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'Firecracker' Calhoun keeps sparking Angels

Angels right fielder delivers key hit in win over Astros

ANAHEIM -- There was one night earlier this season when Kole Calhoun took off his helmet and slammed it against one of the cubby-holes in the home dugout of Angel Stadium. Now that cubby-hole is completely beat up, the white, plastic lining all gone and the edge of the wood plank crumbling after too many, um, outward displays of frustration.

"There might be a few dings from me there," Calhoun said, a sly grin emerging. "You try not to, but sometimes that emotion just comes out."

On an Angels team composed of veterans who stay even keel and young players who keep quiet, Calhoun is, as closer Huston Street put it, "a little firecracker, a stick of dynamite." As the Angels navigated through a 19-loss August, Calhoun perpetually wore the exasperation on his face. And now that they're making a push, he is at the center of it all, the key two-run single in Friday's 3-2 win over the first-place Astros only the latest example.

"He might not get the recognition, because he's on the team with Mike Trout and he's on the team with Albert Pujols," Street said of Calhoun. "But I think he's one of the best baseball players, not just in this game, not just in this division, but in the entire game of baseball."

Video: [email protected]: Calhoun strokes a two-run single to left

Calhoun ranks second on the Angels in Wins Above Replacement, his FanGraphs score of 4.0 trailing only Trout (7.0) and topping Pujols (1.9). Since the start of September, as the Angels have won six of nine to give themselves a shot, Calhoun has batted .410 with three home runs and eight RBIs.

"We have to make a run here," Calhoun said, his team 4 1/2 games back in the American League West and three back for the second Wild Card spot. "August was tough for all of us, everybody in here didn't play well. Just a bad month. So right when we turn the calendar, man, we gotta go."

On Monday and Tuesday, Calhoun became the only player this season to homer off both Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.

On Friday, against potential AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, Calhoun led off the game with a single and delivered what ended up being the decisive blow in the second inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, the 27-year-old right fielder fell behind, 0-2, then worked the count full, kept his hands in on a 91-mph fastball and drove it to left, plating two runs, the second one just barely.

"Sometimes Kole is overlooked, but he's having a terrific season," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Calhoun, batting .271 with a career-high 23 homers and 75 RBIs.

"He's getting on base for the big boys, and he's a big boy himself."

When the Angels clinched the division title last September, Pujols called Calhoun up to the front of the room to pop the first bottle of champagne. In their lineup, he is the leadoff man. Within their clubhouse, he is the fiery, impassioned ball of energy who balances it all out.

"He's very animated," Street said, "but a team needs those guys. You need the guys that just rattle off the clichés, and those are usually your more veteran guys that lead by example. But then you also need some guys like Kole, who are just kind of rough around the edges, tough dudes that everybody in the clubhouse knows is going to show up and play hard, and be loud about it and be good about it and be tough about it."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and listen to his podcast.
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