By Joe Haakenson, AngelsWin.com Contributor -
SEPT. 4, 2002
GAME 138 - ANGELS AT DEVIL RAYS
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The first thing Adam Kennedy will do this afternoon when he walks into the Angels clubhouse at Tropicana Field is check the lineup. After all, a left-handed pitcher is starting for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and that usually has meant a seat on the bench for the left-handed-hitting second baseman.
Kennedy, though, has rendered meaningless the statistical matchups game many managers play with a hot bat that continued to sizzle in the Angels' 4-2 victory before 10,161 fans. Kennedy went 3 for 4, scored two runs, drove in another, stole a base and played solid defense as the Angels won their sixth game in a row.
Angels starting pitcher Kevin Appier maintained his status as the club's most consistent pitcher, giving up two runs and six hits in seven innings to improve to 14-9. Scott Schoeneweis and Troy Percival (33rd save) combined for the final two innings.
With the win, the Angels improved to 84-54, the first time in club history they've been 30 games over .500. They remained 3 1/2 games behind Oakland in the American League West but increased their wild-card lead to 3 1/2 games over Seattle and 6 1/2 over Boston.
Kennedy likely will start tonight against Devil Rays lefty Joe Kennedy, which is no small feat considering how manager Mike Scioscia likes to play the matchups game. But Kennedy's recent 12-game hitting streak cannot be ignored. During the streak, Kennedy is batting .511 (23 for 45) lifting his average to .324, fourth best in the American League.
``Yeah, I do,'' Kennedy said when asked if he expected to see his name on the lineup card today. ``But it's no different from every day. If not, I'll be pulling for Benji (Gil) and get ready for something later in the game.''
Kennedy singled and scored in the fifth inning, but the key hit of the game came in the seventh with the game tied at 2. With Bengie Molina on second base and one out, Kennedy got just enough of a splitter throw by Devil Rays pitcher Tanyon Sturtze (3-15), blooping it into shallow right-center and scoring Molina to give the Angels a 3-2 lead.
Kennedy stole second base (No. 15) and then scored on David Eckstein's single to put the Angels up 4-2.
``It's been frustrating because I always felt I could play like this but it wasn't happening,'' Kennedy said. ``Now it's coming at an important time for us.''
Kennedy's teammates have noticed his development.
``He didn't have huge expectations on him so he's been allowed to mature,'' left fielder Garret Anderson said. ``Hitting where he is in the lineup (usually ninth), he's had time to develop without having to be a big-time producer in the lineup.''
Said center fielder Darin Erstad: ``With the platoon thing he easily could have had a bad attitude about it, but he went the other way. He took it to heart and now he's out to prove everybody wrong.''
Scioscia likes to talk about Kennedy's defensive improvement as much as his offensive surge, but admitted that Kennedy's bat can't be overlooked.
``He's swinging the bat as well as he has in the three years I've seen him,'' Scioscia said. ``Adam's making a strong case to be in there, and in my mind he's an every-day player. This guy's stepping up into a spot where he's in there no matter who's pitching.''
Kennedy's three hits Wednesday were big because the rest of the team combined for only seven more, and three of those came from Eckstein. Sturtze threw the Devil Rays' 12th complete game of the season, the most in the majors. But he was outdone by Appier, who is 5-0 with a 1.09 ERA in his past five starts.
It's the sixth time in his career the 34-year-old Appier has won at least 14 games in a season.
``I think experience is big for me,'' Appier said. ``Because even though I think I have pretty good stuff, I have to be a pitcher out there, and experience is going to help me with that.
``Everything was working tonight, everything was consistent, command-wise.''
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Scott Spiezio not only has replaced Mo Vaughn as the Angels' first baseman this season, he might have established himself as their first baseman for years to come.
Spiezio isn't the typical power-hitting first baseman, but he's hitting .286 with nine homers and 70 RBIs while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. Meanwhile, Vaughn is hitting .253 with 21 homers and 62 RBIs for the last-place Mets.
Spiezio, who is making $2.275 million this season, is eligible for arbitration after this season and for free agency after the 2003 season, but he'd like to stay.
``Every player would like to sign a multi-year deal,'' he said. ``You have that security and don't have to move around. You know where your family's going to be the next couple years. But until I'm in position to control that, I don't worry about it. I'll let (the Angels) contact me ... or my agent. That's why I pay him, so I don't have to think about that stuff.''
Spiezio has spent much of his career -- with Oakland and now with the Angels -- trying to shed the ``utility player'' tag. He played an entire season at second base with the A's in 1997 and has played third base and the outfield in addition to first base with the Angels.
``I think I've proven I can play every day and can play first base,'' he said. ``I've shown I can hit from both sides of the plate and drive in runs. I think they're seeing some good things from me. Now it comes down to what they feel they want to do. I love playing for this team and I love the guys on this team. But right now it's up to them.''
Tim Salmon said the bone bruise in his left hand is healed and he will be in the lineup today. Salmon, hit by a pitch on Aug. 10, has missed the past 22 games except for one pinch-running appearance.
During that stretch the Angels have hardly missed him, going 16-6.
With a left-handed pitcher starting for the Devil Rays today (Joe Kennedy), Shawn Wooten figures to get a rare start. Wooten and Brad Fullmer normally platoon as the designated hitter, but the Angels have faced few lefties lately and Wooten has only four at-bats (with three hits) since Aug. 22.
``I try to take extra hitting and hit in the cage,'' Wooten said about staying sharp. ``It's not the same as hitting in a game, but that's as good as it gets.''
Second baseman Adam Kennedy fouled off so many pitches into the sparse crowd at Tropicana Field during his third-inning at-bat Wednesday, that a couple of foul balls that reached the third deck went unclaimed. Kennedy eventually doubled, extending his career-best hitting streak to 12 games.