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There Is a Real Season for

If you were looking for a sign the Angels were a team of destiny, these defining moments pointed the way.

October 29, 2002|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

Night falls, and bedtime approaches. For the first time since brushing his teeth that morning, the adorable little kid removes the bright red Angel cap from his head, but only after Mom promises he can wear the cap again tomorrow.

Mom tucks him into bed. Before she turns out the light, the kid smiles at the stuffed monkey wrapped around his bedpost. The monkey smiles back. The kid is sure of it.

This could be your kid, or the kid down the block, or the kids playing T-ball in the park. To this youngest generation of baseball fans, the Angels won the World Series championship because of a cute monkey jumping up and down and thousands of fans -- mostly grown-ups, at that -- banging big red sticks together and making lots of noise.

If a monkey turns a kid into a baseball fan, well, bless the monkey.

Those kids will outgrow their blissful innocence, although there is no hurry. They will learn that World Series championships are won by neither rally monkeys nor noise sticks. The Angels' rally monkey is great fun, but it does not bat.

Today, one of those kids might be taking a rally monkey to school. That same kid might be wearing a bright red T-shirt, with the last name of one of the players on the back. Erstad, maybe, or Glaus or Eckstein, Salmon or Anderson, Kennedy or Percival. If the kid's a rebel, maybe Spiezio.

The World Series championship trophy commemorates the Angels and their accomplishments. In their first 41 seasons, the Angels won six postseason games. This October, they won 11. For the first time, the Angels are champions of the World Series.

The moments along the way, like the monkeys, are too numerous to count. Here are a few defining moments along the path to October glory:

April 24

When poor results follow high expectations, a manager never sits easily in his chair. The Angels started the season 6-14, the worst start in franchise history. They had sunk 10 1/2 games out of first place. This was not exactly what Disney had in mind when it boosted the payroll to a club-record $60 million.

On this day, Manager Mike Scioscia presented a lineup in which reserve outfielder Orlando Palmeiro batted in the No. 3 spot, traditionally the province of the best hitter on the team. In 1,459 career at-bats, Palmeiro has three home runs.

If the Angels lost again, Scioscia would risk players wondering whether he had pushed the panic button and would hear more questions about his job security. But Palmeiro slapped three hits, and the Angels scored five runs in the first inning en route to a 10-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners, the first of eight consecutive victories and the start of a 21-3 run. The Angels became the first team in major league history to lose 14 of their first 20 games and qualify for the playoffs; Scioscia is expected to win the American League manager of the year award.

April 28

The Angels like to say shortstop David Eckstein does all the little things, and there is no pun intended. Eckstein stands a couple of eyelashes taller than 5 feet 6, but the Angels believe he is the smartest man in their clubhouse, coaching staff included. He led the league in sacrifice bunts and times hit by pitch. He rarely struck out or grounded into a double play. He chastises himself for hitting a fly ball in batting practice, because his game involves slapping singles over the field and maximizing his speed. Power, he believes, is something best left to the big guys.

Eckstein had hit a grand slam the night before, in the fifth inning of an 11-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. Hey, accidents happen.

On this day, he hit another grand slam, this one a walk-off slam in the 14th inning, good for an 8-5 victory over Toronto. He became the first shortstop in major league history to hit grand slams in consecutive games. The Angels had yet to scramble back to the .500 mark, but the consensus in the clubhouse was that this marked the turning point of the season, the first sign that something magical might be happening this year.

May 10

The Angels crashed in 2001 in large part because their offense did. They crashed in the first three weeks of the season in large part because their offense did. If outfielders Tim Salmon and Darin Erstad sputtered again this year, and if second baseman Adam Kennedy did not progress, the Angels again would sink in the AL West.

On this day, the Angels crushed the Chicago White Sox, 19-0--the largest victory margin ever in an Angel shutout--only 11 days after another 19-run victory, that one 21-2 over the Cleveland Indians. On this day, Kennedy hit two home runs, Salmon had four hits and Erstad scored twice.

Kennedy finished the season with a .312 batting average, leading the team and ranking seventh in the league. Salmon rebounded from .227 to .286 and Erstad from .258 to .283. The Angels led the major leagues in batting average (.282) and fewest times struck out.

June 24

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