacular diving stop to start a double play that helped preserve the Angels' 4-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics in McAfee Coliseum.

Kelvim Escobar threw seven strong innings, giving up three runs and five hits, to improve to 3-1, relievers Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez nailed down the win, and Vladimir Guerrero drove in three runs, one with a second-deck home run, and the Angels survived another nail-biter with the A's -- 14 of the last 24 games between the teams have been decided by one run.

But it was the instincts and athleticism of Kennedy, who also had two hits to raise his average to .373, that made the biggest difference.

The A's trailed, 3-1, in the bottom of the fourth inning but had the bases loaded with one out when Adam Melhuse, batting from the left side, ripped a hard grounder up the middle.

Kennedy had been shading Melhuse toward the hole, but after sizing up the first two pitches of the at-bat, both balls, he took a step toward the middle just before Escobar delivered the pitch Melhuse hit.

Kennedy made a sprawling, back-hand stop and scrambled to his knees while shoveling the ball to shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who threw to first to complete the inning-ending double play.

"That totally changed the momentum of the game," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. "That ball goes through, two runs are in and they have runners on first and third with one out. You're not going to see a better play by a second baseman."

Asked what he thought of Kennedy's play, Cabrera, who doubled and scored on Guerrero's single in the third, responded with a coy look and remained silent for several seconds as he buttoned his dress shirt. The question was repeated, and Cabrera said, "That's my answer -- I'm speechless."

Escobar, who gave up bases-empty home runs to Nick Swisher in the sixth and Milton Bradley in the seventh, was not.

"That double play was the game right there," the pitcher said. "I've seen him make some great plays, but that was huge."

Kennedy has never won a Gold Glove, and as a No. 9 hitter, he's not expected to be a top run-producer. But for several years now, since making the transition from shortstop after his trade from St. Louis in 2000, Kennedy has made significant contributions on defense, a phase of the game Kendrick is not as adept at.

"We're a team built around pitching -- you've got to have that defense up the middle," Kennedy said. "I've been fortunate enough to learn a lot here with Scioscia and Alfredo [Griffin, first base coach] and to make a difference on the defensive end."

The Angels, who went 5-5 on the trip, were expected to have one of baseball's best defenses, but they have been erratic so far this season. They lead the league with 16 errors, which have led to 17 unearned runs in 19 games. Could a play such as Kennedy's help the Angels snap out of their defensive funk?

"We played good defense pretty much the whole series here and the last game in Minnesota," Kennedy said. "I think things will turn around. It's hard to say one thing will turn it around, but stringing a few good games together can."

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