Vlad back as rival but memories are fond

Vlad back as rival but memories are fond

ANAHEIM -- Arguably the greatest player in the history of the Angels' franchise, Vladimir Guerrero, returned to his old home in a colorful Rangers uniform on Tuesday, carrying six memorable seasons worth of memories with him.

One of Guerrero's biggest hits in an Angels uniform was one of his last, a game-winning single against Jonathan Papelbon to cap a four-run ninth-inning uprising that gave the Angels a sweep of the Red Sox in the American League Division Series last October.

"I had bigger moments than that one," Guerrero said through Jose Mota's translation, reflecting back to his 2004 debut season in Anaheim when he was the AL MVP and crushed a grand slam at Fenway in the ALDS. "I remember hitting that home run in Boston with the bases loaded. Overall, I had so many great moments, but '04 stands out because I had come from Montreal where we never made the postseason. That was a great year."

Guerrero's debut season in Texas is in many ways a throwback to 2004. Virtually assured of making the AL's starting lineup for the All-Star Game on July 13 at Angel Stadium as the designated hitter, Guerrero returns batting .327 with 15 homers and 60 RBIs heading into Tuesday's game. His slugging (.538) and on-base (.374) numbers also are in line with his '04 MVP resume.

"When we talked to him this winter, that's what the purpose was," Rangers manager Ron Washington said when asked if Guerrero has tipped the AL West scales in Texas' favor. "We needed a guy of his presence, of his stature, a guy who's been there and done that in our lineup. But we certainly made sure that he knew we didn't need him to come here and put us on his back. And he's made everyone else around him better.

"Vlad is Vlad. We certainly needed a guy that we felt could be in our lineup when times got tough and could get us that big hit. And at times, he's provided us with that. It's something he's done before, so that's not new to him."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the club wanted to talk with Guerrero about returning, but his desire for a long-term deal sent them in another direction. They zeroed in on Hideki Matsui, who also has been productive coming off his World Series MVP ride with the Yankees.

"If you can't be happy for Vlad, something's wrong with you," Scioscia said. "This guy is the most unassuming superstar around. I'm just not happy he's doing it in our division, as our division rival.

"As an organization, obviously we respected what Vlad did here, and we understood his talent. But we were maybe not willing to commit to the length of contract that Vlad was looking for. That was the nuts and bolts of it. We needed to make a decision, and we signed Hideki. Then, I think about a month later, Vlad signed with Texas. It was a tough decision, but I think we're happy with what Hideki's doing for us, and obviously they're happy with what Vlad is doing for them."