Hatcher enjoying his Halos batters' success
Hitting coach a constant for decade alongside Scioscia
NEW YORK -- A hitting coach is like a reliever or an offensive lineman. He tends to become a lightning rod, the focus of attention only when things go wrong.
So it is with Mickey Hatcher, who has been the Angels' hitting coach for as long as Mike Scioscia has been their manager -- a decade. Hatcher likes to joke that he's always one slump away from hearing the familiar "Hatch must go!" diatribes.
If he takes the abuse when the Angels fall silent offensively, he should warrant a measure of appreciation when things go right -- as they have this season with a diverse and dangerous offense that set a club record for runs scored.
"You talk about a player, you want him to play free and not worry about mistakes," Scioscia said. "That's the way Mickey coaches. He supports these guys at an incredible level.
"I think that Mickey feels it more than anybody, when guys don't achieve. He has stayed with these guys for a number of years through development and [through times when they] haven't been offensively on track the way they have been this year. And he's been the one constant.
"He does a great job with them, and I think that it's very tangible what his work has produced for a lot of guys in that room. He's probably more important through tough times [than] when you're going well."
Bobby Abreu rightfully has been accorded much of the credit for the Angels' dramatic improvement in on-base percentage -- from .330 last year to .350, third in the Majors -- but it's something Hatcher stressed from Day 1 of Spring Training.
"The guys have been in tune for this approach for 162 games," Hatcher said. "They've really worked on having good at-bats, supporting each other, getting into good counts. A lot of the credit goes to our veterans for showing our younger guys how to win."
Embroiled in their third American League Championship Series with the Angels, for the first time against the heavy-handed Yankees, Hatcher and Scioscia go way back to their formative years as young Dodgers in the late 1970s.
Hatcher was a driving emotional force behind the 1988 team, which few people believed had a genuine shot but went the distance, improbably dropping the brash brothers of New York, the Mets, and the Bash Brothers of Oakland, the A's, along the way.
That Dodgers outfit had Orel Hershiser and a gimpy Kirk Gibson, a rock of a catcher named Scioscia and a whole lot of desire. Somehow, it took down the Mets in seven games in the NLCS and the A's in five to win the World Series.
"We had something special going for us," Hatcher said.
A modest talent for six months, playing a total of 88 games that year and hitting one home run, he was transformed in October. Hatcher would have been the World Series MVP if not for Hershiser's impact, hitting .368 with a 1.137 OPS in the Fall Classic. His two homers with five RBIs rocked the A's.
Hatcher was 33, two years from retirement, but he commanded the big stage with the joy of a kid.
Now here he stands 21 years later, leading a band of hitters who have combined small ball with big-bang to create more runs than any team in franchise history.
Hatcher, whose 2002 lineup smashed its way through the Yankees, Twins and Giants to a World Series title, was aglow again on Sunday, when the Angels flattened the Red Sox with one of the most improbable ninth-inning rallies in postseason history.
With two out and down two runs, four consecutive hitters -- Erick Aybar, Chone Figgins, Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero -- came through with two-strike hits (or a walk, in Figgins' case) to deal Jonathan Papelbon a loss he'll never forget.
Hatcher was especially thrilled for Guerrero, who spent the season getting over surgery (right knee), a muscle tear (in his chest) and a painful muscle issue behind his left knee, playing only 100 games and finishing below .300, at .295, for the first time in his 13 big league seasons.
"It was the greatest feeling ever watching those guys come through like that," Hatcher said. "I was especially happy for 'Mula.' After everything he's been through this year with all the injuries and people saying he couldn't do it anymore, that's one of the greatest feelings I've ever had -- when he came through with the hit that won it."
Guerrero is known as Mula -- Spanish for mule and pronounced moo-lah, like the slang for money -- because he has the strength of one and is not unfamiliar with hard work from his days growing up in the Dominican Republic.
He also has been known to be as stubborn as one, but that's a story for another time.
Guerrero has been all smiles since the Angels celebrated that AL Division Series triumph, a huge weight clearly having been removed from his broad shoulders.
"This team is pulling for him so hard," Hatcher said. "We know what it means to him to have a really good game and win. A lot of people were doubting him, but this guy can still play the game.
"Watching him get to first base and react the way he did, jumping around like a happy kid, that was just so great to see. He doesn't show much emotion, so you know how good that felt to him."
Guerrero, whose past postseason struggles represented the one blemish on his resume, batted .467 in four games against the Red Sox in the 2008 ALDS and .400 in the Angels' three-game sweep of Boston, lifting his career postseason average to .259.
"It feels good," Guerrero said, "but we have more work to do."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.