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Abreu's impact on Halos' lineup a hit
Abreu's impact on Halos' lineup a hit
By Lyle Spencer
NEW YORK -- No mysteries here, no secrets. The Yankees know Bobby Abreu inside out, and Abreu knows the Yankees with the intimacy of family. Distance can't change that.
Partners for 2 1/2 seasons in the Bronx, they now share a mutual respect as the Angels, Abreu's new associates, prepare to engage the Yankees in a riveting American League Championship Series that opens on Friday night at 4:57 p.m. PT at Yankee Stadium.
"He's the kind of guy," Yankees catcher Jose Molina said, "that you hate to play against and love to have on your team. He does so many things to help you win."
Abreu, who rarely has a bad day on or off the field, has closely followed his old buddies from afar.
"They're a great team, obviously -- so many weapons," Abreu said. "You have to be careful with that lineup. Those guys can do some damage. Believe me, I know."
Abreu, who preceded Mark Teixeira as the Yankees' No. 3 hitter in front of Alex Rodriguez, admittedly was disappointed when they set him free last winter. But he's quick to add, "It worked out beautifully. The Angels are perfect for me. [Manager] Mike Scioscia gave me freedom, and my teammates have treated me great."
It was a long wait, into February, with less productive players drawing larger contracts in the open market before the Angels finally struck the deal of the season: one year, $5 million, with incentives that would bring his salary to $6 million.
Incentives met, Abreu gave the Angels as much production for the dollar as perhaps any player in the game except teammate Kendry Morales, who pulled in $1.1 million to deliver a blockbuster season replacing Teixeira at first base.
In nine games against his former team this season, Abreu hit .314 with eight RBIs in 35 at-bats. For his career, in 85 at-bats against the Bronx Bombers, Abreu is a .282 hitter with three homers and 15 RBIs.
Joe Girardi, his previous manager, developed a fine appreciation of Abreu's many talents.
"Bobby's a very consistent player who can beat you in a lot of different ways, whether he's stealing bases, driving in runs, hitting homers, taking his walks," Girardi said. "Bobby is a very smart player.
"The other thing that you love about Bobby is that he comes to play every day. He wants to be in the lineup every day; he does not want a day off. I think that's a great example for a lot of young players that are coming up. To ask Bobby to take a day off, he would look at you like, 'What? What are you talking about?'
"He's very heads-up as a player and he knows how to play this game. That's why he's dangerous."
The Angels quickly discovered that Abreu's value far exceeded the hard numbers, as impressive as they were: .293 average, 103 RBIs, 96 runs scored, 30 stolen bases.
During the stunning sweep of the Red Sox in the AL Division Series, Abreu was in the middle of virtually everything, hitting .556 with five hits and four walks in 13 plate appearances for a .692 on-base percentage.
His RBI double with two outs and two strikes against Jonathan Papelbon preceded Vladimir Guerrero's decisive two-run single, leading to a 7-6 victory that will go down in Angels lore.
Calling it "one of the most special wins" of his 14-year Major League career, Abreu is thrilled to be moving on to his first LCS.
"I've always wanted to go to a World Series," he said. "Now I'm close."
Bobby Abreu's 2009 stats
A look at Abreu's '09 statistics for the season and against the New York Yankees
Scioscia didn't realize his team was acquiring a patient, willing teacher as part of the Abreu package of gifts.
"Going into Spring Training, we knew what Bobby could do on the field," Scioscia said. "Some of the spillover effect he's had on a whole lineup has been a big surprise. I think he has influenced guys in a positive way."
Scioscia concluded, late in the season, that "Abreu has been our MVP, because of the balance he brings to the offense."
The manager quickly added that center fielder Torii Hunter, in his judgment, was the American League's MVP before a groin injury took him out of the lineup for a month at midseason.
Hunter never hesitated in giving Abreu credit for enhancing his understanding of the craft of hitting.
"Bobby showed us how it's done," Hunter said. "We all stood on the dugout steps or in the on-deck circle and watched him take pitches, work counts. Seeing how patient he was, and how he always figured out a way to get a good pitch, I couldn't go up there hacking at anything.
"He's in the elite class of hitters. He can control a game from the batter's box. How many hitters can do that?"
-- Angels pitcher Jered Weaver
"I became a better hitter this year. I owe a lot of that to Bobby. I know a lot of guys feel the same way, even veterans like Chone [Figgins] and Juan [Rivera]. You're never too old to learn new tricks of the trade."
In terms of impacting a game, only pitchers and catchers can fully understand what Abreu brings.
"He's in the elite class of hitters," starter Jered Weaver said. "He can control a game from the batter's box. How many hitters can do that?"
Teammates quickly embraced Abreu's approach and philosophy, starting in Spring Training.
The Angels made an extraordinary leap in on-base percentage this season, rising from the 19th in the Majors in 2008 to third this season, behind only the Yankees and Red Sox. The Halos' gain: a whopping 20 points, from .330 to .350.
Hitters of all stripes -- from the youthful Erick Aybar, Howard Kendrick, Maicer Izturis and Morales to veterans Hunter, Rivera and Figgins -- became more selective, working deeper counts and finding better pitches to pound.
A look at some 2009 vs. career on-base percentages illustrates the point: Hunter (.366 this year, .330 career); Figgins (.395, .363); Aybar (.353, .324); Morales (.355, .334); Rivera (.332, .322); Izturis (.359, .346).
But the man who showed how it's done was one of the few who fell below his career norm. A rough August (.217 average) cost Abreu enough points to fall to .390 in on-base percentage from his .404 career mark.
Aybar, Morales and Kendrick have freely attributed upgrades in their performances to the 35-year-old right fielder from Venezuela.
"Abreu has helped me in many ways," said Aybar, whose .312 average led the club. "He's always showing me things, teaching me the right way."
At Abreu's urging, Morales became more selective as the season moved along, especially with runners in scoring position.
"Morales was too aggressive with guys on," Abreu said. "He wanted it so much, he was swinging at some bad pitches. I just told him to wait for something good, that he didn't have to swing at everything."
Morales heeded Abreu's advice and became one of the game's most dangerous hitters in pressure situations.
"I listen to everything Abreu says," said Morales, a .330 hitter with 19 homers and 59 RBIs in 267 at-bats after the All-Star break. "He is a smart man. He knows what he's talking about."
Abreu had the same impact in New York on teammates, and it was especially profound on Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano.
"Bobby did so much to help guys like myself and Cano," Cabrera said. "He was a great teammate and friend. [He's] always in a good mood, always helping you."
The workplace might change, but the man is the same. Wherever he goes, Abreu makes good things happen for his teams. It's in his DNA, and his OBP.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.