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Reinvented Pagan has his eyes on the prize

DETROIT -- There's a man called "horse" in every big league clubhouse.

He's a stud, usually a team leader, and always one of the most gifted players on the field.

The Latin players call him "El Caballo," a Spanish label of respect that often prefaces some of the game's most recognizable names.

There's Albert Pujols, who is without question "El Caballo" in Anaheim and Miami's Carlos "El Caballo" Lee. Colorado has Carlos Gonzalez, while St. Louis has outfielder Carlos Beltran, Texas' "Caballo" is third baseman Adrian Beltre and Boston's David Ortiz laid claim to the title in Boston for years.

But the game had just one "Crazy Horse" and nobody personified the nickname better than Giants center fielder Angel Pagan once did. The Puerto Rican's aggressive style, unbridled passion and sometimes out-of-control game reminded former big leaguer Juan Gonzalez of a "caballo loco" during their winter workouts in Puerto Rico, and the nickname stuck.

It might be time for a new nickname.

Pagan, the one-time wild mustang, has come into his own in San Francisco and is performing like a thoroughbred. The Giants lead the Tigers 2-0 in the World Series heading into Game 3 on Saturday, and Pagan is part of the reason. The outfielder finally has everything under control and there is nothing "loco" about that.

"The key for Angel was being able to channel all of that energy and figure out when to put the pedal to the metal and when to back up and let the game come to you," said former Major Leaguer Carlos Delgado, Pagan's one-time teammate with the Mets and former workout partner in Puerto Rico. "He's maturing and taking it to the next level. The sky is the limit with the kind of potential he has."

Pagan has reinvented himself with the Giants. Gone are the days of the bad routes in the outfield and overaggressiveness on the basepaths. He's still disruptive on the bases -- these days, just for opposing pitchers and catchers -- and he has a better approach at the plate. He's also taken charge in center field.

"I would never change anything that has happened in my career," Pagan, 31, said. "Every injury and every single moment was worth it and it's been a learning experience for me."

In Game 1, Pagan's two-out double off the third-base bag in the third inning started a rally that propelled the Giants' 8-3 win. In Game 2, he led off the eighth inning with a walk and stole second base. He eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Hunter Pence to seal the 2-0 win.

In a crazy twist, Pagan's stolen base won everyone in the country a free taco as part of a promotion from Taco Bell. The taco's name? A Doritos Locos Taco, of course.

"He's a great talent and has been great for us on both sides of the field," Giants first-base coach Roberto Kelly said. "He's been fine for us and in control. He's very aggressive, and we are all going to make mistakes, but I would rather see him be aggressive than not."

Pagan has come a long way. He was drafted by the Mets in the fourth round in 1999 and toiled in the club's Minor League system for six seasons. He was sold to the Cubs before the start of the 2006 season and set his sights on a spot on the big league roster that spring.

Among Pagan's stiffest competition for a position during Spring Training his first year in Chicago was veteran outfielder Marquis Grissom, then 38 and at the opposite end of his career. Having already racked up 2,000 hits, 200 home runs and 400 stolen bases in 17 big league seasons, Grissom made a decision that changed the course of Pagan's career.

"[Grissom] came to me and said 'If I don't do what I'm going to do, you're probably going to be frustrated for the rest of your career, so I'm going to retire so you can have this job.'" Pagan said. "That was something I really admired from a player. You don't see that very often. Every time I see him, I thank him for that and that opportunity. If it wasn't for him, who knows if I would have made it to the big leagues."

Pagan played in 148 games in two seasons with the Cubs and returned to the Mets in 2008. He was injured often in New York and gained a reputation as moody before he was traded to the Giants for Ramon Ramirez and Andres Torres before the start of the 2012 season.

And for the record, "El Caballo Loco" isn't exactly his favorite nickname.

"I've worked very hard and I've made a lot of sacrifices to get here, being away from my kids and family," Pagan said, "but it's nice to be able to represent them and be a positive example of perseverance."

If Pagan seems sensitive, it's because he is. He's sentimental and he's passionate. When his father, Angel Luis Pagan, passed away in 2005, he promised him he would make it to the big leagues. Not a day goes by that Pagan does not think about that pledge.

"If you go to [Angel], you have to do it at the right time, because he's like I am. He takes everything so personally," Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery said. "So if you want to talk to him about baserunning or something, you have to know that. He's a genuine, good man. He's a gentleman. I love the warrior gentlemen."

Pagan still has flair for the dramatic. His favorite offseason hobby is free-dive spear fishing, and he says he has caught everything from a 40-pound snapper to a 10-pound lobster. The biggest catch of his life would be a World Series title.

"It would be a dream come true," Pagan said. "I've seen so many players that played a lot of years in the big leagues and never made it to the World Series. I'm just living in the moment that we have all been waiting for. We have to win the World Series."

San Francisco Giants, Angel Pagan