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HEAVENLY INTERVENTION Lachemann, Phillips teach Angels to win

THE BALTIMORE SUN

TORONTO -- Opposites not only attract, but they also produce surprise first-place teams. Look at Marcel Lachemann and Tony Phillips.

Lachemann, 54, is in his first full season as California Angels manager. He has the demeanor of a man who runs a country store. He doesn't raise his voice. His face is calm. Even that greatest test of a manager's emotions -- the post-game news conference -- doesn't rile him.

Phillips, 36, is in his first season with the Angels. He stands 5 feet 10, but he packs 6 feet 5 of emotions. Something always is spilling out of him: a cackling laugh, a hug, a glare at the umpire or an admonition to a teammate -- "You're better than that! Come on!"

Buried inside Lachemann and Phillips is their similarity: their daily devotion to winning. Success in any sport is a product of preparation and intensity. Lachemann is a master of the first and Phillips of the second.

Their influences have turned the Angels into a club that is satisfying to watch. They exhibit little of the sloppiness that increasingly encroaches on baseball. They take one fine at-bat after another, they pitch intelligently and they play defense crisply.

And after being widely picked for last place in the four-team American League West, they lead it.

This goes back to what Lachemann and Phillips did in spring training.

Lachemann had long workouts, from 9 a.m. to about 4 p.m. "At the time, I wasn't too happy about it," first baseman J. T. Snow said. "But he got us ready. We got the soreness out, and we got everything in we needed to get in. We got out of the gate pretty fast to start the season. He prepared us."

Just as the exhibition games began, Phillips arrived in a trade from the Detroit Tigers for center fielder Chad Curtis. Many players would have waited to exert their personalities around their new teammates. Not Phillips.

"As soon as he went out to stretch with us the first day, he was talking about winning the division and not settling for less than that," shortstop Gary DiSarcina said. "He brought a different attitude. He's one of the first guys that we've had here that immediately showed up and talked about winning."

This is Phillips' nature. He expects to win as much as he expects to breathe. He said he doesn't care how little chance the outside world gives his team.

It's too much to say that general manager Bill Bavasi anticipated that Lachemann and Phillips would lead the Angels to a four-game lead last week, their largest advantage since 1986, the year of their most recent divisional title. The Angels had the worst record in the league last season, and Lachemann said, "We didn't expect this much this quick."

But Bavasi, son of longtime baseball executive Buzzie Bavasi, has been justified for jumping at the chance to get Lachemann and Phillips. Both moves were bold, especially for a young

general manager.

Bavasi was 36 when he became GM in January 1994. Less than two months into the 1994 season, he fired manager Buck Rodgers, a former Angel and veteran big-league manager who was popular with the fans and media.

Rodgers wasn't so popular in the front office because of the way he spoke his mind. But Bavasi didn't so much fire Rodgers as hire Lachemann. Rodgers would have kept the job if Lachemann had turned it down.

Lachemann served as Angels pitching coach from 1984 to 1992. He left to become pitching coach for his brother Rene, manager of the first-year Florida Marlins. Managing the Angels for Bill Bavasi was the only job for which Marcel would have left Rene.

Bavasi and Marcel Lachemann became friends when Bavasi was Angels farm director and Lachemann was pitching coach. Bavasi said he didn't care that Lachemann never had managed. He hired him for the traits he had seen in him as a pitching coach: his organization, his devotion, his dedication and his work ethic.

Football-style preparation has come into vogue in baseball in recent years. Managers and coaches study videotapes, consult charts, set a strict schedule for pre-game practices and meet daily with players.

Lachemann brings an advantage to this. He has been preparing this way for more than 20 years, since his first coaching job as a minor-league pitching coach in the Montreal Expos system. He saw the preparation and organization of Expos people such as Mel Didier and Karl Kuehl -- their clipboards containing a plan for every minute of a practice. He has been working that way since.

Bavasi defied conventional wisdom just as much by acquiring Phillips as he did by hiring Lachemann. This season's Angels were supposed to have a young everyday lineup to begin the climb back. Conventional wisdom says that such a team doesn't give up nearly 10 years in a trade. But when Bavasi learned Phillips was available, he offered Curtis in exchange, even though Phillips was in his mid-30s and Curtis in his mid-20s.

Angels executives saw Phillips as an improvement over Curtis at leadoff and as a vocal clubhouse force. The trade represented Bavasi's belief that the Angels could contend in what last year was the majors' weakest division.

Phillips remains among the league's best at getting on base, and he can play second base, third base and the outfield. He began the season in left, then shifted to third so rookie Garret Anderson could become the left fielder.

Angels players have seen why Bavasi wanted Phillips as a clubhouse leader.

"He basically keeps everybody going," Snow said.

"He's a great rub-off, because he's a guy who's plays every day. He stays on you. I like a guy who doesn't let you get too comfortable with yourself. He's been around for a while. He knows how to play."

The past few seasons, the Angels haven't had players who were willing to walk around and give guidance. Phillips considers this part of his job. When Snow once threw his helmet in disgust, Phillips told him that wasn't the way to display intensity.

The Angels came to the All-Star break nine games over .500. Phillips didn't want to gloat. When the club reconvened after the break, Phillips reminded his teammates it was time for the second-half push. The Angels opened the second half with a 7-1 trip against three teams that had been hot -- Detroit, the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays.

On that trip, the Angels did the following things for the first time since 1989, their last winning season: They took sole possession first place after the All-Star break, they went more than 11 games over .500 and they swept a four-game series.

By trip's end, they had outscored their foes, 67-34, expanding their league lead in runs scored over the Indians. The only loss on the 7-1 journey that came in the ninth inning in Cleveland.

The Indians visit the Angels tonight. It's a matchup of the league's two best teams.

Marcel Lachemann will be preparing to win, and Tony Phillips will be expecting to.

BIG FOUR

Almost everyone has made a positive contribution on the Angels. That includes their four season-long everyday players who are 27 or under.

CF Jim Edmonds, 25

He made the Chad Curtis-Tony Phillips trade possible, because the organization believed he was ready to play center field. The big bonus: He has been challenging Boston's Mo Vaughn for the league lead in RBIs.

1B J. T. Snow, 27

Like Edmonds, he has more than 60 RBIs, and Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove says: "He is finally doing what they thought he would do and what everybody thought he would do." His defense is brilliant; California manager Marcel Lachemann says he can't imagine an infielder being better on pop-ups.

SS Gary DiSarcina, 27

He bats ninth and is hitting over .300. That sums up the top-to-bottom quality of the Angels' attack. He made the All-Star team, and he entered the weekend having gone weeks without an error. Pitcher Mark Langston, a six-time Gold Glove winner, says Snow and DiSarcina are Gold Glovers. That's quite a compliment in a league that includes Don Mattingly and Cal Ripken.

RF Tim Salmon, 26

The 1993 Rookie of the Year bats cleanup and plays with an elegant forcefulness. He has played every inning of all but one

game, which he missed with the flu.

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