Tuesday, July 31, 2012

http://reds.enquirer.com/2002/10/21/salmonwatch_zoom.jpg 

Tim Salmon’s clutch home run wins it

Rob Goldman - AngelsWin.com Historical Writer

The 2002 World Series followed the same script as the ALDS and ALCS. We came up short in Game #1, losing a squeaker 4-3, and we responded with a win in Game #2.  The prevailing view on the team was been there, done that. There is no reason to panic. To drive our point home, we came out swinging the sticks like we had in the previous playoff series. The headlines in the Orange County Register read, “Off the Hook.” It was a clever play on my name and the fact that I stepped it up after my poor performance in Game #1.

Game 2 was really a fun game to be a part of…. as a hitter.  In what turned into an offensive battle, both teams combined for 28 hits and 21 runs. The lead went back and forth as both teams battled it out like a great heavyweight fight.  The series really turned on this game. Hitters on both teams flushed out any anxieties they had and settled into offensive juggernauts. Fortunately this was also true for me. After feeling like the goat the night before, a few hits, including as second inning homer, bolstered my confidence once again, putting me in the right frame of mind for the biggest at bat of my life.  With the score tied 9-9 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the table was set for the first of many Angel heroics that would define the series for us.

With Felix Rodriquez on the mound, Adam Kennedy led off the inning by flying out to Lofton. Eckstein followed with a single, bringing the crowd to their feet. While Darin Erstadt is at the plate trying to move Eck into scoring position, I was on-deck doing my best to time Felix Rodriguez’s fastball. The only positive for me in Game 1 was that I had a pretty good at bat of Felix the late in the game when I lined out to right field.  I had finished the night on a pretty good swing and that thought was on my mind as I waited my at bat.

Having the opportunity to see what his fastball looked like, took away any apprehension I might have had at bat. He threw a hard fastball, but his three quarter delivery got behind the ball in just a way that gave me a good look at it when it came into the hitting zone. As I stood in the on deck circle, my mind was locked in on that slot, visualizing that pitch.

A side note to the 2002 season was that I had adjusted to hard throwing pitchers. For the first time in my career, they didn’t bother me anymore. After injuring my shoulder the previous year I started experimenting with different batting stances and discovered that by spreading my base out, it limited movement in my lower half, allowing me to spin on just about anything. Using my quick hands, it seemed I could just flick my hands at the ball. Down the stretch, I had hit a few home runs off hard throwers in key late inning situations by doing just that. Now I actually looked forward to facing flame-throwers like Felix Rodriguez.
   
I also used a different bat for those late inning pitchers. And no, it wasn’t corked!  Former coach George Hendrick turned me onto the bat he used in his day. It was a little tiny M253 Louisville Slugger, measuring 33 inches long and 31 ounces. One inch shorter and smaller by a whole ounce then most bats used today.  It had a great feel to it, almost like a coaches fungo. It was light and hard as re-bar, perfect against a hard thrower like Rodriguez. It’s lighter weight allowed me to wait a second longer on the pitch and still get around on the ball.
   
It was with this mindset that I walked into the batters box in the eighth inning of Game 2. With the game in the balance and with Eck on first base, I figured there was a good chance I’d get a fastball early in the count so that he’d get head of me with a strike.       Always the threat to steal a base, Felix needed to keep an eye on Eck, which further enhanced my chances of getting a good pitch to hit early in the count. Sure enough, the first pitch Rodriguez gives me was a heater out over the plate, and I squared it up perfectly. As soon as I hit it, I know it was gone. Suddenly we were up, 11-9.
   
What player hasn’t dreamed of hitting a big home run in the World Series? Usually I’m not one to show up an opposing pitcher by jogging slowly around the bases. This time though, I had to make an exception. Rounding first, I deliberately slowed my pace to savior the moment. I remember back in the mid 1990s, hitting plenty of home runs when the stadium was half full.  Never in my wildest dream could I have imagined it would be as sweet as this one. Was I dreaming? Rounding third, I give a fist pump to coach Ron Roenicke and realized it is all for real. As I made my way to the plate I saw Eck standing off to the side totally pumped. As I trotted to the mosh pit in the dugout, the whole team was jubilant.
   
Years of wondering if I had what it took to come through in a major clutch situation were vanquished forever with that one swing. To experience such elation with my teammates, to come through for them when it really counted, was a tremendous release. Years of pent-up emotion come pouring out of me like water through a broken dam. After the game I’m all smiles and laughter, and guys were saying, “Who is this? We haven’t seen this kind of emotion from him his whole career!”
   
My home run doesn’t compare to the drama filled, spectacular home run Kirk Gibson’s hit for the Dodgers back in 1988, but it was just as significant for our team and for me. It proved to be a game winner, and the victory gave us the momentum boost we needed as we headed up to San Francisco.


©  Always An Angel, Playing the Game With Fire and Faith.  Tim Salmon, Rob Goldman 2010
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