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At Least He Tries to Do Right Thing

Kevin Appier certainly isn’t the first pitcher to be described as a left-hander trapped in a right-hander’s body. After all, as Jarrod Washburn, a pitcher and left-hander, puts it, “all successful starting pitchers are a little goofy, and Kevin is a little more so. It’s not a bad thing.”

Appier, of course, hopes not and really doesn’t think he’s “weird and strange” at all, and even Washburn, his Angel teammate, has trouble coming up with specific examples other than saying, “Most starting pitchers are goofy four of five days. Kevin is probably goofiest one of five.”

Washburn meant that while most pitchers retreat into a cocoon on the day they start, “it’s like Kevin can’t shut up. I mean, he’s more talkative than usual, more antsy than usual. It’s fun to watch.”

Considering he is starting Game 1 of the American League championship series against the Minnesota Twins tonight, Appier is hopeful of providing more fun than usual, confident--as a 13-year major league veteran--he knows how to leave the clubhouse chatter and angst behind and attain the same “optimum” adrenaline level that he did in his Yankee Stadium start in Game 2 of the division series.

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The Angels won that game, 8-6. Appier’s three walks and 91 pitches were more than he wanted to deliver, but two bloop singles contributed to two of three runs he was charged with, and he disengaged two Yankee threats to keep the Angels close in a win that set the tone for the two that followed.

If Yankee Stadium is aura and mystique, the Metrodome is decibel-piercing noise and a gray canopy that is tantamount to the Bermuda Triangle for fly balls.Or as second baseman Adam Kennedy said, “All you can do is have everybody run toward where you think it’s coming down and hope you’re right.”

The 34-year-old Appier has a 4-1 record and 2.34 earned-run average in six games at the Metrodome, although he lost his only start here this year and he produced that previous 4-0 record before the Twins became as good as they now are, as good as they are in the dome (54-27) and as good as they are against right-handed pitchers (71-38).

“We have our work cut out,” Appier said. “I have my work cut out. I know the noise is going to be pretty intense because I’ve never heard it louder than it can get in here but I feel like I can block that out pretty easily, that it won’t be a factor in the way I pitch. The biggest problem is for our fielders on fly balls.”

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In the process, as the former Antelope Valley High and Antelope Valley College pitcher makes this important start for the team that was his favorite as a youngster (“this is definitely cool,” he said), viewers and listeners are likely to learn a little more as to why some consider him a left-hander in a right-hander’s body, why Washburn leans to describing him as goofy.

Maybe they will be told about the time in Kansas City, struggling with the Royals, that he took his uniform, cap, spikes and glove into the shower area and burned them, or how he and former UCLA pitcher Mike Magnante, a Royal teammate, would sit in a clubhouse corner and talk about the speed of particles in space, or how former Kansas City teammate Mark Gubicza described him as “Outer Space Bob, one of the Jetsons.”

Maybe they will be told about how the young Appier, although he didn’t grow up on a farm, always dreamed of having one and now lives on a 270-acre spread in Paola, Kan., where he grows corn and beans and has about 100 head of Angus cattle in a menagerie that includes two camels that he gave his wife Laurie (“she’s a female Dr. Doolittle,” he said) for Christmas last year because “she has always been obsessed by camels.” (A friend had located a Missouri breeding farm on the Internet.)

“Actually,” Appier said, “I gave her one camel but it didn’t get along with our llama, so I had to get a second camel so that the first camel would have a buddy.”

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Maybe they also will be told how Angel pitching coach Bud Black called his former Kansas City teammate, George Brett, to find out what kind of guy Appier was after the Angels obtained him from the New York Mets in December for Mo Vaughn and Brett told him, “Well, Bud, he’s out there a little bit. He’s a guy who knows how clouds are formed, and how many pitchers do you have who can tell you how clouds are formed? But first and foremost he’s a competitor and you’re going to enjoy him.”

Appier sat on the Angel bench during a workout Monday and laughed.

Maybe, he said, he’s looked on as being a little different because he’s into things a lot of players aren’t. Rather than playing golf, for instance, he enjoys the Discovery channel and scientific journals and repairing tractors and other machinery on his farm.

“Does all that mean I’m pushing the extremes of normalcy?” he asked.

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The Angels don’t care.

Appier gave them a 14-12 record, 188 1/3 innings and a clubhouse free of Vaughn’s whining about the merits of East Coast baseball over West Coast baseball, and what does Mo think now?

Appier also provided mentoring for Washburn and the other young pitchers through what Black called his “old-school work ethic” and a mound presence “in which he relentlessly throws every pitch as if it’s his last.”

Said Washburn: “There wasn’t one aspect of pitching that we haven’t approached Kevin and Aaron Sele about.”

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Tonight, of course, it’s Appier who approaches his biggest start since the last one. The Angels are carrying the same 10 pitchers in this best-of-seven-game series that they did in the best of five with the Yankees, resisting the temptation to add Sele to the roster, which places an even greater emphasis on the starters and means Scot Shields will move into the long relief role that John Lackey, who will start Game 4 in this series, filled so well in Game 3 of the division series.

Lost amid the offensive onslaught against the Yankees was the fact that Angel pitching wasn’t exactly flawless. The Angels had a 6.17 ERA, and now Appier goes to work having allowed 26 hits and 17 runs in the 19 2/3 innings of his last four starts, including the division series.

It’s a new season on top of a new season, however, and everyone knows that a left-hander trapped in a right-hander’s body isn’t going to be caught up worrying about what came before.


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