Purgatory Online

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

First of all, the dog is going to need therapy.

The day the playoffs started, I bought a bottle of champagne and told myself that, once the Angels' season was over, I'd drink to the fact that after sixteen years they'd finally managed to make it in again. I wasn't thinking about a World Series; I was mostly thinking that they needed to go after a split in Yankee Stadium, then come back and get a split at home, then roll the dice in Game 5. I was thinking that it would be nice if they could do a little damage, win a couple of games, make everyone who expected the Yankees to roll into an ALCS showdown with the A's realize that the Angels weren't your typical wild-card team; they went 93-49 over the last 142 games of the season and were every bit as good as the Yankees and definitely could contend with the A's. But FOX kept showing that graphic to tell all of us at home that the Yankees had playoff experience - Lord, yes, scads of playoff experience - and the Angels players had a sum total of two games in the playoffs, both by Kevin Appier.

Funny thing, though: four games later, the bottle was still getting cold, Derek Jeter was staring morosely over the bullpen railing, and the Angels had won their first postseason series, ever. Mike Scioscia was an idiot for 24 hours after not using Percival to protect a lead in the eighth inning of Game 1, then magically became some kind of genius after the team won the next three. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Twins were everybody's darlings, beating the A's in five games. The A's were the overwhelming favorite of baseball writers everywhere going into the postseason - they had Zito, Mulder, Hudson, Tejada, Justice, and on, and on....and, oops, out. Gone in the first round for the third straight year, the A's had a spectacular second half of the season that encompassed a 20-win streak that overshadowed the brilliant baseball being played by the Angels during the same time period. That they could be knocked off by the Twins served to show that the Minnesotans, having escaped contraction, were rampaging towards their destiny and would not be denied.

Except then they were. Again faced with a team for whom the concept of home-field advantage was very real, the Angels split the first two games of the ALCS in the Twins' dingy rec room of a ballpark, came home, and swept all three in Anaheim. For the first time ever, I was able to say "the Angels won the pennant." By this time, the champagne had migrated to the back of the refrigerator. I could see the neck of the bottle behind the orange juice; if I shuffled the bread around I could see some of the label.

During the World Series, it just got worse. The fridge was full of take-out and cold cuts. There was no way I was cooking while the Angels were on. From Game 1 through Game 5, that bottle was invisible.

Not so in Game Six. The Giants jumped out to an early lead on a home run by Shawon Dunston--Shawon Dunston, for God's sake--and then another by Barry Bonds, who had proven and was proving that pitching to him and walking him were both losing propositions. By the seventh inning, it was 5-0. The Giants had it in the bag, and I was starting to think about pushing the cartons and packages out of the way, retrieving the bottle, and toasting the American League Champions. The Giants' bullpen was as competent as they come, and Robb Nen had been lights-out against the Angels. So when Spiezio lifted that three-run homer over Reggie Sanders's glove and into the fourth row of the right-field seats, I told myself that at least they'd made it interesting--but I didn't forget that bottle.

The top of the eighth came and went. Donuts, our shy yellow lab mix, came over to be petted. Darin Erstad came to the plate to hit against Tim Worrell, and I kept one eye on him and one eye on the dog. A ball. A strike. And then a swing, and a shot off the sweet part of the bat that raced for the right-field wall, and I was on my feet, screaming "get out of here!" Donuts, the ball, and all thoughts of that bottle of champagne disappeared at the same time.

Ersty's home run only made it 5-4, but after that the team was in full throat, baying for more hits, more runs, more games, more of this unbelievable season. Worrell threw ball one to Salmon, who then smacked a single into center field and was pulled for Chone Figgins, the fastest man on the team but a guy who had made multiple baserunning mistakes against the Twins in the ALCS. Garret Anderson fouled one off, then dropped a bloop down the left-field line that Bonds misplayed, Figgins goes to third, Anderson ends up on second. Dusty Baker pulls Worrell in favor of Nen, but by this time it's too late. The hit train has arrived. Glaus takes a 2-1into the gap in left center, Figgins and Anderson score, the Angels take the lead, and before anyone can even get nervous about a ninth-inning rally, Troy Percival has blown through Goodwin, Lofton, and Aurilia. Good night, see you tomorrow.

And when the Series is over, the dog will need therapy.