The Angels were down 1-0 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on a chilly spring evening in Seattle. Troy Glaus was in scoring position, having doubled to lead off the inning and moved over to third on a wild pitch. The Angels had managed just four hits all night, being confounded first by Mariners starter Ryan Franklin and then by a mix of relievers, including some young kid named Joel Pineiro. Kazuhiro Sasaki was now one strike away from getting the save. He looked at Glaus from the stretch and then threw his trademark nasty split-fingered pitch to Brad Fullmer at the plate. Fullmer hacked at it, missing the ball by four inches, and the night was over. It was April 23, 2002, and the Angels were now 6-14. They were off to their worst start in franchise history. The season was only twenty games old, and they were already 10 ½ games behind the division leader, these same Seattle Mariners.
What happened next is well known to us. In the midst of a chorus of criticisms, and with fair weather fans already shifting their attention to the NBA playoffs or some other SoCal diversion, the Angels scored five runs in the first inning the next night, beating Seattle 10-6. It was the beginning of a run that saw the Angels win 21 of 23 games. By the final weeks of the season, after one stretch when the Angels won 16 of 17 games, rather than talking about “worst start ever,” baseball analysts were talking about an offensive machine that was driving the team to a franchise best ever finish. The Angels ended up wining 99 games, plus the magic 11 games in the postseason for our first ever world championship.
So what does that have to do with this year? Well, it should remind us of at least three things:
First, critics and media soothsayers don’t know jack. No critic predicted the Angels to win the World Series in 2002. (I remember, because my grandfather threw down 20 bucks on them on a visit to Vegas that March, and he collected $1000 in October.) This happens year after year. No one predicted the Giants to win it last year, either. And despite the complaints about big-money powerhouses like New York and Boston, in the last ten years, there have been nine different World Series champs. As long as your team can make it to the playoffs, anything can happen.
Second, if it isn’t about the media bandwagoners, then what is it about? It’s about the fans, man. It’s about us. You see, though no ESPN commentator predicted the Angels to win in 2002, guess who did? This guy. I predicted it with 100% certainty sometime in October of the previous year, before a single free agent move was made. What do you think of that, Peter Gammons?
One thing I should have mentioned above is that since 2002, I’m 0 for 8 with my World Series picks. Which brings us to the third point. You have to root for your team against all odds, fair or foul weather, through unsuccessful Hot Stove Leagues, blown squeeze plays in Boston, and no matter who is sitting behind the dish. You keep paying attention, keep rooting, and keep dropping F-bombs when things don’t go your team’s way. And even if you turn off the TV in disgust the way I did in the 8th inning last night, you regroup the next night the way the team does, and you back them again.
Why? Because when the tables turn, you will want to be there. And things are ten times sweeter if you’ve been there through the hard times. If I hadn’t been in tears as a 12-year old in 1986 after Dave Henderson hit a home run off Donnie Moore; if my brother and I hadn’t been glued to our radio in the late 80’s listening Al Conin euphemize those mediocre Halos; and if I didn’t personally witness what happen in 1995… would I have went through the roof when Erstad caught that final flyball against the Giants? That was a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. I will never have it again. But what made it truly great was all of the bitterness in my heart. For the young fans out there… you have to cultivate the bitterness. And it only will happen if you stay with the team and keep the faith. Remember that every time someone blows a save, or [pick a name] strands runners on base.
Here we are in Seattle again. We don’t know what will happen tonight or in the next few weeks. But history has proven that the unthinkable happens. Teams come from nowhere to win championships. And somewhere along the way it starts with a spark of life. Sometimes it’s a ninth inning walk-off. Sometimes it comes from getting blown out, or losing 5 of 7 to your division rival. But it happens. It’s a fact of baseball life. None of you stat geeks has figured out a way to measure team chemistry or momentum… but think we have both at the moment, and I like our chances in September for that reason. It’s how you’re playing at the end that counts, and I like how we’ve looked the last two weeks.
So dammit, Halo fans let’s keep the faith!!! Let’s light up the Halo tonight and keep pushing to the end. And hopefully when the American lady sings on September 28, we’re standing on a heap of ugly Texas meat, and ready to take on our true enemies.