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Healthy Anderson catching fire

Healthy Anderson catching fire

CHICAGO -- When Garret Anderson is healthy, pitchers don't dare walk Vladimir Guerrero to get to him. They don't dare leave fastballs over the heart of the plate. They don't dare leave anything over the plate, for that matter.

Memo to the Chicago White Sox: Anderson is healthy.

On Tuesday night in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Anderson got his team going in the second inning, disrupting the joyride of White Sox starter Jose Contreras and silencing the rowdy U.S. Cellular Field crowd with one smooth swing.

Anderson blasted a Contreras offering into the right-field bleachers, giving the Angels a 1-0 lead and getting their momentum in gear despite being worn down by three long flights in three days. The Angels went on to win the game, 3-2, and took a 1-0 lead in the ALCS.

Anderson's homer was almost a carbon copy of the solo shot he launched off Yankees starter Mike Mussina a day earlier, which helped the Angels claim a deciding Game 5 victory in the ALDS.

It was, in the words of almost every Angel in the clubhouse, huge.

"Unbelievable," catcher Bengie Molina said. "Absolutely great for the team. When Garret is hot, we win games. He's always proven he can hit. He's just a proven, great clutch hitter."

It didn't always seem like that this year, though.

After being slowed by arthritic symptoms in 2004, Anderson suffered from knee tendinitis and lower back soreness through much of 2005. As a result, his numbers -- normally in the .300, 25-home run, 115-RBI range -- took a hit. Anderson missed 20 games, batted a career-low .283, hit only 17 homers and drove in 96 runs.

But since the playoffs started, the three-time All-Star has looked healthier, and so has his swing.

Anderson hit a three-run home run to open the scoring against Randy Johnson in Game 2 of the ALDS. And once again, he got things started for the Angels on Tuesday.

"I was fortunate to get something out over the plate that I could hit out of the park," Anderson said, after emphasizing how tough Contreras had been of late (1-0 in the playoffs, 6-0 with a 1.99 ERA in September).

The Angels realize how fortunate they are to have their old pal Anderson back, too.

"This is the Garret we know," reliever Scot Shields said. "We knew he'd show up. And when he's swinging like he is now, it takes pressure off the whole lineup.

"You just can't hold him down for long."

Anderson is no stranger to long-ball prowess at U.S. Cellular Field. In 2003, he belted a bushel of homers to post an upset victory in the Home Run Derby a day before the All-Star Game, and the next day he hit a key two-run shot to help the AL to a come-from-behind win over the National League.

Still, he's always been one of those guys who claims to be a line-drive hitter that occasionally is able to take advantage of a pitcher's mistakes. Anderson was offering the same party line after Tuesday's game.

In fact, when he was asked to explain his recent power surge, Anderson shook his head and chuckled.

"I ran into a couple balls," he said. "I'm swinging the bat pretty good and I've been fortunate to get some pitches to hit."

Teammate Adam Kennedy had a different theory.

"Garret's just a great, great hitter," Kennedy said. "It's nothing surprising to any of us. The surprising thing is when he doesn't get big hits.

"But he's getting really big hits now and he's turning it on for us."

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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