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Salmon Helps Get Angels Off the Hook

October 21, 2002|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

It took 42 years for the Anaheim Angels to reach their first World Series.

On Sunday night, it took another four hours of nail-biting, back-and-forth baseball for the team to finally earn its first Series victory.

Fittingly, the winning home run was slugged by Tim Salmon, an outfielder who had struggled with this team for a decade while awaiting a crack at the Fall Classic.

Salmon's two-run shot in the eighth inning gave the Angels an 11-10 victory over the San Francisco Giants at Edison Field in Game 2. "That is something I've been dreaming about for a long time," he said. "It was unbelievable."

This was a game that looked more like pinball than baseball, the lead changing hands with dramatic plays on both sides. Every time one team scored a burst of runs, the other answered. Four hours and 21 total runs. Both starting pitchers gone by the third inning.

The Series is now even at one game each, with three midweek games to play at Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco, but the way the Angels won, regaining their momentum after surrendering a quick 5-0 lead, meant something even more to longtime fans.

"I started to doubt again," said Craig Haugen, 56, of Huntington Beach, who thought of bygone seasons when the team reached the playoffs only to stumble. "I shouldn't have because this is a different team."

Late in the game, with the home team trailing, the normally boisterous crowd seemed worried. Pablo Mercado, 26, of Fullerton, who has been coming to games for 20 years with his father, Jerry, said the stadium was quiet enough to hear the crack of Salmon's bat.

"You were wishing," Mercado said. "I think everybody's hopes made that ball go out of the ballpark." And that quickly, Jerry Mercado said, fans who didn't know each other were hugging like family.

There was still time for a little more suspense in the ninth inning. With the Angels ahead by two runs, Giant slugger Barry Bonds hit a solo drive over the right-field wall. Salmon, standing at the dugout rail, could be seen to murmur: "That's the farthest ball I've ever seen hit."

But it wasn't far enough.

Fireworks shot up over centerfield when the game ended, the pyrotechnics seeming tame in comparison to what had transpired on the field.

"That might have been entertaining to a lot of people, but it wasn't entertaining to us," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. "That was a tough ball game."

The Angels are used to tough situations by now, having lost the first game of their three postseason series.

Sunday's victory makes it much more likely that the Series will return to Anaheim, where the hunger for postseason baseball was evidenced in part by a large number of scalpers selling tickets on the streets around the ballpark.

Anaheim police are investigating the sale of hundreds of counterfeit tickets that went for as much as $400 each. Dozens of fans were duped by the fakes, and, when they showed up for the game Sunday, were either turned away at the gates or escorted away.

TV viewers around the nation were not quite as excited about this distinctly California matchup. Though Game 1 was the most-watched show on Saturday night, it brought the lowest overnight ratings for a prime-time Series game in history.

Not that ratings mattered to Angel fans on Sunday. After the game, there was an immediate run on Tim Salmon T-shirts.

In the clubhouse, the player himself seemed relieved, hitting two home runs in the game, after struggling at the start of these playoffs.

For so long, Salmon had been dreaming of being a World Series hero. But come October, he was always lying on the couch, watching other players get their chance.

All that changed with a swing of the bat. "I knew I got it," Salmon said. "I knew the situation. I knew it was big."

*

Times staff writers Kimi Yoshino, J.A. Adande, Alex Kimball and Jennifer Mena contributed to this report.

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