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Fans Might Quit, Team Won't

October 26, 2002|Diane Pucin

Angel Manager Mike Scioscia has said it all year.

He said it after the Angels had started the season 6-14, worse than any other Angel team -- good, bad, pitifully bad -- in history. The Angels are good, Scioscia would say. The Angels were going to play better, Scioscia would say.And most of Southern California would laugh and go back to the NBA playoffs and celebrating the Lakers.

Then the Angels had an eight-game winning streak, went 19-7 in May, had a stretch of games at the end of April and May when they won 17 of 20, then 21 of 24. Not that Southern California noticed. Most of the games weren't televised. Many were farmed out to various low-wattage radio stations while the Lakers took precedence.

Scioscia would gently point out that, see, the Angels were good, just as he'd said.

But too many Southern Californians sniffed knowingly, looked over the schedule, noticed that the Angels were mainly winning games against inferior teams and suggested that Scioscia just wait, that he might be a fine manager, but sometime soon the Angels were going to be playing the good teams. Teams such as the Dodgers and Cardinals in interleague play.

Sure enough, the Angels lost four in a row to the Dodgers and Cardinals and too many Southern Californians thought they were right. See, the Angels were folding as usual and big deal, they were 51-35 at the All-Star break but look out. Coming up was a stretch of 20 games against Minnesota, Oakland, Seattle, Boston, New York. Real teams.

When the Angels blew a 7-1 lead and lost to the Twins, 10-8, to start that stretch, too many Southern Californians acted as if they understood the Angels and predicted doom. Closer Troy Percival was injured after all, and the tough stuff was only beginning.

But ace Jarrod Washburn went six the next night, gave up only two runs and Scot Shields and Ben Weber combined for three scoreless innings and the Angels won, 4-2. They went 12-8 in those 20 games.

Southern California wasn't convinced. When the Angels blew a 9-5 lead in the bottom of the ninth against the Red Sox in late August, when Percival gave up the tying runs and Shields handed Johnny Damon a home run pitch in the bottom of the 10th and Boston won, 10-9, and celebrated as if it had won the pennant, a lot of us thought the Angels were done, finally. This was it. The killer blow.

So the Angels won 11 of their next 12, 17 of their next 19 and pretty much wrapped up a playoff spot.

It might be worth mentioning how the Angels were losing to the Yankees, 6-1, after 2 1/2 innings in Game 3 of the American League division playoffs and if you were one of the Southern Californians who turned off the TV and smugly said, "Nice job, Rally Boys, and now the season's over," you weren't alone.

We mention all this because it seems Southern California has given up on the Angels again.

The pitchers have hit the wall. Troy Glaus blew the World Series by choosing wrong on foul-not foul in Game 4. Garret Anderson is a bum for not catching that foul ball in Game 5 because if he had, the whole course of a 16-4 thrashing would have been changed. Kevin Appier can't get anybody out. And even if he does in Game 6, Ramon Ortiz is hurting too much to get through Game 7.

All over the Southland, the Angels are hearing themselves congratulated for a fine season, being thanked for the thrills and being told that World Series loser is pretty darn good.

It's hard not to feel that way. It's hard to imagine the Angels winning two more games. It's hard not to picture Barry Bonds hitting a couple of more home runs, getting three or four more rally-starting walks. It's hard not to figure that Jeff Kent found his stroke and confidence for the duration and that Kenny Lofton and Rich Aurilia and Benito Santiago won't keep stroking those line drives.

"I think," Scioscia said, "anyone writing us off in this series is a little premature."

Did you hear that? It's barely audible amid the cacophony of doomsday talk.

Do you believe it? The doubters haven't believed Scioscia yet.

"Guys aren't going to be moping around," Tim Salmon said.

Salmon was one of a couple of Angels at Edison Field on Friday. He was receiving treatment for a tired body and maybe a tired soul.

"At this stage," he said, "everybody's exhausted."

But he also said, "Our backs are against the wall. We're going to come out fighting. We've been in this situation all year long. We're actually more familiar being in this position, where we're kind of the underdog. I think we're going to come out, play our game, be tough and gritty and fight."

Fighting is good. Fighting with weapons is better.

And for two more days, the Angels need all their weapons.

All season, the Angels have won because everybody knew his job and performed that job. There is no room for a passed ball, Bengie Molina, or a wrong guess on a foul or fair bunt, Troy Glaus. There is no time for a bad at-bat, Garret Anderson or Tim Salmon. This is not the moment for messed-up mechanics or over-thinking, Kevin Appier. There is no place now for Ben Weber and his gasless stamina, so Francisco Rodriguez and Scott Schoeneweis and Brendan Donnelly need to be perfect, and Percival may need to pitch longer than he likes.

This seems too much to ask. But the Angels have been giving us more than we've expected all year, whether they were expected to or not.


Diane Pucin can be reached at

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