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Friday, July 29, 2011
Angels Moment No. 15: Darin Erstad's 2000 season

By Mark Saxon

When people look back on the previous generation of Angels, they tend to focus on Tim Salmon and Garret Anderson, power hitters whose careers took place in that hazy place between very good and great.

Because they generally remained healthy and were so consistent, Salmon and Anderson top the charts in many of the Angels career lists.

But people are already beginning to overlook the guy who was not only the clubhouse leader of many of those teams, but the Angels' heart and soul in the early part of the Mike Scioscia era.

Darin Erstad played with the intensity of a football player, which is exactly what he was growing up in North Dakota and punting at the University of Nebraska, where he won the 1994 national championship. He is now the head baseball coach at Nebraska.

Erstad's go-for-broke style compromised his later years, as an endless string of injuries eventually pushed him to a corner outfield spot and then to first base. But in 2000, Erstad was at the top of his game and on a collision course with baseball history.

For much of that season, Erstad was in hot pursuit of Gene Sisler's hits record of 257 set in 1920. He wound up with 240, a franchise record, and batted .355 with 366 total bases, 121 runs scored and 25 home runs. Oh yeah, he also stole 28 bases and broke a major-league record with 100 RBIs while batting leadoff.

It was a pretty good year. But because it came in the height of what has come to be called the Steroid Era, Erstad's feats were largely ignored. He finished eighth in MVP balloting that year.

Erstad's pursuit of Sisler gained a fair amount of attention -- he reached 100 hits that year faster than any player ever had -- foreshadowing Ichiro Suzuki's eventual passing of Sisler in 2004. Other than Suzuki, who did it twice, there isn't a single player who played after 1930 who ranks above Erstad on the hits list.

Erstad's career never matched that sizzling 2000 season, when he was 26, though you could argue he was the engine of the Angels' 2002 World Series team. After 2000, he never again batted as high as .300. But as hit after hit fell in that year, Erstad's future seemed boundless.

This story is part of an occasional series of Angels Moments which, when it's complete, will -- we hope -- add up to 50. The Angels are celebrating their 50th anniversary this season. These are not intended to be an exhaustive list, but simply an assembly of scenes and anecdotes that are part of the team's colorful past.