YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Angels' Vladimir Guerrero has come through in October

Reports of his demise have been exaggerated, as the slugger has had a number of big hits in the playoffs.


NEW YORK — Fans have been dogging Vladimir Guerrero for weeks, ripping him on blogs, message boards and radio call-in shows and urging the Angels to drop him from the cleanup spot or from the lineup altogether.

Now they're digging him.

Guerrero has been the subject of stinging media criticism, with many claiming the 35-year-old slugger is on a severe downward slope from a potential Hall of Fame career, that he can no longer get around on a good fastball, that he had become an easy out.

Now, the writers are singing his praises.

If there is one player who has embodied the Angels' never-say-die attitude, who has mirrored the team's rise from playoff ashes, it is Guerrero, who has delivered more big hits than any other Angel this October and, in the process, might be resurrecting his career.

But with the Angels still one game away from elimination and Guerrero one game away from possibly being an ex-Angel -- his six-year, $85-million contract expires after this season -- fans and writers alike are wondering: How much lightning is left in his bat?

The Angels, after an emotionally draining, drama-packed 7-6 win in Game 5 Thursday night, still trail the New York Yankees, 3-2, in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, with Game 6 scheduled for tonight in Yankee Stadium.

Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte will start for the Yankees against left-hander Joe Saunders, and that could be a good matchup for Guerrero, who has a career .391 average (nine for 23) against Pettitte and hit a score-tying, two-run home run against him in the sixth inning of Game 3.

Guerrero also singled in the second inning and walked in the fourth against Pettitte, and another productive game from him tonight could go a long way toward the Angels forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 Sunday night.

Not that the Angels expect anything less.

"I never thought he was in a slump -- you guys are the ones who thought he was in a slump," batting coach Mickey Hatcher said. "He had one bad game in New York. Other than that, he won two games against Boston" in the division series.

"I'm serious. I never thought he was in a slump. He's faced some tough pitching. It's tough to hit in cold weather. I've always believed in him. He's a guy that's dangerous."

Hatcher has been using the criticism to motivate Guerrero, who hit .295 with 15 home runs and 50 runs batted in during an injury-plagued 2009 season in which he played only 100 games.

Before Game 3, Hatcher told Guerrero, "Everyone says you're done -- that's bull, the heck with them, go out there and prove you're still the man."

It didn't hurt.

Guerrero batted .400 (four for 10) in the division series, including the two-out, two-run, ninth-inning single against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon that gave the Angels a 7-6 series-clinching win in Fenway Park on Oct. 11.

In Game 2, the notorious free swinger started a tiebreaking three-run, seventh-inning rally with a leadoff walk, a key plate appearance in the Angels' 4-1 victory over Boston.

The ALCS did not start well for Guerrero, who was two for 11 in the first two games at New York, both Angels losses, including some ugly strikeouts in a 4-3, 13-inning Game 2 loss in which he stranded eight runners.

Then the Angels returned to California, and Guerrero warmed up. His two-run homer in the sixth inning of Game 3 tied a game the Angels went on to win, 5-4, in 11 innings.

In Game 5, Guerrero crushed a run-scoring double to left-center against Yankees starter A.J. Burnett in the Angels' four-run first inning.

And after the Angels gave up six runs in the top of the seventh to fall behind, 6-4, Guerrero grounded a single up the middle in the bottom of the seventh to tie the score, 6-6.

Like his game-winning hit against Papelbon, his big hit Thursday came off a 95-mph fastball, this one from reliever Phil Hughes. Guerrero is batting .304 (seven for 23) with four RBIs in the ALCS.

"You guys are the only ones who ever really doubted him; we didn't doubt him," Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick said before a Friday morning workout in Angel Stadium. "His skills haven't changed. He can still play the game.

"Just because a guy has a couple of bad games doesn't mean he doesn't know how to play. Everybody puts so much emphasis on the failures, but look at what he's done."

Manager Mike Scioscia believes the Angels' comeback in Boston, which was capped by Guerrero's hit, laid a foundation for comebacks in Games 3 and 5 against New York.

"The circumstances we did it under -- on the road against one of the top closers in baseball, in a clinching environment -- definitely gives you a good feeling and a lot of momentum," Scioscia said. "Vlad has come up with some big hits for us, and we need it. He's a cornerstone of the lineup."

And tonight, Guerrero and a hungry, backs-against-the-wall Angels club could be Pettitte's problem.

Los Angeles Times Articles