At the finish of the 2002 regular season, Angel third baseman Troy Glaus ended up with 30 home runs and 111 RBI, although the team leader in RBI that year was Garret Anderson with 123. Tim Salmon led the team with a .380 on-base percentage, and Adam Kennedy batted .312, setting a franchise record for second basemen. David Eckstein, who had developed into an outstanding lead-off hitter, led the team in scoring with 107 runs.
On the pitching side of things, Jarrod Washburn led the starting rotation with both 18 wins and a 3.15 ERA. Ramon Ortiz led the rotation with 162 strikeouts, and he also posted a sparkling 1.17 WHIP. In the bullpen, Troy Percival was the top dog with 40 saves, a 1.92 ERA, and 10.9 strikeouts per nine inning. Brendan Donnelly (2.17 ERA, 9.8 K/9) and Scot Shields (2.20 ERA, 1.06 WHIP) were also magnificent.
The Angels had a strong, strong team, but were they going to be able to flex their muscle against the mighty New York Yankees, who were to be their opponent in the American League Divisional Series and fielded their team with names like Posada, Jeter, Giambi, Bernie, Mussina, Clemens, Pettitte, and Rivera?
It was going to be tough, but the Angels were excited to give it their best shot.
The team flew to New York since the first two games of the best-of-five ALDS were going to be held at the home of the Bronx Bombers. When the Angels stepped onto the field for the first time that October, crews were working on putting up the red, white, and blue bunting all around the stadium. "Something magical happens here," David Eckstein said as he soaked it in. "If we are overwhelmed by it, they are going to eat us alive."
Tim Salmon had a similar sentiment when he admitted, "I've been here 10 years, and right now I feel like a rookie. It's all new to us. We have to try to figure out ways to keep us ready to play."
Fifty-six thousand, seven hundred and ten fans packed Yankee Stadium for the 8PM start of Game One. America’s mayor Rudy Giuliani, tycoon Donald Trump, and TV talk show host Regis Philbin were among the celebrities on hand. Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard’s voice ("the voice of God, basically," according to Angel bench coach Joe Maddon) filled the air with the names of the men on both teams. And Yogi Berra threw out the ceremonial first pitch. After sixteen years of waiting for Angel playoff baseball, here it was, at last.
It would not disappoint. The game was an exciting one, with Jarrod Washburn facing off against Roger Clemens. Three times before the eighth inning, the Yankees would take the lead only to find the scrappy Angels coming back to tie the game.
With their first batter in the top of the eighth, the Angels would take their first lead of the night, frightening the Yankee faithful who were all standing in front of their seats in the cold New York night, when Troy Glaus hit a solo home run, his second of the game, to put the Angels ahead 5-4.
The Yankees started the bottom of the eighth with only six outs to work with to try to tie the game, and after Angel reliever Ben Weber quickly got the first two batters out, the Yanks were down to their final four outs, with Angel closer Troy Percival warming up in the bullpen. But then Weber walked Yankee second baseman Alfonso Soriano, and while Weber was pitching to Derek Jeter, Soriano stole second base. Weber walked Jeter, and that drew Mike Scioscia from his perch at the head of the visiting team’s dugout to pull the plug on Weber’s night.
One of the announcers of the television broadcast, Tim McCarver, told the viewers that Scioscia would be calling in Percival to try to get the third out and then attempt a four-out save, but contrary to McCarver’s confident prediction, it was reliever Scott Schoeneweiss instead who came running across the outfield grass to take his shot at putting out this fire.
He would pitch to only one batter in this game, first baseman Jason Giambi, who had just wrapped up a monster year for the Yankees by hitting .314 with 41 home runs. In this crucial at bat, Giambi was able to hit a scalding one-hopper that knocked the mitt off of Scott Spezio’s hand. Giambi was able to run to first base safely for a single, but more importantly, the speedy Soriano was able to score all the way from second base, while the relieved Yankee fans exulted in their team having tied the game.
Scioscia made his walk out to the mound again, and with runners on the corners, called in one of his top-notch relievers, Brendan Donnelly. His job was to retire Yankee center fielder Bernie Williams and keep this game tied at five. Donnelly worked the count to 2-2 and needed just one more strike to do just that. "At that point," Williams said, "I was thinking that I had to cut down on my swing and try to put the ball in play. The one thing you don't want to do in that situation is strike out."
Well, he didn’t strike out. What he did was put the barrel on the ball and send the ball sailing over Tim Salmon’s head into the right field bleachers for a three-run homer.
Donnelly got the next batter out, Yankee legend Mariano Rivera came out to close the ninth, giving up just one single to Darin Erstad, and the Yankees won the first game, 8-5.
When asked about his performance and about the fact that the Angels were now down a game to the mighty Yankees in a short series, starting pitcher Washburn, who went seven innings and gave up four runs, said, "It was awesome. Yankee Stadium is the coolest place this time of the year. I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else. I kept us in the game, and I'm proud of that, but I don't think I had my best stuff. I didn't have normal life on my fastball, although I did make a lot of good pitches when I had to. No question, it was a tough loss, but this team has found a way to bounce back from tough losses all year. We won 99 games. We came back all season, and there's no reason we can't do it again."
In less than twenty-four hours, it would be time to put Washburn’s theory to the test.
Quotations courtesy of the reporting in the Los Angeles Times by Ross Newhan and Bill Shaikin.