Texas' Mench goes on hot streak after getting bigger shoes

Friday, April 28, 2006

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's gotta be the shoes for Kevin Mench.

Since finally getting the right size shoes last week, Mench is on a torrid streak -- a Texas Rangers record with home runs in six straight games, including two grand slams, and 20 RBIs in a week.

"I'm thinking about changing shoes, too," teammate Gerald Laird said. "It's kind of funny. That just describes Menchy's personality, to not even know what size shoe you wear."

The easygoing Mench was already known for a big head -- literally, his size-8 cap being the largest in the major leagues. He's affectionately known as "Shrek" because of his big, bald noggin.

Now in Mench's locker, next to a batting helmet designed with the image of the animated green-headed character, are several shiny new pairs of size 12 1/2 cleats.

Mench had been wearing size 12s since he was 15. But he found out last week after the Rangers sent him to a foot specialist that was a half-size too small -- and the cause of a sprain in the second toe of his right foot that forced him to miss five games.

So Mench put on bigger shoes and got back into the Rangers lineup on a regular basis in Seattle. After failing to drive in a run in his first 10 games, Mench had two RBIs in the series finale against the Mariners on April 20.

And Mench was only getting started.

The next night at home, Mench hit a grand slam in the first inning against Tampa Bay after the Rangers had fallen behind 4-0. He homered and had at least two RBIs in all six games during the homestand, including another slam Wednesday against Oakland.

"If it's the shoes, we'll ride it as long as we can," Laird said.

"I'm hoping next year he goes to 13s," manager Buck Showalter joked.

"Kevin's swinging the bat well. He's so strong. He's a collision hitter. When he collides with the ball, good things happen," Showalter said. "I like the idea that this might be the year that he's consistent and puts it all together."

The major league record for consecutive games with a home run is eight, shared by Dale Long, Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey Jr. Nineteen players have homered in six straight games, with Morgan Ensberg of Houston also doing it this season.

After a day off Thursday, Mench and the Rangers open a three-game weekend series in Cleveland tonight.

Mench is only the fourth player in the past 30 years with 20 RBIs in seven games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The others were Sammy Sosa (22 in 2002), Albert Belle (21 in 2000) and Mattingly (20 in 1987).

"I had a good weekend in college one year that was sort of like this," said Mench, a Delaware standout who is suddenly short on words when talking about himself. "It's a rarity. I'm just having fun right now."

Teammates had to force Mench out of the dugout to tip his cap to the crowd after his slam Wednesday that set the Rangers record for consecutive games with a homer. Carl Everett (April 2003), Alex Rodriguez (August 2003) and Mark Teixeira (July 2004) all homered in five straight games.

That slam provided the only runs in the Rangers' 6-4, 10-inning loss.

"I'm just more concerned with winning baseball games," Mench said.

Oakland starter Rich Harden got all of his six strikeouts Wednesday in a span of seven batters. The lone batter who didn't strike out was Mench, whose single in the second inning extended his hitting streak to 11 games, matching a career best.

Mench was standing on deck with the bases loaded in the fourth when Harden left with back spasms. Kiko Calero gave up the slam.

"I didn't know about the shoes, but I believe it," Harden said. "When you pitch, you're always looking for things like that. It's a game of inches, and every little bit helps."

Luckily for the A's, Mench didn't get a chance to bat in the bottom of the 10th Wednesday. He was stranded on deck when the game ended with the bases loaded.

"When he gets hot, he can carry a team for a long time," said Teixeira, the Rangers' All-Star first baseman.

Mench is in his fifth season with the Rangers, and is coming off consecutive 25-homer years. In a game last June against the Los Angeles Angels, he became one of only seven players to homer in three consecutive innings.

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