07/12/2004 7:20 PM ET
High praise for Angelic duo
Guerrero, Rodriguez drawing raves from fellow All-Stars
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- They're both called freaks of nature, but in a good way.
Vladimir Guerrero, the 28-year-old four-time All-Star outfielder now starring for the Angels, has the uncanny ability to crush a baseball, even when it's seemingly pitched over his head, in the dirt, or at his ear.
Francisco Rodriguez, the 22-year-old phenom of a relief pitcher who is Guerrero's Angels teammate, has a 95 mph fastball with some cut to it and a cartoonish slider that seems to hit the brakes in mid-flight, make a sharp left turn, and plummet into the strike zone.
Throughout Major League clubhouses, both are viewed as possessors of that certain "something" that becomes legend.
And this year, they're the Angels' representatives at the 75th Midsummer Classic at Minute Maid Park.
A station-to-station questionnaire of this year's All-Stars gives a good look at how flabbergasted the rest of the league has become by these two talents.
Guerrero is no All-Star surprise, of course.
The right fielder came to the Angels over the winter after seven stellar -- and somewhat secretive -- years with the Montreal Expos and landed a five-year, $70 million deal.
Three months later, he's batting .345 with 20 homers and 77 RBIs and is being tabbed as an early favorite for American League Most Valuable Player honors.
As for the lower back problem that kept him out of 40 games in 2003 and scared off a few suitors over the winter, Guerrero has one message.
"Look at the numbers," he says through an interpreter.
Guerrero, rarely seen except for the ever-present highlight reels of his monstrous home runs and laser throws to home, cultivated a somewhat mystical following by racking up Roberto Clemente-like numbers and plenty of Roberto Clemente comparisons.
He's hits for average, he hits for power, he runs well, throws well and catches the ball well. He's also known as one of the best bad-ball hitters in the history of the game.
"He hits everything, man," says A's All-Star pitcher Tim Hudson. "His strike zone is from his toes to his nose."
When asked what he can do to get Guerrero out, Milwaukee All-Star right-hander Ben Sheets laughs and throws up his hands.
"Nothing," Sheets says. "Hope. Pray. Wish."
Sheets had a perfect game going for 6 2/3 innings earlier in the year against the Angels. Guess who broke it up with a bullet of a ground ball up the middle?
"That's what I'm talking about," Sheets says. "Vladdy went 1-for-3 against me that night. He batted .333."
Guerrero likes to stay humble about all his accomplishments, but he admits that it's nice to hear so many great players throwing so many superlatives out there about him.
"I like it," Guerrero says. "It feels good. Pitchers don't know what to throw me. I hope it continues."
And the Angels hope Rodriguez's rocket ride to success continues.
He reached national prominence by being called up to the Angels in September 2002 as a 20-year-old and blazed his way into the setup role during a memorable postseason run that culminated with the franchise's first World Series title.
Rodriguez emerged with a 3-0 record, a 1.93 ERA, a record-tying 28 strikeouts in October, and a flashy nickname: "K-Rod."
Less than two years later, Rodriguez has a 1.34 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 47 innings, and a lot of it has to do with that wicked slider.
"It's phenomenal," says All-Star first baseman Jason Giambi, whose New York Yankees were American League Division Series victims of Rodriguez and the Angels in 2002.
"He has great arm action and he's got that look in his eye, that attack mode of a younger, confident player. He stepped right into the scene against us and made his name."
Rodriguez is expected to take the reins from Angels closer Troy Percival in a few years, much in the same way Mariano Rivera studied under former Yankees closer John Wetteland in 1995 and 1996.
"I think he can do that," Rivera says. "I definitely think he has the stuff. He can do the job."
Boston's perennial All-Star slugger, Manny Ramirez, agrees.
"That guy is awesome, man," Ramirez says. "I think he's going to be like Mariano. He's going to be one of the best closers for a long time."
Rodriguez says he's willing to wait on that.
"My time will come," he says. "I just have to keep working hard and some day I'll be a closer. I have to step up and do my job."
One thing Rodriguez isn't willing to wait on anymore is his much-anticipated reunion with his grandmother, Isabel, who raised him in Venezuela. Rodriguez was able to secure visas for Isabel, his two brothers and sister.
"It will be one of the happiest days of my life for them to see me pitch here," Rodriguez says.
"It's a very special day."
|"He's going to be one of the best closers for a long time," Boston All-Star outfielder Manny Ramirez says of Francisco Rodriguez. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.