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Kendrick relishes ALCS shot at Yanks

Kendrick relishes ALCS shot at Yanks

NEW YORK -- It was the eighth inning at Angel Stadium on July 12, and the Angels were in the process of completing a sweep of the Yankees when Howard Kendrick cruised into second with a double against CC Sabathia and was visited by a certain shortstop of some renown.

"I was on second base," Kendrick recalled, "and Derek Jeter came over and said, 'If you played us 162 games against us, you'd hit over .500.' I've had some success against the Yankees."

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Jeter was exaggerating, but only slightly. Kendrick is a .426 career hitter against the Yankees in 108 at-bats with a .556 slugging percentage. They've held him to a .310 average this season.

Kendrick's numbers against Sabathia -- New York's Game 1 starter Friday night in the American League Championship Series -- are off the charts.

In 12 at-bats against the robust lefty, Kendrick has collected eight hits, for a Little League-like .667 average, with a .750 slugging percentage.

"He's tough," Kendrick said. "You know he's going to come right at you, throwing strikes, so you have to be ready.

"You can't rely on what you did in the past. It helps your confidence, sure. I like playing in New York. They have an amazing team. I also like playing Boston."

Kendrick's career numbers against the Red Sox -- .380 average, .556 slugging percentage -- are almost as impressive as against the Yankees.

"Those are the teams you always hear about, read about," Kendrick said. "I just like playing those guys. It's a good test, with their pitching, power, defense, everything. I guess I like competing against the best."

Kendrick, who platoons with Maicer Izturis at second base, figures to get a lot of action in this series, with the Yankees dealing a pair of prominent lefties who could work as many as five games.

Andy Pettitte has been tougher than Sabathia on Kendrick, holding him to 4-for-16 in his career and 1-for-7 this season.

Against A.J. Burnett, the right-hander Izturis will face, Kendrick actually has fared better than against Pettitte: 4-for-11, .364, with three RBIs.

Kendrick always feels honored the share the same field as Jeter, a man he has grown to admire since breaking into the AL in 2006.

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Angels at a glance
2009 record: 97-65
2008 record: 100-62
AL West champs

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Figgins: Staying true
Angels: Road warriors
Figgins/Abreu: Spark plugs
Bullpen: Stepping up
Figgins: The ignitor
Scioscia: Fundamental key
Vlad: Focused on present
Hatcher: Enjoying success
Scioscia: Approach the key
Aybar: More than just glove
Morales: Putting it together
Abreu: Lauded by 'mates
Wilson: Not alone
Vlad: Resume builder
Weaver: Family matters
Abreu: Hall of Famer?
Saunders: Overcame injury
Lackey: Playoff veteran
Kazmir: Ties to Morales
Jepsen: Remembering Nick
Weaver: Path to pros
Hunter: Humbled by honor
Lackey: It all began in '02
Weaver: Growing as player
Reagins: Built from within
Morales: Back in the groove
Abreu: Influence extends
Scioscia: Catcher at heart
Lackey: Halos' leader
Morales: Gomez's legacy
Abreu: Embracing his role
Jepsen: Honoring Adenhart
Lackey: Takes place as ace
Weaver: Glue of staff
Scioscia: Postseason fixture
Morales: Perseverance

"When I was a rookie," Kendrick said, "he said, 'No matter what happens, stay positive.' Then he said it again. From that day on, he'd come over and talk to me like I was a veteran, a peer.

"When you look at his body of work, what he's done in the regular season and the postseason, and the impact he's had on the game, it's pretty awesome.

"Derek Jeter to me is a symbol of everything that's right about the game. He's a great role model for other players as well as fans with the way he conducts himself."

Jeter might have seen his reflection somewhat in Kendrick. They are strikingly similar in the batter's box in their ability to stay back on the ball and drive it to right and right center with inside-out swings.

"There was another time we were facing Mike Mussina in New York," Kendrick said. "I stayed on a cutter and hit it to right field. He came over and said, 'Nice swing. Not a lot of hitters would have stayed on it that long.' Something like that means a lot to a young guy."

Kendrick's early struggles offensively resulted in a June 13 demotion to Triple-A Salt Lake to find his stroke.

Returning to Anaheim on July 4, he batted .351 the rest of the way with 35 runs scored and 28 RBIs in 54 games while playing quality second base.

That's more in line with what has been projected of Kendrick -- a .306 hitter coming into the season -- than the .231 average that sent him to the Pacific Coast League for some fine-tuning.

Kendrick, who was 1-for-5 with an RBI in the three-game sweep of the Red Sox, had 10 homers and 61 RBIs in only 374 at-bats this season while batting .291.

"He doesn't think of himself as a power hitter," leadoff man Chone Figgins said, "but I can see him getting into the 20s as he gets more experienced, at least 15 to 20 [homers]. He's strong."

The biggest improvement in the Angels' offense this season, as Kendrick sees it, is enhanced plate discipline, top to bottom.

"We're a lot more patient with the addition of Bobby Abreu," Kendrick said. "He's helped us all out. We're working pitchers and counts and getting into bullpens earlier.

"Our pitchers were unbelievable down the stretch, going out and putting up zeros.

"Coming back like we did [on Sunday] in Boston [with three ninth-inning runs, all with two out], it showed what we've done all year. We've never let down. We've played to that last out, the 27th."

If the conditions are cold and sloppy, as expected, Kendrick suggested it wouldn't impact the Angels' celebrated running game.

"We'll still play the way we always do," he said. "Everybody's going to have their warm gear on, and it's the same for both teams. It's going to be cold. You just go out and play."

Told that the other side was calling it "Yankee weather," Kendrick grinned.

"It's God's weather," he said. "It's not any team's weather. Everybody's played in rain before."

Lyle Spencer 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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