Monday, September 30, 2013

By Joe Haakenson, Contributor - 

SEPT. 30, 2002

NEW YORK -- It's baseball's version of David vs. Goliath.

The Angels face baseball's most storied team in the New York Yankees starting Oct. 1 in Game 1 of the best-of-five Division Series at Yankee Stadium. In order to advance to the American League Championship Series, the Angels not only must overcome the likes of Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jason Giambi, et. al., but history itself.

The Yankees have won 26 World Series titles, including four in the past six seasons. On the other end of the spectrum is the Angels, who have never won a playoff series. They have played a grand total of 16 playoff games, losing 10, in the franchise's 41 seasons entering this year.

To a man, the Angels believe they can do it. At least, that's what they're saying.

``The pressure's off now,'' Angels center fielder Darin Erstad said. ``Now the fun begins.''

The Angels' roster consists of one player -- pitcher Kevin Appier -- with any playoff experience. Appier, who will start Game 2 on Wednesday, pitched in two games for the Oakland A's (against the Yankees) in the 2000 Division Series. The Yankees players have combined for 296 playoff games.

``Experience always helps,'' Angels closer Troy Percival said. ``What can you do? It's still baseball. The bases are still 90 feet apart. The mound is still 60 feet, six inches from homeplate. We have a good team and we're not scared to go up against anybody.''

And besides, as Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, ``You can't give somebody an injection of playoff experience.''

It's been the Angels mantra all season -- play every game the same way, whether it's a spring training game or a playoff game. That might be difficult to do in Yankee Stadium, where the crowds are loud and intense, particularly in October.

``I've played in front of big crowds before, and the one thing I've learned is to enjoy it,'' Erstad said. ``I enjoy playing here because Roger Maris is from North Dakota (Erstad's home state). I just don't get nervous. Everyone says it's different in October, so I guess we'll find out.''

Jarrod Washburn, who went 18-6 this season and will start tonight's game against the Yankees' Roger Clemens (13-6), admits he's expecting a different atmosphere.

``I'm going to stand out there, look around at the people, watch the pregame ceremonies and say, `Holy (crap),' '' Washburn said. ``I'm not going to lie. Playing in Yankee Stadium in October against Roger Clemens ... that's pretty darn cool.''

The Yankees had the best record in the majors this season at 103-58 and are favorites to win the series over an Angels team that set a team record with 99 wins. Judging by the Angels' wild celebration upon clinching a playoff spot last week, one might assume the Angels are just happy to be here.

``That's fine if people want to say that,'' Angels first baseman Scott Spiezio said. ``We're focused. Of course we're happy to be in the playoffs, but if you lose in the playoffs nobody remembers you were there.''

Yankees manager Joe Torre seems more concerned about the best-of-five format than the Angels themselves.

``The five-game series scares the hell out of me,'' Torre said. ``In '96, we lost the first game to Texas and were on the brink of losing the second game, and you think how easy it would have been to roll over and go away. This is where you put up or shut up. It's exciting because of the danger.''

The Angels lost three of seven against the Yankees this season, but it was the first time the Yankees won a season series from the Angels since 1997.

``It's a new season, a shorter season,'' Scioscia said. ``These guys (Angels) have played in big stadiums against very good teams on the road in the past. The thing is to play your game, and they've been good at that.

``This isn't a fluke. This is a good team and they've shown it. When a team wins 99 games in a season, you can't put any other tag on it but championship-caliber.''

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