Joyner Gets Back Into the Swing He Used Last 2 Years

Alex Johnson, the Angel slugger back in the 1970s, went on a nice little home run binge one season.

"You've got 10 homers so far, Alex," a sportswriter said to Johnson. "Last year at this time you only had 5. What's the difference."

Johnson, who considered sportswriters an irritant on the level of jock rash, shot a glare at the writer and growled, "Five."

Wally Joyner is more expansive in his evaluation of his hitting. He went into Wednesday's game against the Oakland A's with 5 homers, in contrast with the 23 he had last season at this point.

What's the difference, Wally?

"Bad swing," Joyner explained.

See what a simple game baseball is to analyze?

Baseball was an incredibly easy game to play for Joyner Wednesday afternoon. He hit two home runs, drove in six runs, and scored the final run in the Angels' 9-8, 12-inning victory over the Athletics at Anaheim.

Wally made up a lot of ground in the stat department. In fact, if he can maintain Wednesday's production over the last 62 games, Joyner will finish with 131 home runs and 427 runs batted in, which would give him decent leverage in next winter's contract talks.

Not that Wally would love to stick it to the Angels next year or anything. He figures they've already shorted him several hundred thou in his brief career.

"They don't pay me to hit home runs," Joyner said after giving the Angels a 2-1 series edge over the division leaders.

"They didn't pay you much to hit home runs last year, either," a sportswriter said.

"No, they sure didn't," Joyner said.

Speaking of last year, Joyner said of his Wondrous Wally Wednesday, "It was a lot of fun. It brought back some memories of last year and the year before."

Back when Wally Joyner was the name at the top of the Angels' marquee, rather than just another member of the cast.

Let's face it. Home runs are glamorous. Fans like 'em. Management likes 'em. Teammates enjoy 'em. The hitters themselves have fun hitting 'em. Home runs are great things. Still, Wally is not Reggie Jackson, who shattered sound barriers with his swing.

"You can't try to hit home runs," Joyner said. "When you've got 5 home runs in 400 at-bats, you can't go up and try to think about home runs. I haven't thought about home runs most of this year."

Indeed, his second homer Wednesday, a three-run shot in the third inning, was produced by a swing so effortless and controlled you'd have thought Wally was trying to punch a single over shortstop. Instead he boomed a high drive into Wally World, the right-field bleachers.

"My first two times up (both home runs), I didn't try to hit home runs," he said. "If you put good swings on good pitches to hit, good things will happen."

Say, isn't that the title of a best-selling book?

"I'm paid to go out and play good defense and score runs for my team," Joyner said. "I think I've had a pretty good season, except for my home run output. My job is to get RBIs, not hit home runs."

Tell it to the arbitrator, Wally. I think I speak for the majority of fans when I say I'd rather see you hit 2 homers than 10 infield singles. Besides, you get RBI credit for home runs, too. And not that money means anything, but Babe Ruth made bigger bucks than Wee Willie Keeler.

Joyner hasn't exactly been eaten away mentally by the falloff in his home run and RBI production. This is a confident young ballplayer.

As a rookie and a sophomore, his combined homer total, 56, was astounding, considering his minor league stats, 27 in three seasons. The homers seemed to come from nowhere. When he stopped hitting them this season, it looked as if maybe Wally was reverting to reality. Maybe he wasn't a home run hitter after all.

The thought never occurred to Joyner.

"He's always been confident," Angel batting coach Rick Down said. "He knows he can hit. You don't hear (expressions of frustration) from Wally. He trusts his abilities.

"It's just a matter of time. He's been making decent contact. There's not a lot of muscle in his swing. There's a lot of rhythm, a lot of timing. He's not one who hits tape-measure home runs. He just hits the ball hard and hits it consistently."

Wednesday, Wally came close to a perfect game. First inning: Two-run homer. Third inning: Three-run homer. Fifth inning: Fly out. Seventh inning: Two-out RBI single up the middle to tie the score, 8-8. Ninth inning: Intentional walk. Twelfth inning: Leadoff walk that led to his scoring on Brian Downing's triple to right field.

His afternoon was the absurd extension of a recent trend. Joyner went into the game with a five-game hitting streak, with five doubles in his most recent seven hits.

It was the biggest win of the season for the Angels when you consider that it gave them the series over the mighty A's, moved them to within 12 games of the lead with 62 games left, sent them on the road with momentum, and unleashed their most dangerous offensive weapon--the Wally wallop.

Too bad they don't pay him to hit those things.

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