At the expense of injured Ellis, Jimenez reaches center stage
- Ray Ratto
Friday, October 6, 2006
The D'Angelo Jimenez story wasn't supposed to be told this way, not that of a sure-handed, light-hitting infielder finally getting his chance on the national stage as the Oakland Athletics' Plan C at second base.
He was, in fact, supposed to be Alfonso Soriano before there was Alfonso Soriano. Then the bus intervened.
"I was ahead of Soriano," said Jimenez, the one-time Yankee uber-prospect and now the man who replaces Mark Ellis as the Elephants' second baseman from here through the end of October, whenever October ends for them. "But after the accident, everything went differently."
The accident was Jimenez getting hit by a bus riding on the wrong side of the road in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in January 2000. His career as the New York Yankees' mortal-lock second baseman of the future ended with a broken second cervical vertebrae, surgery and a halo to stabilize his neck and ultimately, a tattoo that from a distance looks like a zipper on the back of his neck to symbolize the lesson of the best-laid plans.
He had trouble walking and moving his head. His left arm didn't respond to his brain's requests for action. The Yankees sent doctors to the Dominican Republic to help with his surgery and recovery, and if Jimenez is bitter at all after all these years, he makes sure to credit George Steinbrenner for doing the right thing for someone who probably would never be able to help the Yankees.
So now, after trying to relocate his inner Soriano in San Diego, Chicago, Cincinnati and Texas, and having his career ebb and flow through his arbitration/making-too-much-money-to-keep years, he is finally getting the spotlight long denied him, even if as he said, "It's not the way it should happen."
Ellis' fractured finger, and an eerily similar injury to Antonio Perez, who would have replaced Ellis, changed all of it. Ellis, for whom the hideously timed injury is as regular as coffee, gives way to a man whose story is as compelling.
"Maybe the reason I got hurt is so he can revive his future," Ellis said Thursday, even though his heart clearly was more attuned to his own misery. "He definitely has the ability."
But much as we respect the concept of predeterminism in career tracking, we respect history more, and one of the less noticed but still fascinating sidebars here is that this is only the latest in a long line of A's postseason teams with an issue at second base.
The 1972 team had four men handle the position in October -- Dick Green, Ted Kubiak, Dal Maxvill and even Gene Tenace, plus a fifth, Tim Cullen, just in case. Three played routinely, and starter Green was pinch-hit for once before his first at-bat as Dick Williams micromanaged his way to the first Oakland ring. In '73, it was Green, Kubiak and Mike Andrews, the man Charlie Finley tried to fire after his two errors in Game 2 of the World Series. In 1974, it was Green and Maxvill again, and in '75, Phil Garner, Marty Martinez and Cesar Tovar.
Then after a seven-year layoff, they returned in 1981 and used only one, Dave McKay, against the Yankees. That stability seemed awkward, so when they returned in 1988, they used three -- Mike Gallego, Tony Phillips and Glenn Hubbard. In 1989, they exchanged Hubbard for Lance Blankenship, and in 1990, Phillips and Blankenship were replaced by Willie Randolph (yes, that Willie Randolph). Then Blankenship and Mike Bordick in '92, Randy Velarde and Frank Menechino in 2000, Menechino and F.P. Santangelo in '01, and finally Ellis in '02 and '03.
That's 20 men for one place, and Jimenez will be 21. If pressed, they still have Hiram Bocachica, although he has been more a shortstop and outfielder ("He has all the gloves," manager Ken Macha said), and if the A's get past this round (assume nothing until the deal is closed, remember?), they will probably elevate either Mark Kiger or Kevin Melillo from their farm system to potentially make a nice, round 22.
In other words, there are an almost endless supply of infielders' dreams, both dashed and realized, here. Shortstop Marco Scutaro is playing every day because Bobby Crosby's back is taking on the attributes of an accordion, and Jimenez was signed after his release by the Rangers after Ellis broke his thumb in May, and called up when Crosby's back first went south. In fact, Scutaro's 2005 trading card has a picture of him making the pivot at second base over a sliding Jimenez, who was with Cincinnati at the time.
"See?" Scutaro said when he was handed the card by Jimenez. "We've played together before."
Yes, it's almost as if no beats have been missed here. The A's use lots of second basemen. They're going to use lots of them this year. Mark Ellis' dreams have been dipped in turpentine again, D'Angelo Jimenez's dreams have been temporarily revived, and there are two and maybe three more second basemen floating around the compound at any given time, perhaps even hidden amidst the grounds crew.
But baseball people know better. Jimenez is filling more than his own spikes here, in the hottest month of the baseball year, and the question of how long he has waited to be Alfonso Soriano is secondary to how well he can approximate Mark Ellis.
Tigers 4, Yankees 3 (Series tied 1-1)
Today's other game
ALDS: Yankees (Johnson 17-11) at Tigers (Rogers 17-8), 5:09 p.m.