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Sunday, April 25, 2010
Mired in slump, Wood delivers

By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com

Brandon Wood was fine. Maybe not the whole time he was mired in a wretched season-opening slump that had his batting average crashing below what he weighed in the fifth grade.

But when his father text messaged him the other day suggesting he try sleeping with one sock on, he just rolled his eyes and laughed.

No need for home remedies just yet.

The only thing that was going to shake up the jetstream that had been carrying the Los Angeles Angels' vaunted prospect down this chilly path was exactly what he was finally able to do Sunday afternoon: Step up to the plate and deliver a clutch hit.

"It's just nice to come in after a win and feel like you've contributed," Wood said of his two-run double in the bottom of the fourth inning in Sunday's 8-4 win over the New York Yankees.

"But you know, my mind has been surprisingly OK during this. Obviously I wanted to get off to a good start and prove to myself and everybody that I belong here," said Wood, who entered this three-game series against the Yankees batting .087. "And it's been magnified in the sense that it's the start of the season and I'm replacing a guy [Chone Figgins] that had a heck of a year last year.

"But if I put those pressures on myself then it can only get worse. I've just been trying to keep my head clear."

It sounded like the kind of thing a guy could only say after he'd busted out of a slump. Which is cool. Everyone's entitled to a little revisionist history after a clutch hit. But in Wood's case, it might actually have been the truth.

Sunday morning before the game, I caught Wood reading the sports page, a no-no for a guy in a slump. Not as bad as checking to see how ugly your batting average has gotten every morning. But still, no use reading about what you already know isn't pretty.

Unless of course you're actually fine and not resorting to sleeping with only one sock on.

"I don't know if it got the monkey off my back or if there even was one on there. I haven't really felt that," Wood said.

"I mean, playing this game you're going to go through slumps. … I've had bad slumps in the minor leagues, but you have one reporter and you're in podunk Iowa. It's a little bit different when you're in a slump and you're at the biggest stage. But mentally I've been staying strong."

Now, if baseball actually worked in linear, predictable ways, Wood's fly ball to center field in the sixth inning would've fallen for a bloop single and his fly ball to left field in the eighth would've got caught in a late-afternoon breeze and flown over the fence.

Instead he ended up rounding first base and heading back into the dugout with another two outs to drag down his batting average.

But as he did so maturely on the upside-down side of his slump, Wood managed to take the wide-angle view of the day.

"That was just one hit and two RBIs," he said. "I still have a lot of hard work to get myself out of this."

Kendry Morales
Kendry Morales went 3-for-3 with a home run, three RBIs and two runs scored on Sunday.

Trends

First baseman Kendry Morales left the clubhouse before reporters were let in after the game. Then again, what did he really need to say that he hadn't already said with his bat?

Morales is scorching hot right now. Not just hot, scorching hot. Sunday he went 3-for-3 with a home run, three RBIs and two runs scored. In the three-game series versus the Yankees, Morales was 7-for-10 with two home runs and six RBIs. In the last six games he's hitting .590 (13-for-22) with three home runs and 10 RBIs. "He is H-O-T right now," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. "It's fun just to watch him when he gets that hot." Morales is hitting .329 with six home runs and 16 RBIs on the season.

Afterward, Yankees manager Joe Girardi admitted that he made a mistake in deciding to pitch to Morales with runners at first and third and two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Morales blasted a three-run homer over the center-field fence to extend the Angels' lead to 8-4.

"My instinct was to walk him," Girardi said. "We talked about it some more, and we decided to go after him. I could have put up four [fingers] again when he got to 3-0. I probably should have. I just screwed up, in a sense, you know? Sometimes, your first instinct is your best instinct. This is something I have to live with. Not everything I do is going to be right."

Scene and heard

Reggie Willits came into the clubhouse with an agenda Sunday morning. The first time anyone even said the word "Lakers," the Oklahoma native was gonna pounce. Best-case scenario, he'd find an actual Los Angeles Lakers fan among his teammates, but any mention of the team that got dismantled 110-89 by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night, and he was ready to gloat.

"Yeah, let's talk about the Lakers," Willits joked, as soon as I mentioned the previous night's game to Wood. "How'd they do last night? Anyone see the game?"

"He's not even a basketball fan," second baseman Howie Kendrick said, before Willits thoroughly began to bask in the Thunder's glory.

"I am now," Willits said, defending himself. "That was like the first Thunder game I've seen all the way through, and man, I like that team. I think I'm going to have to start going to a few of their games over the winter."

Quote of the day

"I'm fine. If I was a football player you wouldn't even be checking on me," -- Hunter on getting hit in the right kneecap by a pitch in the bottom of the seventh inning, then getting the wind knocked out of him diving to catch Alex Rodriguez's line drive in the left-center gap in the top of the eighth inning.

Looking ahead

The Angels host the Indians for three games starting Monday to close out this 10-game homestand. Cleveland (8-11) is hitting just .223 as a team -- lowest in the majors -- with 11 home runs this season. Jered Weaver (2-0, 2.77 ERA) pitched a complete-game shutout in his last outing against Cleveland on Aug. 19, 2009. He'll take on former UCLA star David Huff (1-2, 3.00 ERA), who went from pitching the first complete game of his career to tying a career-high with six walks in his previous two outings.

Ramona Shelburne is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.