Commentary

Angels stunned after Morales' injury

Players, team left soul-searching as well as searching for a new first baseman

Updated: May 30, 2010, 12:09 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The cart carrying Kendry Morales away from home plate -- the young first baseman's broken left leg in an air cast, his arms grasping his head in agony -- hadn't driven off more than 20 minutes before when the Los Angeles Angels were talking about how they would celebrate walk-off home runs from now on.

"All it takes is something like this to happen and make you take a second look," general manager Tony Reagins said. "Hopefully, there are some adjustments in the celebrations."

Saturday's fluke injury in the immediate aftermath of the Angels' 5-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners had the Angels soul-searching and first baseman-searching all at once. The win may have been one small step for the Angels, but it was one giant leap for the rest of the AL West.

Kendry Morales
Harry How/Getty ImagesThe Angels were elated with Kendry Morales' home run but not with the aftermath.

Morales wasn't arguably the Angels' best hitter. He was the Angels' best hitter, forget any arguments. He was the only batter who carried menace with him into the batter's box. He led them in batting average (.290), home runs (11) and RBIs (39). He built that on top of a foundation in 2009 in which he finished fifth in MVP balloting. He was an up-and-coming superstar and to see his career trajectory slowed by such an unnecessary mishap borders on tragic.

It also leaves the Angels grasping for answers during a season in which they have rarely found them.

The Angels' players went from throbbing in unison around the plate to staring in disbelief at their feet, Morales lying there in a heap, his foot bent in a direction feet aren't meant to go. What was the mood at that point?

"I think you said it right, stunned," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

In the clubhouse a few minutes later, it went from stunned to morose. The Angels had just witnessed their most exciting win of the year -- Jered Weaver nearly matching Felix Hernandez in a pitcher's duel, Bobby Abreu improbably tying it with a home run off his fellow Venezuelan, then Morales' fateful grand slam in the 10th -- but all they could think about was that last image. That image of Morales down and what it might do to their season, one that already is proving to be a major disappointment.

Over it all was the feeling it just didn't have to happen. It wasn't as if he were going in hard to second base to break up a double play or crashing into the stands to catch a foul pop-up.

"The screams just went to silence," Torii Hunter said. "I've never really seen that before. I've seen a kicker kick a field goal, jump up and hurt his knee, tear his ACL. I've never seen it in baseball."

The Angels weren't revealing their plans for first base in the immediate aftermath of the injury. They could hand the position to veteran utility man, Robb Quinlan, who has been playing for them at Triple-A. But going from Morales' power to Quinlan's slap-hitting could be too steep a drop. Another possibility is one of their top prospects, Mark Trumbo, who has power but lacks experience. He's hitting .275 with 11 home runs, but he's also just touched Triple-A this season and is strikeout-prone.

The third possibility is to look outside the organization to free agents such as Ryan Garko, recently released by the Texas Rangers, and Jermaine Dye, who has played a little first base.

Even if they eventually land on a satisfactory replacement, they'll always have to ask themselves: Why'd it have to happen?

Of course, these kinds of things happen in sports. Minnesota Twins utility man Denny Hocking sliced his finger getting spiked by a teammate as they celebrated a Division Series win over the Oakland A's. Gus Frerotte's head-butting a wall comes to mind.

So, perhaps the better question the Angels are left with is this: Why'd it have to happen to them?

Lost in the shuffle

Long before the Angels lost their No. 5 hitter, they lost their cleanup hitter. Hernandez hit Hunter in the left hand with a 95 mph fastball in the first inning, leaving him with a deep bruise that would force him from the game the next half-inning. This set of X-rays proved negative, fortunately for the Angels. Hunter probably will be out for at least a couple of games.

"I'm OK. I'm just worried about Kendry," Hunter said, predicting he would be back in the lineup by Monday or Tuesday.

Quote of the day

"It'll change the way we celebrate. It sure is exciting, but you always wondered if there's an accident waiting to happen. I know it's happened before." -- Scioscia.

Looking ahead

The Angels look for another step forward in the Joe Saunders reclamation project. After a horrendous start, Saunders (3-6, 4.40 ERA) has a 1.57 ERA in his past five starts. The Angels have won three of his last four and Saunders hasn't given up a home run in 31 innings.

The Angels face Ian Snell (0-3, 4.32), who has bounced between the bullpen and rotation for Seattle. He'll be making just his second start since April 27. Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.