10/12/2002 11:58 pm ET
MLBeat: The legend of Frankie
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Tim Salmon heard about Francisco Rodriguez a few years ago and gave the usual casual nod that says, "I'll believe it when I see it."
It turns out that Salmon had heard about the Venezuelan kid with the powerful arm from Angels minor leaguer Bill Curtis, the brother of former Angel Chad Curtis, with whom Salmon had played college ball at Grand Canyon in Arizona.
"Bill said he had an unbelievable arm, but you're always skeptical because he's in A-ball or whatever, and you hear that about a lot of guys in the minors," Salmon said.
"Then we saw him pitch for us in Oakland this year, and, yeah, he's got an unbelievable arm."
Rodriguez has now struck out 15 batters in 9 1/3 playoff innings and has three of the Angels' five wins in that span.
In Saturday evening's 7-1 triumph over the Twins to take a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series, Rodriguez entered the game with a 2-0 advantage in the bottom of the eighth.
He gave up a leadoff bloop double to Doug Mientkiewicz, but he got the next three outs -- two via strikeout -- and stranded Mientkiewicz on third.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia might have provided the understatement of the season when he announced before Saturday's game that Rodriguez had all but won the setup role for closer Troy Percival.
Scioscia, who would normally use Ben Weber in that spot in the regular season, has turned almost exclusively to Rodriguez in October.
"The way Frankie's throwing the ball right now, he's stepped up to a prominent setup role for us," Scioscia said.
Salmon was a bit more demonstrative with his adjectives.
"He's got a lethal combination right now," Salmon said. "He's got filthy stuff and nobody's seen him before. That's dangerous."
Anaheim's new speed demon: The Angels must have known things were going their way when they saw their slowest baserunner -- by far -- legging out a rare triple in the five-run eighth inning.
Sure enough, there was catcher Bengie Molina, victim of two debilitating hamstring injuries in the last two years, slamming a Mike Jackson ball to the wall, watching as Torii Hunter lunged for it and fell down, and cruising into third with a triple.
It gave the Angels their final two runs of the game in the 7-1 victory that puts them a win away from the first World Series in franchise history.
"I was running out of gas when I stepped on second base," Molina said. "(Angels third-base coach) Ron (Roenicke) was saying something, but I didn't know what it was. I got to third, and he said something, and I still couldn't understand him."
Whatever it was that Roenicke said, Molina's inner speed demon said, "Go," and the result was two big runs and pure entertainment for his teammates in the dugout.
"They got all over me, man," Molina said. "But that's OK."
Angels starter John Lackey said there really wasn't much mystery about how Molina accomplished the rare feat.
"He hit the mess out of it, that's what happened," Lackey said.
Tommy pays a visit: Scioscia's former manager, Los Angeles Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda, stopped by the Angels dugout before Game 4 of the ALCS to say hello to his old catcher.
Lasorda was asked by the Southern California media to decide which team he'd rather see win the World Series: Scioscia's Angels or the San Francisco Giants, who are managed by another one of Lasorda's old players, Dusty Baker.
"I hate the Giants, but I love Dusty," Lasorda said. "I love Mike. Both guys played for me. How the hell am I supposed to answer that? How about a seven-game series?"
Lasorda said the comparisons between this year's Angels and his 1988 World Series championship team in Los Angeles -- of which Scioscia, Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, first-base coach Alfredo Griffin were members -- are valid.
"I see a lot of that club in this one," Lasorda said. "They're scrappy and they have a bunch of no-name guys that are excelling for them. There are a lot of parallels."
Lasorda also commented on shortstop David Eckstein.
"He's amazing," Lasorda said. "He reminds me of (Eddie) Stanky, of what Branch Rickey once said about Stanky. Rickey said, 'He can't run, he can't throw, he can't hit, but he always wins.'"
Lasorda complimented Scioscia as a manager, too.
"What I like most about him is how he builds his players up," Lasorda said. "What he did for (Tim) Salmon is a tribute to him. Everybody thought Salmon was finished. They were saying, 'Why the hell did they give him that contract?' But Mike stuck with him and they guy came back and played extremely well. I always told Mike that he'd be a good manager in the big leagues."
Sayonara, boys: After the season is over, Eckstein and reliever Scott Schoeneweis will join a group of Major Leaguers for a baseball-playing tour of Japan, following the lead of Bengie Molina, Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus, other Angels who have participated in the tour.
Eckstein, 27, has only been outside of the United States once, and it was for one game in the Dominican Republic. He said he's looking forward to seeing a new country, although he won't exactly be scarfing down sushi left and right.
"I'm really a homebody-type person, so it will be interesting," Eckstein said. "But I'm not gonna eat there. I'm gonna have to diet. Or I'll just eat at McDonald's every single day."
Former Angels infielder and current TV broadcaster Rex Hudler, who played the 1993 season in Japan for the Yakult Swallows, had some advice for Eckstein and Schoeneweis.
"Go over there with a fresh, hungry, thankful attitude and learn and take it all in," Hudler said. "Don't expect it to be America. And dude, I don't want to hear complaints from anyone. Leave your ego in the States. That's what I did, and I had a blast."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.