Tuesday, March 18, 2008

By Brent Hubbard, Angelswin.com Contributor

Angels fans everywhere in despair. After the 16-4 pounding the Halos took in Game 5 of the 2002 fall classic, the series shifted back to Anaheim for the possible final game of the season.

But the team that had made a habit of coming back late all season long had yet another one up their collective sleeves. And while a home run by a certain red-bearded first baseman figures largely in this particular game, it would have all been for naught without more heroics in the eighth inning. (We’ll get to the aforementioned home run soon enough.)

The top half seemed to be played in a haze. Emotions high. Thunderstix booming. Hope restored. Fans again allowing themselves to believe.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia brought in rookie Brendon Donnelly to replace uber-rookie Francisco Rodriguez. Donnelly promptly walked leadoff hitter Benito Santiago after putting him in a 1-2 hole. When J.T. Snow drove the first pitch he saw to center, for a second, for one brief moment, memories of Game 5 came flooding back. But Darin Erstad settled under the routine fly ball and there was one out.

Five more to go.

Donnelly next faced Reggie Sanders, firing in a first pitch fastball that Saunders couldn’t lay off for strike one. A foul ball made it 0-2. Next pitch: strike three, swinging.

Four more to go.

Next up, David Bell. Two quick foul balls signaled that Bell was dialed in. Two pitches out of the zone evened the count and Donnelly stared Bell down, sweat dripping from his cap. Strike three, swinging.

Three outs remained. Time for the Angels new mascot, the Rally Monkey, to go back to work.

Erstad would lead off the eighth for the Halos. Tim Worrell, who’d made quick work of David Eckstein to end the seventh, remained on the mound.

First pitch: Ball one. Second pitch: Erstad out in front, foul. Next pitch: Crack! Over the right field wall on a frozen rope. 45,000 fans at once erupted. 5-4, Giants.

Tim Salmon, Mr. Angel, came to the plate. On a 1-0 pitch, he lined it into center field and the tying run was 270 feet from home. Rally time.

Chone Figgins came in to pinch run for Salmon. Everybody in the stadium knew he was going — but on which pitch?

As it turned out, he wouldn’t get the chance. After smoking a foul ball into the stands, Garret Anderson blooped a Worrell pitch down the left field line. With Figgins tearing around second base and heading for third, Barry Bonds in left juggled the ball twice, allowing Anderson to hustle into the second.

Giants manager Dusty Baker motioned to the bullpen for closer Robb Nen for what would turn out to be the three-time All-Star’s final appearance. He’d face third baseman Troy Glaus.

Nen’s first three pitches were nowhere near the strike zone, though Glaus helped him out by swinging at and missing the second one. On a 2-1 count, Glaus hammered a poorly placed offering toward the left center field gap. Bonds, galloping back to the warning track, stretched his glove over his head in a vain attempt to catch the ball, but he’d have needed another 10 feet of reach to snare it.

Figgins and Anderson scored, and the Angels led, 6-5, Glaus pumping his fist as he retreated to second with the double. The Angels saved their best comeback of the season for last.

Nen then retired the side without additional damage, but with Troy Percival warmed up and ready for the ninth, the damage was already done. There would be a Game 7 and momentum was back with the Angels.


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