Home run finally brings Morales full circle
Philadelphia, PA – A player will typically travel 360 unhindered feet around the bases upon hitting a home run.
For Kendrys Morales, his first round-tripper in nearly two years must have felt even longer, though he probably enjoyed every step of it.
The 28-year-old connected on a three-run homer in the first inning of the Los Angles Angels' 6-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Monday. It was the first time the Cuban had gone yard since a walk-off grand slam on May 29, 2010, a moment that should have served as one of his better highlights.
Instead, a freak injury threatened his career.
Following his game-winning hit, Morales celebrated with his teammates by jumping into a celebration at home plate and suffered a broken left ankle that eventually required two surgeries and kept him out of action for 22 months. His first trip under the knife took place in June 2010 and the slugger was forced to undergo a second surgery last May to clean out scar tissue and debris in the left ankle joint.
On Monday, his first-inning homer was met with more simplicity: a cheering home crowd, some high-fives at home plate and a big smile by Morales.
The significance of Morales trotting back to the dugout following the homer wasn't lost on manager Mike Scioscia.
"We were happy he got around the bases in one piece," Scioscia told the Angels' official website. "It's been a long time."
It also has been a long time since Morales has had an impact for the Angels. He broke out in 2009 by hitting .306 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs and was in the midst of a solid 2010 campaign before his injury. The switch-hitter was leading Los Angeles with a .290 average, 11 homers and 39 RBIs prior to breaking his ankle, putting him on pace for career power numbers.
When Morales finally returned, he was without a position. His former spot, first base, had been filled in the offseason with the signing of Albert Pujols and that was after the emergence of Mark Trumbo, who was a Rookie of the Year candidate at first base last season before the Angels shifted him to third following the Pujols signing.
Los Angeles' outfield is also pretty full with Torii Hunter, Peter Bourjos, Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu, leaving Morales as a fairly young designated hitter.
The jury is still out on if Morales is ever going to be able to regain the form he was showing before his injury. He is 9-for-34 at the plate through nine games, but seven of those hits have come in two games and his four RBIs on Monday were his first of the season. That hasn't helped an Angels lineup that also is seeing Pujols struggle (.268, zero homers and four RBIs), so getting Morales going would be a huge plus.
For what it's worth, the undrafted slugger downplayed the home run through an interpreter on Monday.
"I've felt pretty good," Morales said on the Angels' website. "I have been having good swings, but I haven't been able to hit them over the fence."
Morales isn't going to reproduce his early career success overnight. He still faces a long road as he gets readjusted to playing baseball every day again.
It remains just one step at a time Morales.