The Boston Red Sox have dominated the American League since their curse breaking 2004 World Series. They are five time AL East Champions and four time World Series Champions in that span. But before David Ortiz and Boston dominated the AL, a scrappy young AL team on the west coast was willing their way towards their first and only World Series.
The 2002 Anaheim Angels were coming off of 12 consecutive years of 85 or less wins, and 16 years without a postseason appearance. To put it lightly, the Angels were pathetic. They were a franchise that had three postseason appearances in the last 41 years. Yet, for one reason or another, the 2002 team decided to win.
Not a lot changed between 2001 and 2002. This was not a situation where the Angels added a star player that powered them to new heights. The same core group of players who won 75 games won 99 the next year. The big additions in the offseason, if anything, hurt the Angels season. Pitchers Aaron Sele and Donne Wall were signed in the offseason and posted a 4.89 and 6.43 ERA respectively.
Out of the four players the Angels signed, two played in 15 or more games. One of the other signees was former New York Yankee Clay Bellinger, father of current Los Angeles Dodger Cody Bellinger. He played in two games and had one official at-bat and struck out in it. The final signing was shortstop Erick Aybar, an amateur free agent. Aybar would eventually be the Angels starting shortstop from 2006 to 2015, but he would be a minor leaguer until then.
A core consisting of mostly homegrown players made up the 2002 roster. Below is a graph showing the regular starting lineup in 2002 showing how each player was acquired. The bold named players are those that made their debut with the Angels.
|Player||Position||How Acquired (Year Acquired)|
|Bengie Molina||Catcher||Signed as Amateur Free Agent (1993)|
|Scott Spiezio||First Base||Signed as Free Agent from the A’s (2000)|
|Adam Kennedy||Second Base||Traded from Cardinals to LAA (2000)|
|Troy Glaus||Third Base||Drafted by Angels 3rd overall (1997)|
|David Eckstein||Shortstop||Claimed off waivers from Red Sox (2000)|
|Garret Anderson||Left Field||Drafted by Angels in fourth round (1990)|
|Darin Erstad||Center Field||Drafted 1st overall by Angels (1995)|
|Tim Salmon||Right Field||Drafted by Angels in 3rd round (1989)|
|Brad Fulmer||Designated Hitter||Traded from Blue Jays to Angels (2002)|
While the fourth-ranked offense is what gets remembered from this 2002 Angels team, their pitching was just as good. The Angels were the fourth-ranked pitching staff with a 3.69 ERA. Jarrod Washburn led the staff with a 3.15 ERA in 206 innings. The starting pitching was solid, but it’s the bullpen that truly separated the Angels.
Troy Percival, Ben Weber, and Brendan Donnelly were the big three in the back end of the Halo’s bullpen. They combined for a 2.21 ERA across 184 innings. Percival served as the primary closer with 40 saves and a 1.92 ERA, solidifying a dominant bullpen.
With this balance of offense and defense, the Angels secured a 99 win season. Despite this, they were the one wild card team in the AL, behind the 103 win Oakland A’s. The Angel’s faced little adversity during their World Series push. Though they lost their first games in the Divisional and the Championship series, four of the Angels seven wins were by three or more runs.
This run of dominance would not translate to the overall result of the World Series. While two of the games were decided by six or more runs, four games were decided by one run. This is more or less because of who the Angels faced, the San Francisco Giants.
The Giants were also a wild card team, but had faced a difficult five game Divisional series against the Atlanta Braves. That years MVP, Barry Bonds, along with all stars Benito Santiago and Rob Nen led the Giants to the World Series. Like the Angels, the Giants were a great pitching team, ranking second in the MLB with a 3.54 ERA.
When the two teams met each other in the World Series, offense dominated the pitching staffs. In all seven games, only once did one of the teams score less than four runs. While pitching got the teams to the World Series, their offenses ability to hit in clutch situations would decide who won. This leads us to the infamous Game six of the 2002 World Series.
Going into game six, the Giants led the series 3-2. With a five run lead going into the seventh inning, it looked like San Francisco would welcome their first World Series win since 1954. However, the gritty Angels had something to say about that five run lead.
OTD in 2002, #Angels completed an improbable comeback, sparked by Scott Spiezio's 3-run HR, to beat the Giants in Game 6 of the #WorldSeries pic.twitter.com/l8lkY63y58
— Angels (@Angels) October 26, 2016
The Angels scored three runs in the seventh and eighth innings to climb back to a 6-5 lead. That’s when they handed the game off to their dynamic closer Troy Percival to finish the comeback. With a strikeout of Rich Arullia, the Angels were able to force a game seven. If you’ve never seen the comeback, you need to watch the video below
A team made of mostly homegrown talent would rely on a rookie to start the deciding World Series game for them. The then 23-year-old John Lackey went five innings, allowing only one run., Donnelly, Percival, and a young Francisco Rodriguez would finish the rest of the game, helping the Angels maintain a 4-1 lead and win their only World Series.
The 2002 Angels were a homegrown team who exceeded expectations in every possible way. Their comeback in game six is legendary but not as legendary as the final call of that game. I’ll let the late Rory Markas take it from here.
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