Saturday, September 10, 2005

Angels Go 'Major League' to Top ChiSox and Build Momentum

In a play not seen since the movie "Major League", Vlad Guerrero scored in the 12th inning of Friday night's game on a sacrifice bunt in one of the ugliest game-winning-scores in history. The Halos edge the White Sox 6-5 and maintain a full game lead over Oakland. After the game Guerrero found a sign on his locker that said "Willie Mayes Hayes" played. That was the name of the character in Major League played by Wesley Snipes (back when he got sixth billing behind Corbin Bernson and James "Lou Brown" Gammon). In the final scene of that movie a broken-down catcher played by Tom Berenger (back when he got top billing in a flick) was trying to hit Snipe's Willie Mayes Hayes in from second with the game-winning score with two outs. After pointing to centerfield with his bat (ala Babe Ruth), Berenger's character layes down a bunt and beats it out as Hayes rounds third and scores ahead of the throw.

Guerrero's at-bat was nothing out of Hollywood. He hit a towering fly ball to left-center that he (along with just about everyone else) thought was a homerun. Guerrero flipped his bat and watched his fly ball until he realized it was dying in the swirling winds of Chicago and bounced off the face of Minnie Minosa on the left-center field wall. The Halo slugger should have been standing at second by the time the ball was picked up but instead was taking long, furious strides between first and second, trying desperately to make up for lost time. Guerrero slid safely in to second, a split-second ahead of the strong throw from Aaron Rowand. With no outs Scioscia elected to have Bengie Molina bunt Guerrero to third and give Darin Erstad a chance to knock him in. Maybe it was Guerrero trying to atone for his lack of hustle on his almost-homerun. Maybe he was just sick and tired of losing extra inning games (the Angels lead the majors with 10 extra-inning losses). Most likely it was simply his hyper-competitive nature coming out. But whatever it was the sparked Guerrero, I like it. Molina's bunt was picture perfect. The ball died about 10 feet down the third base line and just about any Angel player except B. Molina could have beaten it out. But the sloth-footed Bengie was, not surprisingly thrown out. Guerrero's jump from second was excellent and by the time the bunt was fielded he was already hitting third and not slowing down despite the pleas from third base coach Ron Roenicke. A good throw to home and Guerrero would be toast. But Tadahito Iguchi, who was covering first, threw the ball a bit up the line and forced Sox catcher AJ Pierzynski to lunge towards third and lose his balance. At the same time Guerrero was running on the outside of the baseline and flailing himself at the plate. His fingers touched home and Pierzynski's tag missed sending Guerrero and the Angels into celebration. Frankie Rodriguez closed out the bottom of the 9th with surprisingly little drama and the Angels opened up the series in Chicago with a big win.

Say what you will about statistics and on-base percentage. But when you are down to the final three weeks of the season with a slim one-game lead, you need something extra. Guerrero almost quashed any hope of building on the win in Boston by dogging it on his double. Had he been cut down at second and the Angels lost that game, they would be tied for first with seriously negative vibes. But instead, Guerrero seizes his opportunity and the Angels grab the elusive magic elixer of pennant races: momentum. Speaking of momentum, the Angels lead the White Sox today 10 - 4 in the top of the 8th inning. Tonight the A's can do some scoreboard watching down at the Ballpark in Arlington and know the pressure is on them to just keep pace.

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