Guerrero's bat quiet as Angels offense sputters

Updated: October 16, 2005, 1:10 AM ET
Associated Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Vladimir Guerrero dressed in silence at his corner locker in the Los Angeles clubhouse, trying to avoid the spotlight.

That's nothing new for the soft-spoken Angels slugger. What's different is that Guerrero's bat has been just as quiet so far this postseason.

The reigning AL MVP has no extra-base hits and only one RBI in the Angels' first nine postseason games, including one hit in 16 at-bats (.063) in four games of the AL Championship Series against the Chicago White Sox.

He struggled again in Game 4 on Saturday night, going 0-for-4 with four groundouts after hitting .317 with 32 homers and 108 RBI during the regular season -- and suddenly the Angels are on the brink of elimination after falling behind in their best-of-seven series 3-1 with Saturday night's 8-2 loss.

"After the break, it was similar," Guerrero said through a translator after Saturday's game. "I was swinging the same and hitting the ball, but not hard and hitting it at people. I'm just not swinging good. It's the same pitches they've thrown me all year. If you watched me play all year, it's the same Vlady."

The Angels certainly hope so.

They were counting on their star -- and the entire lineup for that matter -- to warm up in time to help them get past the White Sox and back into the World Series for the first time since winning the franchise's only title in 2002. Now, they'll have to win three straight to do it.

"He keeps swinging, man," shortstop Orlando Cabrera said. "At some point he's going to turn that around and he's going to help us win games."

Guerrero, Garret Anderson and Bengie Molina, the Angels' 3-4-5 hitters, have been awful. And the White Sox pitchers have been near-perfect.

Because Guerrero has come through for the Angels so many times before in big games, nobody is blaming him for the offensive inconsistencies that have plagued this club all year. The 2005 Angels have been more about strong defense and balanced pitching than power hitting and home runs.

"We don't put that on one guy," first baseman Darin Erstad said. "We're a team here and we'll do it all together. We'll try to have good at-bats, try to get guys on base, and when we get guys on base that's when we can do our stuff."

The 29-year-old Guerrero spent his first eight big league seasons with Montreal, and the Angels landed the biggest star of the free-agent market before the 2004 season.

He played a key role in making the Angels a contender again after the club stumbled to a 77-85 record in 2003 on the heels of winning the World Series. The Angels have won consecutive AL West crowns, and were the first AL team to secure a playoff berth this year.

"In my mind, you can only keep Vladimir Guerrero down so long," Angels Game 5 starter Paul Byrd said.

Guerrero grounded out to shortstop in his first at-bat Saturday against Freddy Garcia, then did the exact same thing leading off the fourth and drew a spattering of boos. He grounded out again in the sixth.

Guerrero, who has hit better than .300 in all nine full seasons in the big leagues, hit .337 with 39 home runs with 126 RBI in 2004 on the way to earning MVP honors.

"His batting practice looks good, the ball looks good coming off his bat," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He just hasn't squared them up like he can. ... He hit a ball in Chicago the wind blew back in the park. He hit some other balls hard. He's just a click off."

How are the White Sox holding him in check?

"Vlad's a great hitter. You've got to make great pitches to him, and we made some," Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "He's hit some balls hard right at some guys, and they've made some nice plays on him."

It certainly doesn't hurt that White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen coached Guerrero in Montreal and knows all his tendencies. They are still friends.

"I don't want to say anything bad about Vlad because I don't want to wake him up," Guillen said. "I think our pitching staff is doing a tremendous job all year long against him."

Guerrero was limited to 141 games this season. He partially dislocated his left shoulder May 20 when he slid headfirst into home in a win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, requiring just his second stint on the disabled list since 1997.

He bounced back in time to make his sixth All-Star game, starting in right field for the AL in its 7-5 win over the National League.

"Power could happen tomorrow for him. That's Vlady," Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said. "I think he's frustrated right now. The volcano could erupt tomorrow. That's what it is. You could see the look [of frustration] in his face. He's working hard, trying to figure out some things. He's a professional."

Still, Guerrero seems to be keeping everything in perspective. He's been seen this series going back and forth with Guillen in Spanish -- perhaps some friendly trash talk.

Guillen insists it's just a matter of time before you get Guerrero engaged in conversation.

"Vlad is a quiet guy around people he doesn't know," Guillen said. "Besides being his coach, I was his interpreter and I was helping him off the field, and we pretty much hung around a lot when we were playing. I think Vlad got a lot of sense of humor and he's just shy around people."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press