ANAHEIM, Calif. - There must be some mistake. The real Magic Kingdom has always been a couple of miles farther up Katella Avenue, and it was always some sports hero in another city who got to shout about going there after the World Series.
Never the Angels.
The team that singing cowboy Gene Autry delivered to Southern California during the American League's westward expansion in 1961 has always been the bridesmaid, whether it was playing second fiddle to the rival Los Angeles Dodgers or coming up just short in three previous postseason appearances.
The Angels are the champions of the baseball world, and who would ever have imagined that after they stumbled out of the gate in April? The glass slipper finally fit last night after a 4-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of baseball's first all-wild-card World Series.
The sellout crowd of 44,598 watched rookie pitcher John Lackey become a World Series hero after spending just a half-season in the Angels' rotation and Troy Glaus become a World Series MVP after hitting three home runs and delivering the game-winning double in the Angels' dramatic Game 6 comeback.
The Rally Monkey didn't even make an appearance.
Who's going to Disneyland? Probably everybody, since the Walt Disney Co. owns the franchise and might even decide to keep it now that it has become one of the hottest sports properties in Southern California.
First baseman Scott Spiezio was the most consistent run-producer in the postseason and Tim Salmon delivered big in Game 3 and that Frankie Rodriguez kid won a postseason game for each of the five innings he had pitched in the major leagues before October.
Glaus was almost as scary as Barry. Closer Troy Percival was overpowering as usual. And regular-season MVP Garret Anderson saved his best for last, delivering a three-run double that was the difference in Game 7.
"There goes the theory that the Angels would never win a World Series," said an ebullient Salmon, who took a lap around Edison International Field with the championship trophy. "This is for everybody in the stands. This is for everybody in Orange County who has waited so long."
What a night, what a garden of delight for long-suffering fans who had seen the Angels take a two-game lead in the best-of-five 1982 American League Championship Series and then lose to the Milwaukee Brewers. They also had suffered through the harrowing Game 5 meltdown in the 1986 playoff against Boston and a discouraging regular-season collapse in 1995.
No wonder they had so willingly turned this ballpark into something resembling the Red Sea. There was some room to wonder, however, how they could so easily suspend their disbelief for one crazy, glorious October after all the Angels franchise had gone through.
Somewhere, the old cowboy is singing again.
"I've been in this game for a long time," manager Mike Scioscia said. "I've never been around a team that was so dedicated. This championship is for the 25 guys in the clubhouse."
Lackey, who was awarded the Game 7 start at least partly by default because of a wrist injury to Ramon Ortiz, pitched five strong innings and gave up just a run on four hits.
He was only the eighth rookie in World Series history to be entrusted with a winner-take-all start, and became the first in 93 years to emerge with a victory.
Three rookies pitched in the final game. Brendan Donnelly followed Lackey to the mound and Rodriguez - who earned the nickname K-Rod during his fairy tale postseason - set up Percival for the save of his life.
Center fielder Darin Erstad was there at the very end, waiting for Kenny Lofton's fly ball.
"It was the toughest catch of my life," he said of the final out. "I thought about what my dad taught me ... catch it with two hands and squeeze as hard as you can."
Barry Bonds, so close to being named the World Series MVP when the Giants held a five-run lead in Game 6, was denied again. He had a phenomenal postseason, sweeping away all the lingering doubts, but his trophy case remains bare.
Manager Dusty Baker also felt the sting of another unrequited postseason. He won a world title as a player, but reigns as one of the best managers never to have won a World Series.
"It is a difficult time right now," he said. "Your heart is heavy. Your stomach is empty. It's going to be very difficult to go back to the hotel and hear people hollering and screaming out there for Anaheim. On the other hand, I'm happy for Scioscia and the guys on the Angels over there. I just wish it was us."
It had to be a difficult emotional equation for the Giants, who could smell the champagne in the late innings of Game 6. The Angels staged a dramatic comeback - the biggest ever in a World Series elimination game - to snatch the fermented fruits of victory right out of their clubhouse.
Baker insisted afterward that his club would not have trouble rebounding from such a draining defeat, and the Giants seemed to bear that out when they were the first to hit the scoreboard last night, but it was apparent that the Angels and their fans were riding a new wave of optimism.
They just needed a nudge to get the offensive attack in gear.
That has been the way for the Angels throughout the postseason, as if it takes the other team to knock the chip off their shoulder to get things started. They lost the first game of the Division Series to the New York Yankees in discouraging fashion, but came right back to win out in the best-of-five first round. They also got knocked back on their heels in the ALCS opener and rebounded to beat Minnesota the next four games.
Giants starter Livan Hernandez entered the game with his reputation as a big-game pitcher slightly tarnished by a mediocre outing in Game 3.
Five straight Angels reached base to start the third inning last night and bring a quick end to the evening for a pitcher who entered this World Series with a 6-0 postseason record.
David Eckstein and Erstad opened up with back-to-back singles and Hernandez hit Salmon on the hand with a pitch to load the bases for Anderson.
Anderson, who had not been a major factor in the Series until he doubled and scored the winning run the night before, cleared the bases with a line double into the right-field corner.
The Angels appeared to be in position to break the game open, especially after an intentional walk, but they could do nothing more with the two-on, no-out situation. Giants third baseman David Bell made a terrific play on a bouncer down the line to throw out Anderson at the plate.
Through it all, Lackey looked amazingly composed for a rookie pitcher who had made just 18 regular-season starts before the Angels started their impressive postseason march.
He had made two previous Series appearances, giving up five runs in 7 1/3 innings (6.14 ERA), but his numbers for the entire postseason (1-0, 2.60 ERA) were much more impressive.
"Everybody wants to pitch in the World Series - Game 7 - and it worked out pretty well," Lackey said. "This is a long way from [Triple-A] Salt Lake City."
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