Morales is left with ‘What if ?’
Angel talks about fluke accident that ended his season in May and says he’ll be back strong Morales in 2011.
It was a fluke accident that ended his season on May 29, pushed him onto sports’ most bizarre injuries list and punctured the Angels’ playoff hopes, but nearly four months later, Kendry Morales is able to see some humor in it.
Morales was in Angel Stadium on Tuesday and spoke to reporters for the first time since he broke his lower left leg jumping on the plate after his walk-off home run against the Seattle Mariners.
The first baseman, who hit .306 with 34 home runs and 108 runs batted in last season and had 11 homers and 39 RBIs when he was injured, chuckled when asked what he would do the next time he hits a walk-off homer.
“Clearly,” Morales said through a translator, “I’m not very good at jumping.”
Actually, Morales is very good at jumping. It’s that landing part that needs some work.
“I don’t remember much,” Morales said. “I remember jumping. I remember hitting the ground, and I remember looking at my foot and thinking it was broken.”
Asked whether he has watched replays, Morales laughs again.
“I’ve seen it,” he said. “We were caught up in the emotion of the game, the victory. I think, ‘What would have happened had I not jumped?’ But it was an accident. What are you going to do? All I can do is move on.”
The Angels did, going 20-8 in the month after the injury, with 10 of those wins coming against National League teams and seven against Seattle and Kansas City.
But they could not compensate for the loss of their middle-of-the-order slugger for four months. The offense hit the skids in July, a month in which the Angels were 9-17 and fell nine games behind Texas in the American League West.
“It’s obvious we miss him,” right fielder Torii Hunter said. “Having him changes the way pitchers pitch certain guys. Our confidence level goes up with him.”
Hunter’s walk totals jumped without Morales behind him in the lineup. The usually aggressive Hunter has drawn a career-high 58 walks and “might have 20-25 more” if he was more patient.
“If I could take six pitches, I’d probably walk, but I can’t,” Hunter said. “I tried to force the issue. You could tell there are times when teams don’t want me to beat them.”
Hunter is having a decent season, entering Tuesday with a .287 average, 21 homers and 83 RBIs, but like many Angels hitters, he knows he could have done more.
“I’m human,” Hunter said. “I tried to put a little more on myself, to hit for more power in the cleanup spot. I tried to do a little too much.”
Morales is off crutches, and he walked without a limp Tuesday as he canvassed the clubhouse, shaking hands with teammates.
He is “a little bit ahead of schedule” in his rehabilitation and expects a full recovery for 2011. He is undergoing physical therapy six days a week but is several weeks away from jogging.
“There is no reason to doubt [I won’t come back] at 100%,” Morales said. “The doctors said it all went well, and they see nothing but good things ahead.”
The Angels believe the return of a healthy Morales and the addition of at least one more productive bat will lead them back into playoff contention next season.
“We talk about what our lineup will look like when Kendry gets back,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “That’s the biggest free-agent signing you could make in an off-season.”
Though Morales has been to the stadium only a few times since the injury, he watches games on television and is in constant contact with teammates.
“We joke around,” he said. “I’m busting their chops like I would normally, but just from far away.”
And, of course, teammates have ribbed him about how he got injured, which helps Morales lighten up about it.
“It’s just how we, as teammates, mess around,” Morales said. “They made light of the situation, and it picked up from there.”
JUST BEFORE THE FALL: Kendry Morales heads home after hitting a game-winning grand slam against Seattle on May 29. He broke an ankle moments later after jumping on the plate.