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Series-Bound Angels on Cloud 9

A 13-5 trouncing of the Twins puts Anaheim in Fall Classic, ending four decades of heartbreak.

October 14, 2002|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

There was something dreamlike about the fireworks booming through the afternoon sky, the crowd roaring. Adam Kennedy looked dazed as he made his way off Edison Field in Anaheim.

"This is surreal," the second baseman said.

The Angels had finally made it to the World Series.

After decades of agonizing defeats. After a season in which no one expected much of them.

The surprise team of the playoffs earned a trip to baseball's annual spectacle with a suitably astonishing 13-5 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday in Game 5 of the American League championship series. They did it with Kennedy, by no means a slugger, hitting three home runs. They did it with a record-tying explosion of 10 runs in the seventh inning.

It was a day their late owner Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, had dreamed of. Autry's widow, Jackie, the honorary president of the American League, presented the league championship trophy to team officials Sunday.

"It's sad that he's not here personally," she said. "But I know he's watching from somewhere."

The World Series begins Saturday at Edison Field. The Angels will play the winner of the National League championship series between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Angels' clinching victory came in a back-and-forth game before a crowd of 44,835. The Twins appeared to be in command after going ahead, 5-3, in the seventh inning, but the Angels, as they have done all season, found a way to come back.

First came a couple of base hits, then Kennedy, who had seven homers in the regular season, hit his third of the game for a 6-5 lead.

"I got a couple of pitches to hit," he said. "I had my swing working today and I didn't miss those pitches."

With each successive run, the roar inside the stadium grew louder, the fans banging their red, plastic "Thunder Sticks." Before the inning was over, the Angels sent 15 batters to the plate and tied a playoff run-scoring record set held by two teams.

"They kept swinging and, goodness gracious, I don't know I've ever seen an inning like that," Twin Manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's a great baseball team."

A team that most had written off before the season began.

This is no collection of superstars or pricey free agents, boasting no big names such as Rod Carew or Nolan Ryan, who played for earlier incarnations of the team. This is a roster of working-class players and emerging stars assembled by General Manager Bill Stoneman, who remained patient after the club finished 41 games out of first place in 2001 and started sluggishly this season.

Meanwhile, Walt Disney Co., which bought out Jackie Autry three years ago, was looking to sell.

On Sunday afternoon, after the pennant-clinching victory over Minnesota, Disney Chairman Michael Eisner preferred to talk about the "magical moment" and fans stubbornly refused to leave the stadium, staying in their seats to cheer.

"This more than makes up for all the heartbreaks over all the decades," said Ralf Woebken, 44, who held a sign reading: "World Series starts here on Saturday."

At the Knothole Club, an upscale cafe in the stadium, Gary Overman, 44, of Yorba Linda, said: "I have goose bumps. I have tears. And I have a memory that will last forever."

The players seemed to sense the moment, eschewing the clubhouse to stream back onto the field, waving and holding their trophy aloft.

Celebrations were not confined to Edison Field. At the Huntington Beach pier, the game was blaring from a boombox in front of Zack's Pier Plaza, where fans have been putting Angel flags on bikes they rent there.

"Los Angeles has the Lakers, but we've had nothing like that in Orange County to help out the local economy," said Mike Ali, 58, the shop's owner. Ali envisions more business drummed up by the World Series. "We're ready for them. Bring 'em on."

From his home in Balboa Island, Russ Shimer watched on television with his family. Shimer, who grew up in Minnesota rooting for the Twins, said he switched allegiances.

"You have to like this team," he said. "You don't have the household names. You don't have the typical over-the-hill superstars the Angels usually bring in. Not everybody has to be a hero, because everybody is a hero."

The last time the World Series came to the Los Angeles area was 1988, when the Dodgers defeated the Oakland Athletics four games to one behind Kirk Gibson's ninth-inning home run in Game 1 and the pitching of Orel Hershiser, the series' most valuable player.

In the seasons since, the Dodgers have been the team that spent tens of millions to improve their lineup. The Dodgers were the team that seemed most likely to bring the series back to the Southland.

But it will be the Angels -- led by Manager Mike Scioscia and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, stars of that 1988 Dodger team -- who are in the World Series.

"I've been pinching myself all week," Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly said. "I don't think it will fully sink in until I watch the highlights on TV and read the sports section tomorrow. This is like the best dream ever.... It's like a children's storybook."

Even the players seemed amazed.

While Kennedy accepted his award as the playoff series' most valuable player, relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez seemed equally dazed.

The 20-year-old rookie spent most of this season in the minor leagues before being called up last month.

"I'm shocked," he said. "You know, the World Series, I can't believe it. It's something you dream about."

*

Times staff writers Helene Elliott, Randy Harvey, Phil Willon, Evan Halper, Kimi Yoshino and Dave McKibben contributed to this report.

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