Angels' new reality beats make-believe

In land of happy endings, underdogs enjoy one that finally puts them in Series


October 15, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Playing baseball in the shadows of Disneyland, and near a city where unrealistic endings are brought to the big screen almost every day, should have made the flickering images at Edison International Field seem less strange.

Closer Troy Percival bounding through the grass in his bright red socks. Reserve infielder Benji Gil coaxing teammates to tilt back their heads as he poured from a bottle of tequila. Tim Salmon racing around the warning track with the American League's championship trophy hoisted in the air, looking like an overgrown child on a sugar rush.

But if Angels in the Outfield was impossible to believe, what about Angels in the World Series?

"I'm not even able to make sense of this," Salmon said after Sunday's 13-5 victory over the Minnesota Twins. "I feel like I'm dreaming."

Nothing wrong with a good dream sequence once in a while.

Jackie Autry, widow of beloved owner Gene Autry, poured champagne down Percival's pants. Maybe that's what gave Gil the nerve to approach her with that bottle of tequila.

The intense drama of the AL Championship Series, which the Angels clinched in five games over the Twins, had turned into slapstick.

"Not in a zillion years would I have thought that I'd be on a World Series team," said reliever Ben Weber, whose herky-jerky delivery and thick glasses make him a perfect character for this silly act.

"We're a bunch of vagabonds. We're described as scrappy, gutty, gritty dirtbags. I love it. I love people calling us that stuff, because they've labeled us as underdogs all year and it seems to be working."

Most of the media had the Angels tabbed for third place in the AL West this season, if they could fend off the Texas Rangers and not slip to last. They lacked star power, or power of any sort beyond third baseman Troy Glaus. When they weren't underachieving, they were crushing the hopes of fans with new and creative ways to miss the World Series.

In 1979, the Angels lost the ALCS, 3-1, to the Orioles.

In 1982, they lost the last three games of the ALCS to the Milwaukee Brewers and were eliminated.

In 1986, they came within a strike of clinching against the Boston Red Sox before Donnie Moore surrendered a home run to Dave Henderson. Three years later, Moore committed suicide.

"Good things always happened to someone else," said bench coach Joe Maddon, who's been in the organization for 28 years. "It's so wonderful to lay our negative history to rest and build a new history starting today."

"You always hear those stories about one strike away," Salmon said. "I know this is not the World Series trophy, but this is huge."

And it was made possible by one of the team's smallest players, Adam Kennedy, who hit three home runs in Game 5. And by a 10-run, 10-hit seventh inning that ruffled the pages of baseball's record books.

No other team had sent up 15 batters in the same inning of a postseason game. Only the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics and 1968 Detroit Tigers totaled that many runs in an inning. Only the Athletics collected that many hits.

The first six batters had hits, beginning with singles by Scott Spiezio and Bengie Molina. A bases-loaded walk and hit batter also produced runs, as the Twins used four relievers in the same inning for the second time in the series.

"When they got it going, they really stepped on our throats," said Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. "As soon as they got the momentum, wham."

"It was a tough moment," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, whose team was outscored 29-12 and out-homered 8-0 in the series. "We couldn't stop them. They whacked everything we threw up there. That was a long inning and you couldn't do anything. You just had to sit there and watch."

And try to make sense of it all. Try to find the logic in the wild-card Angels, more chemistry than charisma, shoving aside the New York Yankees and Twins to qualify for the World Series, which begins Saturday on their home field.

"We don't want to be done yet," Kennedy said. "We're going to enjoy this, but we think we can go a little bit further."

"There is Angel immortality for this entire team," Percival said, "but I don't believe we're done yet. I don't think anyone in here does."

Not in the land of make-believe.

"As we go a step farther, it seems more unreal," said Darin Erstad. "Just make the most of it because you never know."

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