2002 World Series Champions
It was a wild, wacky and ultimately wonderful 2002 season for the Angels, who began the year mired with the worst record in team history and finished up a magical recovery with the best mark after the regular season.
That paved the way for an historic, memorable run through the postseason that culminated with a dramatic World Series championship, the first in the history of the franchise.
Here is a month-by-month breakdown of the Angels' title run from the pages of MLB.com:
Having acquired front-line starters Kevin Appier (via trade with the New York Mets for Mo Vaughn) and Aaron Sele (signed from Seattle as a free agent) days earlier, the Angels opened the year by taking care of some of their own. They inked veteran center fielder and clubhouse leader Darin Erstad to a one-year deal, they shored up their previously feeble designated hitter position by getting Brad Fullmer from Toronto in exchange for Brian Cooper, and they ended the month by signing first baseman Scott Spiezio.
Once general manager Bill Stoneman traded for Appier and Fullmer and signed Sele, closer Troy Percival said he was excited with the team's prospects for the coming season. That resulted in the team's biggest news of the month, when Percival signed a two-year contract extension Feb. 5. The Angels arrived in Tempe, Ariz., for Spring Training with renewed confidence. They had a revamped starting staff and a lot of offensive weapons.
The Angels worked on a new situational hitting approach in Spring Training and watched as their starters began to round into form. On March 9, however, the Angels were involved in a brawl with the San Diego Padres, which resulted in suspensions to key players Troy Glaus and Scott Spiezio and an injury to reliever Dennis Cook. Then, more bad news came later in the month when key utility man Shawn Wooten went down with a torn thumb ligament that would keep him out of the lineup until after the All-Star break. On the positive side, right-hander Ramon Ortiz received a three-year contract and the Angels opened the Major League season March 31 at home against the Indians.
Despite beginning the season with tons of confidence, the Angels inexplicably fell into the worst start in season history, finding themselves with a 6-14 record after 20 games and falling 10 1/2 games behind AL West leader Seattle. The suspensions of Glaus and Spiezio and disabled list stints by Percival and Erstad slowed things down, but once the team was back intact, the season turned around quickly. Jarrod Washburn pitched a solid game in Seattle, leading the Angels to a watermark win at SAFECO Field. The late days of April featured almost miraculous drama, such as David Eckstein's amazing back-to-back games with grand slams and the Angels' merciless 21-2 pounding of the Indians, the worst Cleveland defeat in the history of Jacobs Field. The team ended the month on a five-game winning streak that got them closer to respectability with an 11-14 mark.
The Angels carried their good play into a record May that would see them open the month 16-3 and finish it 19-7 in all, the third-most wins in any month in club history and the most ever in May. They capped off the eight-game winning streak that got them back to .500 on May 3 and kicked off another eight-game streak May 8. The second streak was higtextLgighted by the club's second 19-run victory in as many months, this one a 19-0 whitewashing of the White Sox. Jarrod Washburn capped off a 3-0 month with a big win in Minnesota on the last day of the month, his fifth straight decision.
June brought interleague matchups -- including an intense home-and-home set with the crosstown rival Los Angeles Dodgers -- and a brutal 13-games-in-14-days road trip through heat and humidity of the Midwest. The Rally Monkey showed its true colors with a dramatic home comeback victory over the Texas Rangers on June 5, and the Angels got a shot in the arm when rookie John Lackey shined in a Texas callup on the 24th, paving the way for his inclusion in the starting rotation a few days later. Sele capped off the month with a three-hitter against the Dodgers as the Angels exited June with a 47-33 record and in second place, only 3 1/2 games out of the lead.
Summer and the Angels heated up some more in July. The Halos went 16-10 and surged into contention toward the top of their division. Despite potentially devastating injuries to Percival and catcher Bengie Molina, the Angels met a tough 20-game stretch against the top teams in the American League head-on and finished up the month 20 games over the .500 mark. One of the higtextLgights was the continuing brilliance of Washburn, who won his 12th straight decision. Another was Garret Anderson's first All-Star selection. Yet another was the amazing story of 31-year-old rookie reliever Brendan Donnelly, who had spent 10 seasons in the minors but stuck with the club in July and showed what he was made of. Finally, the Angels shored up their outfield with the addition of veteran Alex Ochoa, who was brought in the day of the deadline, July 31.
The AL West division race got tighter and tighter in August, with the Angels and the Oakland A's making bids for the top spot. The Angels went 18-11 in August and improved to 81-54 on the season by month's end, their best mark after 135 games in club history. The team lost the services of Tim Salmon for a month when he was hit in the hand by a pitch Aug. 10, and they effectively lost Sele for the rest of the year when he suffered a tear in his right rotator cuff on the 21st. But they stayed with the red-hot A's with the help of call-ups like Mickey Callaway and Chone Figgins. Then they got the best news they'd heard all year. As of Aug. 31, Major League Baseball's players would not go on strike, meaning the Angels' magical season would continue.
The division crown was there for the taking, but the A's AL record of 20 straight wins put them in the driver's seat. The Angels calmly won 10 in a row -- the last seven of which came in the first week of September -- to keep pace, setting up two crucial four-game sets with the A's as the season wound down. Spiezio's game-winning hit paced the Angels to a 3-1 series win at home, but the A's buckled down and returned the favor a week later in Oakland, thanks in part to Terrence Long. The Angels introduced a phenom to the baseball world when they called up 20-year-old reliever Francisco Rodriguez, and then suffered through some September doldrums before finally nailing down the franchise's first postseason berth in 16 years. The Angels had won the Wild Card.
It seemed to all happen in a daze. The Angels caught fire in the playoffs, demolishing the vaunted New York Yankees with a never-before-seen display of offense in the American League Division Series. In the ALCS, they continued the hot hitting and overcame the Metrodome to do away with the Twins behind second baseman Adam Kennedy's incredible power surge. And in an epic, unforgettable seven-game World Series, the Angels fought back from a seemingly insurmountable Game 6 deficit to beat the odds and the San Francisco Giants for their first world title.
With the coming of November, the celebrations commenced and the awards rolled in. Scioscia was named AL Manager of the Year, Erstad and Molina won Gold Gloves, Anderson finished fourth in the AL MVP voting, and Washburn was fourth in Cy Young voting. There was a big party at the House of Blues in honor of the release of the World Series DVD to keep some of the players and coaching staff busy. Meanwhile, the team refused to offer salary arbitration to reserve outfielders Alex Ochoa and Orlando Palmeiro and reliever Dennis Cook, rendering them free agents who will most likely not return to the club. It was also announced that Salmon and Glaus underwent minor surgeries but that both would be ready for Spring Training.
In a show of good faith, the Walt Disney Co. began the month by pledging $20 million to add to Angels payroll for the 2003 season to keep the championship club intact. General manager Bill Stoneman and Scioscia rolled into Nashville for the Winter Meetings, where the team began to explore options for replacing Palmeiro and Ochoa, but other than that, they are content to stand pat. Erstad went under the knife for hand surgery, but that, too, was deemed to be minor.