For the Angels, dreams do come true

To a man, team buys into Scioscia's system, and commitment pays off

Baseball

October 29, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Anaheim Angels celebrated their first world title well into Sunday night, enjoying the obligatory champagne shower more than most because they had waited so long and endured so much.

Nobody wanted to go home, because nobody wanted to take the chance that the Angels would wake up and find out it was really Sunday morning again and they still had a Game 7 to play against the San Francisco Giants.

"I do feel like I'm dreaming," said outfielder and elder statesman Tim Salmon. "This is unbelievable."

They were not dreaming, of course. Nothing could have been more real than the way they charged back from a five-run deficit in Game 6 to even the 98th World Series, then dispatched the Giants in the climactic seventh game at Edison International Field to win the first world championship in the 42-year history of a supposedly cursed franchise.

Salmon, who carried the trophy to every corner of the ballpark in a Ripken-like victory lap after the Angels' decisive 4-1 victory, looked as if he might choke up when he talked about what it means to be on top of the baseball world.

"It's something that's never been said before," he said. "I'm proud to be part of the team that can say it for the first time."

The Angels displayed unprecedented resiliency and determination to go from wild-card playoff team to world champion, losing the first game of all three of their postseason series.

They also showed impressive offensive continuity, combining with the Giants to deliver the biggest offensive extravaganza in the history of the World Series - the two clubs set joint records for total runs (86), home runs (21) and extra-base hits (45).

The formula for all this excitement, however, is not particularly exciting. Manager Mike Scioscia has spent the past three years trying to instill in his players the ability to stay entirely in the moment. Every game, every at-bat, every play is an isolated incident that requires total concentration and preparation.

"We just have a bunch of guys who do everything for the right reasons," said center fielder Darin Erstad. "In spring training, we knew we had talented players, but we had meetings and we talked about what it was going to take for us to get to the next level."

What it came down to isn't very sexy. Scioscia, who cut his teeth in a Los Angeles Dodgers system that stressed fundamentals at every level, was looking for 25 players who would get back to basics and check their egos at the clubhouse door.

"The secret has been to get the right group of guys to buy into the concept," Salmon said. "I know other clubs try to do the same thing, but for some reason, it worked for us this time."

The Angels do all of the little things. They bunt. They hit and run. They move runners over. They take the extra base. None of this is brain surgery, but not that many teams do it all and do it well.

"That's the definition of baseball," Erstad said. "I hope that parents let their kids stay up to watch this and told them, `This is the way it's supposed to be done.' "

Well, at least from an offensive standpoint. This World Series wasn't a pitched battle. The starting pitchers for both teams struggled throughout. The only really strong performances out of either rotation came from Giants right-hander Russ Ortiz in Game 6 and Angels rookie John Lackey in the finale.

The bullpens were more dependable, but they also succumbed at times to the relentless pounding from both offenses. The Giants skewed the overall offensive numbers a bit with their 16-run bonanza in Game 5, but the hitters clearly set the agenda for the first all-wild-card World Series.

For the Angels, who had finished 41 games behind the Seattle Mariners in 2001, that was no accident.

"One of the things we really emphasized this spring, just looking at our production last year, was our situational hitting," Scioscia said. "That was one of our Achilles' heels last year.

"For the first meeting we had in spring training ... we talked about the type of offense we needed to sustain the long haul, to get into the playoffs and to get to where we wanted to be. We planted the seed, and these guys picked it up and ran with it."

The Angels shouldn't have been such a well-kept secret before September. They ranked first in the American League in team batting average (.282) during the regular season and had fewer strikeouts than any other major-league team (805). In the postseason, they batted around a record six times and put tremendous pressure on opposing pitchers in every playoff series.

Every hitter seemed to go to the plate with the same mind-set. Every player on the roster seemed to have the same goal.

"It's rare," Erstad said. "You [normally] might have half your team on the same page, but everybody, from the 25 players to the coaches to the guys who were called up in the middle of the season, we all had one goal ... to play the game to win."

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