© 2005 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
The Angels opened the season as the frontrunner in the division and ultimately hit the tape first, but they repeatedly dug into their reserve to keep pace.
But instead of having one player get out in front of the pack and have the rest of the team fall in behind, the Halos turned to a number of pacesetters to periodically take the lead throughout the year, and that crystallized as the true embodiment of the team.
Whether it was Vladimir Guerrero bolting around third to score from second base on a bunt to steal a 12th-inning win in Chicago, or Chone Figgins starting no fewer than six positions during the season and excelling at each or Jose Molina pinch-hitting in the cleanup spot, no less, and driving in a pair of go-ahead runs in a late September game, they got it done.
"The greatest thing is: There is no one player that is bigger than the team," said Paul Byrd, who was signed in the offseason as the fifth starter and won 12 games. "Our superstars have that attitude, and that is the attitude I'm taking into the playoffs."
The Angels led the division for all but 12 days in 2005, and one of those days could carry an asterisk as Seattle opened the season with a win a day early. While the offense struggled at times and really only appeared formidable during a stretch in June, the pitching staff carried the club -- especially the rotation.
So when the A's, propelled by a torrid second-half pace, caught the Angels on Aug. 28 and took over the American League West lead and then again forged a tie atop the division again as late as Sept. 15, the club could have folded.
But it didn't, and it was the fabric of the team that held them together. The Angels rattled off an eight-game winning streak and 10 of their next 11 games, including the first two games of a critical four-game series in Oakland, to capture their second straight AL West title and fifth overall for the franchise.
"There is no panic in this room," said Jarrod Washburn, who battled tendinitis in his left forearm for much of the second half of the season.
Adam Kennedy, a veteran from their 2002 World Series champion squad, agreed.
"We don't give up," Kennedy said. "I think it's because so many of us have been through it. We're able to stay focused on what we need to do."
The Angels didn't get the offensive output that was expected and turned into a team centered more on pitching and defense than initially designed, but they mixed and matched and plugged in players like Robb Quinlan, Casey Kotchman and Juan Rivera to fill the void, while rookie Ervin Santana stepped into the rotation, allowing the club to not lose stride.
"We've got great depth," Finley said. "The one thing that all good teams have to have is good depth. We also have a lot of experience in this room. Most of the 2002 World Series team is still here, and we've added some more playoff experience. It's a team that knows how to get it done and it doesn't panic."
Angel Stadium is a fair park, more of a pitcher's park than a hitter's park, but not Death Valley. The greatest effect on the flight of the ball is the air. Standing roughly at sea level and only miles from the ocean, the heavy marine layer holds a number of fly balls in the yard, especially at night. A well-hit ball will go out, but there are no cheap home runs at Angel Stadium. That effect is much less in day games, when the sun is out and the air is lighter. October also can produce drier air under Santa Ana conditions.
The dimensions are fairly straightforward, with no real odd turns in the outfield fence. There is a crease in the wall in center that can produce a tough carom on occasion, and another near the bullpens in left field. Foul territory is about average, favoring neither the hitter nor the pitcher. The most striking architectural device is the rock formation beyond the fence in left-center adjacent to the batter's eye. The left-field line is 330 feet, stretching to 387 feet in left-center and 400 to straightaway center. Right-center is 370 feet out with the right-field bleachers sitting higher, creating a larger right-field wall to accommodate the out-of-town scoreboard. It is 330 feet down the right-field line.
With the division title in hand and riding a warm, if not a hot streak, the Angels are setting up well for the playoffs and are quietly glad they are excelling in the two departments that win titles: pitching and defense.
The team is largely healthy with only Garret Anderson's sore lower back an issue. Washburn is able to pitch and the rest of the rotation is relatively sound.
Bartolo Colon still has issues with lower back stiffness, but after winning his 21st game on Thursday to solidify his chances at the team's first Cy Young award since 1964 when Dean Chance was named the league's top pitcher, the right-hander is looking toward opening the playoffs in Game 1.
"I'm going to feel it throughout and even in the postseason," Colon said. "I'm not worried about it. The mini-season that starts Tuesday will kick in the adrenaline, and the pain, for me or anyone on the team, will be forgotten."
John Lackey will start the second game while Byrd and Ervin Santana will either draw a start or head to the bullpen as long men in Game 3.
Relief pitching should be a strength again as it was in 2002. Francisco Rodriguez is now the closer and will hold down the back end of a bullpen bolstered by Scot Shields and Kelvim Escobar, the power right-handed starter turned reliever who is now healthy and capable of picking up multiple innings.
The Angels had brief postseason trip last year when they were swept by the Red Sox. The club is healthier and deeper this season, albeit with less power, and is looking to make a deep run.
"This qualifies us to go on and finish the job we set out to do and that is really what it is about," general manager Bill Stoneman said. "There are a lot of games, a lot of aches and pains, a lot of ups and downs. But you look at it, and there are eight teams, and we don't look at it as just getting there. We want to keep going."