Sunday, October 11, 2009

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By  Chuck Richter - Senior Editor

"Is very strange. I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it's over, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life."

Inigo Montoya, the swashbuckling Spaniard in Rob Reiner's 1987 Comedy "The Princess Bride," having just slain the six-fingered man who killed his father some 30 years prior, waxes reflectively in pondering the question, "What now?"

I have to say, right now I can relate. The Angels just beat the Boston Red Sox; not in April, June or September ... in October; not one game, but three; not to stave off elimination for a day, but to do the eliminating. The Red Sox are going home, the Angels are going on.

To borrow another line from the film ... inconceivable!

Of course, no one gets into the revenge business by choice. You have to be wronged in such a manner that only revenge itself will ever completely heal the wound.

I was only a teenager when the original wound was inflicted. I'd already tasted tragedy as a fan of the Angels, when Lyman Bostock, my favorite player at the time, was senselessly murdered in 1978. I'd even experienced unprecedented postseason disappointment when the Angels became the first team to ever blow a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five league championship series against the Brewers in 1982. All of this occurred before my 13th birthday.

But coming within one strike of the World Series in 1986, only to have Dave Henderson rip it from our grasp was one bitter pill to swallow. That it would be another 16 years before we even got another chance only meant 16 years of still trying to choke it down. Mix in the 1995 collapse, which didn't even involve the Red Sox, and it's easy to understand why the 2002 World Championship was both pure elation and the prescription for what ailed us. We Angels fans almost forgot about how Boston had wronged us.

But sure enough, the Red Sox themselves reminded us that for all the chicken soup for our souls the 2002 World Series provided, it was ultimately just a band aid on a still unhealed wound. They embarrassed our Angels in 2004 and doubled down on the shaming in 2007. And last year they walked it off again.

The talking heads talked about a psychological edge the Red Sox had gained over the Angels. While I don't know if that was ever the case, I'll readily admit that Boston was in my head. There was a sense of dread entering every postseason series against the Red Sox; a "please not again" prayer that seemingly fell upon deaf ears. How much suffering at the hands of one team does a fan have to endure?

Well, it appears the answer is 23 years —but no more. From the moment the Angels clinched the AL West in September, there was a collective sense of "enough is enough already." Of course there was no way of knowing at the time if it was just false bravado, but the results speak for themselves.

And what results they were. There were the two fantastic pitching performances by John Lackey and Jered Weaver to give the Angels a surprising and commanding 2-0 lead in the series. But the piece de resistance was the eighth and ninth innings of Game 3. Three times coming within one strike of losing and having to again beat Jon Lester or Josh Beckett in order to advance; scoring twice off of Jonathon Papelbon in the eighth and then three more in the ninth; that it was Vladimir Guerrero, whose postseason resume did not match his Hall of Fame legacy, who delivered the final blow; the 1-2-3 inning from much derided closer Brian Fuentes; and, of course, just doing it all at Fenway Park — you could not have scripted it any better.

I didn't get to see any of this on television because I was at a Little League field, coaching my soon-to-be 7-year-old son's baseball game. The boys and I crowded around my radio between innings, exchanging high fives and cheers when the Angels won. For those young fans, it was just another exciting moment from this team that they've never known as anything but a World Series champion, a team that's always been at least as good as the Yankees and Red Sox.

I'm not 7 years old, though. Not only was I alive for Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, I was there. And in some way I've carried that depressing memory with me to Angels games for the 23 years since. Even if I was usually able to suppress it, especially in 2002, there was always a feeling that the Angels would not truly be over the hump, so to speak, until they got past the Red Sox in October.

And now they have; and the more than half of my life as an Angels fan spent in the "revenge business" has reached a sweet and fulfilling conclusion. The six-fingered man of my youth is dead.

At the end of the film, Inigo Montoya considers a new life as a pirate, but I think I'll stick with the Angels — even if revenge is no longer a part of the equation. Besides, Pittsburgh is far too quiet this time of year.
Love to hear what you think!


PulledPorker said...

I was 8 for game 5 in 1986 - the first and last time I ever cried tears of sadness over a sporting event. To see Henderson throw out the first pitch yesterday was to see things come full circle.

Anonymous said...

A BoSox fan here offering heartfelt congratulations to the Angels faithful. Have always liked your team, your manager, your style. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing you knock the Yankees out in 2002, thinking (at the time) my Sox would never be capable of a feat they were only two years away from pulling off. I still think of the tragedy of Donnie Moore sometimes - I hope he's enjoying the sweep somewhere too. Enjoy it - and take care of the Yanks - then represent the AL well in the World Series. Good luck!


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