It’s May 29, 2010, and the Anaheim Angels are hosting the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners are off to a miserable 19-29 start, and they’ll finish their 2010 campaign as one of the most offensively inept teams of all time. Meanwhile, the Angels are free-falling away from success as fast as gravity can drag them. After winning 197 games in 2008-9, Anaheim is off to a horribly pedestrian 24-27 start, and they’ll finish the season with a flawlessly mediocre 80-82 record. Kendrys Morales, their first baseman, is at the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning with one out and the bases loaded in a one-all tie. How did he get there?
Kendrys Morales first appeared in MLB during the 2006 season, but the path he took to get there is much more interesting than his performance. Morales played minor-league ball as a teenager in his native Cuba before joining up with the Industriales de la Habana for his age-18 season. It was all uphill from there; over his three seasons with the Industriales, Kendrys Morales became a Cuban baseball legend. Arguably his finest year with the Industriales was his age-19 season, in which he recorded a Splinteresque .391/.508/.609 triple-slash over his 254 plate appearances.
Perhaps the finest moment of Morales’s days in Cuban ball came during the 2003 Pan-American Games in Panama. With the Cuban team facing elimination, down 3-2 to Brazil with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Kendrys Morales came to the plate with a 19-year-old Yuli Gurriel standing on third base. Morales yanked the ball over the right field wall to keep Cuba alive in the tournament, which they went on to win.
Morales’s career in Cuban baseball came to an abrupt end when government officials accused him of contacting an American sports agent and attempting to defect from the country. Morales denied those claims, but eventually succeeded in defecting to the United States. He signed a $4.5 million contract with the Angels, and after a few years with Anaheim’s minor-league affiliates, Morales debuted in Major League Baseball in 2006 as a 23-year-old. He needed a few seasons to acclimate to American baseball, but he broke out with a vengeance in 2009. Over 622 plate appearances, Morales OPS’d a remarkable .924 (good for a 139 OPS+), popped 34 homers and took home a fifth-place finish in the AL MVP race.
Here in 2010, Morales has still been a solid contributor, albeit not quite up to the 4.3 bWAR bar he set for himself in 2009. He’s OPS’d .833 to this point in the season to go with eleven home runs, which is still good for 1.7 bWAR through this point in the season. If Morales keeps up this pace, he’ll be worth roughly 4.5 bWAR over 600 plate appearances. Fortunately, since he’s now a star for a struggling Anaheim squad, he doesn’t have any real competition for the spot. He’ll get those 600 PA easily.
Seattle reliever Brandon League is not having a good day. After getting Anaheim shortstop Erick Aybar to fly out to “Deep CF” (thanks Baseball Reference), League gives up a hard-hit double to Maicer Izturis. He intentionally walks old man Bobby Abreu to set up a potential double play from center fielder Reggie Willits, who replaced Torii Hunter in the second inning after Hunter took a 94-MPH Felix Hernandez fastball off his wrist. Willits does exactly what League wants him to do- he rolls over on a sinker and punches the ball right to Seattle second baseman Chone Figgins. Figgins will be a sub-replacement defender in 2010, and the ball clanks off his glove. He can’t recover in time to throw anyone out, let alone turn two, and now the bases are loaded for Kendrys Morales.
League comes set, then throws a 95-MPH first-pitch two-seamer that tails right down the middle into Morales’s wheelhouse, and Morales punishes the pitch to deep center field. Even if the ball doesn’t go out, the game is over; there’s only one out. Present-day Albert Pujols could score on a flyout to the track at Angel Stadium. Morales trots around the bases as League begins the long walk back to the showers. As he approaches the red-and-white mob waiting for him at the plate, Morales puts some extra flourish on his home run trot. He jumps into the air, and…
The Aftermath and Other Notes
It would be a long road back to the majors for Morales, who badly broke his ankle after leaping onto the plate. After surgery and more than a year of rehab, Morales came back to the Angels in 2012 with a solid 2.1 bWAR campaign. After his tenure in Anaheim, Morales bounced from Seattle to Minnesota to Seattle (again) before settling in Kansas City for the 2015 season. Morales was one of the very best hitters on the World Series-winning Royals that year, and he took home a Silver Slugger award for his efforts at DH. After his stint with KC, Morales spent two semi-productive seasons with Toronto before completely crashing with the A’s and Yankees in 2019. Morales declared his retirement on February 7 of this year. He finished his career with 13.1 bWAR and 213 homers.
X-rays on Hunter’s hand came back negative, and he represented the Angels at the 2010 All-Star game (which, coincidentally, was held in Anaheim).
Figgins, who booted the double play ball that kept Anaheim alive in the bottom of the tenth, put up a career year with the Angels the year prior. Thanks to his stellar speed, a super-fluky 3.3 dWAR and an AL-leading 101 walks, Figgins put up an MVP-worthy 7.7 bWAR in 2009. Figgins spent three seasons with the Mariners, during which he put up -0.9 bWAR.
To see Baseball Reference’s game logs, for this game, click here.
To read more about the ’03 Baseball World Cup, click here.
To read more about Kendrys Morales’s story, click here.