Sunday, October 27, 2013

By Joe Haakenson, Contributor - 

OCT. 27, 2002

ANAHEIM -- Flash back for a moment to March 1, when the Angels played their Cactus League opener against the Seattle Mariners. Final score: Angels 15, Mariners 2.

''The offense we saw was a great sign,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after the game. ''It's only spring but it's a good start.''


Nearly eight months since that first spring training game, the Angels are the World Series champions after outlasting the San Francisco Giants in seven games. One day after their Game 7 victory, the Angels rested.

They played 178 games in the regular season and playoffs, going 110-68. Each and every game was just as important as the next, Scioscia and his players insisted throughout the season, and that philosophy worked.

It worked when the Angels faced elimination in Game 6, trailing 3 games to 2 in the series and 5-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. And it worked again in Game 7, when three rookie pitchers (John Lackey, Brendan Donnelly and Frankie Rodriguez) combined for eight innings before dropping the ball in the capable right hand of closer Troy Percival.

Nancy Mazmanian, the Angels media relations manager, has already changed her voicemail greeting: ``Hi, this is Nancy Mazmanian of the world champion Anaheim Angels. Please leave a message after the beep.''

World champion Anaheim Angels. Get used to it.

The Angels had respectable seasons in 2000 and 2001, the first two seasons under Scioscia and general manager Bill Stoneman. So when the team upgraded itself with the acquisitions of Kevin Appier, Aaron Sele and Brad Fullmer, it wasn't a stretch to assume it would improve.

Throw in the idea that Tim Salmon and Darin Erstad couldn't possibly play as poorly as they did in 2001, and there was even more optimism for the club.

The Angels played well in spring training and appeared to be well-balanced, with a deep bullpen. But when the season began and the Angels lost 14 of their first 20 games, many observers counted them out.

Big mistake.

The Angels showed after their poor start they had the ability to persevere. They won eight games in a row immediately and got back to .500 at 14-14 by May 3.

Part of the turnaround had to do with experience. Players were able to reflect on past failures and use it to their advantage.

''I played on a team in '95 that was phenomenal all year long,'' Percival said on April 23 when the Angels were 6-14. ''Then all of a sudden, we couldn't win. The same thing can happen in reverse. We just have to get it started and get some momentum. This team has the talent to do it. Keep playing hard, keep pitching hard, there's nothing else you can do.''

That Angels offense, which featured a No. 9 hitter (Adam Kennedy) who finished the season with the seventh-best average (.312) in the league, showed its potential to the rest of the league in a short span. On April 30, the Angels beat the Indians, 21-2. On May 10, they beat the White Sox, 19-0.

The Angels finished the season with a .282 team average, best in the majors.

The Angels also had plenty of pitching. Jarrod Washburn won 18 games, Ramon Ortiz won 15 and Appier won 14. The bullpen, anchored by Percival, was so deep that World Series stars like Donnelly and Rodriguez began the season in the minor leagues.

The Angels were three games behind the Mariners at the All-Star break, then caught them a couple weeks later on July 26 when Lackey and the bullpen shut out the Mariners, 8-0.

``After the break when we went into Seattle and Oakland, then New York and Boston, that's probably the point I thought this club had a good chance to be in the postseason,'' Salmon said.

Salmon wasn't one to get overly enthusiastic about the team's chances, knowing better than anyone in an Angels uniform how quickly the club's fortunes can change for the worse. But this time it didn't.

They briefly took the lead in the American League West in mid-September before falling behind Oakland. But on Sept. 26 with Lackey on the mound, the Angels beat the Rangers and clinched their first playoff appearance in 16 years.

Nobody gave the Angels much of a chance against the mighty Yankees in the A.L. Division Series, especially after blowing a lead and losing in Game 1. After that game, many media members from around the country that had not been around these Angels were surprised to see how unaffected the players were after that loss.

They'll bounce back, the Angels said. They did. They beat the Yankees in the next three games to advance to the ALCS.

Against the Twins, the Angels lost the opener before winning four in a row to capture their first A.L. pennant. And in beating the Giants, the Angels won in fitting fashion -- coming from behind when nearly everyone else counted them out.

``What I feel now is pride, for what they've done,'' Scioscia said. ``What a group of guys. What the whole organization has been through for 41 years, coming so close so many times. I feel happiest for the people that have been here the longest.''

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