The Angels are in the playoff hunt thanks to players like lefthander Jarrod Washburn
Standing in front of his locker before last Saturday's 5-4 win over the Yankees, Angels shortstop David Eckstein gazed around the home clubhouse at Edison Field and chuckled. "The best thing about our team," he said, "is that we're not glamorous. We're a bunch of guys who have had to find success the hard way."
One of the best examples is 27-year-old lefthander Jarrod Washburn. A native of Webster, Wis. (pop. 623), Washburn has become one of the top starters in the American League and was 13-3 through Sunday.
After splitting a four-game series with New York last week-end, Anaheim stood three games back of the Mariners in the AL West and was tied with the Red Sox in the wild-card race. While much of the credit for the Angels' success—they were on pace to win a franchise-record 96 games—goes to outfielders Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon, the rejuvenated starting rotation (4.09 ERA, fourth best in the AL) led by Washburn was equally deserving.
Although his dreams of major league stardom began when he was a youngster, Washburn was anything but a prodigy. His only opportunity to play baseball after graduating from Webster High in 1992 was at Wisconsin-Oshkosh, but, "even they didn't come after me," Washburn says.
In two seasons with the Titans he went 15-2 with a 1.97 ERA and helped lead them to the Division III national title in 1994. After striking out 89 in '95 and earning second-team All-America honors, Washburn was drafted in the second round by the Angels. He quickly moved through the organization, developing late movement on his exceptional fastball, and made his big league debut in June '98.
Washburn pitched well in parts of three seasons with Anaheim (17-10, 4.46 ERA in 45 games combined), but a variety of injuries sent him to the disabled list four times between March 2000 and April '01, limiting his effectiveness. He wound up 11-10 with a 3.77 ERA in 30 starts last year. After undergoing physical therapy during the off-season, Washburn reported to spring training healthy and confident. With the addition of veteran righthanders Kevin Appier (9-9, 4.22 at week's end) and Aaron Sele (8-7, 4.61) to the rotation, Washburn was sure the Angels could contend in the AL West.
"I knew we'd be in this position," Washburn says. "All you had to do was look around. Yeah, we're a team of misfits. But we're misfits who know how to play."
Home Runs Skyrocket
The Wind Tunnel In Arlington
With 175 home runs hit at The Ballpark in Arlington through Sunday, including 37 last week, the home of the Rangers has become the major leagues' No. 1 launchpad. The Ballpark was on track for 240 homers this season, up from 233 last year (second only to the 268 hit at Coors Field) and 209 in 2000. You might say the jump in dingers happened by design. Before last season the Rangers enclosed an area of club seats high in the stadium behind home plate, and the new construction altered the wind patterns in The Ballpark. The resulting jet-stream effect pushes fly balls out toward right and right centerfield.