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Angels’ Rodriguez Making Impression

October 17, 2002

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Francisco Rodriguez made such a small initial impression that the San Francisco Giants don’t remember facing him in spring training and the Anaheim Angels can’t even spell his name correctly in the clubhouse.

Boy, are people noticing now.

The 20-year-old has been one of the biggest stars this October, going 4-0 in the playoffs to lead the Angels to their first World Series ever.

The performance has the Giants scrambling to find out as much as they can about a pitcher who didn’t make his major league debut until Sept. 18.

``We will rely on our reports and what we’ve seen. I’m making calls. I’ll talk to friends who have faced him. I told (pitching coach Dave) Righetti to make calls, everybody will be making calls,″ San Francisco manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday. ``We have to try to find out as much as we can.″

If only any of them remembered March 12.

Because Rodriguez’s first win in a major league uniform didn’t come at venerable Yankee Stadium in October. It happened seven months earlier at Scottsdale Stadium in sunny Arizona when he pitched one inning in Anaheim’s 11-10 spring training victory against the Giants.

``Yeah, I got the win,″ Rodriguez said grinning when asked about the game. ``I never faced their better hitters, Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent. I don’t remember the hitters I faced.″

The hitters don’t remember him, either.

Rodriguez entered in the eighth inning and retired Yorvit Torrealba and Arturo McDowell on flyouts before striking out Nelson Castro.

``I faced him?″ Torrealba asked incredulously. ``I don’t remember that at all. All I can tell you is what I’ve seen on TV and this guy is a very good pitcher. He’s young, he throws strikes and he throws hard. He’s got amazing stuff.″

Torrealba is the only one of the three still on the roster. It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Baker and hitting coach Gene Clines don’t remember that inning in March either.

``There are so many kids in spring training, it’s hard to remember them,″ Baker said.

But despite the postseason success, Rodriguez remains a relative unknown _ even in his own clubhouse where his name is misspelled ``Rodrigues.″

He hasn’t asked anyone to change it.

``I’ve been doing good like that, it’s not a big deal,″ he said.

It’s that laid-back attitude that has helped Rodriguez succeed on the postseason stage after starting the year in Double-A.

No environment intimidates him _ not Yankee Stadium with all its aura and mystique that has made even some veterans wobbly, or the Metrodome with its deafening din.

And definitely not pitching in the most important games of his life.

``Did I show nervousness in the playoffs? What have I got to change? I’m not going to war, I’m going to play baseball,″ he said.

``A few months ago, I was in the minor leagues. I never imagined this. Now, the World Series! Am I dreaming or something?″

Middle relief will be a key factor in determining the winner of the Series. Whichever team does a better job bridging the gap between its capable rotation and strong closers could come out ahead.

The Giants have an overpowering F. Rodriguez of their own to do the job.

Felix Rodriguez was Pedro Martinez’s catcher and Mike Piazza’s backup in the Dodgers organization before developing into one of the game’s best setup men.

Rodriguez first pitched for the Dodgers when manager Tommy Lasorda asked him to relieve Martinez in a spring training game in 1993.

``He said I had a good arm, so go pitch,″ Rodriguez recalled. ``I thought, ‘How can this be happening to me?’ I thought he was kidding me. But it worked out well.″

Felix Rodriguez, who got the first save in Arizona Diamondbacks history, has found a niche as Robb Nen’s setup man in San Francisco.

He had a 2.64 ERA his first three years with the Giants but struggled at the start of this season. But he finished the year in dominating fashion, posting a 1.47 over his final 29 outings and allowing just one run in 7 2-3 innings in the playoffs.

``Our Rodriguez is pretty good, too,″ Torrealba said.

But right now, all the focus is on the pitcher the Angels call ``K-Rod″ or ``Secret Weapon.″

The Giants will rely on scouting reports and video from the AL playoffs to get a read on Francisco Rodriguez.

Seeing Rodriguez for the first time can be rather intimidating. He mixes his 95-mph fastball with a nasty, late-breaking slider that freezes hitters and leaves the opposition muttering.

Both the Yankees and Twins looked overmatched against the 20-year-old star.

``I would say look for the fastball on the first pitch,″ Torrealba said. ``You don’t want to try to hit that slider. That’s an unbelievable pitch.″

If that fails, there’s always this surefire plan for dealing with Rodriguez.

``If we score a lot of runs early, maybe he won’t get in the game at all,″ Clines said.

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