Saturday, October 27, 2012

By Rob Goldman - Historical Writer

It’s a weird feeling coming to the ballpark knowing that today is the last game of the season. Tomorrow everyone goes home and the long season is officially over. Will I be a world champion at the end of the night? That question keeps running through my head. Parking my car in the player’s lot I can’t help but think, The next time I get in my car, I will be a world champion, or extremely disappointed. 

We had every reason to feel good about our chances though. The emotional high from game 6 was a huge momentum change. Destiny seemed to be on our side. I was sure we would win the game that night. We had come too far that season to be denied. Then again, I’m sure the Giants shared the same sentiment.

Taking the field in a game for all the marbles, you could feel the tension in the air. We tried to stay loose cracking a few jokes, but that was just a thin veil masking our anxieties.  There was no getting around the fact that after 178 games, our year came down to this.

John Lackey, the 24-year-old rookie called up at the end of the season, took the hill. There was some talk within the media that we were asking too much from the kid. Sosh and the staff felt he was our best option and he could handle it. A standout quarterback in High School, John played in some big games in Lubbock, Texas but that was nothing compared to this stage. If he won tonight he would be the first rookie in 93 years to win a Game 7 in the World Series. This was truly uncharted territory.

Livan Hernandez was the starter chosen by Dusty Baker. Already the recipient of one World Series ring with the Florida Marlins, he clearly had experience weighing in his favor. Still we were relieved; the arm we were hoping not to see was Jason Schmidt’s.

In the second inning Lackey experienced his first test. The Giants had runners on the corners with one out. After a sacrifice fly by Reggie Sanders pushed one run across, Lackey settled down to get the final out. All in all, pretty good damage control by the rookie. We answered right back for him. Benji Molina drove in Speez with a double off the top of the wall in left center field in the bottom half of the inning.

Heading into the bottom of the third inning, Eck got things started with a leadoff single. Then Ersty followed with a liner to left to give us runners on first and second with no outs. I came to the plate looking to keep the inning going. Working the count to 2-2, Livan threw the next pitch high and tight to get me off the plate. Like a heat seeking missile, the ball chased me and hit me on my top hand, pinching the tip of my middle finger against the bat. I was pretty sure it was broken. Through my split batting glove I could see the finger swelling. After a few moments of discussion with our trainer Ned Bergert and Sosh, I stayed in the game. It was only the third inning and there was no way I was coming out of the game unless I couldn't swing the bat.

As I stood on first base feeling an unmistakable sense of destiny pour over me. Ersty was on second, Eckstien was on third, and coming to the plate was the best hitter the Angels ever had. The stars are aligned up perfectly, I thought. If you could pick any hitter in Angel history to come up to the plate with the bases loaded in game 7 of the World Series, Garret Anderson would be the man. The best hitter to ever wear an Angel uniform, we had our man when we needed him most.

But that wasn't all. Outside of Eckstein, every Angel on the field was a homegrown talent. We had it in their hands to accomplish everything the organization had set out to achieve.

GA lived up to his billing. With the count 1-1, he slammed a rocket right over my head and down the right field line. As soon as he hit it I knew I was scoring. I’d hit in front of GA my whole career. I must have scored a hundred times from first on a hit just like this one. I ran the bases in an extra gear that hadn't existed in years. After crossing the plate and high- fiving Ersty and Eck, I looked back at second base to give GA a fist pump. In his typical fashion, he didn't break so much as a smile, but he gave himself a nonchalant little golf clap, as to say that there was not much difference between the biggest hit of his life and an ordinary double he’d hit hundreds of times in career. Still I knew from that small reaction that he was excited inside. GA, the Doubles Hitting Machine, had done it again, clearing the bases.

Fans can say what they want about his lack of enthusiasm on the field, but it doesn’t matter one bit to me. GA is a gamer. And in the biggest game in Angels history, with the world’s attention focused on baseball’s biggest stage, Garret slammed the clutch double that won us the World Series. I would have bet the farm on him in the situation.  And when he clapped his hands, it was for Garret was an overwhelming display of emotion- almost as momentous as the hit that occasioned it.

© 2006 Always An Angel Tim Salmon/Rob Goldman

Purchase a copy of Rob Goldman's book "Once They Were Angels" at his website today! An amazing historical piece on the Angels over the years for just $19.95. 
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