Figgins and Podsednik setting the table
Leadoff men are providing valuable spark to their clubs
ANAHEIM -- They are the hot wheels who make their teams roll. Big cogs in small ball.
Neither the Angels' Chone Figgins nor Scott Podsednik of the White Sox will ever appear in one of those commercials banging batted balls off the Empire State Building or across the San Francisco Bay.
A spot for sports drinks is more likely. It's definitely in them, that different kind of power, the power to ignite their teams from atop the lineup.
Figgins is the Angels' Zelig, the Woody Allen chameleon-like character who popped up in any situation and looked perfectly natural. If his club goes all the way to another World Series championship, "Where's Chone?" could be a popular children's sequel to "Where's Waldo" under the tree this holiday season.
"Chone is our most valuable player this year," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of the Majors' steals leader with 62. "We aren't even sitting here talking about a playoff game if it wasn't for Chone."
When he moved 90 miles south from Milwaukee in one of the winter's headlining trades, Podsednik truly gave legs to a White Sox team that in 2004 had ranked near the bottom of the American League with 78 steals.
The 29-year-old Texan had 44 stolen bases by the All-Star Game, as the White Sox burned rubber to the Majors' best first-half record.
In games in which Figgins both stole a base and scored a run, the Angels went 28-8.
With the same contribution from Podsednik, the White Sox were 23-6.
Which begs the question: What are their teams doing here, getting ready to break a 1-1 tie in Friday night's Game 3 of the AL Championship Series?
Their catalysts have been virtually catatonic.
Podsednik has set some tables with his bat, with a .278 average and even a home run (his first of the season) in five playoff games, but has stolen only once in four attempts.
Figgins has been reined in even more dramatically in five Division Series games by the Yankees and the first two games of the ALCS. He is 4-for-28, and has run for as many steals as ground into double plays (one of each).
Of course, you know what this means: Stand clear of those fuses; they're about to torch up.
Not to say they haven't already contributed with extracts from their skills set. The threat of Podsednik's speed may have rushed Jarrod Washburn into throwing away his Game 2-opening comebacker, setting up the early run of Chicago's 2-1 victory. And Figgins has been wowing 'em with the glove -- whichever one he happens to be wearing.
Figgins made a profound impression early in the Division Series. Playing third base in Game 2, he dove to corral an opposite-field laser Hideki Matsui hit between him and the foul line, saving a run in what would become a 5-3 win. Playing center field in the next game, his all-out headlong dive robbed Gary Sheffield of what should have been a game-tying hit; the Angels took that one, 11-7.
Scioscia, who, beginning as a player, has been on the big league scene for 2 1/2 decades, was moved to say, "I know I've never run into anyone that not only is as versatile as he is, but brings such a level of play at so many positions."
But then Scioscia did invoke a parallel, and couldn't stop coming up with them. Figgins' versatility apparently extends to drawing comparisons.
His hometown paper in Florida called him "a modern-day Jose Oquendo," citing the versatile Cardinal who could pop up at any of seven positions in the late '80s.
At various times during this postseason alone, Scioscia has likened him to players such as Mark McLemore ("always seemed to be at a different position for Seattle"), Derrel Thomas ("was very versatile for the Dodgers defensively") and Terry Pendleton, who "could do a lot of things offensively."
One thing jumps out from that plays-like list. With the exception of Pendleton, who won a National League MVP Award in 1991 with the Braves, they played their careers as footnotes to the high-profile, one-position guys.
Figgins couldn't be less concerned. The only profile he cares about is his in the 2006 Angels Yearbook, the one with a "2005 World Series Champs" banner across the cover.
"I just love to play," he said through his typical warm smile. "If [versatility] can give me 10, 15 years in the big leagues, I'm all for it."
Podsednik has only one position and one dimension -- he is an outfielder who can slap-hit his way on base, and create havoc once there. That havoc has been toned down for weeks, putting the lie to that old saying that "speed doesn't slump."
For certain, speed isn't injury-proof.
Podsednik finally relented to a nagging groin problem to spend two weeks on the disabled list in August. He rejoined the fray on Aug. 29, but the evidence is compelling that not all of his groin muscle did.
A guy who had 52 steals through July ran seven-for-15 across the last two months of the season. Nor has he gotten any busier in the postseason, with only one steal in four attempts.
Podsednik freely admits having misplaced both his timing and confidence for the art of the steal. He is equally adamant about getting both back and, in the meantime, not changing his game. It's the only one he knows.
"I have to keep running. If I'm not 100 percent, I still have to get out there and go," Podsednik said. "I can most help this club getting on base ... trying to change the tempo and get myself in scoring position. It's something I have to continue to do.
"If you don't have a lot of success out there, it's hard to be confident with what you're doing. But that's neither here nor there."
When these guys are on, they're here, there and everywhere.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.