By Adam Dodge, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
Fresh off of a Game 3 come-from-behind win, one in which the Anaheim Angels erased a 6-1 deficit against the New York Yankees in the 2002 American League Division Series to take a 2-1 series lead, the Angels entered Game 4 looking to close out the Bronx Bombers at home for the franchise’s first ever postseason series win.
Once again, the Angels had their opponents on the ropes, facing elimination. It had become, of course, a familiar site for Angels fans. The team had already played six such games in their history.
In 1982, the then California Angels were up two games to none on the Milwaukee Brewers in the best-of-five ALCS. With three chances to beat the Brew Crew and advance to the World Series, the Angels failed — losing all three games.
In 1986, the Angels again found themselves on the cusp of reaching their first World Series. But up three games to one on the Boston Red Sox and just one strike away, closer Donnie Moore gave up a two-out, two-strike, two-run homerun to Dave Henderson, relinquishing a 5-4 lead in Game 5 of the ALCS. Boston went on to win the game, as well as Games 6 and 7 in Fenway Park.
With such a short, yet heart-wrenching postseason history, many of the 45,067 in attendance on Oct. 5, 2002, were waiting to see how the Angels would let this opportunity slip through their fingers.
With the Angels down, 2-1, entering the bottom of the fifth inning, tension was high. David Wells was 8-1 in his postseason career and was pitching well for the Yankees on this afternoon.
Then, something amazing happened. The Angels put together one of the greatest offensive innings in Major League postseason history.
Shawn Wooten led off the fifth with a homerun to left-center field to tie the game, 2-2. Then, after a Bengie Molina fly-out, Benji Gil recorded the first of five consecutive Angels’ singles with a shot into centerfield.
After a Troy Glaus fly ball out, the Angels connected for four more hits in a row, including Wooten’s and Gil’s second hits of the inning.
When it was all said and done, the Angels had plated eight runs on a record-tying 10 hits in the inning.
Anaheim - Bottom of 5th
David Wells pitching for New York
S Wooten homered to left center
B Molina flied out to right
B Gil singled to center
D Eckstein singled to right, B Gil to third
D Erstad singled to shallow center, B Gil scored, D Eckstein to second
T Salmon singled to left center, D Eckstein scored, D Erstad to third
G Anderson singled to right center, D Erstad scored, T Salmon to third
T Glaus flied out to shallow right
S Spiezio singled to left, T Salmon scored, G Anderson to second
R Mendoza relieved D Wells
S Wooten singled to right center, G Anderson scored, S Spiezio to third
B Molina doubled to deep left, S Spiezio and S Wooten scored
O Hernandez relieved R Mendoza
B Gil singled to center, B Molina to third
D Eckstein flied out to center
8 Runs, 10 Hits, 0 Errors
With a 9-2 lead, the Angels needed only 12 outs to erase the franchise’s playoff demons.
New York scratched across single runs in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings to close the deficit to 9-5, but when Nick Johnson lifted a weak pop-up to deep shortstop, and David Eckstein promptly squeezed it for the game’s final out, jubilation ensued.
The Angels had beaten the mighty Yankees three games to one for their first playoff series win in the franchise’s history.
“It’s been a long time coming for myself and this organization, a lot of blood, sweat and tears,'' said Salmon in the clubhouse. “To finally come through and do it, it’s just special.
“Nobody gave us a chance against the Yankees. Maybe we caught them on a bad week, I don't know. You can’t say enough about how our club’s playing,”