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Vladimir Guerrero isn't done just yet

Angels veteran is no longer the feared hitter he once was, but he adds a chapter to his distinguished career by driving in the decisive runs to clinch AL division series against Boston.

October 12, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

BOSTON — The great ones seldom know when it is time to go. They hang on, evoking pity rather than respect. They are not who they are, but who they used to be.

Vladimir Guerrero used to be the most feared hitter in baseball. He swung at just about everything, hit good pitches and bad with crushing authority. You would walk him before you would let him beat you.

It was an astonishing sight, really, as shadows descended upon the field Sunday at Fenway Park. The season was on the line for the Boston Red Sox.

Guerrero was on deck. Torii Hunter was at bat. The Red Sox walked him to get to Guerrero.

He can hardly run these days. The Angels do not let him play right field anymore. He produces weak ground balls with distressing frequency.

Oh, but he can clap as he hobbles to first base, and he can smile with the joy of a little boy, and he can pump his fist in triumph. He did all three, repeatedly, after he redirected a 95-mph fastball into center field for the game-winning hit.

Turns out it is not time for Guerrero to go. It is time for the Red Sox to go.

"They've been talking about Vladdy being done," Chone Figgins said. "Obviously not."

The outlook was not good for the Anaheim nine, not down by two runs, with two out and none on. Not against Jonathan Papelbon, the Boston closer with the October earned-run average of 0.00.

Papelbon got two strikes on Erick Aybar. Single.

Papelbon got two strikes on Figgins, who had not reached base in 12 at-bats in the series. Walk.

Papelbon got two strikes on Abreu. Double.

Aybar scores. Angels down by one, with the potential tying and winning runs in scoring position, with first base open.

The Red Sox decide to walk Hunter, daring Guerrero to beat them.

"Nobody dreamed that," Hunter said. "One of the Hall of Famers, with 400 home runs? I never thought they'd walk me -- plain old Torii Hunter -- to get him up."

Was he surprised the Red Sox walked him?

"I was locked in," Hunter said.

And then he smiled, and he took note of the open base, and of the amount of champagne he might have consumed by then.

"I'm talking trash," he said, "but that was the smart thing to do."

Figgins, watching from third base, wasn't so sure.

"I was thinking that was a mistake," Figgins said. "He's going to swing at anything, and there's no telling what he's going to do.

"You can't just throw a pitch down the middle. He's going to put it in play."

Papelbon threw a fastball, not right down the middle but close enough.

"He's not afraid to throw the fastball," Abreu said.

Guerrero rocketed it past Papelbon and back up the middle, clapping all the way to first base and again once he got there.

"They said Vladdy couldn't hit the fastball," Hunter said. "I read the scouting report on ESPN. Well, he hit that one."

Said Aybar: "Oh my God. I felt great, great, great, great for him."

Guerrero is enormously popular among his teammates, for he puts on no airs, comes to play every day, smiles all the time.

Not this wide, though.

"He had a face I've never seen before," said Jose Mota, the Angels broadcaster who is Guerrero's interpreter and confidant. "I've never seen that type of emotion from him."

Mike Scioscia, the manager, called the hit the biggest of Guerrero's distinguished career. Guerrero, who hit a grand slam in the 2004 playoffs against Boston, had driven in one run in his previous 72 postseason at-bats. Now he had driven in two, on one swing, to rid the Angels of those annoying Red Sox.

Said Hunter: "He had one of the biggest smiles on his face that I'd ever seen. He was so excited. He was so happy. He was like a little kid."

This might be the last heroic moment of Guerrero's celebrated career, at least with the Angels. He'll be a free agent this fall, and he appears to rank below Abreu, Figgins, John Lackey and probably Darren Oliver on the priority list.

"I don't know if he's going to be an Angel next year, so we want him to go out on a great note," hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said, "because he's done so much for this organization. You root for him so hard."

Arte Moreno, the owner, wouldn't touch questions about Guerrero's future.

"Right now, we're focused on the next game," Moreno said. "If Mike hears me talking about anything more than that, I'm going to have to go hide."

As the celebration wound down in the clubhouse, Guerrero did go and hide. The Angels still were dousing one another with champagne and beer when Guerrero walked slowly, ever so slowly, into the trainer's room.

The trainers unrolled the thick wrapping from his knees, and from one of his ankles. He still has a few more games, at least, to get ready to play with the Angels. He is not done yet.

--

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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