Fifteen years ago, Angels outfielder achieved rare feat with leadoff, walk-off HRs
By David Adler
Fifteen years ago, the Angels had another Mike Trout. For one historic season, Darin Erstad was healthy, and the numbers he put up were otherworldly.
Batting at the top of the Angels' order in 2000, Erstad did everything. The 26-year-old outfielder racked up 240 hits, still the most in a single season for any player not named Ichiro since 1930. He posted a slash line of .355/.409/.541. Erstad hit 25 home runs, stole 28 bases, drove in 100 runs and scored 121. His Wins Above Replacement, per baseball-reference.com, was an MVP-level 8.3.
"He was our leadoff hitter, and [even when] we talk about ... Mike Trout, you don't expect a leadoff hitter to get as many opportunities and to be that productive," said manager Mike Scioscia -- who, now the longest-tenured MLB manager, was in his very first year with the Angels in 2000. "It was a remarkable season he had in 2000.
"There was definitely a strong argument that the year Darin had in 2000 rivaled a lot of the things I think you're seeing Mike do. … I mean, just unbelievable numbers."
Thursday happens to be the 15th anniversary of a unique moment in Erstad's unique season -- on June 25, 2000, he hit a leadoff and a walk-off homer in the same game, a 7-6 win over the Twins. When it happened, only two Major Leaguers had bookended a game with long balls -- Billy Hamilton in 1893 and Vic Power in 1957. Two have joined Erstad since -- Reed Johnson in 2003 and Ian Kinsler in '09.
Erstad, it turns out, went 15 years without knowing he was in such limited company.
"Wow," Erstad laughed. "You see something new every day in this game, and that just happened to be one of those crazy things. You never know what's gonna happen on any given day in baseball, and I guess that's one of those rare ones. I had no clue that was that rare."
Then again, Erstad's entire 157-game run -- during which he came to the plate 747 times, more than any other Major Leaguer -- was rare. It's only fitting he'd create a historical oddity.
That day against Minnesota, Erstad stepped into the batter's box in the bottom of the first inning against Mark Redman, a familiar face. When Erstad played at Nebraska, where he is now head baseball coach, Redman was at Oklahoma; the two were co-Big Eight Player of the Year Award winners as juniors. On Redman's second pitch of the day, Erstad went deep.
Then, with the score tied at 6 in the bottom of the 11th, Erstad went yard off Eddie Guardado and ended the game. Guardado had dominated Erstad, holding him to one infield hit in nine prior at-bats.
"Two lefties, and two pretty tough lefties," Erstad, a lefty himself, recalled. "Redman was always a fun matchup -- great guy, great competitor. And Steady Eddie, Everyday Eddie -- to even get a hit off him at that time, it was hard to do, so I was pretty fortunate to get to have a day like that."
Maybe, but it's tough to chalk it up to fortune when everything Erstad touched that season, an oasis in an injury-plagued career, turned to gold.
"That year was one of those crazy years -- everything I hit came to find a hole, I had confidence and it never disappeared the entire year," Erstad said. "I wish I would've done it again."
Erstad was so Trout-like in 2000 that Scioscia and the Angels faced the same lineup conundrum they have with their current star: bat him leadoff and maximize his at-bats, or drop him down a slot or two to give him more RBI chances? Like they did with Trout, the Angels eventually moved Erstad to the No. 2 spot -- where he catalyzed the 2002 World Series championship team.
"He was one of the important pieces to our puzzle," Scioscia said. "And in fact, when we moved him to hit second, there was as much talk about why we're moving him out of the leadoff hitter as there was with Mike. But I think it proved its worth as we started to get a deeper lineup.
"Mike's too important of a swing hitter, where he's setting the table but also needs the table set for him, and that's kind of where Erstie was. … Keeping Darin in the leadoff spot and disconnecting him with the middle -- I think we got better when we connected Erstie and Tim [Salmon] and Garret [Anderson]."
Just like how, in early 2013, the Angels connected Trout with Albert Pujols. The reasoning, ultimately, was the same for both players, Erstad the forerunner, the Trout before Trout.
David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.