Angels' shortstop Erick Aybar has been in a slump, but his game-deciding homer may be a sign of progress.
By MICHAEL MARTINEZFS West
LOS ANGELES – Wednesday was beginning to look like just another miserable night at the plate for
Erick Aybar -- and there have been too many of them this season.
Pop fly, double-play grounder, fly-ball out. Aybar's batting average had fallen to .218 by the time he came to bat in the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium. There was no reason to think this would be any different.
But it was. Now the question is, can the Angels' talented shortstop turn around his season with one swing, with one game-deciding home run?
It's not likely, but at least he can feel he's making progress.
"Sometimes you want to hit 4 for 4 and you go 0 for 4," Aybar said. "The good thing is that we won the game."
They did. Aybar's leadoff homer in the ninth inning broke a 1-1 tie and gave the Angels the rubber match of their three-game Freeway Series against the Dodgers. The 2-1 win was the Angels' 16 in 21 games and allowed them to remain 3½ games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West.
Even with Aybar's massive shot into the right-field bleachers and Alberto Callaspo's homer in the second, the Angels were hardly an offensive power in the series. They were 4 for 31 with runners in scoring position (and 0 for 5 on Wednesday) and were outscored 8-7 by the Dodgers -- but still won two games.
"We squeaked by on the offensive side," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We had a lot of chances and just didn't convert early. That's going to catch up with you."
Aybar's start has been among the more confusing developments this season. He signed a four-year, $35 million contract extension in April, but his offense hasn't been reliable and his defense has been frequently spotty.
"He just has not found his stroke," Scioscia said. "He had some chances in tonight's game and couldn't get it done with runners in scoring position, but he has surprising power. It wasn't easy to get one out tonight, but he killed it."
He also came up with an important defensive play after reliever Ernesto Frieri put himself in trouble in the bottom of the ninth, walking AJ Ellis before James Loney lined a single to right.
With runners at first and third, Juan Uribe hit a bouncer to short. Aybar had a chance at a double play, but he spotted Ellis breaking for the plate immediately and threw home. Ellis was caught in a rundown and was tagged out by catcher John Hester.
Frieri then got Tony Gwynn Jr. looking at a called third strike and retired ex-Angel Bobby Abreu on a come-backer to end the game.
Now, if only Aybar's hitting was that good.
"He's been working on a couple of things as far as his rhythm from the left side, and he just hasn't found it," Scioscia said. "He will. He's a better offensive player and someone we definitely need."
Aybar was batting left-handed against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen when he crushed a cut fastball on a 1-1 pitch. It must have felt satisfying.
"I see the ball and swing hard," he said. "I don't try to hit homers."
Maybe not, but he hit 10 last season. The Angels aren't necessarily looking for power from him; they'd rather have consistency and a high on-base percentage.
"That's baseball," Aybar said of his offensive problems. "Everybody wants to do good. Day to day, I've been feeling better and better."