Minor Leaguers Played Major Role


Angel Manager Terry Collins sent so many distress calls to the team's triple-A affiliate in Vancouver this season, he probably could have used a hotline.

With Angel players dropping like flies hit to Luis Polonia, Collins called for reinforcements often. It was best not to ask too many questions.

In mid-June, pitcher Ken Hill went on the disabled list and was facing elbow surgery. The Angels were about to roll into Arlington for their first games with the Texas Rangers.

Collins needed help. He got Steve Sparks, a knuckleballer who missed the entire 1997 season while recovering from elbow surgery.

"I called Vancouver and asked who was pitching the best," Collins said. "They said, 'Steve Sparks.' I said, 'Fine, that's the guy.' "

What Collins didn't know was Sparks was winless, going 0-8 in stints with Vancouver and double-A Midland.

Ignorance can be bliss. Sparks beat the Rangers in his first start with the Angels. He beat the Rangers in his second start. He was the Angels' best pitcher in August, going 4-0 with a 3.26 earned-run average. If there is a poster boy for the Angels' Band-Aid bunch, it's Sparks.

It didn't matter if they were prospects getting their first taste or career minor-leaguers getting a last look. Each stepped into a void and produced at least one moment that helped the Angels stay in the race.

They were the young and the recycled.

"Next spring, when I walk over to that minor league camp and give my little talk to the players, I got a lot of fuel," Collins said.

"I can say, 'Let me tell you how you're going to approach this thing. I don't care where you are when you start out April 1, you got a chance to play in the big leagues and here's the reason why.' I can rattle off about 10 names of guys who have come up and helped us fight for a pennant.

"You coming back from an arm problem? Look at Steve Sparks. You being asked to change position? Look at Justin Baughman. You get sent back to the minors? Look at Orlando Palmeiro. You're a career triple-A guy? Look at Reggie Williams."

The list is almost as long as the Angel casualty report and touches just about every base, as well as the outfield and pitching.

So once around the horn:


Player: Chris Pritchett

Game: Aug. 17 against Chicago.

Moment: A bases-loaded double off fellow UCLA alum Jim Parque. It turned a 3-0 lead into a 6-0 lead. He had four RBIs in the game.

Note: He has played at triple-A Vancouver so long, he is closing in on some team career records. Not exactly what you want on the resume.



Player: Justin Baughman

Game: June 2 against Kansas City.

Moment: Homered, scored two runs and drove in two runs in a fight-marred Angel victory.

Note: Made the switch from shortstop to second base during spring training. "I saw a different side of baseball in Kansas City that night," Baughman said. "It was a little overwhelming."



Player: Troy Glaus

Game: Aug. 25 against New York.

Moment: Yankee reliever Mike Buddie entered the game with two on and two out. His first pitch was at Glaus' head. The next one, Glaus ripped for a two-run double for a 7-4 Angel lead.

Note: He had 35 home runs in half a season in the minor leagues.



Player: Orlando Palmeiro

Game: Aug. 15 against Toronto.

Moment: Roger Clemens struck out 15 that day, but Palmeiro scored one run and drove in another with a double, as the Angels outlasted Clemens. In the 11th inning, Palmeiro drew a bases-loaded walk to break a 2-2 tie.

Note: Robbed of robbing a home run by a fan on Aug. 17. The fan was ejected by Edison Field security. A few nights later, Palmeiro made a running catch at the fence in foul territory. "I could hear the fans yelling, 'Give him room, give him room,' " Palmeiro said.

Name: Reggie Williams

Game: Aug. 26 against the Yankees.

Moment: Hit a two-run homer to give the Angels a 3-2 lead. His first major league home run.

Note: He made a diving catch in Detroit, sliding on his elbows. Umpire Ken Kaiser first called a hit after Williams jumped up and fired the ball back to the infield. "I told him, 'I've been in the minor leagues 10 years, I'm just excited,' " Williams said. Crew chief Larry Barnett reversed the call.



Name: Steve Sparks

Game: June 20 against Texas.

Moment: In his second start, Sparks had given up three runs after four batters. He didn't give up another, going 6 1/3 innings for his second victory.

Note: Sparks, a knuckleball pitcher, takes gelatin capsules to strengthen his finger nails.

Name: Jarrod Washburn

Game: June 13 against Texas.

Moment: The Rangers had the bases loaded with two outs in the first. Washburn got Bill Haselman to pop up. Washburn went seven innings, giving up three runs.

Note: Reads pulp westerns before every start.

Name: Jeff Juden

Game: Aug. 11 against Detroit.

Moment: In his first start after being acquired from Milwaukee, Juden went 7 1/3 innings, giving up four hits and striking out nine.

Note: Pitched with Cleveland last season. He went into Manager Mike Hargrove's office before Game 7 of the World Series and said, "If you want to win, pitch me." He has been with seven teams in seven seasons.



Player: Mike Fetters

Game: Aug. 11 against Detroit.

Moment: Fetters, acquired that day from Oakland, got out of a first-and-third situation in the 11th by striking out Tony Clark. The Angels scored three in the 12th to win.

Note: Second stint with the Angels. Saved 71 games for Milwaukee from 1994-96.

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