October 28, 2002
By Tim Keown
ESPN The Magazine
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Victory has a new sound, and it's louder than ever before. It's an incessant mixture of ThunderStix and hysterical humans, and it translates into the sound of 45,000 overinflated basketballs being dribbled inside your cranium.
This, apparently, is the sound a franchise makes upon ending a 41-year, uninterrupted stretch of nonchampionship baseball. Victory, as the Anaheim Angels now know it, is played to the accompaniment of a raging current of noise, Class IV rapids of joy and hope and desperation, churning and foaming and never ending. This kind of victory rings in your ears, hours afterward.
The Angels and Giants staged a themeless, messy, wondrously unpredictable World Series that went from the dramatic to the inspirational to the surreal. The improbable became the expected. Five of the seven games were so tense Angels closer Troy Percival decided not to watch the middle innings, afraid that witnessing eight full innings would leave him too emotionally drained to pitch the ninth. It was that kind of Series -- an all-wild-card Series where five-run leads went away to die and Game 7 was won by John Lackey, a rookie whose biggest start prior to this fall was in the Junior College World Series.
This was, in the end, a Series with soul. The games were not for the cynical or pessimistic. In Anaheim, they not only cheer the Rally Monkey; they also believe in it.
In Game 1, Giants first baseman J.T. Snow chased a foul pop near the dugout, slipped on the rubberized warning track and landed flat on his back. He somehow managed to get back up and catch the ball. No one knew it at the time, but his actions ended up speaking for both teams: They've fallen, but they can't give up.
There were so many moments: Darin Erstad going full Superman to make two phenomenal catches, the best coming in Game 7; Snow again, scooping up Dusty Baker's 3-year-old son, Darren, who had strayed out of Dusty's Dugout Day Kare (no current openings) too soon and found himself crossing home plate a split second after Snow; Tim Salmon, the long-suffering Angel, commandeering Game 2 with two homers and 4 RBIs in an 11-10 win.
The Giants will remember two numbers: eight and five. They were eight outs away from winning Game 6 and erasing 48 years in the desert. Eight outs away, and five runs ahead. But then the relentless Angels started stringing together hits like links in a chain, and before they knew it, Series MVP Troy Glaus -- "a big ol' cowboy," says hitting coach Mickey Hatcher -- was lining a searing, two-run, game- winning double to left-centerfield off Giants closer Robb Nen.
It was typical of the Angels, whose drive-it-like-they-stole-it approach contradicts the current trends. In an era in which watching a hitter work the count has somehow achieved epic status, the Angels swing, swing often and rarely strike out. If they give the appearance of working the count, they're probably just fooled by the pitch.
Which brings up the other dominant sound of the Series: bat on ball. The biggest at-bat came in the seventh inning of Game 6, when Scott Spiezio -- determined not to strike out -- fouled off four Felix Rodriguez fastballs before golfing a three-run homer. He stayed alive and, as a result, so did his team. "If we're showing patience at the plate, it's by accident," Salmon said with more than a hint of pride. "We're trying to hit every pitch."
The Angels were new and old-fashioned at the same time. "We respect the game and love the game," Salmon said. "There's nothing we'd rather be doing."
Barry Bonds was the swift and dangerous undercurrent of the Series. Should-They-Pitch-to-Bonds became the World Series equivalent of Should-We-Attack-Iraq. The Angels did both -- pitching and not pitching -- sometimes whimsically. Their tactics provided no conclusive answers. They got hurt both ways. "You don't pitch to him because you see what he does when you do," was the somewhat tortured analysis from Angels reliever Ben Weber. "He's the best hitter in the history of the game. Anyone doubt it now?"
Adjectives are no longer useful. Bonds is best explained by reactions, such as Jarrod Washburn's laugh and shrug -- what's a mortal to do? -- after Bonds took him deep in his first World Series at-bat. Or Salmon's stunned expression from the dugout rail when Bonds sent 97mph's worth of Percival fastball into the 30th row of the rightfield bleachers in the ninth inning of Game 2.
Perhaps the only way to bend your mind around Bonds is to consider this: They pitch to him as if a home run is the likely outcome of each of his trips to the plate. No other player in history has been treated with such reverence, or for such good reason. He had four homers in the Series, batted .471 and had a preposterous on-base percentage of .700.
Aside from Bonds' inhuman feats, it was a human Series, complete with a busload of kids in the Giants dugout, kissing their fathers at home plate, sitting on their laps, getting in the way. While the Giants seemed to be bonding with their sons, the Angels were bonding with each other. Hatcher stalked the dugout during Game 6, telling his hitters they would come back, and Erstad sat there quietly, repeatedly saying, "You never know. You never know."
An hour after Game 6, after their thoughts had become reality, Hatcher bounded through the mostly empty clubhouse and yelled to Erstad, "Hey, Erstie, do you want to go home? I don't want to go home. I want this to last forever."
Can one image summarize the experience? Try this:
Before Game 5 in San Francisco, Angels manager Mike Scioscia walked along the leftfield line, making the trek from the interview room to his first base dugout. The booing started as soon as he appeared, and it grew louder with each step. Four or five steps down the line, one guy in full Giants regalia held out his hand. Scioscia shifted the fungo bat from his right hand to his left and shook the man's hand. Pretty soon all the hands were out. Like a politician working the rope line, Scioscia shook their hands as they booed -- they booed right into his smiling round face.
But if you looked closely you saw they were smiling too -- booing and smiling and shaking hands. Enemies and friends both. As metaphors go, it was pretty close to perfect.
Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Angels' hearts are big, egos aren't
ANAHEIM, Calif. · Outside the entrance to Edison International Field, two massive wire Anaheim Angels "caps" stand sentry. The mock tag on the inside says they are size 649 1/2.
Good luck finding an Angels player still able to cram his head inside.
This Red October roared to its only possible conclusion here Sunday night -- a 4-1 win for the long-suffering Angels, who ended 42 years of franchise futility with their first World Series title.
It ended with a crushing Game 7 defeat for the San Francisco Giants, who had Barry Bonds, the best player in the sport, but made the mistake of letting their inexhaustible foes take one last breath in Game 6. They had the Angels down five runs and eight outs from expiration, but couldn't keep their faint pulse from growing strong again.
It ended with a rousing sendoff for baseball's second wild-card champion, one with a decidedly different vibe than its predecessor. If the '97 Marlins were the best team H. Wayne Huizenga's money could buy, these Angels, despite their Disney ownership, were the Little Red Machine That Could.
"We are the definition of a team," said Angels center fielder Darin Erstad, who caught the final out. "At the professional level, it's so rare you find a group of guys all on the same page and that care so much for each other. There's no backstabbing. It's all positive."
They are world champions today, but they are much more than that. Individually and collectively, they are an inspiration. First and foremost, to the families of late owner Gene Autry and late pitcher Donnie Moore.
It was Autry, the Singing Cowboy, who poured his Hollywood-won millions into this franchise for 31/2 decades, only to fall one win short of the World Series on two painful occasions (1982 and 1986).
It was Moore, with the pennant a single strike away in '86, who gave up the infamous home run to Boston's Dave Henderson. Distraught and heartbroken, Moore committed suicide two years later.
These Angels are an inspiration to other mid-market franchises, who should stop whining about competitive imbalance and see that it's possible to win big with a $63 million payroll. That figure ranked 15th out of 30 big-league teams.
To all teams that start slowly ... inspiration. Not even a 6-14 getaway could keep these Angels from grabbing their first playoff berth in 16 years.
To marketers everywhere ... inspiration. Who knew stuffed monkeys and inflatable vinyl could be such big sellers?
Their shortstop, ex-Gator David Eckstein, is an inspiration to everyone who's ever been told they were too small, too weak, too whatever to make their dreams turn real.
Right fielder Tim Salmon, the longest-suffering Angel, was considered washed up with a career-threatening foot injury a year ago. Erstad, his psyche and swing savaged by a painful divorce, was nearly traded last winter.
First baseman Scott Spiezio, pigeonholed as a utility player, flourished in his first shot as a regular. Left fielder Garret Anderson, whose three-run double was Sunday's difference, showed you don't have to be loud to be good.
Their bullpen alone is filled with uplifting tales. They're a little goofy, but they all throw hard and they made understated manager Mike Scioscia look like a genius time after time this season.
There's Ben Weber, who survived two years in Taiwan and a season with the independent Salinas Peppers. There's Brendan Donnelly, who was released eight times and spent 10 years in the minors.
There's Scot Shields, the former 38th-round draft pick from Fort Lauderdale High. There's Frankie Rodriguez, the 20-year-old Venezuelan who didn't even reach the majors until the middle of September, then won five games in October.
"There's so many great stories on this team," said Donnelly, who threw two shutout innings. "I'm nothing special."
Their starters were lousy, posting a combined 7.55 ERA. But Sunday, rookie John Lackey produced five huge innings of one-run ball. He outshined the formerly clutch Livan Hernandez, who secured just six outs before being chased.
Flawed but complete. Imperfect but unassailable. Low-profile but high-octane.
The Angels' whole is far greater than the sum of their thrift-shop parts.
They are the sort of team you can embrace, unlike the Giants, whose superstars are cold and unreachable. These underdog Angels represent the family store, the last kid picked at recess, the single mother working two jobs, the outcast.
This team of smoldering confidence would never show up an opponent, as Giants manager Dusty Baker did in Game 6, when he let starter Russ Ortiz walk off with a 5-0 lead and the ball.
Before this etiquette breach, the Angels had been outscored 25-4 over their past 20 innings. Suitably stoked, they mounted the greatest World Series comeback by any team facing elimination.
Now they are champions. Now that 6491/2 figure becomes an issue. Or not.
These Angels outgrow their cap size? Nah.
Mike Berardino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Applause, admiration for Angels
Owens: Angels won with heart
By Eric Owens / Special to MLB.com