ANAHEIM — He’s old now, in baseball terms. Older, even, than his 34 years, given the pounding his body took in his eight seasons on a notoriously hard artificial-turf home field.
He’s slow, too. He doesn’t run to first base; he hobbles there at an accelerated rate that makes it hard to believe he stole 37 and 40 bases in consecutive seasons. He looks like a guy with nine steals over the last three years, which is what he is.
The physical realities have Vladimir Guerrero on the downhill side of his baseball career, with the slope of that decline increasing. And baseball’s business realities, imbued with the sentimentality of a Dickensian landlord, make it probable the Angels will not re-sign their current designated hitter and 2004 league MVP.
So it is altogether possible that tonight’s Game 5 of the American League Championship will be the last time Guerrero wears an Angels uniform at home, the last chance for the Anaheim crowd to salute the player most responsible for turning the team into a perennial playoff contender.
He may not be the player he was in the 2004, when he batted .337 with 39 homers and 126 RBIs, or in the similarly spectacular 2007 season, when he batted .324 with 45 homers and 125 RBIs.
But while most people now focus on what Guerrero can no longer do, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has retained enough belief in the abilities of his slugger to keep him batting cleanup. That faith was rewarded in Game 3 of the first-round series with Boston, when Guerrero delivered the two-run ninth-inning single that beat closer Jonathan Papelbon and completed an Angels sweep. It was rewarded again in Game 3 of the ALCS, when Guerrero hit a two-run homer that changed the tone of a game the Angels eventually won 5-4 in 11 innings.