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THE PLAYOFFSDIVISION SERIES

Lumbering Home

Hitting of Glaus, Anderson and others might be enough to rid Anaheim of some nasty postseason demons

October 04, 2002|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The last time the Angels played a postseason game at Anaheim, Troy Glaus was 10 years old. He was blissfully unaware of the misfortunes that befell them on Oct. 12, 1986 and of the curse he would be called upon to end 16 years later in the American League division series--which didn't even exist then.

"I wasn't really watching," he said of the Angels' American League championship series against the Boston Red Sox. "I was a baseball fan, but I was playing."

Now, the entire baseball world is watching the Angels and Yankees in fascination.

That's because the Angels, who split the first two games of this series at New York, have a chance to forever silence talk of the jinxes, curses and bad karma that distinguished their previous postseason appearances.

They feel no need, though, for an exorcism or cleansing ritual. Their strategy for shedding the invisible burden of the franchise's sad playoff history is simple:

To hope Ramon Ortiz (15-9, 3.77 earned-run average) continues to pitch as well as he did during the final six weeks of the season, when he won his last six decisions in a span of nine starts. To wear down Yankee starter Mike Mussina (18-10, 4.05) with patient at-bats and play with the same intelligent aggressiveness they showed at Yankee Stadium, where they pounded New York's vaunted pitching staff for 29 hits, six home runs and a .372 batting average.

To again find the resilience that moved them within four outs of a victory in Game 1 and to rally for victory in Game 2 after they squandered a 4-0 lead.

Most of all, to ignore suggestions they're powerless to combat the ghosts of past Angel playoff disappointments. If they weren't intimidated by what they could see and feel--stalwart Yankee starters Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, the majesty of Yankee Stadium and the passion of a sellout crowd that rode as one on every dramatic pitch--why should they be cowed by what they can't see?

"It wasn't us," Glaus said Thursday of previous Angel postseason failures. "Nobody here was there then. These are new guys. We don't worry about that, and there's no sense worrying."

These Angels, who worked out lightly Thursday at Edison Field, didn't worry after a 6-14 start that raised questions about Manager Mike Scioscia's job security, or when the offense paused and they needed five tries to clinch their playoff berth.

They've never been shaken or stirred. And if that surprises observers who knew little about them and expected them to quake at the sight of pinstripes, it's no surprise to them. "Everything on the East Coast is more magnified," Glaus said. "But the people of New York know us now, and hopefully they can continue to get to know us."

Still, they have high regard for the Yankees, as they should. The Yankees were in worse shape after the first two games of their division series against Oakland last year, losing twice at home before Mussina won Game 3 and ignited a comeback.

"Over his last half-dozen starts, he's been very, very good," Yankee Manager Joe Torre said before his team's optional workout. "We certainly need a starter to get us late into the game, and we have the ability to score runs. We just need somebody to shut the other team down."

But while the Angels acknowledge the Yankees' talent, they weren't so deferential that they couldn't ride back-to-back home runs from Garret Anderson and Glaus in the eighth inning Wednesday to a winning rally, the Yankees' first loss in a playoff game they had led after seven innings at Yankee Stadium.

"Yankee Stadium has got a lot of tradition and we respect that," first baseman Scott Spiezio said, "and the fans were electric there. But this team is all about never giving up until the last out....

"I've been on teams that have won before, but this team is something special. This is a team that never gives up. We don't have a lot of superstars but we have a lot of chemistry, and over the last couple of years, it's just evolved. We've been through a lot lately, and it would be great if that continues."

Said Torre, who was an Angel broadcaster for six seasons and holds a place in his heart for late owner Gene Autry: "Yankee Stadium works as our extra player only if we play well. The fans can be intimidating, yet they appreciate good baseball. I think they appreciated what they saw from the Angels.... I credit Mike Scioscia. His club, they know what they need to do and they've done their job knowing what was going to take place [in New York]. They certainly have performed admirably."

The streaky Glaus, only the fourth player to hit three homers in his first two playoff games, found a power groove late in the season and hit eight of his 30 homers in September, a single-month high, including three in one game. He worked with batting coach Mickey Hatcher to shorten his natural uppercut and improve his timing, and he's moving his bat more quickly through the strike zone. Hatcher would like to see him go to the opposite field more often, but otherwise he's pleased with Glaus' maturation.

"He's going to have periods in the year when he's going to struggle, and times he's going to carry the team," Hatcher said. "That's what's good about being surrounded by the guys we have. It's not all on his shoulders."

Glaus, 26, is comfortable shouldering the offensive load. Talking to reporters, though, makes him fidgety. "We're baseball players, not media gurus," he said. "We play baseball. Obviously all of the other stuff goes with it."

There will be a lot of that "stuff" today if the Angels continue to play as they did in Games 1 and 2. Glaus said he expects Edison Field to "rock."

He added: "Hopefully, we'll give them a good show. We've given ourselves a chance. Now we just have to go out and execute."

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