On victory wings, Angels find deliverance

October 28, 2002|By LAURA VECSEY

ANAHEIM, Calif. - 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 great names last night, beating the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of 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 Dodgers-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.

Just as a side note, if you want to find the biggest party this winter, look up Troy Glaus, Series MVP, or Darin Erstad, whose grass-crushing catches in center field made your bones hurt and mouth smile. Is this a great team? Whatever. Was this great baseball? Absolutely.

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 only further define Barry Bonds as the perhaps greatest slugger to play the game. With eight outs to go in Game 6 Saturday night, Bonds had the MVP award all wrapped up in those mammoth arms. He had amassed on-base and batting average and slugging percentage numbers so surreal, they appeared to be mathematical mistakes, until you banged through the long division again for irrefutable proof.

This is the World Series in which the Giants were eight outs away from delivering to that great American city - San Francisco - its first World Series title since the Giants moved there in 1958.

But if the Giants had World Series history that stretched back to Willie Mays and 1954 and the New York birthplace of this old-world National League franchise, then the Angels were the exact opposite.

Their history was the stuff people mocked, even though the pain was all too real for these Angels.

That's why what the Angels did in fighting back from a 3-2 deficit in this Series makes them Avenging Angels. They exorcised their demons and ghosts; they made amends for the hard work of those who played here before.

Don't think that this team didn't play to honor those guys as much as they did to establish a new tradition. Guys like Erstad and Tim Salmon told us every day: 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 postseason. The Giants were within eight outs of their first World Series title since 1954.

This is when the Giants starting counting outs. With a 5-0 lead in the seventh inning of Game 6, Giants team owner Peter Magowan admitted what none of his players would. The champagne was on ice in the visitors' clubhouse and the podium had already been erected for the trophy award ceremony and the Giants were staring at baseball's ultimate prize.

"Sure, I was counting outs. We had eight outs to go, no one on base. I wasn't cheering. I know those guys [for Anaheim] and what they can do, but it was hard to take," Magowan said before last night's game.

"No matter what, I'll be proud of our players. I know there's enough competitive juices in that clubhouse to want this game, but it won't be very pleasant ... when they'll have to think about Game 6 and being eight outs away."

Last night, the Angels' World Series title automatically turned the comeback win in Game 6 into the next chapter of World Series infamy for the Giants.

They join the Red Sox, who in 1986, were relegated to the terrible annals of badly blown World Series titles. That stage was set when Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson's grounder dribbled through Bill Buckner's legs. Poor Buckner. He should never have been out there in the first place, yet he bears the brunt of merciless ridicule and venom to this day. The Mets went on to win Game 7 and the Series - a historic footnote that never did bode well for Bonds and the Giants.

But really, why should anyone be surprised by what these Angels did?

In the Division Series, these Angels so thoroughly humiliated the Yankees that shortstop Derek Jeter left Southern California shaking his head in bewilderment. The former champion is reportedly still in a deep funk - thanks to the Angels' record-setting ALDS team batting average.

This is a team that posted 43 comeback wins in the regular season and trailed in eight of their 11 postseason wins. This is a team that took all the mojo from the ridiculous mascot Rally Monkeys and shoved the World Series monkey off their back. Forever.

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