Kendrick now a major player
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Howie Kendrick was on the bench at the start of Game 2 in the American League Division Series last night, the Angels opting for switch-hitter Maicer Izturis at second base.
But Kendrick didn’t mind, knowing what the alternative could have been.
The 26-year-old appeared to be one of the better young players in the game when he made his debut with the Angels in 2006. But that changed this season when he fell into a slump and was sent to the minor leagues in June.
“I’m thankful I’m here,’’ Kendrick said. “It was tough to go through at the time but it was good for me.’’
Kendrick was 1 for 4 with a single in the Angels’ 5-0 victory in Game 1. His speed also helped create two controversial calls that went against the Red Sox.
Kendrick grounded a ball up the middle against Jon Lester in the fourth inning. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez made a smooth slide and came up throwing. The throw pulled Kevin Youkilis off the bag and Gonzalez was charged with an error.
Replays showed Youkilis tagged Kendrick on the hip before he reached the base, but umpire CB Bucknor missed it.
There was a similar play in the sixth. When Kendrick grounded to third base, Mike Lowell’s throw again pulled Youkilis off the bag. This time the first baseman got his foot on the base before Kendrick arrived, but Bucknor again ruled the runner safe.
An enraged Youkilis pounded the base with his glove and Red Sox manager Terry Francona came out to argue despite battling a bout of food poisoning.
Kendrick passed on making any judgment, “Calls go both ways,’’ he said, but was pleased his speed factored into the game.
“Maybe they had to rush their throws a little bit because I was running,’’ he said. “In the playoffs, every little thing could count. You can’t take anything for granted.’’
That old lesson was driven home to Kendrick June 13 when the Angels demoted him to Triple A Salt Lake City. After going 2 for 4 with two RBIs on Opening Day, Kendrick hit .225 with a .277 on-base percentage over his next 50 games.
“He was tying himself up in knots,’’ Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “His swing needed work, but it was a mental break for him, too. He needed to relax and not treat every at-bat like it was the end of the world.’’
Kendrick hit .346 in the minors and returned to the Angels July 4. He hit .351 from that point on with 39 RBIs and 21 extra-base hits over 188 at-bats. Only two American League players, New York’s Derek Jeter and Detroit’s Magglio Ordonez hit for a higher average during that period.
“I just played when I went down to the minors. I didn’t think about anything else,’’ Kendrick said. “I wasn’t happy at the time but now I realize it was the best thing for me. I was able to refocus and get my mind right. I just played the game again.’’
Scioscia has seen a difference in Kendrick’s body language off the field as well.
“He’s just a different kid. It was like he had a burden on him before and he lost that,’’ the manager said. “We were all glad to see it. That time away helped him. It wasn’t even a month, but sometimes that can be enough.’’
Kendrick enjoyed having contributed Thursday night given his struggles against the Red Sox in previous postseasons. He started all four games of the Division Series in 2008, going 2 for 17 with seven strikeouts. Kendrick was 2 for 10 with one RBI in the 2007 Division Series.
“Winning the first game meant a lot to us as a team and to a lot of us individually,’’ Kendrick said. “I’m not going to lie, we needed it. Now we can forget about the last few seasons and just play our game.’’
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com.