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06/30/07 12:59 AM ET
Kendrick's late blast lifts Angels
Halos find way to win despite O's comeback, Huff's cycle
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
BALTIMORE -- As Chone Figgins was carving out a new line in the Angels' record book, studious Howie Kendrick plagiarized the classic swing of one of his heroes, Hank Aaron, to win a game on Friday night at Camden Yards. Taking a clean, quick rip at a fastball from Orioles closer Chris Ray, Kendrick hammered a 420-foot drive over the wall in left-center in the ninth inning, his two-run homer powering the Angels to a dramatic 9-7 win. "Home runs should be accidents," said Kendrick, whose compact body and stroke are pure Aaron. "It's the result of putting a good swing on the ball. That's my swing; being basic and keeping it simple, trying to go through the middle of the field, gap to gap." Aaron made that formula work 755 times for a record very much in the news these days. The Hammer would applaud Kendrick's hitting approach, to say nothing of his easy, relaxed, workmanlike manner. The Angels needed Kendrick's blast, four hits by Figgins and three by Orlando Cabrera to subdue the Orioles and reverse a three-game losing spin. Baltimore also brought out the heavy lumber for 36,689 fans against Kelvim Escobar, whose 4 1/3 innings represented his second-shortest stint of the season. Aubrey Huff launched a three-run homer in the fifth on his way to joining Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr. as Orioles who have hit for cycles. Melvin Mora was a triple shy of a cycle, ripping a two-run homer and RBI single. In the afterglow, Mora chose to rave about Figgins, whose 51 hits in June have eclipsed Darin Erstad's former club record of 48 hits in a month (April 2000). "He's awesome," Mora said. "I've said it before -- if I'm a general manager, I want seven Figgys on my team. Everybody on that team is important, but for me, the most important player is Figgy. He can play every position, do everything. Figgins doubled leading off the game, scoring on Cabrera's single against Steve Trachsel, who lasted only 1 2/3 innings, yielding five runs and nine hits. Figgins singled and scored during a four-run second-inning uprising, punctuated by Vladimir Guerrero's two-run double. This staked Escobar to a 5-0 lead that Huff, Mora and Co. systematically erased. Escobar, who'd given up a total of eight runs in his previous four starts, departed having yielded seven earned runs on 10 hits and a walk, his ERA rising from 2.81 to 3.32. He struck out only two but wasn't troubled by his stuff as much as by what Baltimore did to it. "I feel great out there," Escobar said. "Seems like everything I threw, they hit it. It wasn't like I was falling behind. I got the lead and I pounded the strike zone." Huff pounded a slider over the wall in right after fouling off two great 1-2 pitches, a splitter and a curveball. "Obviously, for a 235-pound fat guy to get the triple out of the way [in the second inning] helps," Huff said. "[Kevin] Millar said, 'You've got to get that [cycle] for all the fat guys out there.' " So it was 7-5, Orioles, when Cabrera homered in the seventh against Scott Williamson, his fifth. Huff's cycle-clinching single came in the bottom of the seventh, and he departed to an ovation. With Mike Napoli (walk) and Erick Aybar (hit by a pitch) on base, Figgins delivered his biggest hit in the eighth. The two-out laser to right cashed in Napoli, who can run for a catcher. When Corey Patterson's second double and Brian Roberts' intentional walk got Dustin Moseley in trouble in the bottom of the eighth, Scot Shields came to the rescue. Chris Gomez grounded to Kendrick, who started a double play that kept the Angels even at 7. Earlier, it had been Chris Bootcheck -- who went 2 1/3 scoreless innings -- restoring order after Escobar on another solid night's work by manager Mike Scioscia's bullpen. Ray, who served up a walk-off two-run homer to Guerrero in Anaheim, hit Vlad with a pitch leading off the ninth. Gary Matthews Jr. forced Guerrero, then strolled home when Kendrick turned Ray's 1-0 delivery into his fourth homer. Shields (2-2) claimed the win after Francisco Rodriguez worked a perfect ninth for his 23rd save. "Howie has surprising power -- he crushed that ball," Scioscia said of his 5-foot-10, 200-pound second baseman. "His real talent is squaring up a baseball, hitting line drives. But when he gets it out there like tonight, he can hit it a long way." Born nine years after Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record in 1974, Kendrick has read books about the life and times of Aaron, whose personal style he admires as much as that stroke. "I've always been interested in him," Kendrick said. "I've tried to learn as much as I can about him, to understand what made him so great." He'll laugh off Aaron references, but there is something about that attitude Kendrick projects, that powerful frame, that stroke. Just don't ask him to try to hit a home run. "That's when I get in trouble," Kendrick said. "I have to stay focused on hitting through the middle, gap to gap." If that gap stretches to 420 feet and wins a game, he'll take it.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.