2002 The Wild, Wild Card West

Neither the Anaheim Angels nor San Francisco Giants finish in first place, but they catch fire in the postseason as wild card entrants and engage in a rip-roaring World Series that goes the distance.

Dealt a burdening hand full of prime postseason opponents, the Anaheim Angels come up all aces by toppling fellow wild card foe San Francisco and superstar Barry Bonds in the World Series.

The San Francisco Giants were eight outs away from winning their first World Series in 40 years. Through a full century of World Series play, no team had led as late and as by much in a potential series clincher as the Giants had in Game Six—and lost. Leading 5-0 in the bottom of the seventh, Giants manager Dusty Baker felt so confident about his team’s chances, when he went to the mound to visit an effective yet tired Russ Ortiz, he not only gave the starting pitcher the rest of the evening off—he gave him the ball to take home to his trophy case.

To the Anaheim Angels, staring angrily from their dugout, the interpretation of Baker’s gesture was crystal clear: Thanks, Russ, you helped us win the World Series.

Up to that moment, nothing seemed to have inspired the Angels back to life. Not the Rally Monkey, jumping insanely up and down on the JumboTron, nor the ear-shattering noise of ThunderStix being banged together by a boisterous home crowd heavily clad in Angel red. But the unusual gesture of Ortiz receiving the “game ball”—before the game was even over—was far more palpable to the Angels, transcending both chalkboard fodder and the psychological warfare of the Angels’ marketing department.

Reawakened, the Angels banged away at one Giant reliever after another for the next two innings, climaxing their Game Six comeback—and setting up a victorious Game Seven—when Troy Glaus doubled the eventual winning run off all-star closer Robb Nen.

Much of the Angels’ story of 2002 began two years earlier with another comeback over Nen and the Giants. In a midseason interleague contest, the Angels had been trailing all evening to the Giants and, in a fit of total improvisation by the guys running the ballpark’s video board, a video clip of a monkey jumping up and down was slapped up on the screen with the words “Rally Monkey” flashing across it. This David Letterman-like variation to the clichéd exhorting of the fans to make “Noise!” may have initially drawn curious smiles from the 19,000 in attendance, but they were made believers when the Angels rallied with two ninth-inning runs off Nen to beat the Giants, 6-5.

An ensuing stretch of home games won in the clutch by the Angels made the Rally Monkey a celebrated Anaheim tradition, joining other, less popular Angel traditions: Their failure to win, let alone reach, a World Series since their 1961 inception; their ongoing status as common suburban cousins to the lordly Los Angeles Dodgers; their constant falling apart under pressure, twice in the ALCS under traditional managerial choke Gene Mauch and, more than often, late in the regular season—most painfully in 1995, when they blew a 13-game lead to Seattle.

Following the guidelines for use of the Rally Monkey— when the Angels are behind or tied in the sixth inning or later—here’s a detailed analysis of how much of a good luck charm the famed gimmick really was from its introduction in mid-2000 through the 2002 World Series.

It appeared it would take far more than the Rally Monkey to lift the Angels to prominence. Anaheim lost 19 of its final 21 games in a 2001 campaign burdened with subpar performances from its normally reliable base of star hitters, including Tim Salmon and Darin Erstad. The Disney Corporation, which had lost $100 million on the Angels since buying the franchise in 1996 from original owner Gene Autry, was wanting out, thus making the Angels a topic of contraction gossip; one scenario had the team folding, to be replaced by the relocated Oakland A’s.

The only upgrade for the Angels to start 2002 seemed to be aesthetic, as the team donned new, ironically devilish red uniforms. A 6-14 start, worst in franchise history, was an unwanted tonic for a seemingly wayward franchise. But the Angels suddenly made a startling u-turn and had their best May ever at 19-7—before catching even bigger fire for the summer. The Angels evolved into something so good, they managed to close the leadThe Angels managed this by winning games on days the A’s had off. on the division-leading A’s even as Oakland was in the middle of an AL-record 20-game win streak; Anaheim kept the A’s sweating thereafter by winning 16 of 17 into September. But while the Angels could not ultimately overcome the A’s—still looking almighty at 103-59 minus the power of Jason GiambiThe A’s rolled on without Giambi thanks to tremendous starting pitching and the power- and clutch-hitting growth of shortstop Miguel Tejada., signed for gazillions with the New York Yankees—their 99-63 record easily and deservedly qualified them for the postseason via the AL wild card spot.

The Angels were a classic case of all 25 players coming together at once for third-year manager Mike Scioscia, a calm and collected presence who retained composure through the team’s rough start and a year-long batch of injuries that more than briefly sidelined slugger Tim Salmon, ace closer Troy Percival, veteran starter Aaron Sele, defensive standout catcher Bengie Molina and reckless center fielder Darin Erstad. But the most impressive element on the Angel roster was the previously unsung or untested within the team’s pitching staff. The rotation was unexpectedly led by three youngsters—Jarrod Washburn (18-6, 3.15 earned run average), Ramon Ortiz (15-9, 3.77), and John Lackey (9-4, 3.66 after a midseason call-up); the bullpen featured two tough-as-nails middle relievers (Brendan Donnelly and Ben Weber), self-described “vagabonds” who toiled in the minors until beyond their 30th birthdays.

The Yankees emerged from the regular season with baseball’s best record at 103-58, but they suffered the misfortune of getting paired up with the red-hot Angels in the postseason’s first round. Anaheim made the Yankees pay for sloppy pitching by hitting .376 with nine homers in a four-game upset of the four-time defending AL champions, whose departure was part of a defiant trend of underdogs prevailing in the first round. Besides the Yankees, the other favored nines ousted included the A’s, knocked out in five by the upstart, no-name Minnesota Twins—who would have been extinct through contraction had the courts not interceded; reigning world champion Arizona, swept away by the St. Louis Cardinals as they suffered without star slugger Luis Gonzalez, a separated shoulder victim one week before the playoffs; and the NL’s top seed in the Atlanta Braves, whose knack for postseason ineptitude continued with a five-game NLDS loss to baseball’s other meteoric wild card entry: The San Francisco Giants.

The Giants had much in common with the Angels beyond their wild card status, also suffering from recent season-ending disappointment: A hard-fought seven-game NLCS loss in 1987; a total shutdown at the earthquake-affected 1989 World Series; the failure to make the 1993 playoffs despite winning 103 games; bitter first-round departures in 1997 and 2000; and a 1998 defeat to the Chicago Cubs in a 163rd game to decide a wild card spot.

With one of the game’s more even-tempered owners in Peter Magowan, popular player manager Dusty Baker and an absolute jewel of a ballpark in Pac Bell Park, the Giants had become a top-notch destination for many major leaguers—as selected by one of the game’s best general managers in street-smart Brian Sabean. Yet emotional friction within the Giant organization was not absent. A rift had reportedly developed between Magowan and Baker—the former believing the latter had taken too much credit for the Giants’ success—leading to disbelief among Giant fans that the San Francisco future of Baker—in the final year of his contract—lay in doubt.

Definitely in doubt were the long-term Giant prospects of all-star second baseman Jeff Kent. His mediocre start to 2002 was attributed to a spring training thumb fracture suffered while washing his truck, or so he claimed—as witnesses elsewhere described someone fitting his description wiping out on a motorcycle which, if confessed by Kent, could have voidedMany baseball contracts include clauses forbidding players from indulging in potentially unsafe recreational activities. the final year of his contract. Any reporter who attempted to raise the issue to Kent—known for his blunt, cold relationship with the media—was walking on eggshells. The fisticuffs were saved for teammates when Kent, after getting into a dugout argument during a midseason game at San Diego, nearly came to blows with equally surly superstar Barry Bonds—finishing his tirade by reportedly shouting, “I want off this team!”

Bonds had long since figured out the media and vice versa, so his tense disposition had become more Teflon-coated than Kent’s. His unbelievable play certainly didn’t hurt relations with Giant fans. An advance scout once said there were only four ways to pitch Bonds: Ball one, ball two, ball three and ball four. Pitchers took that advice more than ever in 2002, granting Bonds first base 198 times, 68 of them intentionally; both figures shattered records previously held by Bonds himself, and he would shatter them all over again over the next few years. When opponents had the guts to challenge, they usually lost; Bonds not only kept his power game going with 46 homers, he added his first-ever batting title by hitting a whopping .370. Combined with the walks, Bonds’ .582 on-base percentage easily surpassed Ted Williams’ long-standing mark.

With Kent recovering from all things physical and emotional to join Bonds in bashing the opposition through the season’s second half, the Giants emerged as the NL wild card by winning 25 of their final 33 games before toppling the Braves in the first round to advance to the NLCS, against the equally hot St. Louis Cardinals—which had taken 29 of their last 36.

The Cardinals’ hopes were riding not only on the bat of 22-year-old phenom Albert Pujols—who, like Eddie Murray 25 years earlier, jumped right in and started playing like an instant all-star—but also an emotional vow to win one for both pitcher Darryl Kile and long-time St. Louis broadcaster Jack Buck, both of whom had died within days of one another in June.

The Cardinals would win one—but unfortunately, just one—compared to the Giants’ four at the NLCS. The Giants crucially took the first two games at St. Louis, then closed out the series in San Francisco when they took Games Four and Five with late-inning heroics.

For all their clutch theatrics, the Giants still had nothing on the Rally Monkey.

After hitting seven home runs in 144 regular season games, Adam Kennedy belted four in the postseason—including three alone in ALCS Game Five to send the Angels to the World Series.

The Angels began the ALCS with a split at Minnesota, where sellout Twin crowds dusted the cobwebs off the Homer Hankies and yelled with the same jet-engine resonance as they had during the 1987 and 1991 playoffs. But when the series moved on to Anaheim, the Twins discovered that their Metrodome faithful had finally met their match in noise pollution—taking the field to the combined roar of Angel fans and the ear-piercing ThunderStixThe ThunderStix, first used in Korea in 1992, were large plastic inflated bats that, when banged together, made a loud, high-pitched noise. they banged together.

Noises aside, all three ALCS games at Anaheim met the conditions to warrant the Rally Monkey’s appearance on the video board.

The Rally Monkey went 3-for-3.

Troy Glaus broke up a 1-1 tie in Game Three with an eighth-inning solo homer that stood as the Angels’ game-winner. They unlocked a seventh-inning scoreless tie in Game Four with seven runs to pull away, 7-1. And in Game Five, the Angels came to bat after the seventh-inning stretch trailing the Twins, 5-3—then responded with a ten-run avalanche of offense, highlighted with the last of three home runs hit on the day by lightweight second baseman Adam Kennedy, who had seven all year, to help claim the AL flag for Anaheim.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist for the Angels to figure out how to best beat the Giants in the World Series: Make sure Barry Bonds came up with the bases empty, and then don’t give him anything good to hit. Historically, Bonds had been a postseason bust, batting .196 with a single homer in 27 career playoff games coming into 2002. But the Bonds of the new millennium was a different and far more dangerous hitter, as the Braves and Cardinals had already found out the hard way.

Through the first five games of the Fall Classic, the momentum shifted back and forth as two tenacious teams clouted away at inconsistent pitching that erred on the side of being awful. The Giants finally appeared to grab the driver’s seat with the finish line in sight after blitzing the Angels, 16-4, in Game Five—and then tore out to a 5-0 lead in Game Six at Anaheim. Whether buoyed or not by the Rally Monkey—which already had come to the rescue once in the series, in Anaheim’s 11-10 Game Two triumph—the Angels made their improbable comeback after Russ Ortiz’s 6.2 innings of shutout ball, scoring three runs each in the seventh and eighth to win, 6-5, and pull even with the Giants to set up Game Seven.

San Francisco rested its winner-take-all hopes on starting pitcher Livan Hernandez, best remembered for his 1997 postseason heroics for the Florida Marlins. But it was obvious from the very first Angel batter he faced that Hernandez had nothing. That Dusty Baker left Hernandez in for even two innings—wildly allowing four hits, four walks and four runs—may have been the one excuse Peter Magowan needed to hand Baker a one-way ticket out of town.

Prior to 2002, Barry Bonds was labeled as a postseason choke—and the numbers clearly seemed to prove it. That all changed in a gargantuan way with Bonds’ 2002 playoff performance.

Up 4-0, the Angel bullpen—so sharp during the regular season but, so far, a World Series dud—got its act together when it needed to and stifled the Giants following starter John Lackey’s five sufficient innings. Barry Bonds, who would be retired in only nine of 30 plate appearances throughout the series while slamming four tape-measure homers, never came to bat in Game Seven with a runner on base. The Giants lost, 4-1, and the Angels claimed their first world title in their 42-year history.

Eight years earlier, the concept of the wild card had chaffed at the emotions of baseball purists who believed the regular season would be rendered more meaningless with potentially inferior ballclubs sneaking in and finding destiny in a flash. Their argument was valid. But the 2002 season, one where each postseason participant won no fewer than 94 games, would not be the test case for the purists to cry bloody murder over the inclusion of backdoor entrants. Because, as the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants showed, there were none.

2003 baseball historyForward to 2003: Curses, Inc. Baseball's two most famously cursed—the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox—add to their long-suffering legend of heartbreak.

2001 baseball historyBack to 2001: Raising Arizona The fourth-year Arizona Diamondbacks' expensive fast track to the World Series reaches a successful conclusion.

2000 baseball historyThe 2000s Page: Driven Deep to Disgrace The new century gives Major League Baseball a decidedly more international flavor with a healthy rise in foreign-born talent—but a disturbing pall is cast over the sport as one megastar after another is exposed for using steroids.

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2002 Standings

National League East
Atlanta Braves
Montreal Expos
Philadelphia Phillies
Florida Marlins
New York Mets
National League Central
St. Louis Cardinals
Houston Astros
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
Chicago Cubs
Milwaukee Brewers
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants (w)
Los Angeles Dodgers
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
American League East
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
American League Central
Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Kansas City Royals
Detroit Tigers
American League West
Oakland A's
Anaheim Angels (w)
Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers

2002 Postseason Results
NLDS San Francisco defeated Atlanta, 3-2.
NLDS St. Louis defeated Arizona, 3-0.
ALDS Minnesota defeated Oakland, 3-2.
ALDS Anaheim defeated New York, 3-2.
NLCS San Francisco defeated St. Louis, 4-1.
ALCS Anaheim defeated Minnesota, 4-1.
World Series Anaheim (AL) defeated San Francisco (NL), 4-3.

It Happened in 2002

You Are the Weakest Link—Goodbye!
Months of rumor become fact when baseball owners vote to eliminate two teams for the 2002 season. Targets as those likely to get the boot are the Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins, two “small-market” franchises actually run by men with small pockets who can’t secure public funding for new ballparks.

Montreal owner Jeffrey Loria sells out to the other 29 teams, who ultimately plan to phase out the Expos; Twins owner Carl Pohlad also is ready to receive multi-millions from baseball to shut down his 101-year old franchise, but a Minnesota judge rules against such a scheme, saying the Twins are bound to their current agreement to play ball at the Metrodome. Commissioner Bud Selig responds by tabling contraction, and then the players’ union—looking at the threat of losing 50 union jobs—gets its say, forbidding the idea with the new labor agreement in the summer.

It Ain’t Love, But at Least it Ain’t War
Still wearing the ugly scars of the crippling 1994-95 players’ strike, major league owners and players avoid a work stoppage for the first time in nearly 30 years as they peacefully agree on a new labor agreement in August. That the deal was reached just three hours before players threatened to walk off their jobs didn’t exactly leave the proceedings free of bad PR.

It’s a symbolic victory for the owners in that they manage concessions from a union so strong, it may have been on the verge of becoming too much of a good thing—risking long-term damage as teams threatened to go extinct from having to pay extravagant salaries. Agreed to in the deal is increased revenue sharing and luxury taxes and, for the first time, the introduction of mandatory testing for drugs and steroids—although the latter policy will be assailed from the outside for lacking teeth to deal with a growing problem within the game.

So it Wasn’t the Spinach After All
The steroids issue takes center stage from numerous sources throughout the year. Ken Caminiti, recently arrested for drug possession after his career faded to a close in 2001, confesses to Sports Illustrated that he took steroids before embarking on his 1996 Most Valuable Player campaign with the San Diego Padres. Jose Canseco, also recently retired, publicly barks that 85% of all major leaguers take steroids—though he’ll refuse to say whether he’s in the majority until he releases a book he’s putting together.

For those who think Caminiti and Canseco are just trying to attract attention in baseball’s afterlife, they should listen to current all-star pitcher Curt Schilling, who opines that half of all players are on steroids and the other half have thought about it. Such negative publicity leaves the players’ union little choice but to concede to mandatory steroid testing.

Teddy Ballgame, 1919-2002
Ted Williams, the last man to hit .400, passes away at the age of 83 on July 5. Although his health had deteriorated over the past few years, his outspoken character had not—continuing to offer impassioned opinions about baseball. For the moment, Williams’ legacy will be overshadowed in the press by the ensuing feud taking place between his children. His daughter wants Williams properly buried; his son wants him cryogenically frozen.

These Redbirds Have Flown
The St. Louis Cardinals are stunned by the passing of two members of their family within a four-day period in June. On the 18th, long-time Cardinal broadcaster Jack Buck dies from complications of lung cancer at the age of 77. Buck’s passing is followed four days later by the shocking death of 33-year-old ace pitcher Darryl Kile, who died in his sleep from a blockage of blood to his heart. Kile had gotten his career back on solid ground in St. Louis after his curve ball bombed for two years in mile-high conditions with the Colorado Rockies. On the day of Kile’s death, The Cardinals’ scheduled game with the Cubs at Chicago is cancelled.

These Streaks Happen in Twenties
The Oakland A’s set an all-time American League record by winning their 20th straight game on September 4 against Kansas City, 12-11. The A’s display edge-of-your-seat theatrics by winning the final three games of the streak in their last at-bat—including Scott Hatteberg’s walk-off home run in the record-breaker, all after the A’s had blown an early 11-0 lead to the Royals. Earlier in the year, the A’s had won 20 straight home games (a streak begun in 2001) to break another AL record. Oakland’s improbable run will be restaged in the 2011 movie Moneyball, with Brad Pitt starring as A’s general manager Billy Beane.

Shea it Ain’t So
The New York Mets lose 15 straight home games to set a National League mark. Because of this, the Mets don’t win a single game at Shea Stadium for the month of August. For the year, they are 38-43 at New York.

Fit to be Tied
The politically correct tactic of trying to get every all-star player into the action backfires on July 9 at Milwaukee when the All-Star Game goes extra innings—with all 60 players, including 19 pitchers, having been used. Worried that the two pitchers still on the mound—Freddy Garcia for the AL, Vicente Padilla for the NL—could be throwing for awhile and might risk arm overuse, commissioner Selig declares the game a 7-7 tie after 11 innings. The 41,871 in attendance boo vociferously; in a twisted mea culpa, Selig announces that starting in 2003, meaning will be applied to the Midsummer Classic as the league that wins will receive home field advantage for the World Series.

Just 21 days apart, Seattle’s Mike Cameron and Los Angeles’ Shawn Green become the seventh and eighth players in modern history to hit four homers in a nine-inning game. Cameron’s achievement, on May 2 at Chicago against the White Sox, is the first by an American Leaguer in 43 years; his bid for an unprecedented fifth homer dies on the right-field warning track in his last at-bat. Green’s four homers, May 23 at Milwaukee, is part of a jumbo performance in which he sets the all-time major league mark with 19 total bases. Green, who entered the game with just five home runs over his first 46 games, will hit seven over three games to break another record.

It’s Déjà Boom All Over Again
Two of Cameron’s four home runs against the White Sox come in a ten-run Seattle first inning—and in both cases, he’s followed up with homers by the Mariners’ Bret Boone. It’s the first time back-to-back homers have been hit by the same two players twice in one inning.

Ooh-Ooh, My Bat…
Jose Hernandez, who has struck out 188 times for the Brewers and is one away from tying a major league record, is sat down by interim manager Jerry Royster for the team’s final four games to avoid collecting the unwanted honor. Not that anything else is at stake for the Brewers—they’ve already lost 100 games—but Hernandez’s bat, which otherwise has accounted for some pretty positive numbers in a .288 batting average and 24 home runs, is sorely missed in those final four games as Milwaukee scores a total of four runs.

One Kind of Home Run Derby…
The Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight games, August 11-September 9. They blast 55 over the fence during the streak, winning 17 while losing 10.

…And Another Kind
Seven years after the White Sox and Detroit Tigers broke an all-time record by combining for 12 home runs in a game, they gang up and do it again on July 2. Both teams hit six apiece, but the White Sox get the best of the Tigers in terms of runs, winning 17-9.

Will it Seem Like Tomorrow When He Hits His 700th?
On August 9, Barry Bonds joins the rarefied air enjoyed by only three other sluggers of lore—Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron—by hitting his 600th career home run during the Giants’ 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh at San Francisco. It was just a year earlier that Bonds had hit his 500th career blast.

Dubious Debuts
Miguel Asencio and Ron Wright endure the kind of major league debuts they’d rather not tell their grandkids about. On April 6, the Royals’ 21-year-old Asencio makes his first appearance against the White Sox and walks all four batters he faces—on 16 pitches, without a strike—before being removed. Ten days later, Wright appears as a designated hitter for the Mariners and goes 0-for-3 by striking out, hitting into a double play—and then hitting into a triple play. Asencio will eventually begin throwing strikes and sticks around the majors; for Wright, his three forgettable at-bats are the only ones of his career to date.

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