Commentary

Kendrick walks off intact

Second baseman celebrated his walk-off home run and left with both legs working

Updated: May 31, 2010, 12:48 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM -- Hideki Matsui looked like he was walking on egg shells.

He tiptoed toward the plate and playfully tugged Torii Hunter's belt to hold him back. Hunter already had his hands spread behind him like a bodyguard at a night club. Hunter had watched Howie Kendrick's game-winning home run from the on-deck circle. Matsui came running out with all his teammates from the dugout.

After Kendrick daintily touched home plate, the two veterans weren't going to let anything happen in the wake of the Angels' 9-7 win over the Seattle Mariners on Sunday.

Howie Kendrick
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesHowie Kendrick of the Angels waves as he leaves the field after his three run walk off home run in the ninth inning against the Mariners at Angel Stadium. The Angels won 9-7.

The only player inside the batter's circle was Mike Napoli and he slowly, carefully wrapped Kendrick in a bear hug. The rest of the team waited for him to leave the dirt area before bouncing up and down around him.

"All Matsui had was his fingertips on Howie jumping up and down," Hunter said. "It was a great moment."

Frankly, the Angels deserved a moment to let loose -- responsibly -- just 24 hours after the season's low point, the day they lost their best hitter, Kendry Morales, to one of the great fluke injuries. Morales broke his left ankle leaping onto the plate after his game-winning blast Saturday.

Kendrick deserved a little joy in a season that hasn't been much of a party for him or most of his teammates. He was one of the struggling hitters manager Mike Scioscia said needs to pick up his pace with Morales down. Before his first of two home runs Sunday, Kendrick was batting .249.

"It was an unbelievable feeling just to even win the game on a walk-off. That's what I was thinking," Kendrick said. "I didn't really think about where everybody was standing or anything."

The consecutive wins on walk-off home runs were the first for the Angels since 1986, though Morales never got to walk anywhere and won't for a while. He left the field on a stretcher. It took this team no time to display the new guidelines manager Scioscia set out for these types of moments: stay off the dirt, let the guy touch the plate, nobody jump on his back or slap him on the back of the head.

You can bet Scioscia will be assessing fines if he has any violators. It wouldn't be surprising if teams around baseball change the way they celebrate these moments. It hasn't been that long that they've been doing it in the frat-house way that had become the vogue up until Saturday.

If this were a football team, they might be able to ride the adrenaline of Sunday's win to a few wins and maybe lock up a playoff berth, but a baseball season has a way of exposing these little bursts of adrenaline for what they are. Sunday was just one tiny step forward for a team that has plenty to worry without Morales, who led the Angels in practically every offensive category worth mentioning.

If anything, Sunday might have given the Angels a little affirmation that they're not going to fold after the blow. Thanks in part to nine Mariners walks, the Angels withstood a lousy effort by Joe Saunders and came back from a 7-2 deficit. This had already been a trying time for Scioscia and the last 24 hours left him emotionally exhausted.

His tone Sunday was that of a father who had just watched his kids do something incredibly stupid.

"I think you try to stay on an even level, you try to turn the page," Scioscia said. "What happened yesterday was definitely a full spectrum of emotions, from winning a game to seeing a young player that gets injured in the celebration. Last night wasn't a lot of fun. The guys came back this morning and they understood. We're a good club."

The precedent

The circumstances of the Angels' 1986 back-to-back walk-off games weren't quite as dramatic as this weekend's, but they were far from dull.

That season, they won their Aug. 29 game on a walk-off grand slam by Dick Schofield with two outs against Detroit Tigers reliever Willie Hernandez to squeak by 13-12. The Angels scored eight runs in the ninth to win it.

The next day, they were trailing when Doug DeCinces hit a walk-off home run to beat the Tigers 5-4.

Bad luck bearers

The Angels were about to get an easy out to end the second inning. Josh Wilson hit a sharp grounder right to Kendrick at second base, but second-base umpire Brian Knight was in its path and didn't get enough elevation on his leap. The ball ricocheted off his left ankle for an infield hit.

The next batter, Ichiro Suzuki, slapped an RBI single to center. It could have been worse, but the Angels threw out Wilson at the plate.

Knight didn't return to the field after that inning, leaving a three-man umpiring crew to work the rest of the game. He was taken to a local hospital for what the Angels called precautionary X-rays.

Quote of the day

"We got through the celebration unscathed and that's a step forward. I hope we practice this a lot." -- Scioscia.

Looking ahead

Bono could have saved the Angels a lot of trouble by hurting his back several months earlier. The Angels embark on their longest road trip this season Monday, a 14-game trip to four cities, due in part to U2 concerts that were scheduled at Angel Stadium for June 6 and 7.

Those concerts, the second leg of the band's "360" world tour, were postponed after Bono's injury, but the Angels still have to hit the road.

In the opener in Kansas City, a Memorial Day afternoon game, Ervin Santana (4-3, 3.65 ERA) opposes Luke Hochevar (5-2, 4.95), who was drafted in the first round by the Dodgers, but chose not to sign.

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.

ALSO SEE