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Guerrero Brothers’ Dream of Playing Together Comes True

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The brothers talked often during those frenzied days before the major league trading deadline.

Wilton and Vladimir Guerrero exchanged stories and checked rumors, and hoped their dream would come true.

The Dodgers made it happen last Friday.

They united the Guerreros in Montreal, sending Wilton to the Expos in a seven-player trade. He now starts at second base for Montreal, after two traumatic seasons with the Dodgers.

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Wilton finally feels comfortable. The question is, will he make the most of his new situation?

“I feel very good to be here in Montreal, and very good about being with my brother,” Wilton said before the Expos’ 5-4 victory over the Dodgers on Tuesday in 10 innings.

“I learned a lot with the Dodgers, and I appreciate the opportunity but I think Montreal is the best place for me now. I think this is something I need now.”

The Dodgers completed their third major deal of the season before the non-waiver trading deadline, sending Guerrero and three minor leaguers to the Expos for left-handed starter Carlos Perez and shortstop Mark Grudzielanek. The Dodgers seemingly bolstered their roster for the stretch run in the National League wild-card race, and the Expos, following form, dumped salary.

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Vladimir didn’t care why the deal occurred. His older brother is now his teammate, and that’s all that matters.

“This was something we both wanted for a long time,” said outfielder Vladimir, selected the NL player of the month for July. “When you have a chance to play in the big leagues with your brother, that is a very special thing.

“There were a lot of rumors going around that Wilton was coming here, so I wasn’t surprised about the trade, but I was happy. And our family is also very happy back home that we’re together.”

Wilton, 23, and Vladimir, 22, grew up playing together in the Dominican Republic. Wilton signed with the Dodgers as a free agent in 1991, and Vladimir, whom the Dodgers could have signed, joined the Expos in ’93.

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Vladimir has emerged as a power-hitter and is already considered the Expos’ franchise player, despite being in only his second full season.

During 28 games in July, he batted .385 (42 for 109) with 11 home runs, 27 RBIs and 24 runs. Overall, Vladimir is batting .333 (145 for 436) with 26 homers and 79 RBIs.

In Journal de Montreal, baseball columnist Serge Touchette wrote that Vladimir is the “first brick to the [Expos’ proposed] new stadium,” and among the keys to keeping baseball in the province of Quebec.

Wilton struggled with the Dodgers after an impressive minor league career. As a rookie last season, he batted .291 and tied for third in the league with nine triples.

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But he lost his job as the everyday second baseman after numerous mental errors. The concentration lapses continued this season as the Dodgers tried to convert him to the outfield because of his offensive potential.

He batted .283 in 64 games before the trade, primarily playing for injured starter Eric Young at second. Dodger coach Manny Mota believes that Montreal is the perfect fit for Guerrero.

“It will help Wilton that he’s not playing on a contending team,” Mota said. “Wilton always felt a lot of pressure playing for the Dodgers because we were supposed to win, and he was afraid to make mistakes.

“I would always tell Wilton to relax and not to be afraid to make aggressive mistakes, but it was hard for him. This is somewhere where he can just relax and play the game. I also think it will help him a lot to be with Felipe Alou.”

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Alou is considered among the best managers in the game, and the Dominican native has been especially successful teaching Latin players.

“Felipe speaks the same language,” Mota said. “That understanding could be important for Wilton.”

Alou is intrigued by Guerrero’s offensive skills.

“His game needs to be polished but he’s going to get a chance to play every day,” Alou said.

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The rest is up to Guerrero.


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