Torii Hunter remembers the scene in the Metrodome clubhouse on Oct. 5, 2002, when the Minnesota Twins watched on television as shortstop David Eckstein caught Nick Johnson’s popup to close the Angels’ 9-5 American League division series-clinching victory over the New York Yankees.
“We were all jumping up and down because we thought, ‘Yeah, we’re going to get the Angels!” said Hunter, the former Twins center fielder who is now in his fifth year with the Angels. “The Yankees owned us in the playoffs, and we had done pretty well against the Angels that year. We were all excited.
“Then, before you know it, some kid named John Lackey was throwing 95 mph, and some kid named Francisco Rodriguez was throwing 96 mph with a super curve. We were like, ‘Wow!’ We couldn’t believe it. They were a different team.”
The Twins went 5-4 against the Angels that season, but seven of those games were played by June 2, two weeks before Lackey joined the team and long before Rodriguez, then a 20-year-old relief whiz who was called up in September, transformed their bullpen from very good to dominant.
Minnesota had defeated the Oakland Athletics, 11-2, in Game 4 of their division series the day the Angels finished off the Yankees, and the Twins traveled to Oakland the following day and beat the A’s, 5-4, in Game 5 to earn an AL championship series berth against the Angels.
The Angels, of course, needed only five games to eliminate the Twins, Adam Kennedy hitting three home runs in the series-clinching 13-5 victory in Anaheim and Eckstein also catching the last out of that series.
The Angels went on to beat the San Francisco Giants in a thrilling seven-game World Series that featured a Game 6 comeback from a 5-0, seventh-inning deficit.
To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the championship, 27 players and staff from the 2002 team were inducted into the Angels Hall of Fame before Saturday night’s game against Tampa Bay, leaving Hunter with some mixed emotions.
“To this day, I’m baffled — is the rally money real, or was the rally monkey really Adam Kennedy?” Hunter said. “I was thinking about kidnapping that monkey. But you know, that’s why I signed here, because they’ve always been a winning organization. If you can’t beat them, join them.”
Angels outfielder Mark Trumbo, a 16-year-old Villa Park High School student in 2002, attended a division series game but was unable to score tickets for the ALCS or World Series.
But he remained glued to the television as the Angels, with Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus, Darin Erstad and Scott Spiezio — who all took part in Saturday’s ceremony — slugged it out with Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and the Giants, and the Angels bullpen, headed by closer Troy Percival, Rodriguez and Brendan Donnelly, provided lock-down relief.
“Salmon was always my favorite player, but I loved watching Percy pitch and the way Erstad played,” Trumbo said. “They were my kind of team, a bunch of scrappy guys.
“There weren’t a lot of household names, there weren’t any mega-stars, but they played hard-nosed baseball with a chip on their shoulder, a little attitude. They got their foot in the door of the playoffs and just ran with it.”
Salmon, the right fielder in 2002, echoed Trumbo’s sentiments in a speech during Saturday night’s ceremony.
“To a man, the 2002 team had the tenacity to do what no other Angels team had done before,” Salmon said. “May the legacy of the 2002 team serve as an example for future teams, that the highest goals can be accomplished when you check your egos at the door and come together as one.”