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Angels' team effort beats one Giant effort

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By JOHN ROMANO, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 23, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO -- They have become a distraction. An annoying hindrance to our fascination with power and celebrity.

Barry Bonds is doing all he can to make this a World Series of sound bytes and highlights, but the Angels keep getting in the way.

He crushes a ball? The Angels line one in the gap. He stands and admires his power? The Angels put their baserunners in motion.

He chases records?

The Angels win games.

Maybe there is a lesson here. Perhaps a reminder of what this game should be. We have been mesmerized by the home run and seduced by the gaudy.

Baseball, in recent seasons, has become an exercise in extremes. Can you top this? Can you afford him? Can you believe that?

Then along comes Anaheim. A team with more finesse than flash. A team short on history, sophistication and bobbleheads on eBay auctions.

A team, today, two victories away from the winning the World Series.

Bonds was at it again Tuesday in Game 3. He homered for the third consecutive game, the first time a player has done that in his Series debut.

We are told his ninth-inning blast in Game 2 was measured at 485 feet. His drive to centerfield in Game 3 went 437 feet.

Yet in our rush to measure the length of his home runs, we have failed to measure the depth of Anaheim's talent.

Tuesday, the Angels were everything the Giants were not.

They were smart. They were aggressive. They were a team.

Anaheim got contributions up and down the lineup. It got five innings from its starting pitcher and continued excellence from its bullpen.

In short, it played the same way it has for six months.

"I think what this team has done is it hasn't changed its style of play the entire season," manager Mike Scioscia said. "You don't change for a big game or a big series.

"You bring your best game every day. When you do that, you get used to playing that way. The best way to slay a dragon is to keep attacking it every day you're out there."

The Angels are a rarity in the American League.

In a league that values sluggers, the Angels have a group of gamers. They steal bases. They drop bunts. They hit behind the runner. The Angels force opponents into mistakes. They force themselves to execute.

"Mike Scioscia is a National League manager," Angels first baseman Scott Spiezio said. "He is very aggressive. And the great thing is he's stayed aggressive in the postseason. That's why we're here. We're aggressive on the basepaths. It's something a lot of us had to get used to.

"But we've gotten used to it in a hurry, and it's worked out for us."

For as long as they have been around, the Angels have lived in the shadows. They were famous more for their shortcomings than achievements.

They were ignored nationally and snubbed in their own community.

Who needed the Angels when the Dodgers were just up the road on I-405?

Los Angeles had history. It had titles. Most annoying of all, it had a Dodger way of doing things.

And now?

Now there is an Angel way of doing things.

These Angels fly on the bases. They dive in the outfield. The shortstop looks like the punk from around the block, and the closer looks like the bully from some cell block.

"We're aggressive, but it's not something we talk about much," centerfielder Darin Erstad said. "It's just what we do."

They are unsung and unassuming. And that is part of their appeal.

Scioscia grew up in the Dodgers organization and was famous for his hellbent style of play. Still, he insists it was not his aim to mold the Angels in his image.

"A manager's philosophy, for me, is neither here nor there," Scioscia said. "It's what can your team do? What can they accomplish? Are they a team that has power from one to nine in the order and you really want them to wait for pitches to hit, hopefully drive the ball, not run into outs on the bases?

"Or are you a team with limited power that you have to play a little more aggressively to get the offense you need?"

For the past two days, the talk of the ballpark was juiced baseballs. As if Anaheim's 11-run explosion in Game 2 could not otherwise be explained.

So the Angels returned in Game 3 and put another 10 runs on the board without hitting a home run.

The Angels did it by putting runners in motion in the early innings. They did it with hitters going the opposite way for bloop singles.

Every starter, other than pitcher Ramon Ortiz, hit safely in Game 3, and seven of the eight had at least one RBI.

It is true no one in the Anaheim dugout has even a fraction of Bonds' star appeal.

And somehow, this morning, that seems like a compliment.

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