Opening Day (April 1, 2013) is 78 days away. We are counting down the 100 Walk Off Home Runs in Angels franchise history. Today we look at #78, the only regular season walk off against cross-town rivals Dodgers.
June 17, 2001 - The Dodgers and Angels had always had a rivalry. The Angels were tenants of the former Brooklyn franchise at Chavez Ravine for four seasons. The Angels were always the lesser team in the eyes of the media and anyone realistic about the reach of each club. There was a time when very few Angels games were on television, cable or otherwise. If you lived in the San Fernando Valley in the 1990s and even into the 2000s, you could not get 710 AM reception on the radio. The Dodgers brand was everywhere and the Angels were an oddity outside of a core Orange County base. Ownership, in the form of Jackie Autry and the mighty Disney empire, asserted that the club was a middle market franchise and the fan base responded as prompted - lukewarmly supporting milquetoast management of an unadvertised team.
Every season the two teams would play a three game Freeway Series that always had a great deal of pre-season hype. The Angels were always the underdogs despite the years of Nolan Ryan and Reggie Jackson and Wally Joyner. The Dodgers were the top dog in the media and with a majority of Southern California fans. Many an Angels fan from this era developed their love of team precisely because it was a default underdog. If it is hard to believe now, that is a result of Arte Moreno's "#1 or bust" marketing mentality. And of course, interleague play that began in 1997 gave fans of the two teams reason to forgo preseason pretense for games that counted in the season's first half. The best comparison might be USC basketball to UCLA hoops or UCLA football to the Trojans, or Clippers/Lakers - there are decades-long legacies that make one team a dominant, default brand when the region and the sport are mentioned.
The Didgers had taken the sold out Friday night game 6-2 and had tied Saturday night's sellout at 5-5 with an Eric Karros homerun off of Troy Percival in the top of the ninth. Matt Herges left with two outs and Darin Erstad on 2B and Jesse Orosco, the ageless wonder, faced Garret Anderson, who singled in Erstad to win the game.
And so Sunday's matinee rubber game was for bragging rights - and 43,000 fans were in attendance. The Dodgers got four runs off of Pat Rapp, a four-run second inning capped off by a three-run Pal LoDuca homer was the difference. It was 4-2 Dodgers in the ninth when closer Jeff Shaw struck out Jeff DaVanon to open the bottom of the inning. But the Rally Monkey worked that afternoon again after a long Saturday night... pesky David Eckstein worked a full count walk, Adam Kennedy singled and Darin Erstad hit Shaw's second pitch into the RF/CF gap to score them both. Troy Glaus hit Shaw's second pitch into the seats. The perennial underdogs had come back to win the game and the series.
Dodger fans were the among the first to genuflect before the cult of Mike Scioscia - he was one of theirs, and his "Dodger Way" explained all Angels triumphs. Who could have imagined how much of the region's heart and loyalty Scioscia would seize from his old club. For Glaus, it was his first career walk off home run. In one year, four months and ten days he would be named the World Series MVP. On this day, he hit the final WOHR in a winged logo Angels jersey. Firsts and lasts always meet on the diamond, which is why baseball so aptly mimics life itself.