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ANGELS / COMMEMORATIVE SECTION

The Promised Land

After failures of the past, eliminating the Twins had many players happy just to have reached the World Series

October 29, 2002|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

Exorcising demons apparently can be fun, or so it seemed when the Angels knocked down the door in the American League championship series.

They weren't burdened by the club's traumatic playoff history, focusing on the present and the Minnesota Twins. This time, the Angels weren't "one win away" or "one strike away." They went all the way.

They did it efficiently and convincingly against the AL Central champions, taking the best-of-seven series, 4-1, becoming the first AL wild-card team to advance to the World Series.

"Angel immortality," closer Troy Percival said, "for this entire team."

The Angels had pounded the New York Yankees' high-priced, star-powered rotation in winning the best-of-five division series, 3-1, treating Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and David Wells like a bunch of batting-practice pitchers. The Yankees' current reign over -- or at least momentarily interrupted -- baseball suddenly was buzzing about the exciting Angels and the aggressive style of Manager Mike Scioscia.

Then Joe Mays went to work.

The Minnesota right-hander shut down the Angels in a 2-1 victory in Game 1 at the Metrodome, stirring renewed concern about the Angels' history at this stage of the season. The Angels' previous three trips to the AL championship series ended badly for them, including nightmarish collapses in 1982 and '86.

After winning the first two games against the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982, the Angels lost three in a row on the road and an opportunity to reach the World Series. In '86 Dave Henderson hit a two-out, two-strike, two-run home run in Game 5 to help put the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

Against that backdrop, Mays had the "game of my career" in the opener, handcuffing the Angels on four hits over eight innings. But these Angels don't believe in ghosts, saying the past is best left there.

They rebounded a night later against Rick Reed in a 6-3 victory, looking every bit like the club that batted .376 against the Yankees. Ramon Ortiz made the biggest comeback, working 5 1/3 innings after a jittery 2 2/3-inning performance in his postseason debut.

Ortiz helped the Angels gain a split, neutralizing the Twins' dome-field advantage with the series shifting to Edison Field for Game 3. Jarrod Washburn was eager for his turn against Minnesota, which loses its edge when the roof comes off, the grass is real and left-handers are on the mound.

The Twins were 23-29 against left-handers during the regular season, batting 30 points lower (.252 to .282) than against right-handers. Washburn did his part in seven outstanding innings and the overpowering one-two punch of rookie setup man Francisco Rodriguez and Percival was spectacular again in an electric 2-1 victory.

The Angels were having so much fun that even stoic third baseman Troy Glaus got caught up in the excitement, breaking out of character by pumping his fist three times while rounding first base after hitting the game-winning home run in the eighth inning.

And then there was the crowd. Fans considered among baseball's most passive changed their image overnight in a raucous, noise stick-wielding demonstration, keeping it loud and annoying the Twins, who finally experienced what visitors encounter in Minneapolis.

The Angels had been even-tempered through a 6-14 start that became a franchise-best 99-victory regular season, but emotions are hard to contain after dramatic playoff victories and theirs were on display.

"This is the time to enjoy it," center fielder Darin Erstad said. "Who knows if you ever get a chance to play in the postseason again? This is the time when it's exciting, and we need to enjoy it."

The Angels were only two victories away from the World Series, but Brad Radke was up next. In 18 career starts against the Angels, Minnesota's ace was 11-4 with a 1.72 earned-run average overall, including 6-1 with a 1.38 ERA at Edison Field.

Radke was also 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in the division series against the Oakland Athletics, and rookie right-hander John Lackey was making his first playoff start, so the situation seemed favorable for the Twins.

Lackey outdueled the Angel nemesis, tossing seven shutout innings in a 7-1 victory. Radke took the loss despite working 6 2/3 strong innings and matching Lackey for six. Leading, 2-0, in the eighth, the Angels scored five runs against the Twins' tired bullpen, providing a sign of bigger things to come.

"You can't help but think everything is lining up," right fielder Tim Salmon said.

It appeared ghosts had returned to haunt the Angels as the Twins rallied to take a 5-3 lead in the seventh inning of Game 5 against Rodriguez, pitching for the third times in as many days, on a bases-loaded walk and bases-loaded wild pitch.

But the Angels got 10 hits in the bottom of the inning for the second time in the playoffs, including Adam Kennedy's third homer of the game, in a 10-run outburst against four Minnesota relievers. Kennedy, the most valuable player in the series, became the fifth player to hit three homers in a postseason game, and the Angels were on their way to their first World Series in 42 years with a 13-5 victory that started another October party in Anaheim.

"I'm not even able to make sense of this," said Salmon, the longest-suffering Angel. "I feel like I'm dreaming."

And the dream would soon get even better.

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