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Halo, World Series

ANGELS 13, TWINS 5: With a 10-run seventh and a three-homer game from Adam Kennedy, Anaheim wins its first AL title in its 41-year history.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 14, 2002

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- They jumped and screamed and shouted and rolled around on the field. They poured beer and champagne over each other's heads and tequila in their mouths. When Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia handed Tim Salmon, the senior Angel, the American League championship trophy, Salmon led the players back on the field for a victory lap before a stadium still full 30 minutes after the final out.

There was, after all, plenty to celebrate.

These were the Angels, the team with 41 years of star-crossed history, enough to fill three books. The team that twice in the 1980s was within a game of the AL pennant and fell short. The team that finished 41 games out of first place last season and made just minor changes. The team that opened the season with a franchise-worst 6-14 start and was 10 1/2 games out -- more than twice as many as the Rays -- by April 23. The team that had absolutely, positively no chance in the first round against the Yankees.

The team that, after Sunday's 13-5 win over the Twins, will be playing in its first World Series on Saturday night.

"You dream about these situations, but it doesn't even come close," said Salmon, the 11-year veteran. "This has been unbelievable.

"To have been with this organization as long as I have and to feel the emptiness of the fans all these years and their pain and frustration, it's like we're paving a new road."

You can make all the bad puns you want, but these Angels just as well could have been in heaven.

"Right now, there's nobody in our league that is standing," Scioscia said. "We're the last club. We won the championship. When you can do that, what a source of pride for these guys. Especially the guys that have played such a long time."

The Angels eliminated the Twins and advanced to the World Series for the first time in franchise history with their win in the fifth game of the AL Championship Series.

No. 9 hitter Adam Kennedy was the unlikeliest star, the scrappy second baseman becoming the fifth player in history to hit three home runs in a postseason game and earning series MVP.

"That's it, right there, the biggest game of my life," Kennedy said. "Everyone dreams of this. I was in the right spot today."

But even Kennedy's performance wasn't bigger than the team's accomplishment, and the way it unfolded in a fashion typical of the entire season.

Down 2-0 early, the Angels came back and took a 3-2 lead, with Kennedy homering twice and Scott Spiezio once. The Twins, showing their own pluck, scored three in the top of the seventh, and did so against Anaheim's amazing 20-year-old rookie reliever, Francisco Rodriguez.

The Angels, down 5-3 and nine outs from going back to Minnesota, easily could have stumbled.

Instead, they roared right back, as they did 43 times during their 99-win season. Only this time, the stakes had never been higher and the numbers never so mind-boggling: a postseason record-tying 10 runs and 10 hits, including six in a row.

"I guess that's the way it should've been done because we've been doing it that way all year," centerfielder Darin Erstad said.

The rally started innocently enough, with singles by Spiezio and Bengie Molina off Minnesota reliever Johan Santana. Kennedy was next and Scioscia put on the bunt. Kennedy fouled it off, and Scioscia, noting how aggressively Santana was pitching, made a gut call and let Kennedy -- who was 0-for-7 against Santana -- swing away.

He fouled one toward the dugout, then another, then launched the ball into the rightfield stands that put him the history books and the Angels in the Series.

"Santana left one over the plate," said Kennedy, who hit seven homers the entire season. "I got it."

"I was going to get on deck and I was about ready to pass out," Erstad said. "I couldn't believe it. That's one of the most amazing performances by an individual coming at one of the biggest times of our lives."

Kennedy's blast gave the Angels a 6-5 lead, but they weren't done. Not even close. Three more hits, a bases-loaded walk, a wild pitch, another three singles and a hit batter later, it was 13-5.

And it was over.

If Edison Field hadn't supplanted nearby Disneyland as the so-called Happiest Place on Earth, with nearly 45,000 rollicking red-clothed fans, it will by Saturday when the World Series opens here against San Francisco or St. Louis.

"It's a great feeling," Erstad said. "But I want to hold a different trophy. We've got four more games to win."

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