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Classic Comeback Thanks to a historic Game 6 rally, the never-say-die Angels stunned the Giants in seven to win the first World Series championship in their 42-year history

Nov. 04, 2002
Nov. 04, 2002

Table of Contents
Nov. 4, 2002

Scorecard Extra

Classic Comeback Thanks to a historic Game 6 rally, the never-say-die Angels stunned the Giants in seven to win the first World Series championship in their 42-year history

The San Francisco Giants brought their custom-bottled champagne,
20 cases of bubbly with their logo and WORLD CHAMPIONS inscribed
on the label. Attendants in the visiting clubhouse at Anaheim's
Edison Field began unpacking the bottles and placing them in
giant tubs of ice during the top of the seventh inning of Game 6
of the World Series last Saturday night. Shortstop Rich Aurilia
walked into the clubhouse after his at bat that inning and saw
the champagne beginning to chill. I He had witnessed such an
inviting tableau once before. It was in Colorado,
in September 1998, when the Giants were one victory from
clinching a wild-card spot. They blew a lead, though, and the
champagne had to be packed away; San Francisco lost a one-game
playoff to the Chicago Cubs the next day.

This is an article from the Nov. 4, 2002 issue Original Layout

But this was as close to a mortal lock as there could be,
especially after second baseman Jeff Kent smacked a two-out,
run-scoring single that inning off Anaheim Angels wunderkind
righthander Francisco Rodriguez to put the Giants ahead 5-0. Kent
normally plays baseball with such a wooden bearing that he fairly
throws off splinters. But even he, in triumphant salute,
vigorously pumped his fist a few steps after leaving the batter's
box.

Inside the clubhouse, laborers furiously ran TV cables and
unsheathed rolls of two-inch-wide brown masking tape to hang
protective plastic sheeting over the Giants' lockers. No team had
ever blown a five-run lead in a potential World Series clincher.
The party was nigh. "You start counting the outs," rightfielder
Reggie Sanders said.

The countdown stood at eight after starter Russ Ortiz retired
Garret Anderson on a grounder for the first out of the seventh.
Yes, it was a lock. Ortiz had given up nothing but an infield
single, and manager Dusty Baker had a rested bullpen. His team
had scored 15 unanswered runs in its past 10 times at bat. A
lock? Right. The surest thing since Dewey.

"You never know," Angels centerfielder Darrin Erstad kept saying
in the dugout, to no one in particular but for the benefit of
everyone. "You just never know."

Graham Greene wrote that "champagne, if you are seeking the
truth, is better than a lie detector." On this cool autumnal
evening champagne didn't have to pass the lips of any Giant to
reveal two undeniable truths: that the World Series, constrained
by neither time nor imagination, is the most spectacular trapdoor
in sports, and that the Anaheim Angels have established
themselves as one of the greatest rally teams the game has ever
known.

For little more than 24 hours later, in a corner of that same
Giants clubhouse, Game 7 starter Livan Hernandez sat on a folding
chair, wearing underwear, a T-shirt and shower shoes, weeping
into a white sanitary sock. All around him his teammates spoke in
whispers, if at all. The inventory: 20 cases of unopened
champagne, 25 cases of heartache.

What happened in between the bubbly on ice and the Giants'
getting iced was the most unlikely comeback from the brink of
elimination in all 98 World Series ever played. Yes, it's true
that half the teams in the past six World Series that were no
more than six outs from a championship have watched it go up in
smoke. (The Giants joined the 1997 Indians and the 2001 Yankees.)
What demolition experts will tell you, however, is that no two
implosions occur in exactly the same way.

The Angels became the first team ever to rally from five runs
down to stave off defeat in a World Series, storming to a 6-5
win. On Sunday they completed the reversal of fortune with a 4-1
triumph in Game 7.

This was, after all, the Fall Classic of 2002, a palindrome of a
World Series in which it was impossible to tell backward from
forward. It will be 110 seasons before another numerically
reversible year occurs, and perhaps even longer than that before
another team wins with the tenacity that Anaheim did. "As long as
we have an out," Erstad said, "we have a chance." The Angels won
a world championship after trailing in all three of their
postseason series and after trailing in six of the seven World
Series games.

The Angels won the first championship in their 42-year history by
overcoming San Francisco's otherworldly leftfielder, Barry Bonds,
who achieved more with fewer swings than anyone else in World
Series history. No one has ever reached base more times (21),
drawn more walks (13) or prompted more intentional walks (7).
Bonds's on-base (.700) and slugging percentages (1.294) were the
highest for any player in a Series other than four-game sweeps.
No statistics were available, however, for the amount of mental
energy he sapped from the Angels.

"He wore me out, so I can't imagine what it was like for the
pitchers," Anaheim pitching coach Bud Black said. "I was thinking
two innings ahead all the time with him, anticipating his spot in
the lineup and hoping we'd get guys out ahead of him. It just so
happened that most of the time we got him up with nobody on base,
or it was early in the game if there was."

Bonds came to bat 11 times with runners on, but only once after
the fifth inning. (He was 2 for 4 in those spots, plus the seven
intentional walks.) The Angels threw him 112 pitches--73 balls and
39 strikes. He swung the bat only 25 times in 30 plate
appearances, resulting in four fouls, seven misses and 14 balls
in play. He ripped eight hits among those 14 balls he put into
play, including four home runs of at least 418 feet. "I didn't
realize how good he is," Angels bench coach Joe Maddon said. "He
squares up the ball every time he swings the bat. This guy is
different than everybody else."

"He changes the way the game is played," Giants assistant general
manager Ned Colletti said. "Basically, it's the equivalent of
triple-teaming Michael Jordan. Whatever questions people had
about him in the postseason, he put them all to rest."

But Bonds and the Giants lost the Series because they could not
hold off the Angels any more than a small stack of sandbags can
repel raging floodwaters. "Give credit to the Angels," San
Francisco G.M. Brian Sabean said after Game 7. "It was their
time. You can't kill them. They're like the three-headed hydra:
You get one and there's still more coming at you. They always had
something percolating. They take every at bat like it's their
last."

"I hope," Erstad said, "there were kids watching with their
fathers, and their fathers told them, 'Watch the way that team
plays.' It's refreshing to see that. One reason we were such a
great rally team was that we were all on the same page. That's
very rare in professional sports."

Said Maddon, "These guys play the game the way that Abner
Doubleday wrote it up."

Doubleday was never this mischievous. Anaheim, after all,
returned home for the weekend down three games to two after two
straight bizarre losses in San Francisco. In Game 4 the Giants
trailed 3-0 in the fifth inning against rookie John Lackey when
pitcher Kirk Rueter and centerfielder Kenny Lofton reached base
on singles that traveled a total of about 75 feet. Rueter topped
a ball in front of home plate that snaked away from Lackey with
backspin, and Lofton dropped a double-breaker of a bunt that
crossed from fair to foul territory and--just as third baseman
Troy Glaus grabbed it with his bare hand--back to fair when it
touched the white foul line.

It was the first rally in World Series history that could have
been measured with a yardstick. This wasn't just little ball, it
was Putt-Putt ball. You half expected the hits by Rueter and
Lofton to go through a mini windmill or a clown's mouth. But they
started a three-run rally that tied the game, and San Francisco
went ahead 4-3 in the eighth on an RBI single by David Bell.

Though Ramon Ortiz, the Angels' Game 3 starter, was in line to
pitch Game 7, Black told Lackey after that Game 4 loss, "We may
need you to go in Game 7." Said Lackey, "I'll be ready."

The Giants won the next night, too, in a 16-4 laugher. They were
particularly giggly about Darren Baker, the three-year-old batboy
and son of the manager, who ran toward home plate to retrieve a
bat just as Snow was scoring on a triple by Lofton. Snow, in
midstride, grabbed the kid by the front of his jacket and dragged
him out of danger as Bell came barreling home. Only the night
before, the boy had run onto the field while a throw from the
outfield was still in play, having skidded to the backstop. "I'm
just glad he didn't get hurt," Aurilia said. "If we lost the game
or something happened, we'd all be looking at it in a different
way."

It was after Game 5 that Black told Lackey that he'd certainly
get the start if there was a Game 7. Publicly, the Angels
expressed concern about a case of tendinitis in Ortiz's right
wrist but kept quiet about the decision to give the ball to
Lackey. Privately, they trusted Lackey's cool, no-nonsense
demeanor over Ortiz's streak of excitability. "John's a cowboy,"
Black said.

The decision seemed moot by the seventh inning of Game 6. So
certain were the Giants of victory that when Baker removed Russ
Ortiz after singles by Glaus and Brad Fullmer with one out in the
seventh, he asked the pitcher if he'd like to keep the ball as a
souvenir. So Ortiz walked off with the game ball--with eight outs
to go in the game.

Baker brought in Felix Rodriguez to pitch to Scott Spiezio. It
was the at bat that not only turned the World Series around but
also defined Anaheim's relentlessness. Rodriguez winged eight
pitches at up to 97 mph in the sequence, and Spiezio missed none
of them. He took three for balls, fouled off four and smacked the
last one into the second row of the rightfield seats for a
three-run homer. "The ball was in the air long enough for me to
say a prayer that it would go out," said Spiezio. "And it did."

Hallelujah, and heaven help the Giants. The Angels hold foul
balls in high esteem. They began spring training with a 40-minute
hitters' meeting in which manager Mike Scioscia and hitting coach
Mickey Hatcher sold them on the importance of situational
hitting--not a difficult sell when your situation in the previous
season was 41 games out of first place. Spring training games
were regarded as live rehearsals. Foul balls were noted with
great enthusiasm.

"It was like a game, in which the coaches kept track of fouls,"
shortstop David Eckstein said. "It's called getting to the next
pitch. The more pitches you see, the more likely you'll get
something good to hit."

No team struck out fewer times this year than the Angels did
(805). They won the wild card with a franchise-record 99 wins and
eliminated the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins with 10-hit
innings in each playoff series clincher. "There is no third of
their order that you want to see," Colletti said. "They were as
good as the reports said coming into the Series. Every time I
looked at my scorecard, I'd think, Jeez, when does it get easy?
It never did."

Even after Spiezio's home run, San Francisco still had a two-run
lead with six outs to go, and Baker had his endgame scripted
exactly as he wanted it: Tim Worrell for the eighth and Robb Nen
for the ninth. But then Erstad did some rewriting, whacking a
mistake of a changeup from Worrell for a leadoff homer in the
eighth.

The waters kept raging: a single by rightfielder Tim Salmon and
then a bloop single by Anderson that Bonds chased as if playing
leftfield on roller skates. With runners at second and third,
Baker summoned Nen, a palindrome closer in a palindrome Series
who had a chance to save the first and last games. Symmetry and a
hanging slider took a beating. Glaus drilled a two-run double,
and just like that--the sixth hit in eight at bats for Anaheim--the
champagne had to be hidden from sight in the San Francisco
clubhouse. Workers were still hustling to remove cables and an
awards platform as the Giants trudged back up the two flights of
stairs and two ramps to their lockers. They were silent when,
according to one player, Nikolai Bonds, the 11-year-old son of
the leftfielder, groused, "We were up 5-0. How did we lose that
game?" Said the player, "Nobody wanted to hear that." When
reporters entered, masking tape still ringed the room like
wainscoting.

"I can't remember anyone going through our pen the way they did,"
Worrell said.

Added Sanders, "I don't think we let it get away. They just
fought. What they did to us was amazing. That was like a
nightmare. It could have been over, but they fought back."

An ashen Peter Magowan, principal owner of the Giants, was
insulted and spat upon as he left Edison Field. He ate a late
dinner and then had trouble sleeping. "My wife, thank goodness,
had sleeping pills," he said. "I take them about three times a
year. This was a sleeping-pill game. A few sleeping pills."

The World Series does not grant mulligans. San Francisco's window
to win its first world title since moving westward in 1958 had
been slammed shut, even if the Giants did take a 1-0 lead in the
second inning of Game 7. Hernandez spit the lead right back, with
two outs and nobody on base, walking Spiezio and surrendering a
double to Bengie Molina. It marked the seventh time in the Series
that Anaheim answered with a run in its next at bat after the
Giants had scored. "We needed a stop," Aurilia said, "and we
couldn't do it. They did it to us the whole Series."

An ineffective Hernandez yielded a three-run double to Anderson
in the third inning without getting an out. Lackey--the first
rookie to win a Game 7 in 93 years--Brendan Donnelly, Francisco
Rodriguez and Troy Percival gave nothing to the Giants the rest
of the way. Later, while the Angels were soaking themselves with
their own supply of champagne, Black sat with Scioscia in the
manager's office and said with a laugh, "How did we do that?" Not
once did an Anaheim starting pitcher throw as many as six
innings.

"You know how we did it?" Black decided. "When we needed to pitch
well, we did. And when we didn't pitch well, our offense picked
us up."

Said Aurilia, "What I'll remember about this Series is Game 6.

I'll remember that we lost Game 6. They just beat us in Game 7.
There's a big difference."

It wasn't a museum-quality World Series. It was a slapdash,
entertaining collage of home runs (21), extra-base hits (45) and
runs (85), Series records all. It was the modern game, two
second-place finishers slugging it out in the shadow of a faux
rock pile (the comedian Robin Williams took one look at Edison
Field's Disneyfied landscape and called it "a miniature-golf
course on steroids") while fans created a racket by smacking
together inflatable sticks.

The din was never so great as it was at 8:19 PST on Sunday night,
when Lofton, batting with two outs in the ninth, stroked a high
fly ball into centerfield. As Erstad glided under it, suddenly he
could not hear the noise from the crowd. He heard nothing except
for one clear voice. It was the voice of his father, Chuck. It
was not coming from the stands, where his father watched. It was
coming from his childhood, far back to when his father taught him
how to catch.

"Use two hands," is what he heard.

Said Erstad later, "That's what came to me. It had never happened
before, but I heard him. It was pretty neat."

And so the World Series ended as Doubleday would have liked, the
Angels playing textbook baseball to the very last out.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [COVER] Answered Prayers! After 42 years, the Angels Win the Series by TOM VERDUCCI Game 7 winner John Lackey leads the chargeCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY KENVORK DJANSEZIAN/AP [LEADING OFF] Catch of the Day Giants first baseman J.T. Snow gets credit for a run and a save as he pulls batboy Darren Baker, the three-year-old son of manager Dusty Baker, out of harm's way after crossing the plate in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the World Series last Thursday (page 32).COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN BIEVER FANDEMONIUM The din at Edison Field peaked when Percival (bending backward) retired the final hitter and the celebration began.TWO COLOR PHOTOS: CHUCK SOLOMON (2) TWIST OF FATE Bonds (opposite) was truly awesome at times, but it was Spiezio who had the Series' most memorable at bat.COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK SLAPDASH Lofton took out Adam Kennedy in a Game 6 play that typified the heavy-hitting nature of the Series.COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK DEATHBLOW Anderson's three-run double in Game 7 capped a season of come-from-behind wins for Anaheim.COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO END OF A DROUGHT After Game 7, emotions bubbled over for Salmon, the longest-tenured Angel, at 10 seasons.
"They were as good as the reports said," Colletti said. "Every
time I looked at my scorecard I'd think, When does it get easy?
It never did."
The World Series does not grant mulligans. San Francisco's window
to win its first title since moving westward had been slammed
shut.
As the Angels soaked themselves with champagne, Black sat with
Scioscia in the manager's office and said, "How did we do that?"