Vlad bests Pettitte to silence critics
Angels slugger kicks funk with crucial homer in Game 3
ANAHEIM -- Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher had a message for Vladimir Guerrero after the slugger went just 2-for-11 with 10 runners left on base through the first two games of the American League Championship Series in two losses against the Yankees.
He approached Guerrero during the team's workout on Sunday and showed him what reporters had been writing about him after going just 1-for-7 in the pivotal Game 2 that saw the Yankees win in extra innings to take a 2-0 lead in the ALCS."I told him that these guys think you're done but that I knew that he still had horns on his head," Hatcher said. The strategy certainly worked, as Guerrero was his old self in Game 3 at Angel Stadium by hitting the crucial two-run homer in the sixth inning off left-hander Andy Pettitte that tied the game at 3. It was just Guerrero's way of proving that he's still a superstar and he can respond to the criticism that has been thrown upon him recently with his postseason hitting funk. "I told Mickey I'm a human being, not a robot," Guerrero said through a translator. "And overall I just responded the only way I know how to respond." That way of responding was by getting his Angels right back into the series with the two-out homer with Pettitte cruising at that point in the game. Pettitte seemed poised to earn his 16th career postseason win and had thrown just 80 pitches by the time Guerrero stepped in the box. He was in control and was seemingly hit hard just once on a solo home run by Howard Kendrick in the fifth inning. But the thing masking his low pitch count was that Pettitte had been throwing over to first base often to keep the Angels' runners at bay. And this was no different with Bobby Abreu taking a large lead at first base that saw Pettitte throw to first three times in Guerrero's at-bat alone. So, while the speedy Angels stole just one base, Pettitte's constant pickoff attempts affected his focus on the hitter and wore down his arm. "It benefits us in a couple ways" Chone Figgins explained. "It's like him throwing a pitch. So, if he threw like 80 pitches, it was really like 95."
VLAD TO THE RESCUE
Figgins' assertion proved true in that at-bat, as Guerrero kept battling by fouling off three pitches and taking two more for balls before finally connecting for the crucial home run."He did something special today," Kendrick marveled. "He tied the game up after a lot of people got on him for not hitting with runners on in the series." It was just Guerrero at his best as the 91-mph fastball from Pettitte was actually inside and off the plate, but Guerrero took a mighty swing and pulled the ball for the pivotal homer. "I just missed my location," Pettitte said. "I had two strikes on the guy with two outs and I just didn't make my pitch. I hated that I wasn't able to get that last out and turn it over to our bullpen. It's all about making pitches. You make a mistake and you get hurt. I made a mistake to their No. 4 hitter." Right-hander Joba Chamberlain was warming up with Guerrero coming to the plate, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi wanted to keep Pettitte in because Chamberlain had faced Guerrero just twice in his career and allowed a home run in one of those at-bats.
Pettitte had also struggled against Guerrero, allowing nine hits in 23 regular-season at-bats, but hadn't allowed a homer to the feared slugger in his career.So Girardi stuck with Pettitte, who might not have been thinking about the home run because it was Guerrero hadn't homered in the postseason since 2004, when he hit a grand slam against the Red Sox in the AL Division Series. So while it took 22 games and 86 postseason at-bats between homers, it was exactly what the Angels needed in Game 3. "They've been waiting on a postseason home run from Vladdy for a long time, and they got one that put them back in the game," Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon said. "It just seemed like they had some momentum after that." Now the Angels will try to see if the momentum will carry over and if Guerrero can be a part of that as the series progresses. "I always try to look forward," Guerrero said. "What's in the past is in the past. Hopefully, as a team, we can keep our heads above water."
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.