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An ill-timed swing shift

An ill-timed swing shift

ANAHEIM -- With friends like these, Vladimir Guerrero needs no enemies. The Angels need their go-to guy to be a little less friendly and a little more antisocial, or they will soon have to go to 2006.

Without Guerrero, who had another quiet night in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, the Angels appear to be bluffing. Like a guy at the table going all-in with a trey in the hole.

The Angels' own trey, the guy in the three-hole, Guerrero finally got a hit in this series. But it was merely a carom off the pitcher's shoe for an infield single in the 5-2 loss to the White Sox on Friday night in Angel Stadium.

Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox manager who considers Guerrero one of his best baseball friends, a relationship that developed during his tenure as a Montreal coach, tossed a wad of gum at Guerrero while he was batting the other day.

Not true that Guerrero swung and popped the gum up to the second baseman.

"We've pitched him very, very carefully," nodded Don Cooper, the pitching coach orchestrating this ongoing retro-performance by the Chicago staff. "We can't let him hurt us. He's very dangerous ... he's still very dangerous."

He hasn't looked threatening. He is 1-for-12, the bat as quiet as the person, his offensive silence like a ball and chain around the Angels' ankles.

Is it time for Mike Scioscia to worry about Vladdy, his lead gladiator? When the 2004 MVP gets hot, his fire turns from blue to red to white in a hurry. But his lulls also tend to be pronounced. And without his contribution, are the Angels getting ready to be pronounced done?

Trailing 2-1 in games, Scioscia has to grasp whatever positive straws he sees.

"His batting practice looks good," the Angels manager said. "The ball looks good coming off his bat. He just hasn't squared them up like he can.

"These guys are going to hit. We just obviously need to get it started."

Just as obviously, the starter is Guerrero. In eight postseason games, the Angels have scored 31 runs -- and 11 of those came in one victory in New York. Not coincidentally, Guerrero has driven in one run, that while grounding into a force in the ALCS opener.

Jon Garland, who completely took the Rally Monkey and Angels fans out of the game, was only the latest Chicago pitcher to do in Ozzie's friend. And it hasn't been strictly an October thing; during the regular season, Chicago pitchers held him to a .231 average, and only one of his 32 homers and two of his 107 RBIs.

"I think our pitching staff has done a tremendous job all year long against him," Guillen said.

Guerrero's current difficulties span the postseason. Although he went 6-for-18 (.333) in the Division Series, all the hits were singles. He didn't drive in a run. That's when Scioscia began to warn of an impending Guerrero breakout.

The warning is still valid, although the breakout is on hold.

"Vladdy is the type of hitter who can quickly go crazy," Scioscia said. "He can get locked in on one good swing, and keep that feeling for a long time.

"In Chicago I thought he hit a couple balls really hard that [shortstop Juan] Uribe made nice plays on. Tonight he hit that hard ball to right field."

Is that what the Angels have been reduced to? Applauding Guerrero's hard outs?

Vladdy is such a simple individual, he is the last person on Earth to worry about or try to overanalyze his troubles. No oh-fer can dim his smile. He has the perfect temperament -- carefree but not careless, confident but not conceited, warm but not gregarious -- to flip a switch and go from slump to sizzle in one hanging curve.

Guillen knows it, because he has seen it -- even if he hasn't yet been at the receiving end of it.

"I don't want to say anything about Vladdy because I don't want to wake him up," said the Chicago manager.

"I think the key for them is to try to get Figgy and Cabrera out there because I think Vladdy is a better hitter when he's got people on base."

Orlando Cabrera kept himself off base by hitting a two-run home run in front of Guerrero in the sixth for the Angels' only runs. As for Figgy, Chone Figgins added another 0-for-3 to his 4-for-31 postseason.

And the only place Guerrero has been hitting is on the video board, which in replaying Angels season highlights keeps dialing up his feats. His starring role in that reel makes a pretty strong case for how important he has been to the team's success.

Unlike the White Sox -- one of only two teams to hit 200-plus homers in each of the last six seasons -- the Angels don't fake their small-ball persona. Their 147 homers were the team's fewest since 1993 and, although Guerrero had 32, no one else was even at 20.

After Vladdy's 107 RBIs and Garret Anderson's 96, you descend all the way to Bengie Molina's 69 on the team charts.

Guerrero and Anderson are the fuel in their offensive tank. Anderson's ALDS punch (eight RBIs) enabled the Angels to survive the Yankees even without Guerrero's help. Now that neither is clicking (2-for-23), the spotlight finds Guerrero.

He is apt to take bows when the spotlight finds him. No one will ever forget how he dominated the last week of the 2004 season. The Angels need a little bit of that. Otherwise, they could find themselves in the last days of their 2005 postseason.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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