One word: Spiezio.
There is winning and there is losing. There is no in-between. I don't know what it would have been like to lose the first world series my team ever played in. But as the Angels drew closer to a reality such as that, it felt lousy. Equally, though, I do not know what it is like to see my team sweep another team in the world series. Is it less fantastic without some lows, without some drama? Without really earning it?
The Angels were down three games to two when the series returned to Anaheim. The team had been a strong comeback squad all season and there was a pleasant confidence in the air. The game was scoreless after four innings, Kevin Appier battling Russ Ortiz. In the top of the fifth Shawon Dunston hit a one-out, two-run homerun. Appier would allow a hit to Kenny Lofton before giving way to Frankie Rodriguez. The kid we barely knew who had done so much allowed Lofton to score form 3B on a Wild Pitch.
Things were no going our way. Barry Bonds led off the top of the sixth with a solo homer off of Frankie. 4-0 Giants. It was time for that Rally Monkey. With two on and two out Tim Salmon struck out to end the bottom of the sixth. Frankie had allowed an inherited runner and a solo homerun but Scioscia sent him out into the seventh. Jeff Kent drove in Lofton to make it 5-0 going into the seventh inning stretch. The Giants were nine outs away form winning their first World Series since 1954. the Angels were nine outs away from losing the only World Series they had ever known.
Russ Ortiz had blanked the Angels when he allowed back to back singles with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. Dusty Baker took him out in favor of reliever Felix Rodriguez. But he handed Ortiz the game ball and congratulated him on pitching a great game.
Did Baker's presumptuousness anger the baseball gods? Let's see what followed and you be the judge.
Scott Spiezio battled a 3-2 count in an 8 pitch AB before he hit ball into the stands. Homerun. The game was 5-3 now. More than 93 percent of games where the home team is down 5-0 with two men on and eight outs to go end with the home team losing. 81 percent of games with the home team down 5-3, bases empty, one out in the bottom of the seventh end with the home team losing. But you wouldn't know it by the surge of joy Spiezio had given the crowd and more importantly, the team.
Angels fans were roaring and the Rally Monkey was jumping and somewhere that game ball was probably sitting in Russ Ortiz' locker, helpless to find a Giant's glove and record another Angel out.
Baker burned thru two more relievers to finish that inning. Scott Eyre gave way to Tim Worrel and it was 5-3 after seven. Brendan Donnelly held the Giants scoreless in the eighth and Worrel came back out to face Darin Erstad. Love him or hate him, Joe Buck called what happened to the third pitch of that At Bat for all time:
"Smoked into right, its a one-run game."
Erstad had entered a 5-3 game leading off the bottom of the eighth. The home team loses this in 82% of all similar situations. His solo homer basically made the game a likely loss for the Angels 68 percent of the time. Salmon and Garret Anderson singled back to back. Chone Figgins was pinch-running for Salmon and made it to 3B on an error by Bonds. Karma calling?
Of all the big hits, it was actually Anderson's hit that elevated the Angels likelihood of winning to more than a coin flip. There were two on with no out and a 69 percent chance of winning this sucker down by one run. Troy Glaus made it even more likely with a booming double to the wall in Left. The Angels were ahead 6-5.
It happened really quick. Rumor has it some Giants staff had popped a champagne bottle or two back in the locker room. The game ball had long since cooled below room temperature in Russ Ortiz' locker. It wasn't even the game ball anymore. That was in Troy Percival's hand and then it was in Bengie Molina's glove as Rich Aurillia struck out to send the World Series to a seventh game.
There is only winning or losing. It is great to win.