No one’s pointing fingers at Guerrero
BOSTON -- On one coast, a superstar entered these playoffs with four hits in his last 41 postseason at-bats, and he’s never allowed to forget it.
On the other coast, a superstar entered these playoffs with nine hits in his last 50 postseason at-bats, and everyone seems to have forgotten about it.
If Alex Rodriguez is seriously considering leaving the chill of New York for the warmth of the Angels this winter, the most convincing argument would be the treatment of his counterpart, Vladimir Guerrero.
Both men have recently struggled in October, yet only Rodriguez has taken the fall.
Both men have failed to carry the weight of their teams or their contracts, yet only Rodriguez has been held publicly accountable for it.
Rodriguez is chided by his manager, questioned by his teammates and booed by his fans.
Guerrero just keeps smiling and swinging and disappearing.
It happened again in the Angels’ 4-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday in the first game of the division series.
Guerrero hacked at 11 of 14 pitches and managed two singles. Even though that was half of his team’s output against Josh Beckett, it wasn’t enough to make a dent in Guerrero’s October angst.
In four seasons since joining the Angels, he has dragged them into three postseasons, but stumbled once they arrived.
In 14 postseason games, he has one extra-base hit. He has driven in runs on exactly three hits. He has twice as many double-play grounders (two) as home runs (one).
He has a career .204 postseason average, more than 100 points lower than the October average of former Angels hero Troy Glaus, whose void he needs to replace for the Angels to return to that glory.
Yet ask the manager, and Mike Scioscia is kind.
“We have to be more than Vlad,” he said.
Ask the players, and Chone Figgins is defensive.
“It’s not just Vlad, we all have home runs in us,” he said.
Ask Vlad, and he is, well, Vlad.
“I feel really good,” he said through an interpreter, smiling under his curls.
Nobody will say it. Nobody will point fingers. Not here. No way.
It’s part of an Angels’ culture created by Scioscia and spread by the likes of Troy Percival and Darin Erstad.
Nobody is bigger than the team. Not in victory, and not in defeat. No visible scapegoats. No public doghouse.
The pressure will be applied through example. The policing will be done internally. The biggest motivational tool is a mirror.
This is how they won in 2002. This is how they are convinced they can keep winning, and who would argue with them?
But Guerrero is different. He is the quietest of Angels, impervious to peer expectations, available to batting coach Mickey Hatcher only through an interpreter, a childlike hitting savant who may not even own a mirror.
The Angels have talked to him about being more selective in the postseason, where each at-bat is magnified.
“I always swing hard,” he responded to reporters. “I’ll continue to swing hard.”
The Angels have talked to him about being more aware of his stance, of the count, of the situation.
“We just have to play the way we played throughout the season,” he responded.
The Angels quietly know that for them to survive this October, Guerrero will have to knock a ball off a wall or over a fence, and soon.
But they won’t try to convince him he must be that guy.
They can only hope he understands it on his own.
“You look at those guys over there [Boston], they have a couple of big boys who have stepped up at the plate and given them a spark,” said Hatcher, referring to the Red Sox’s David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. “Right now, we need that.”
They need the Guerrero who, during Thursday’s off-day workout, knocked two balls over the Green Monster, out of the yard and onto Lansdowne Street.
They don’t need the guy who had one hit in the five-game 2005 American League Championship Series against the Chicago White Sox.
They need the guy who, swinging with no cap and his trademark lack of batting gloves, rattled three more balls into the center field seats during Thursday’s practice.
They don’t need the guy who batted .167 in the 2004 division series loss to the Red Sox.
Guerrero should be more relaxed tonight when he leaves the bench as a designated hitter and returns to right field, his sore right elbow having apparently healed.
“I played the outfield for years in the National League, I am more comfortable there,” he said.
But maybe he is too comfortable. Maybe, after all those years on all those losing Montreal Expos teams, he has never quite learned that October runs at a different speed.
“We need a different energy this time of year,” Hatcher said. “This is when you have to turn it up.”
Maybe Guerrero has not yet figured out that October is a time for adjustments. Maybe he doesn’t look around enough to understand that everyone else is making them.
“No, I don’t feel any pressure,” he said Thursday.
Maybe he should.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.