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Figgins finally gets in gear

Figgins finally gets in gear

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NEW YORK -- Chone Figgins loves to quote his former Minor League coach, Mike Gallego, who made a living as an undersized big-league utility man with a penchant for doing the right thing at the right time.

"In every game you play," Gallego told him, "you should do one thing to help your team win."

Figgins, the Angels' leadoff man, sparkplug and super-utility phenomenon, waited two games to live up to that mantra, but in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, he reminded the Yankees why they were so scared of him in the first place.

Figgins snapped out of a hitless ALDS with two key hits, made his second spectacular defensive play of the series, and helped his team to an 11-7 win that put the Angels up, 2-1, in the best-of-five series. They can close it out with a win Saturday afternoon in Yankee Stadium.

"Just keep swinging and hope that you find the holes out there," Figgins said of his approach while in a slump. "As long as we win, you can accept it because you have the team to pick you up."

Going into the ALDS, the Yankees knew that more often than not, Figgins would pick up the Angels, and they knew that "utility man" is an unfair title for Figgins because that moniker implies "bench player."

Figgins, the smallest player on the team at 5-foot-7, has been more of the Angels' do-it-all man for the last three seasons, particularly this year, when he played every day while manning six different positions in the field.

Figgins had his most complete season, batting .290 with eight homers, 57 RBIs, a Major League-leading 62 stolen bases, and a team-high 113 runs scored. He also played excellent defense, primarily at third base and in center field.

Despite the fact that he was constantly being moved around from position to position, he made 10 errors in 158 games.

And then once the playoffs started, Figgins' bat disappeared.

He went 0-for-4 in Game 1 and 0-for-4 in Game 2. He didn't draw any walks, he didn't get hit by any pitches, and he didn't contribute any sacrifice bunts or sacrifice flies. Most important, he never even made it to first base.

But in Game 2, the Angels' come-from-behind, 5-3 victory over the Yankees that enabled them to escape Anaheim with a 1-1 series split, Figgins emulated his mentor, Gallego.

Despite a hitless night, he saved a run with a spectacular diving stop of a Hideki Matsui ground ball at third base.

And on Friday, while playing center field, he dove headfirst to catch a hard-hit, sinking Gary Sheffield line drive with two out on the fourth inning after the Yankees had cut a 5-0 Angels lead to 5-4.

"That was the play of the game," Angels first baseman Darin Erstad said. "Sheffield crushed that ball and if it gets past Figgy to the wall, who knows what happens."

"I'd like to see him play in the bullpen so he wouldn't be on the field," Yankees manager Joe Torre added.

"He never hesitated when that ball was hit by Sheff. ... He had a good read on the ball. He's a special player, there's no question."

Figgins carried the same tag into the ALDS last year against the Boston Red Sox and picked the wrong time to have three of the worst games of his career.

He hit .143 (2-for-14) with five strikeouts and committed two errors, both of which led to game-altering runs.

He said he didn't let that bother him then and he said Friday that he wasn't thinking about it this year, either, even after going 0-for-8 in the first two games.

"You don't worry about what happened last year," Figgins said. "We just think about continuing to play Angel baseball -- put good swings on the ball and play good defense. To me, that's why we're successful."

Figgins managed to be successful Friday even after typically frustrating luck in his first three at-bats.

In the first inning, he smoked a fly ball off Randy Johnson and Sheffield caught it at the wall in right-center field.

In the third inning, he crushed another fly ball into the glove of Matsui in left.

And in the fourth, he scalded a ground ball that second baseman Robinson Cano made a nifty play on to convert an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.

But in the sixth, with a runner on third and two out, Figgins stroked a single into right field to give the Angels a lead they wouldn't relinquish. He added a leadoff triple in the eighth and scored his first run of the series three batters later.

"The first couple of games, he had a little problem getting some hits to fall in," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

"Tonight he had great at-bats the whole way out."

Scioscia isn't the only one who noticed.

Said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter: "You ever see that movie, 'Multiplicity,' with Michael Keaton? It's like they keep making a bunch of Chone Figginses and putting them all over the field.

"He comes up with a lot of big plays no matter where you put him."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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