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Dismissing Mystique

With hardly a trace of postseason experience, Angels eliminate Yankees with an offensive show

October 29, 2002|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

Never mind the postseason.

Or Yankee Stadium.

Francisco Rodriguez had never even been to New York.

The rest of his Angel teammates didn't seem appreciably better prepared to take on the New York Yankees in the opening round of the playoffs, a best-of-five division series pitting the wild-card Angels against New York, winner of the American League East.

Against a Yankee team that had been in the playoffs five of the previous six seasons, the Angels were bringing a 25-man roster that totaled one game of postseason experience, a pitching appearance by Kevin Appier as a member of the Oakland Athletics. And he had lost that game. To the Yankees.

Other points in New York's favor:

* The Yankees had won four of the previous six World Series. The Angels, in 41 previous years of existence, hadn't won a playoff series.

* The Yankees had won 103 games and had the best regular-season winning percentage in baseball in 2002. The Angels didn't even win their division.

* The Yankees had a tradition of winning. The Angels had a history of curses.

Whom would you bet on?

A cartoon in a New York paper showed a wide-eyed, apple-cheeked youngster in an Angel uniform, presumably Game 1 starter Jarrod Washburn, with a halo above his head on a pitching mound facing a gigantic, bearded, beady-eyed monster with a bat in his hand and obvious malice in his heart.

It was an image few outside Orange County would dispute.

As the Angels departed for New York, their optimistic fans saw a determined and talented team on its way to topple the ruling class. The realists saw lambs on the way to slaughter.

In Game 1, it was there for the Angels. Despite all the dark predictions, victory was within their grasp.

Actually, many felt it was within the grasp of Angel closer Troy Percival. If only Manager Mike Scioscia had given him the ball.

With the Angels leading, 5-4, and two runners on with two out in the eighth inning, Scioscia left Percival in the bullpen. The expectation was that Percival, the last line of defense for the Angels, would come in. Rather than his usual three outs, Percival would be asked to get four.

Instead, Scioscia went with Scott Schoeneweis, who gave up the tying run, and Brendan Donnelly, who gave up the three-run home run to Bernie Williams that gave the Yankees an 8-5 victory.

Much was made in New York about the Yankee mystique.

Much was made in Anaheim about the Angels' failing to get their best relief pitcher into the game.

It happened again in Game 2.

With the Angels ahead, 7-5, in the bottom of the eighth, one out and two on, all eyes turned to Percival in the bullpen.

All eyes but those of Scioscia.

He didn't want to ask his closer to get five outs. So he brought in Donnelly again, this time to face pinch-hitter John Vander Wal.

Broadcaster Tim McCarver called it the "most courageous" managerial move he'd seen in a postseason game. Percival, twice exhibiting a pronounced shrug of the shoulders, probably called it something else under his breath.

But Donnelly struck out Vander Wal, and finally the call came for Percival, who held off the Yankees the rest of the way for the save in an 8-6 Angel victory.

Unimpressed with the screaming fans and clapping noise sticks and the dancing monkeys at Edison Field, the Yankees unleashed their trademark power offense and raced to a 6-1 lead after 2 1/2 innings of Game 3.

But the Angels quickly showed their resilience, staging another of their vaunted comebacks behind Tim Salmon, the longest-suffering Angel. He had played more games without reaching the postseason than any active player, but once there he found the reality as good as the anticipation. Salmon homered, had another hit and drove in four runs as the Angels came back with eight unanswered runs to win 9-6.

In Game 4, the second-guessers were on Scioscia as he benched two hot players -- designated hitter Brad Fullmer and second baseman Adam Kennedy -- and started Shawn Wooten and Benji Gil. All they did was combine to go six for seven to lead a 15-hit attack in a 9-5 Angel victory.

The Angels broke open the game in the fifth inning when they sent 13 men to the plate and scored eight runs.

The poise of the Yankee veterans crumbled under the onslaught. Second baseman Alfonso Soriano made an error. So did pitcher David Wells.

Before he retreated to the safety of the dugout, Wells had given up eight runs and 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings.

With two series still ahead, heaven would have to wait for the Angels.

For now, they'd have to be content with having won their first postseason series, beating the mighty Yankees and putting behind them four decades of bad luck, bad breaks and bad baseball.

*

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Yankee Power

How the New York Yankees have fared in postseason series since 1996:

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