They wanted to see it, to touch it, to imagine what it would be like to slip such a hefty, diamond-encrusted ornament on their fingers.
"It was pretty cool," center fielder
The Angels are a long way from being sized for such fine jewelry. The postseason is a three-round, month-long grind, a grueling test of talent, will and endurance that can stretch to 19 games and requires 11 victories to hoist that championship trophy.
But they took a huge step toward that goal Wednesday night, clinching their first
C.J. Wilson gave an injury plagued rotation — and the team's World Series hopes — a huge boost by giving up one hit in seven innings, and C.J. Cron highlighted a five-run seventh with a prodigious three-run home run.
Their magic number reduced to one, the Angels returned to their clubhouse with the
But with the Texas-Oakland game on the
When the A's game was over, a huge roar erupted and fireworks were set off. Goggle-wearing players spent several minutes spraying champagne and beer on themselves in the clubhouse and then took the party onto the field, where they sprayed fans with alcohol on a victory lap around the stadium.
"It's pretty awesome, a great feeling," said Albert Pujols, who won two World Series titles with St. Louis. "It's a better feeling when you hold the trophy at the end. That's what we're working for."
Trout's eyes were soaked with tears, champagne, or both, and at one point during the celebration he fell backward into a crowd of fans for a group hug.
"Unbelievable," Trout screamed. "I can't explain this feeling right now."
By winning their sixth division title since 2004 and ninth in franchise history, the Angels will go directly to the best-of-five AL division series, which begins Oct. 2, and avoid the one-game, wild-card knock-out round.
"You've got to avoid that," Wilson said.
Since they won't have to burn ace Jered Weaver in a wild-card game, they can start the right-hander twice in the first round.
Matt Shoemaker's playoff availability is in question because of a rib-cage strain he suffered Monday night, but if the enigmatic Wilson, who needed only 66 pitches to get through his first six innings Wednesday, emerges as a solid No. 2 starter, the Angels title hopes would improve dramatically.
"It's been four years since we've been here, but it feels like yesterday," reliever
The Angels' coronation as run-away division champ capped a remarkable five-week blitz in which they went 27-8 to go from four games behind Oakland on Aug. 10 to 111/2 games up on Wednesday.
And that was after the Athletics added ace
Weaver and Shoemaker, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and spent six years in the minor leagues, held the rotation together, and the Angels filled Richards' spot with a bullpen-by-committee.
The Angels have been resilient, leading baseball with 45 comeback wins, but an offense that was dormant for three weeks after the All-Star break came alive in early September, averaging 8.6 runs a game and batting .329 during a 10-game winning streak that buried the A's.
"It's bittersweet, it's tough not being able to contribute," Richards said. "But for them to come together as a team and to overcome this is awesome. I couldn't be any more proud of these guys."
There was early-season adversity, as well. The Angels lost cleanup batter
Those additions, combined with the continued dominance of Smith and Jepsen and the emergence of rookie right-hander Mike Morin, transformed a shaky bullpen to a deep and dependable unit that has posted a 2.74 ERA and converted 27 of 31 save opportunities since June 24.