Lighting Up Edison
There was thunder, and there was lightning, and there was indeed something heavenly about it all.
From the team elder came the thunder. From the wonder child came the lightning. The first World Series victory in Angel history was truly divine.
Tim Salmon, the poster child for postseason giddiness, hit two two-run home runs, including the game-winning shot with two out in the eighth inning. Francisco Rodriguez, whose talent all but comes out of a tall tale, delivered three utterly dominant innings to become the youngest player to win a World Series game, at 20.
As emotions swayed from exhilaration to exhaustion to elation, the Angels blew leads of 5-0 and 7-4 before outlasting the San Francisco Giants Sunday, 11-10. The victory tied the best-of-seven series at one game apiece, sparing the Angels the misfortune of stumbling into the Giants’ ballpark with a 2-0 deficit.
“Have you ever seen a game like that?” Disney Chairman Michael Eisner said in the Angel clubhouse. “That’s as good as it gets.”
Salmon ignited a celebration throughout Southern California in the eighth inning. With David Eckstein on first and two out, and with the score tied, 9-9, Salmon crushed a 97-mph fastball from Felix Rodriguez well over the left-field fence.
Salmon pumped his fist as he rounded first base, almost leaped onto home plate, then rushed the dugout and pounded his fists -- hard -- against those of his teammates.
“It was like a mosh pit,” Salmon said. “I wanted to go over there and crush everybody.”
No active player had waited longer to play in October than Salmon, who made his major league debut with the Angels in 1992. No player could possibly enjoy it more.
“The whole playoffs, he’s looked like he was 12 years old,” center fielder Darin Erstad said. “After he hit that one, he looked like he was eight.
“I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s gotten the opportunity to get to the postseason, and he’s making the most of it.”
So is Rodriguez, who also looks as if he is 12. After the Giants battered three Angel pitchers for nine runs in the first five innings, Rodriguez entered the game and simply toyed with the San Francisco lineup.
He threw three perfect innings -- nine up, nine down, four strikeouts. In his first inning, he retired Rich Aurilia, Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds on seven pitches. His first 12 pitches were strikes, 22 of 26 overall.
“He hasn’t been here long enough to know how hard that is,” Angel closer Troy Percival said.
Rodriguez has appeared in eight playoff games. The Angels have won them all.
He is 5-0 in October -- tying Randy Johnson’s record for victories in a single postseason -- with 19 strikeouts in 13 innings.
“We look at him,” pitcher Jarrod Washburn said, “as an angel.” Capital A or lower-case, it works both ways.
After Rodriguez stopped the Giants cold, and after Salmon took a curtain call for that second home run, there was more thunder, and more lightning.
Percival pitched the ninth for the save, exactly the way he had planned it. The Angels led by two, with Bonds batting third in the inning.
“I scripted it from the bullpen,” Percival said. “Get the first two guys out, it doesn’t matter how hard he hits it, then get the next guy out.”
Bonds hit it beyond the distance of mortals, a 97-mph fastball that landed some 485 feet from home plate.
“I wasn’t going to walk him,” Percival said. “I’m going throw a pitch as hard as I can, right down the middle. I think I supplied most of the power.”
There was plenty of electricity, with flash bulbs popping from every corner of the ballpark. There were plenty of raucous shouts and lots of banging sticks one minute later, when Percival retired Benito Santiago on a pop fly to second baseman Adam Kennedy in shallow right field for the final out.
Amid the madness of the red sea at Edison Field, there are echoes of championship seasons past. In the amazing success of Rodriguez, there are echoes of Orel Hershiser in 1988, when the Dodgers won the World Series in part because something special happened every time Hershiser touched the ball.
And, in Salmon’s first home run Sunday, there were echoes of 1975, when Carlton Fisk willed a homer fair as he journeyed down the first-base line. In the second inning, Salmon hammered a ball down the left-field line, took a couple steps, then turned to face the ball, leaned and twisted his body toward first.
“I didn’t know if I’d be able to get it to stay fair,” he said.
He did, and it did.
Fisk and the Boston Red Sox lost that 1975 Series, but the Red Sox are a cursed franchise.
The Angels used to be.
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World Series Hits
Most hits in a World Series game by both teams:
*--* Hits Hits by team Date 32 Toronto 18, Philadelphia 14 Oct. 20, 1993 32 New York Yankees 19, Pittsburgh 13 Oct. 6, 1960 29 Arizona 22, New York Yankees 7 Nov. 3, 2001 29 Baltimore 12, Pittsburgh 17 Oct. 13, 1979 29 St. Louis Cardinals 20, Boston Red Sox 9 Oct. 10, 1946 28 ANGELS 16, SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS 12 Oct. 20, 2002 28 New York Mets 15, Oakland 13 Oct. 14, 1973 28 Chicago Cubs 15, Detroit 13 Oct. 8, 1945 28 New York Yankees 19, Chicago Cubs 9 Sept. 28, 1932 28 New York Yankees 14, St. Louis Cardinals 14 Oct. 6, 1926 28 New York Giants 20, New York Yankees 8 Oct. 7, 1921