GLENDALE — The following are recaps on area athletes who played Major League Baseball during the recently concluded 2010 season.
REACH THE PINNACLE???
When the 2010 baseball season began, Freddy Sanchez was making a slow recovery from a shoulder injury — he didn't play his first game until May 19 — and his San Francisco Giants were languishing out of the gate.
What a difference four months made, as by the beginning of October, the Giants had rallied to clinch the National League West on the final day of the regular season, with Sanchez rounding back into top form at the plate.
And, over the next several weeks, San Francisco further transformed into a postseason juggernaut. The team rode a perfect storm of clutch hitting and unhittable pitching to capture its first pennant since 2002, and capture the World Series for the first time since 1954, when the team was still in New York.
"This is unbelievable. It's indescribable," Sanchez told ESPN after going one for four in the Giants' title-clinching 3-1 win over the Texas Rangers in Game Five of the World Series on Nov. 1. "Every night we had a different hero. …Our pitching, they did it all year and they did it this whole postseason."
Sanchez, a Glendale Community College alum, finished his first full regular season in San Francisco batting .292 with seven home runs, 47 runs batted in and 55 runs scored. He carried the momentum into his first-ever foray into the postseason, where he batted .270 with four RBIs, five runs and four extra-base hits, while hitting in the No. 2 hole and manning second base.
Not a popular preseason, or even midseason, pick to make the playoffs, the Giants still carried the underdog tag even after surging into the postseason.
The prevailing perception nationally was that, while possessing perhaps the deepest and most talented pitching rotation, led by the like of two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, the Giants' hitting lineup, largely devoid of any big-name sluggers, wouldn't measure up against other playoff squads.
But, behind unlikely heroes Aubrey Huff, Edgar Renteria, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Juan Uribe and, of course, Sanchez — a former batting titlist with the Pittsburgh Pirates — the upstart offense became the story of the postseason, hammering out 59 runs in 15 games.
After dispatching Atlanta, 3-1, in the National League Division Series, the Giants dethroned the reigning National League champion Philadelphia Phillies in six games, with Sanchez batting a robust .320.
In Game One of the World Series, Sanchez had doubles in his first three plate appearances, a major league first, and drove in three runs to spark the Giants to an 11-7 win. Texas responded to a 2-0 series deficit by winning Game 3 in Texas, but San Francisco quickly closed it out over the next two games.
It was an up-and-down season for the right-hander out of Crescenta Valley High, as he was shuttled back and forth between the Los Angeles Angels of ???Anaheim and their triple-A affiliate, the Salt Lake??? Bees.
After beginning the year in Salt Lake, Bell, who made his major-league debut with the Angels in 2009, was called up May 9 only to be sent down once again in early July.
"The first time it happens, you think, 'Wow ... I'm not really that good,'" Bell said of getting assigned to the minors. "It's basically a demotion. It doesn't feel good.
"You have to show that you can basically dominate triple-A to come back. It's definitely humbling."
But after getting the call-back to Anaheim on July 20, Bell remained in the big leagues for the remainder of the campaign. He finished with a record of 2-5 with a 4.72 earned-run average with 45 strikeouts and 21 walks while being used as both a starting pitcher and a reliever out of the bullpen.
Bell dealt with plantar fasciitis late in the season, pitching through it at first before essentially being shut down in September, although he remained on the active roster. His last appearance of the season came on Sept. 7, when he started and took the loss against the Cleveland Indians at home, lasting 5 1/3 innings and allowing two earned runs on four hits and three walks.
In his previous outing, Bell notched his only win as a starter, going six innings in a 4-2 win over the Seattle Mariners. He allowed two runs on nine hits and struck out six with no walks. He also had strong starts during the season against the Indians and the Baltimore Orioles, where he was in line for wins before being let down by the bullpen.
"When I came up this year, there was a different confidence level," Bell said. "I think it was more of a mental thing, like I think I belong here and I wasn't worried about who was in the box."
Overall, it was a down season for the Angels, who saw their string of three straight American League West Division titles snapped when they??? finished 80-82 for third place.
Next season, Bell figures to get another shot to make the starting rotation out of spring training, and he vows to do all he can to begin the 2011 campaign with the Angels.
"This time last year, I was kinda timid," Bell said. "This time, I'm going in there and I'm fighting for a spot. I'm gonna be the first guy in there and the last guy out. I'm gonna go all out."
SLATEN WAS BUSY???
IN NATS' BULLPEN???
After appearing in just 11 games (6 1/3 innings) before being sent to the minors in 2009 — his final season with the Arizona Diamondbacks — Glendale college alum Doug Slaten was once again productive in the big leagues, as a left-handed relief specialist in his first season with the Washington Nationals.
Slaten had a few lulls during the year, but was mostly solid, amassing a 4-1 record with 3.10 ERA in 40 2/3 innings of work.
With the Nationals once again struggling to the tune of a 69-93 record and last place in the National League East, Slaten didn't have many leads to protect, and finished with just four holds.
ZAUN'S MOVES ON???
FROM TOUGH SEASON???
Gregg Zaun never got much of a chance to make an impression on the field with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Less than a month into his first season as Milwaukee's starting catcher, the St. Francis High graduate suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder during a collision at the plate. Hoping at first to play through the injury, Zaun finally landed on the disabled list May 21. However, his season was shut down in early June.
At the time, the injury was thought to possibly be career-ending.
Zaun underwent successful surgery on his right shoulder on June 15 and, and according to a Nov. 2 report from the Associated Press, has said his injury rehabilitation is going well and that he intends to play next season.
Meanwhile, the Brewers declined a club option for 2011 on Zaun's one-year free-agent contract,??? resulting in a $250,000 buyout for the 39-year old catcher.
Zaun, who has expressed an interest in entering the broadcasting field after his playing career is over, batted .265 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 28 games with Milwaukee.
"If I don't believe in my brain, in my heart that I could catch four or five days in a row if I had to for a ballclub, then I'm not even going to sign with a ballclub," Zaun told the Associated Press days before his surgery. "I might be ready for the next stage of my career."
INJURY WIPED OUT???
Like Zaun, who was a Milwaukee teammate of Marco Estrada's briefly, the former GCC righty had his season shut down early by an injury.
Estrada began the 2010 season in Nashville before being promoted to Milwaukee, where he made seven appearances, including one start, and had a 9.53 ERA before suffering a ???shoulder strain that forced him to miss the rest of the season.
On Nov. 3, Estrada was removed from the Brewers' 40-man roster and sent outright to triple-A Nashville.