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Angels in paradise

Taking a risk with a rookie starter, Anaheim stifles San Francisco's offense to end decades of misery and win its first world championship.

[AP photo]
Angels pitcher Troy Percival reacts as the Angels beat the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 28, 2002


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It seems only appropriate that the Angels are the ones to deliver the message of hope.

Hope that a team can ignore its tradition of losing and forget its painful past. Hope that a team can make a quantum leap with only modest improvements and succeed without an overwhelming payroll or an overbearing superstar. Hope that a team can salvage a season despite a dismal start and widespread skepticism.

And, perhaps most impressively, hope that a team can still win the old-fashioned way, with grit and determination and hustle, with players using their heads and showing their heart.

photo
[AP photo]
Angels manager Mike Scioscia holds up the World Series trophy.
The Angels completed the mission of mercy Sunday night, beating the Giants 4-1 in the seventh and deciding game to win their first World Series championship.

"I've been in the game a long time and I've never been around a group of guys so passionate about the game," manager Mike Scioscia said. "They came in every day and gave their best no matter what the circumstances were. This championship is for the 25 guys in the clubhouse. ... What these guys have done, they're going to enjoy it for a long time."

Garret Anderson knocked in three runs with a third-inning double, and the dominating bullpen finished what 24-year-old rookie John Lackey started, though not without a tad of concern when closer Troy Percival put two on in the ninth.

When it was over, when Darin Erstad threw up his arms and caught Kenny Lofton's fly ball for the final out, they jumped and screamed and shouted, and Edison Field, reverberating with the noise of 44,598 celebrants, temporarily supplanted nearby Disneyland as the so-called Happiest Place on Earth.

Third baseman Troy Glaus, who hit .385 with three homers and eight RBIs, received the Series Most Valuable Player award.

"It's a great honor, obviously, but we play for the big trophy with the pennants on it, not for these," Glaus said. "No one guy on this team has gotten us to this point or carried us through this point. It's been a team effort all the way through, 25 guys.

"Without everyone contributing, doing their job, understanding what they were supposed to do, we wouldn't be here."

It was the first Series featuring two wild-card teams, and it lived up to its origins with four one-run games, a historic Game 6 comeback by the Angels and a bevy of offensive records, including the most runs -- 85 -- in a Series.

The Angels became the eighth straight home team to win a Game 7, and the 12th to win a Series after coming home down 3-2.

As if the disappointment of losing wasn't enough for the Giants, and you could see it perhaps most on the face of Barry Bonds, they immediately face questions about the future of general manager Brian Sabean (who is expected to stay), manager Dusty Baker (who sounds like he's leaving) and key players such as Jeff Kent and Robb Nen (who probably will have to take less money to return).

"It's a difficult time right now," Baker said. "Your heart is heavy, your stomach is empty, your head and brains feel full right now."

The Angels took something of a risk by giving the ball to Lackey, but the rookie, who was in the minors until late June, gave them exactly what they were hoping for: five strong innings, allowing one run on four hits.

A second-round pick in 1999, the year the Devil Rays drafted Josh Hamilton and Carl Crawford, Lackey was the eighth rookie to start a winner-take-all Series finale and the first to win since Pittsburgh's Babe Adams beat Detroit -- in 1909.

"I went out and talked to him, expecting to see a guy whose eyes are looking like golf balls, just to pat him on the fanny and say, 'Let's go,' " Glaus said. "He looked at me and said, 'All right, I got it.' That was all I needed to see."

With the Angels still riding the high of Saturday's comeback from 5-0 to 6-5, the Giants took the early lead Sunday with a run in the second. But one was not enough.

The Angels came right back to tie, with Scott Spiezio drawing a two-out walk, the third issued by Livan Hernandez among the first seven batters, and catcher Bengie Molina cashing it in with a double to left-center.

That was just a prelude as they scored three in the third to chase Hernandez, who has looked nothing like the big-game pitcher he was supposed to be.

[AP photo]
San Francisco Giants' Tom Goodwin, left, leaves the field as Anaheim Angels' Bengie Molina jumps into the arms of pitcher Troy Percival (40) along with World series MVP Troy Glaus, right.

The rally started with a couple of soft hits, a bloop single by David Eckstein and an opposite-field slap shot by Erstad. The next hit hurt as Tim Salmon took a pitch on the right hand, loading the bases.

Cleanup hitter Anderson, who'd driven in three and didn't have an extra-base hit in six games, made his contribution. It was a big one, a lined double to right that cleared the bases.

When the Anaheim offense wasn't giving, the defense was taking away. Erstad earned a few more seconds on the highlight tape with a diving catch to rob David Bell of a hit opening the fifth.

Amazing?

Well, these were the Angels, the team with 41 years of star-crossed history. The team previously known most for its failures, for being one game from getting to the Series in 1982 and one strike away in 1986. The team that finished 75-87 and 41 games out of first last season and made only meager changes with a mid-market payroll of about $63-million. The team that opened the season with a franchise-worst 6-14 start and was 101/2 games out by April 23. The team that didn't have a chance against the mighty Yankees and wasn't supposed to slow the Twins' anti-contraction express.

The team that was celebrating late into Sunday night.

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