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BASEBALL 2003

Thrilla on Katella

Spiezio's home run sparked a historic comeback in Game 6 of World Series, but there was so much more to it than that

March 30, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

The truly grand games generally distill themselves into images. The final scores fade into footnotes, but the emotions are forever vivid: Bill Mazeroski stomping on home plate, Carlton Fisk frantically waving his arms, Bill Buckner staring helplessly behind him; Kirk Gibson hobbling around first base and pumping his arm twice, Joe Carter soaring on air.

The Angels ascended to World Series immortality in Game 6 last fall, a magical game that forever defined a team, with an unprecedented comeback that cannot be compressed into a single image.

On that night, one hero would not be enough. On that night, when defeat would mean an empty end to a glorious season, the Angels spotted the San Francisco Giants five runs and 19 outs. In a century of World Series play, never had a team facing elimination overcome so large a deficit.

This was the stuff of lore, with center fielder Darin Erstad hitting a home run with a broken hand.

This was the stuff of human interest, with designated hitter Brad Fullmer knocking his high school teammate out of the game, with minor league nomad Brendan Donnelly earning the victory, with two brothers sharing the catcher's mitt, with first baseman Scott Spiezio striving to win a championship ring just as his father had.

This was the stuff of fate, with the Giants throwing Erstad the only pitch he could possibly hit out and throwing Spiezio the only pitch he could possibly hit out.

Without Spiezio's home run, even the rally monkey might have left early to beat the traffic. With one swing, Spiezio ended the shutout, chopped the Giants' lead to 5-3 and revived a dormant audience.

"That was far and away the biggest hit of our whole season," Erstad said.

But the Angels still needed to take the lead and then preserve it, and Spiezio played no part in either. He happily acknowledges that, in that already legendary 6-5 victory, he was one hero among many.

"In Anaheim, it will always be one of those memories that people have, especially young kids," he said. "They'll grow up saying that team was incredible, to come back from 5-0 and have the whole team basically contribute to the comeback and then go on to win Game 7 for the first title in history.

"The great thing about it, the thing that I think everybody will remember from the World Series, is that the team beat the superstars. I think that's what most of us are most proud of, the fact that we were a team and won it unselfishly."

The Angels won Game 6, a game for the ages, with essential contributions from the well-known and the unknown on their roster. This is their story, in their words.

*

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Anaheim nine that night. The score stood four to nothing, and even Frankie, mighty Frankie, wasn't right.

In the sixth inning, right fielder Tim Salmon wonders whether this sweet season will end within the hour.

Salmon made his major league debut in 1992, alongside teammates that included Bert Blyleven, Hubie Brooks and Junior Felix. He has played for four managers and four interim managers, but he has never worn another uniform. At the start of the postseason, he had played more regular-season games -- 1,388 -- without appearing in a playoff game than any active player.

Russ Ortiz, the San Francisco starter in Game 6, pitches splendidly through the first five innings, giving up nothing beyond a walk in the second and an infield single in the fourth. In the sixth, after a one-out single and two-out walk, the Angels finally have a runner in scoring position, with Salmon facing Ortiz.

Salmon: "I felt pretty good off him. He kept throwing me that cutter away, and I kept fouling it off. I felt confident, maybe overly confident. He had thrown me all those cutters away. All of a sudden, he threw me that cutter inside. It cut back over, and I took it for strike three. I was so mad at myself. I was crushed. I thought that was it."

Salmon, left fielder Garret Anderson and closer Troy Percival all survived the short and painful collapse in 1995, when the Angels coughed up an 11-game lead in six weeks, and the long and painful years that followed. But all three spurned free agency, confident they could play for the Angels and play for a winner too.

While Salmon frets, Anderson and Percival refuse to believe the end is drawing near.

Anderson: "I've played too many games to think like that. As many times over the years as we've come from behind to beat people, I don't think that way at all."

Percival: "I'm always aware of the score, but I never think our team is out of it -- unless it's 16-4 [the Game 5 score]. I thought we were out of that one."

*

In the top of the seventh inning, Jeff Kent singles home the Giants' fifth run, their second in two innings off the previously unhittable wonder child, Francisco Rodriguez. In the bottom of the seventh, Anderson leads off and grounds out. Third baseman Troy Glaus follows, with the Angels eight outs from elimination.

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