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Bill Plaschke

Touched by Angels, All of Southland Is Part of Halo Nation

October 28, 2002|Bill Plaschke

The City of Angels, indeed.

We are precisely that today, a city of pastels painted red, a city of many sports religions united under one halo.

Los Angeles has a new hometown baseball team today, a new reason to crack a peanut and spill a beer and shout to the sky.

Their faces are fresh, their pants are dirty, and their chests are heaving as they sprint through 42 years of shadows into the blinding light of a World Series championship.

Dodgers, pack your stuff and climb to the top bunk.

The Angels are moving in.

It became official Sunday night with four weary wings, 45,000 prayers, and enough heart to make a rug-burned center fielder choke.

"It doesn't seem real," said Darin Erstad, fighting back tears as he spit on Edison Field's now-sacred ground. "It just doesn't seem real."

It became official with two last lunging swings by struggling Garret Anderson and Bengie Molina, and nine endless miles by pitchers rattling on the rims.

"I'm shot," said Brendan Donnelly, shaking his head. "My arm is totally shot."

It became official at 8:19 p.m., when Erstad caught a fly ball seemingly dropped into his glove by Gene Autry himself, when Troy Percival let out eight years worth of scream, when Molina fell to his knees in prayer.

"Right now it is all a dream," said Tim Salmon, for him, for a team, for a town.

An Angel 4-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants in Game 7?

Of the World Series?

The Southland's first major-league baseball championship in 14 years?

It was a dream with a "Celebration" soundtrack, champagne-stained, tattered T-shirts, and an on-field player conga line through a baseball yard nobody wanted to leave.

Long after the final out Sunday, long after heroes had gone inside, thousands of fans continued to rattle their noise sticks and shout their thanks. They were rewarded by funky, flinging, perfect Angel Ben Weber emerging from the clubhouse to spray them with bubbly.

"I look at all this and I think, 'Oh my God,' " said coach Alfredo Griffin.

Yep, Los Angeles, the Angels are moving in, demanding our increased attention, earning that hour-long drive, a team that bucked trends and defied description.

You know how, after most major team championships, a star is selected to shout, "I'm going to Disneyland" into the cameras?

Under particular pressure because the players and the park work for the same boss, officials here selected their stars during Sunday night's celebration and tried to round them up.

But the stars wouldn't leave their teammates.

"We couldn't get them apart," said a team official.

So instead of one or two guys in the commercial, there will be least five.

And joining the legacy of countless sports heroes in shouting the famous words will be Benji Gil, who had five World Series at-bats, and Alex Ochoa, who had one.

"We are the definition of the team at the professional level," said Erstad, who started the party by catching the final out. "It's so rare you find a group of guys all on the same page and care so much for each other."

Rare was the old-timer searching the postgame madness for Manager Mike Scioscia.

She wanted to tell him how proud her husband would have been. She wanted to thank Scioscia for carrying on the Southland baseball tradition.

Her name was Roxy Campanella.

"Oh, my," she said. "Even the Dodgers were never like this."

These are, in a sense, the new Dodgers. These are the sort of players this town fell in love with many years ago, the kind many thought they would never see again.

They are baseball's best team. Yet, on the roster of the midseason game featuring the best players, they had only one.

They don't have Babe Ruth, they have a shortstop who is the approximate size of a Baby Ruth candy bar.

They don't have Lou Gehrig, they have a catcher who runs like an iron horse.

No Splendid Splinter, but they do have a first baseman who plays in a band called the Sandfrogs.

No Hammerin' Hank, but a Fish.

No A-Rod, just K-Rod.

Seemingly no pressure either, on a team that won only when it was convinced that a monkey was on its back.

"Look at these guys," mused coach Mickey Hatcher during the on-field party. "You come here tomorrow, they'll still be standing around here. They don't know any better."

Given their October obstacles, maybe it's better that they don't know.

They bullied through the playoffs by beating a Big Foot, a Cinderella and a tall tale named Barry Bonds.

They won the division series after being mugged at midnight in the Bronx.

They won the league championship series after being lulled asleep in the heartland.

They won the world championship by making sure the Giant hearts never left San Francisco.

Down to their last eight outs on Saturday here, trailing by five runs, they crushed the Giants with their spirit.

Down to the last day on Sunday, they silenced them with their will.

The heroes on Saturday were eventual most valuable player Troy Glaus and Scott Spiezio and Erstad and Donnelly.

The heroes Sunday were David Eckstein and John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez and Erstad and Molina and Anderson and Percival.

That about cover everybody?

Oh yeah, we forgot Brad Fullmer, who hit .294 in the postseason, and Adam Kennedy, who hit three home runs in one playoff game to help them get here.

If there was a goat, it was Giant Manager Dusty Baker, again showing postseason jitters in Game 7 by starting the league's biggest loser (Livan Hernandez) and a guy who had not had a hit in a month (Pedro Feliz), and then inserted hiccup-hitting Tom Goodwin.

The star of this show was supposed to be Bonds. But in the end, he was a four-homer loser, while the Angels were seven-homer champions.

It is a new show indeed, with new stars who are not stars, with a new style that's an old style, world champions and new kings of the neighborhood.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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