BALTIMORE — Howie Kendrick was not thinking home run when he stepped to the plate with a runner on and the score tied in the top of the ninth inning Friday night.
"Honestly, I was trying to get something over the plate, put a good swing on it and get a hit," he said. "It just happened to be a home run."
This was no ordinary home run. It was a 420-foot blast to center field that gave the Angels a 9-7 victory and came as a surprise to the second baseman who is known more as a line-drive hitter with gap power.
"To me, it was more of an accident," said Kendrick, who is hitting .305 with four home runs and 16 runs batted in. "I don't try to hit home runs, and when I do, I get myself in trouble, creating other problems with my swing."
Vladimir Guerrero opened the ninth inning off closer Chris Ray by getting hit by a pitch, but he was rubbed out on Gary Matthews Jr.'s fielder's-choice grounder. Casey Kotchman flied to left for the second out, but Kendrick drove a 1-and-0 fastball out of the deepest part of the park for his game winner.
"He happened to make a mistake out over the plate, I took advantage of it and put a good swing on the ball," Kendrick said. "It's a crazy game. I could go back out a thousand times and not have that happen."
His right knee was still swollen and stiff. His right shoulder was sore. There was a scratch over his right eye.
And if Reggie Willits had it to do all over again, if the center fielder could run full speed, face first, into the wall to make a catch, as he did Wednesday when he robbed Kansas City's Billy Butler of extra bases in the seventh inning in Angel Stadium, he wouldn't change a thing.
"Any time you save a run," Willits said, "it's worth it."
Willits paid the price though. Two days after re-injuring the same knee he hurt running into a wall to catch Kenny Lofton's drive over his head in Texas on May 12, he was unable to start against the Orioles, and he's questionable for today's game.
"That's the hardest I've ever hit a wall -- I wasn't able to slow down at all," Willits said. "Normally when you hit the fence, you have the opportunity to catch the ball and a half-step to shift your body. I couldn't have slowed down and still caught it."
Willits, who ranks fifth in the American League with a .337 average and third with a .430 on-base percentage, was featured on the front page of Friday's USA Today sports section, which did a centerpiece story on the Angels' rookie.
"I've been catching a lot of grief for that today," Willits said.
What, Willits doesn't consider himself the face of the franchise?
"No chance," he said. "That's funny."
Better late than never. That's how Nick Gorneault must have felt Friday when the 28-year-old outfielder was called up from triple-A Salt Lake to replace Shea Hillenbrand, who was designated for assignment.
For Gorneault, who spent seven years in the minor leagues, it was his first big league call-up.
"I know every person in the game has a different journey to the big leagues," said Gorneault, a native of Springfield, Mass. "It has taken me a little longer to get here, but all that time in the minor leagues built my character and my game to the point where I'm ready to perform here."