When the Angels decided to turn the second base position over to rookie Mark McLemore this spring, they didn't expect to see his name among the American League's home run, RBI or even batting average leaders.
They did expect to see him often on the evening news and in the club's postseason highlight film, however, making spectacular defensive plays.
McLemore has provided the defensive gems with regularity, but he is also handling the bat far better now than the Angels' less-than-great preseason expectations.
The 22-year-old switch-hitter has at least one hit in 11 of the last 14 games and, after a very slow start, has boosted his average to .264.
Tuesday, McLemore had three more hits and the third--a ground ball that looked every bit like a routine play for Tony Fernandez, Toronto's Golden Glove shortstop--drove in the winning run as the Angels beat the Blue Jays, 2-1, at Anaheim Stadium.
With one out in the eighth inning, Jack Howell doubled to right-center field. After Doug DeCinces was intentionally walked, Howell moved over to third when Gary Pettis forced DeCinces.
McLemore then hit a bouncer to Fernandez, who glanced at second and then fired across to first. McLemore, head down like a sprinter going for the tape, and the ball arrived at first almost simultaneously.
Umpire Larry Young thought McLemore got there first. Toronto Manager Jimy Williams didn't and after a few minutes of heatedly relating his opinion, Williams was thrown out of the game by Young.
"It was a very close play, but I think I nosed it out," McLemore said. "You have to give a lot of credit to Gary (Pettis), though. If he doesn't run like that, Fernandez just flips it to second for the easy force.
"When I hit it, I thought I might have a chance because he (Fernandez) had to go to his right a little and it wasn't hit that hard. When I saw he was coming to first, I just put my head down and went."
No one has questioned McLemore's hustle or dedication. He has taken extra batting and fielding practice nearly every day since the season opener and last week in Detroit, he began experimenting with a slight change in his swing that has seemed to make a difference.
"It's just a little more movement in my hands," McLemore said, "Nothing that big, but it's helped me wait back more. I'm able to hit my pitch more and stay away from the pitcher's pitch. I'm just more comfortable . . . more relaxed up there now."
There are times McLemore appears a bit too relaxed in the field. He has eight errors, including one Tuesday night when Kelly Gruber stole second and McLemore tried to tag him before catcher Bob Boone's throw was in his glove. The ball caromed into center field and Gruber took third.
All seven of the other errors have been of the fielding variety and all have been on balls that McLemore thinks he should have caught.
Angel Manager Gene Mauch is hardly concerned, though. "Nobody works harder than Mark McLemore," Mauch said.
The implication is that McLemore will work through what may be nothing more than a rookie's concentration lapses.
"I'm not very happy with the errors," McLemore said. "They don't indicate the kind of defensive player I am. I'm getting there, but just missing balls I should catch. I expect a lot from myself and when I don't get what I expect, I get a little upset.
"I can't be satisfied to keep making the so-called spectacular plays and not make the routine ones. You have to make those 100 out of 100 times. The routine plays are the ones that decide ballgames, not the spectacular ones."
That is an observation not lost on Williams and Fernandez and Co.