Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

World Series | Diane Pucin

Spiezio's Clutch At-Bat Rescues Angels

October 27, 2002|Diane Pucin

Great accomplishments start small.

They start with ball one. A little outside and Scott Spiezio watches. He fouls off the second pitch from Giant reliever Felix Rodriguez and the third. So the count is 1-and-2.

It is the bottom of the seventh and the Angels are running on the fumes of Giants, they are running behind 5-0 in an elimination game in the World Series, they seem to be running slower and slower.

There is one out but Troy Glaus and Brad Fullmer each have singled, hard-fought, patient hits, not from the swings of desperate men but from the minds of confident men, men certain some offense can be created, some last gasp can be breathed.

Spiezio fouls off a third consecutive pitch and the count is still 1-and-2. Palms are sweaty in the Angels' dugout and the Giants' too. Spiezio is determined, a hitting bulldog with all the knowledge he has gained from his father, Ed.

When Scott was 5, Ed, a former major league player, had Scott doing situational hitting. "Son, pretend it is Game 7 of the World Series, bottom of the ninth, your team is down, guys on base, you at bat." The 5-year-old took it all in.

It is hard, though, to imagine this particular situation -- a 1-and-2 count in Game 6 of the World Series when your team is on the go-home-as-runners-up end of the 3-2 standings.

"My dad tried to put me in the toughest situation so that any other situation didn't seem as tough," Spiezio says later, when his eyes are still unfocused and his mind is still trying to understand what he has done. "My dad always seemed to use Game 7. So I guess I'll be able to use that tomorrow."

Yes, there will be a tomorrow because of what Spiezio did with this singular at-bat.

With his finely trained eye and no nerves that showed, Spiezio took ball two. Then another foul. Then he took again, ball three and everybody in Edison Field is standing now. Everybody in the stands, in the dugouts.

Rodriguez is breathing hard and shaking his pitching arm, trying to loosen it maybe or trying to find something extra, strength, pop, oomph.

On the next pitch, the 3-and-2 pitch, with Glaus and Fullmer crouched and eager to move, Spiezio swings and the ball goes high in the air. It is heading deep into the night, toward the fence in right field.

But hard enough? It doesn't seem to be. "I knew he got a good portion of it," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia says. "I didn't know if it was too high. I thought it was going to be close."

The crowd inhales and there is not the frantic noise that had accompanied a Glaus deep fly in the top of the fifth, when he had pushed the ball to the very edges of the park, had seemed to have clobbered a home run. But it was only a long out, the start of another 1-2-3 inning by the Angels.

This, though, is different. It is located perfectly, it travels just far enough. Right fielder Reggie Sanders seems nonchalant about the ball, too, wandering slowly toward it, as if he was either sure he could catch it or sure he'd have no chance.

When the ball lands, it is in the second row, in the corner and it is a three-run home run.

Spiezio doesn't know at first if he's done just enough or not quite enough with the ball. "I said, 'God, please let it get over the fence.' "

Don't think this is luck or a one-shot wonder.

"He's having an MVP year," Angel hitting coach Mickey Hatcher says in the jubilant Angel clubhouse. "He's the MVP of our team. He's been picking us up offensively and defensively all year and you can see the confidence Scott has when he steps into the box."

While Barry Bonds and all his pyrotechnics have mesmerized World Series watchers, while Glaus' power has brought Giant pitchers to the point of knocking him down two games in a row, it is Spiezio, the quiet first baseman with the red streaks painted into his goatee, who has 19 runs batted in, tying Cleveland's Sandy Alomar in 1997 for most in a postseason.

This home run makes the score 5-3 but it does much more. It crystallizes again what the Angels are about, that they are about always, always believing in themselves and always, always doing the right things.

"That home run was huge," Scioscia says.

"When you get something like that, it will give you a lift."

As Glaus says, "Coming back from five runs is difficult. Coming back from two is a little bit more viable of a situation. Now we can play the game like we wanted to. We can steal bases, hit-and-run, bunt, do things like that."

This home run is the start of the biggest comeback ever by a team facing elimination in the World Series and it is hit by a man who too many teams too many times tried to eliminate. Including his own.

At spring training before the 2001 season, the Angels were bringing in guys like Wally Joyner, who had thought he was retired, to knock Spiezio out of the lineup.

And now, after the biggest hit of his life, in the biggest game of his life, Spiezio is humble and awed by the occasion and also thinking ahead already.

"Troy did a great job, starting the inning off, getting on. Fullmer, with another base hit behind him," Spiezio says, refusing to accept his hero-hood. "You can't drive in any runs without guys on in front of you. They did a great job. And with some points on the board, that gave the guys something to shoot for."

After his home run, Spiezio sits in the dugout, his eyes closed, his head bowed. He is thinking, he says, of the feeling he had at the plate, trying to remember what he did right and imprinting that memory for a future at-bat.

And he is considering already that he will be up again in the game. "I was," Spiezio says, "getting myself prepared for the next at-bat."

Amazing.

That is all to be said about Spiezio. About this game. About the Angels, no matter what happens today.

*

Diane Pucin can be reached at diane.pucin@latimes.com.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|