Before Jose Guillen went and opened his big yap, the Anaheim Angels were the model of efficiency, resourcefulness and teamwork -- how else to explain a team that has had an unfathomable run of bad injury luck, a team that at one point last week had Alfredo Amezaga hitting second and Chone Figgins hitting third, but that is within one-half game of the best record in the majors?
Guillen's stunning and ill-conceived tirade six days ago -- in which he violated clubhouse protocol by calling out his own pitchers for not retaliating after he was repeatedly hit by pitches -- might not completely rip the club apart. To his credit, Guillen called the full team together the next day to apologize.
Still, it was jarringly out of character for a team that was drawing raves for the way it has overcome injuries to lineup stalwarts Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, Troy Glaus and Tim Salmon. And it gave Manager Mike Scioscia one more crisis he didn't need.
Oh, and until yesterday, the Angels had not won a game since Guillen's explosion, allowing the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers to creep within striking distance in the AL West.
The Angels made a shrewd move this week to sign enigmatic outfielder Raul Mondesi, whose offensive production can offset the losses of so many productive hitters and whose past relationship with Scioscia when both were with the Los Angeles Dodgers should keep him happy and motivated.
"A motivated Raul Mondesi," Scioscia said, "is still a heck of a ballplayer."
But the injury situation remains bleak, with Glaus (shoulder) out for the season, Anderson (arthritis) out indefinitely, and Erstad (hamstring) and Salmon (knee) still weeks away from starting rehabilitation assignments.
Superstar right fielder Vladimir Guerrero, who was imported from Montreal this winter, has been a godsend, ranking among the league leaders in most major offensive categories. But he, too, appears increasingly bothered by his persistent back problems, which give him a noticeable lurch in his running.
The Angels went 49-43 in the first half last year, only to crash to a 28-42 mark in the second half. It's hard to see the same thing happening this year, especially now that Bartolo Colon gives them a true stopper in the rotation.
"We have to mix and match more [in the lineup]. And right now our bench is stretched thin," Scioscia said. "But we'll be able to contend as long as we can pitch."
And, one might add, as long as Guerrero stays in the lineup, one or two of the injured stars returns and Guillen keeps quiet.
Rafael Palmeiro's next homer won't be a big, round number, like No. 500 last season or the No. 600 he hopes to get in a couple more years. But the next one will mean as much to him, or more.
His next homer will be No. 536, which will tie him with Mickey Mantle. Palmeiro explains the meaning:
"My dad grew up in Cuba listening to the Yankees. He became a big Yankees fan and an even bigger Mickey Mantle fan. So growing up, I always heard about Mickey Mantle, all the time. How great he was, how injuries cut short his career. Yeah, Mickey Mantle was somebody who was placed very high in my house."
Palmeiro said he got to meet Mantle once -- when Palmeiro was playing rookie ball in the Chicago Cubs' organization in Peoria, Ill., and Mantle came by to speak to a team luncheon.
"It was great," Palmeiro said. "I don't know if words can describe what 536 means to me. It's unbelievable to me that my name would be up there with his on the all-time list."
Around the Bases
Some critics are questioning whether the Diamondbacks rushed slugger Richie Sexson back to the lineup too soon after a shoulder injury in order to justify the trade last winter in which they sent six players (including burgeoning star Lyle Overbay) to Milwaukee to get him.
Sexson returned to the Diamondbacks' lineup 23 days after going on the disabled list with a torn labrum. He lasted seven at-bats before he reinjured the shoulder on a checked swing.
Sexson, a free agent after the season, is now expected to miss the rest of the season, meaning the Diamondbacks mortgaged their future for about a month of his services.
"During the entire process, if we had seen anything that was a red flag, we would have backed off," Manager Bob Brenly told reporters this week. "But he passed every test. The strength in his shoulder was good. The range of motion was good. . . . He had no problems with any of it. Anywhere along the line, had there been any kind of sign he wasn't ready yet, we would have backed off and given him more time. But there was no sign whatsoever that he wasn't ready to come back." . . .
Two National League contenders could see the return of top starting pitchers in the upcoming week.
Chicago Cubs ace Mark Prior is expected to make a final rehab start for Class AAA Iowa today, and then be reevaluated. His return would soften the blow of losing co-ace Kerry Wood, who went on the disabled list on May 20 because of elbow pain.
Meantime, Florida Marlins right-hander A.J. Burnett could make his return late this week, only about 13 months after undergoing elbow-ligament replacement (Tommy John) surgery.
Burnett hit 98 mph on one scout's radar gun during his most recent rehab start, and one Marlins official predicted Burnett would be the team's best pitcher over the remainder of the season. . . .
The Expos might make a run at veteran first baseman Andres Galarraga, who is back on the market after beating cancer (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma) for a second time. The Expos could use another bat -- their team average is a paltry .228. . . .
Rangers right-hander Chan Ho Park, who went on the disabled list Wednesday for the fifth time in three years, has made just 40 starts and won just 12 games since signing a five-year, $65 million deal prior to the 2002 season.