Inspirational Athletes

The 2002 Anaheim Angels

By Jamie L. Rankin

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” – George Herman “Babe” Ruth

How does a baseball team with very little “star” power rise above its own history of mediocrity to defeat some of the toughest competition in the majors? Ask the 2002 Anaheim Angels.

Despite boasting a number of Major League Baseball stars over the years, including Nolan Ryan, Rod Carew and Reggie Jackson, the Angels have struggled from their first season to be more than just average, a reputation they gained due to a combination of tragedies, late-season collapses, and some poor showings in the postseason. At times, Anaheim was its own worst enemy. But in 2002, with very few big names on the roster, the Angels finally broke away from the middle of the pack, coming together as a team to post the franchise’s first ever World Series Championship.

The Angels had come close a few times, making three previous playoff appearances, but it wasn’t until 2002 that teamwork and talent combined with a little bit of luck and a dash of superstition to bring a championship to Anaheim.

That luck didn’t kick in right away, though. Anaheim opened the season with a loss to Cleveland that got the ball rolling on a 6-14 start, the worst in Angels’ history. The team rebounded to win five straight, but Anaheim was still six and a half games off the American League West Division lead. The Angels had better luck in May, winning 19 games and moving into second place in the division with a 30-21 record. By the all-star break, the Angels had improved to 51-35 and were maintaining their grip on second place.

When the MLB All-Star Game rolled around, only outfielder Garrett Anderson made the trip to Milwaukee to take part in a game which notoriously ended in a 7-7 tie.

The Angels got back on the winning track after the all-star break. On July 26, a win over Seattle launched Anaheim into first place in the division, a spot the Angels secured by winning two games of the three-game series. Anaheim slipped into second place, and even third place on occasion, but as the regular season marched on, the Angels seemed determined to reach the playoffs. Despite Oakland’s 20-game win streak late in the season, Anaheim stayed close enough to finish second in the division and rack up a franchise-best 99 wins, good enough to earn the wild card spot.

The American League Division Series would be a true test of the Angels’ mettle. Led by manager Mike Scioscia, Anaheim was up against a New York Yankees squad that, with the likes of shortstop Derek Jeter on its roster, had garnered more than a little postseason success in recent seasons, and more than one World Series victory. On paper, the Angels didn’t stand much of a chance, and virtually every league insider, betting agent and sports writer was picking the Yankees to win. But if no one else believed, the Angels believed in themselves. Led by the consistent bats of Anderson, Troy Glaus, David Eckstein, Darin Erstad and Scott Spiezio, Anaheim notched a playoff-record .376 team batting average, shocking the Yankees by bouncing back from a first-game loss to sweep the next four.

The win marked the Angels’ first playoff series victory in the team’s history.

Next up was the American League Championship Series against Minnesota, and once again, the Angels dropped the first game. And just as with the previous series, Anaheim’s belief in its own ability remained strong. The Angels pulled off another four-game win streak to clinch the league championship in five, and second baseman Adam Kennedy got his name in the history books along the way, ripping three home runs in Game 5.

By this time, the Anaheim faithful were going wild, and the Angels’ “never give up” attitude and unlikely rise above two heavily favored opponents was also drawing legions of new fans. Still, Anaheim was anything but a lock to win the Series. In fact, in order to come out victorious in its first October Classic, the Angels were going to have to be “giant killers,” both literally and figuratively. In the opponents’ dugout were the National League-champion San Francisco Giants, led by all-star slugger Barry Bonds.

Anaheim opened the series at home at Edison Field, now known as Angel Stadium, but the home-field advantage didn’t seem like much of a bonus when San Francisco overcame a pair of homers from Glaus to eke out a 4-3 win. The Giants used three home runs of their own, from Bonds, Reggie Sander and J.T. Snow, to key the victory.

Home-field advantage finally came through for the Angels in Game 2, though, as Anaheim evened the series with a win in another close game. The Angels put up five runs in the first inning and led 7-5 after three, but San Francisco wouldn’t go down easily. The Giants used a four-run fifth to take the lead, but Anaheim answered with a run in both the fifth and sixth innings to lock the contest in a 9-9 tie. The Angels added two more runs in the bottom of the eighth, and San Francisco could only muster one in the ninth as Anaheim clinched the 11-10 win.

Bonds and Sanders both went long, and David Bell and Jeff Kent each got in on the Giants’ home run derby, but it was Tim Salmon who went yard twice to lead the Angels to victory.

Of course, there are many Angels’ fans and employees alike who believe a tiny capuchin monkey may have had a little something to do with the win. The Rally Monkey was, in actuality, first seen in a June 6, 2000, home game against these very Giants. Anaheim was trailing in the bottom of the ninth, and members of the team’s video crew were trying everything in their power to get the fans fired up, running every energizing clip they could think of on the stadium’s JumboTron. At last, someone came upon a clip from the movie “Ace Ventura, Pet Detective,” in which a capuchin monkey is seen jumping frantically. The clip was flashed on the JumboTron with the words “Rally Monkey” superimposed on it. The crowd response was huge, and a mascot was born.

As an added bonus, the Angels went on to rally for the win, and baseball being the superstitious game it is, the Rally Monkey’s place in Angels lore was secured.

Eventually, the team’s video staff opted to create original video clips with a Rally Monkey, and Katie the capuchin was signed on to get fans keyed up to the tune of House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”

Though the Rally Monkey has some skeptics, such as Angels pitcher Jarrod Washburn, there are others who, in 2002, were probably wishing the little capuchin would work her magic at Pacific Bell Park, where San Francisco used its own home-field advantage to take two of the World Series’ next three games.

Bonds and Rich Aurilia smacked home runs in Game 3, but Anaheim put together four runs each in the third and fourth innings to post the 10-4 victory. However, the Giants stormed back in the next two games to gain the series lead. Troy Glaus went deep in Game 4, but the Angels squandered a 3-0 lead, letting San Francisco tie it up in the fifth and steal the 4-3 win with an eighth-inning run.

Game 5 was nothing short of a fiasco for Anaheim, as the Giants quickly jumped ahead 6-0 and never looked back, getting two dingers from Kent and one from Aurilia, along with a triple from Kenny Lofton in the 16-4 victory.

The Angels returned home trailing by a game, and when Game 6 got under way, Anaheim rapidly found itself trailing by some runs as well. San Francisco took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh, but manager Dusty Baker was a bit too hasty in deciding his Giants had the championship clinched. He pulled starting pitcher Russ Ortiz in the bottom of the seventh after Ortiz gave up back-to-back hits to Glaus and designated hitter Brad Fullmer. As Ortiz went to the dugout, Baker was shown handing him the game ball, and that move may have been one spark in the lighting of the Angels’ fires.

Spiezio stepped into the batter’s box and launched a three-run shot that just cleared the right-field wall. In the eighth, Erstad led off with a line-drive home run to close the gap to 5-4. With no outs and two men on in the ninth, closer Robb Nen was sent in to retire Glaus, but the power-hitting third baseman swatted a double into the gap at left-center, driving in both runners to give Anaheim the 6-5 lead. Troy Percival went to the hill in the bottom of the inning and got Aurilia swinging to preserve the series-tying victory. The Angels has just pulled off the biggest comeback in any World Series elimination game.

With their team just a win away from history, Angels fans packed the ballpark for a Game 7 that would prove to be quite a bit less dramatic than the one which had preceded it. San Francisco grabbed a lead on a second-inning sacrifice, but Anaheim answered in its half of that inning, when Bengie Molina roped an RBI double. Then, in the bottom of the third, Anderson crushed a 3-run double to right.

The sellout crowd celebrated with a brief appearance from the Rally Monkey and quite a bit of cheering.

Meanwhile, the job of hanging onto the lead Anderson’s big hit had opened up was on the shoulders of rookie starting pitcher John Lackey. Brendan Donnelly and Francisco Rodriguez also spent some time on the mound before Percival came in to close out the game.

The Giants didn’t make it an easy ninth inning for Percival, putting two men on base with just one out. But Percival came back to strike out Tsuyoshi Shinjo, and Erstad gloved Lofton’s fly ball to deep right to bring the highest-scoring series to an end and electrify the more than 44,000 fans in the stands.

All that was left was to name the World Series MVP, and after compiling a .471 average with four homers and six RBI, Bonds looked like a prime candidate to become the first player on a losing team to receive that honor. However, it wasn’t to be. Glaus had scored seven runs and driven in eight others while hitting three home runs and maintaining a .385 average, and it was Glaus who capped an incredible Angels season with MVP honors.

Since 2002, the Angels have undergone considerable changes, including new ownership and a new moniker, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Several players from the championship team, including Glaus, have gone on to play elsewhere. So, can the Angels make it back to the top of the majors again soon? Only time and teamwork will tell.

Inspirational Athletes