On Thursday, September 26, 2002, the Angels clinched the Wild Card in a day game in Texas.
Leading into the game, the Angels had lost 4 straight, and 7 of their past 9, had handed Oakland the division crown and were staring at a three game weekend series ahead with the Mariners, then a solid team following up on their 116-win 2001 season with what would be a 93 win campaign.
2007 seems so much different - there does not seem to be an imminent collapse ahead. Were we to get swept in our next two series, the magic number could be four, five or six with a one, two or three game lead and seven to play.
A season-crushing loss by the middle relief late in the penant race was the kind of catastrophe I feared in 2002. It was the kind of spectacular suicide leap this franchise had practically patented. But this team just does not seem to have it in them - the thirst for the delayed anti-gratification of pure, last-minute failure. Upon the worst comeback defeat of the year - of the past few season as best I can recall - nobody is hurriedly retracing their Donnie Moore Game dance steps in reverse to stave off collapse. This is an adult franchise of professionals, not a gaggle of superstitions carried by a pockmarked team of sideburned journeymen.
We're going to take the division, sooner rather than later, perhaps before next weekend and Scioscia's decision to rest this team up a bit and audition role-players for the last seats on the bench are distinct from his tuning-up of key parts, such as DH-ing Vlad (instead of benching him to rest his elbow entirely) and reintroducing Mike Napoli in to the fray (instead of getting everyone rested with Ryan Budde appearances). The bullpen is not an unsolvable riddle, and better we find out now that Darren Oliver is higher in the pecking order than Chris Bootcheck than on a Saturday afternoon in October...
I slept in, afraid to go to the local watering hole to see the score. In my darkened room the phone rang. I immediately wanted to puke, the phone rang again and I almost hurled. I picked it up and an upbeat voice said "If you're still in bed you are a pussy, why aren't you here watching the game?" It was yeswecan and the upbeat tenor of his voice quelled my vomiting urge. My throat cracked as I timidly asked, "What's the score, dude?"
He scolded me, "Dude the Angels are kicking ass and you better get your ass down here now.." and hung up. I got dressed - pondering which pair of underwear and socks were the luckiest to wear - you think about things like this during a sixteen year hiatus - and went down to see the Angels seal the victory, celebrate on the field and party in the lockerroom.
This time, there will be a LOT less drama. A defeat like today's might have crushed even the fabled 2002 squad, but the Angels organization as a whole has an armor of professionalism to deflect the long-term damage of such heartbreaking losses. That is who we have become. This is who we are now.