Angels `Kingfish' reels in night he's not going to throw back

Big homer thrills Salmon, Series bystander for years

World Series

October 22, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO - The World Series often is a study in contrast, which is why outfielder Tim Salmon stood out so boldly after his dramatic home run Sunday night allowed the Anaheim Angels to escape with a split of the first two games of this wild-card showdown.

Sure, it was a big home run on a national stage, so Salmon figured to be in the limelight. And sure, the stakes were high enough to put a charge into every fan who packed Edison International Field for one of the most engaging postseason games ever.

But the thing that made the aptly nicknamed "Kingfish" stand out so much was the glow that told everyone who came in contact with him - from the moment he reached the dugout until the last reporter left him standing almost alone in the Angels clubhouse - that this was a moment he would remember and cherish every day for the rest of his life.

Think that's a given? Therein lies the great contrast, because the dominant personality in the 98th Fall Classic was in the other clubhouse doing his best to make it look like this whole postseason thing is such a chore.

Barry Bonds answered Salmon's game-winning homer with one of the longest home runs hit in a World Series game. He hit the ball so far that even Salmon gasped as he watched it land halfway up the bleachers in right field. Bonds could be forgiven for appearing subdued this time because the Giants had just lost a tough, 11-10 slugfest, if that wasn't the way he always looks after a game.

It's as if he is so used to great success that he has come to resent it.

Could you imagine Blissless Barry telling the world he was so happy that his jaw was sore from smiling? That is exactly how Salmon described the moment after the Angels won the first American League championship of their 42-year history. Somehow, Salmon has managed to retain a gee-whiz attitude, probably because, for all the fine achievements of his 10-year major-league career, he has never been a player who could take anything for granted - certainly not a game-winning homer in the World Series.

"I've been watching from my sofa for 10 years, wondering what it would be like to be in this position and come through," Salmon said. "I'm just thankful I was able to have the peace of mind to focus and put a good pass on the ball."

No one could be surprised he made the most of the moment. Salmon has long been one of the AL's most dangerous hitters, but injuries have kept him from achieving the superstar status of, say, a Jason Giambi.

Salmon averaged 30 home runs per season his first six years in the majors, and that was before the ridiculous home run proliferation that made the 30-homer season seem almost commonplace. He was the cornerstone of an exciting young Angels lineup that came up just short of the postseason in 1995.

Because of that frustrating near-miss, however, Salmon arrived in October as the major-leaguer who had played the most regular-season games without appearing in the postseason. No wonder he's having such a good time.

The past four years have been a challenge, particularly a 2001 season during which his run-production numbers sagged so badly his status as an impact player came into question. He probably came back too soon from shoulder surgery and struggled to a .227 batting average, 17 homers and 49 RBIs.

When his bat speed returned this spring, so did the old Tim Salmon, though another bit of bad luck - a bruised hand that put him on the disabled list in August - may have cost him a chance at a 100-RBI season. He finished with 88 RBIs and 22 homers while batting .286.

"When you go through the year I did [in 2001], this year I told myself, `I'm going to have fun,' " Salmon said. "I'm going to let my emotions carry me. When you come from where I was last year, you enjoy every little thing."

That much is obvious from the way he reacted to his second home run of the night on Sunday. He was so pumped up when he got back to the dugout that some of his teammates had to hide from him, for fear of getting their hands bruised during the congratulatory fist-bumping.

"It's like a mosh pit in there," Salmon said, then continued almost sheepishly, "... not that I've ever been in one."

Salmon acknowledges there were times when he felt none of this would ever happen to him, but he quickly catches himself and reminds everyone that it isn't really about him, anyway.

"It's about everybody," he said. "This whole thing has been about 25 guys. I've been here a long time, but we're all trying to make the most of it."

Though Salmon's 4-for-4 performance Sunday certainly has been the highlight of his postseason, he also hit a pair of home runs and led the Angels with seven RBIs in the Division Series against the New York Yankees.

"I think if you look at where Tim was the last couple of years and where he is now, it's just a reflection of his dedication and hard work," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He has battled through a lot to be here when we really need him, so we couldn't be prouder of him."

Schedule

Anaheim vs. San Francisco(Best of seven; *-if necessary)

TV:Chs. 45, 5 (all times p.m.)

Series tied 1-1

Game 1:San Francisco, 4-3

Game 2:Anaheim, 11-10

Today:at S.F., 8:27

Tomorrow:at S.F., 8:35

Thursday:at S.F., 8:22

*Saturday:at Anaheim, 7:58

*Sunday:at Anaheim, 8:02

SunSpot:For more coverage, visit sunspot.net/baseball

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