On victory wings, Angels find deliverance

October 28, 2002|By LAURA VECSEY

ANAHEIM, Calif. - An Angel with enough miles on his wings to know better, Tim Salmon still could not help himself. A looming World Series title will do that to a man.

In the ninth inning of Game 7 of this all-California World Series, with the Anaheim Angels first, precious championship resting last night in the hands of flame-throwing closer Troy Percival, Salmon found himself doing the unthinkable:

The right fielder was counting outs. He was counting down the last strikes needed to close out this puppy.

What a dangerous game Salmon played, even when so much emotion and momentum had swung to these wild and relentless Angels. For six games, it was a twisting, entertaining series in which the Angels finally stole the trophy from the grizzled, brutish clutches of the San Francisco Giants.

"I found myself doing it, then I'd catch myself. I'd try to discipline myself. `Don't do that!' " Salmon said on the grass at Edison International Field, his handsome and finally proud face dripping with sweat, beer and champagne.

Salmon knew better than to anticipate a victorious end, especially when the Giants had runners on first and second, a rally within the realm of agonizing possibility. Salmon also knew better because of franchise history, especially after the misery of 1986, when the Angels were demoralized after coming within one strike of earning their first World Series berth.

It has been so long since that dark day, far before 11-year veteran Salmon's time, but no one around here had forgotten - even if these new Angels only use that heart-wrenching failure as motivation.

They've been called a lot of things over the past 42 years. Los Angeles Angels. California Angels. Anaheim Angels. Disney Angels.

Then there are those other names. Losers. Choke Artists. Mickey Mouse Club.

Now the Angels are something else entirely. World Champion Angels. Avenging Angels.

They earned those names last night, beating the Giants, 4-1, to clinch Game 7 and the World Series. They did it by using four decades of so-called jinxes and frustration to their relentless advantage and, also, by burying the futile past, once and for all.

The hits kept on coming, and so did the diving catches. The absolute refusal to bow down to anyone, anywhere, which was a mind-set instilled in these Angels by a Los Angeles Dodger-bred manager named Mike Scioscia.

Question: Mike, during Game 6 when you were down 5-0, did you ever think, even for a moment, "It's been a nice run, what do I say to the guys afterward?"

Answer: Never.

This all-California World Series deserves a place among those seven-game epics that delivered intriguing plot twists and memorable, historic performances.

This is the World Series that will further define Barry Bonds as perhaps the greatest slugger to play the game - but one whose sheer domination was not enough to deliver San Francisco a title, nor Bonds the Most Valuable Player award that had been his - almost.

With eight outs to go in Game 6 Saturday night, Bonds had the MVP award wrapped up. He had amassed numbers so surreal they appeared to be mathematical mistakes, until you banged through the long division again for irrefutable proof. But by last night, another slugger, far less decorated or heralded, Angels third baseman Troy Glaus, took home the hardware.

Maybe this is fitting. Maybe it was fitting and just karma coming back to the feel-good Angels. Their infectiously positive attitude and their unabashed delight in each other spurred them to relentless pursuit of the prize.

They overcame a 3-2 deficit in this Series and they exorcised the ghosts of their past - playing and winning not just for themselves but for everyone who came before them - in whatever form of an Angels' uniform - as well as the legion of Southern California fans who flocked raucously on board the bandwagon.

Guys like Darin Erstad and Salmon told the same story every day this postseason: This organization has been through so much. It has bonded us. It's what drove us.

Sixteen years ago, when the Angels were one strike away from going to their first World Series, a tough but tired-armed pitcher named Donnie Moore gave up a stunning, heart-wrenching home run to Red Sox slugger Dave Henderson. Moore lost that bitter game and the Angels went on to lose the next two in that disastrous American League Championship Series. The denial of their first World Series berth has been one of sports' great tales of frustration and humiliation. Moore's suffering and eventual suicide became the tragic emblem of this long-suffering franchise.

Funny how this game works, though.

In Game 6 of this World Series, the Angels faced elimination for the first time this whole postseason. The Giants were within eight outs of their first World Series title since 1954.

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