Anniversary Of Very Special Day For (Anaheim) LA Angels
By David Rice
With all the bad feelings for the LA Angels after the 2016 season, October 27th is one day that will always bring a smile to Angels fans faces. Especially if you put the year 2002 behind this day.
LA Angels fans everywhere will most likely remember where they were at 8:19 P.M. on October 27, 2002 when Darin Erstad squeezed the final out of the 2002 World Series setting off a wild celebration at then Edison International Field.
Rory Markus, the late Angel announcer made the famous call, ” Fly ball to center field, Erstad says he’s got it, Erstad makes the catch!!! The Anaheim Angels are champions of baseball.” Those 20 words still give me goosebumps whenever I hear the replay of the Markus’ call.
As big of an Angels fan that I am many would be surprised that I did not hear Markus’ call of the final out live. There is a very good reason for that, thanks to my best friend David “Dave” Leboff I was able to watch game live from section 430, Row E which is down the right field line.
It still to this day one of the most memorable days of my entire life. How many people get to live a childhood dream of being at Game 7 of the World Series with their oldest and best friend to watch their favorite team of all-time when their first championship. Not many. We were two of the 44,598 fans in attendance that night.
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Dave and I had both been through all the Angels playoff failures over the years including 1986’s monumental collapse that kept the Angels from reaching the World Series 16 years earlier. It made it even sweeter though to actually be there in-person to watch this special moment.
In 1986 I was living in Florida and watched the playoffs on TV including the infamous Game 5. I cried that night one of the few times I would ever do so because of a sporting event. It was a tough year as I was uprooted from my school I had gone to ever since I moved to Florida six years earlier. I was also uprooted from my home and had to move away from all my friends all in a matter of weeks.
About the only thing that kept me from losing it earlier was the fact that the Angels had made such a magical run to the verge of getting to the World Series. I knew once they lost that game, the series was over despite the Angels still leading three games to two. Enough about the painful memories, let’s get back to the good one.
After the Angels rallied to win Game 6 against the Giants setting one game for all the marbles I was elated as I knew I would be going to my first World Series game ever and have a chance to see my beloved Angels possibly win the World Series.
Just like 16 years earlier I got a premonition, the Angels were not going to lose Game 7. The Angels were going to win the World Series. As we entered the stadium it was electric. I walked around most of the stadium taking pictures of batting practice and cool signs people had made, etc., etc.
Once the game started I was nervous as hell and the Giants made it worse by taking a 1-0 lead in the second inning. My faith in my team would be tested that night. However, like they had done so many times that season and in the post-season the Angels bounced right back tying the score on a Bengie Molina RBI-Double that scored Scott Spiezio.
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In the bottom of the third inning the Angels would score all the runs they would need that night on one swing of the bat. With the bases loaded and no outs Garret Anderson laced an bases-clearing double down the right field line that plated three runs giving the Angels and rookie John Lackey a 4-1 lead.
Lackey would pitch two shutout innings before handing the ball off to Brendan Donnelly who pitched the two biggest innings of his life shutting down the Giants in the sixth and seventh inning. During this time I got so nervous that I had to take a walk down to the lower level of the park.
Dave said he would go with me, so we went to my special spot in the stadium which used to be Aisle 6, but since the remodel in 1997 was now section 222. Since 1986 I had been going there and most of time when I went there I ate an ice cream sundae in a helmet, many times with Dave, and most of the time the Angels would win when I would visit this special place.
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While we were there Dave gave me the best gift of my life at the time telling me my ticket which he bought for the game was a gift and I didn’t need to pay him back (I had just been cut to part-time that year at my teaching job as our school enrollment had dropped). I gave him a bro-hug and thanked him profusely as we made our way back to our seats.
This is one of the many reasons that Dave is my best friend. Another big thing was he is my only friend who ever knew my mother. My mother treated him like a second-son and he was the first person to come after she was killed in a car accident on December 26, 1980.
We cried together that day and I knew he felt some of the pain I felt as he had lost someone who was special to him as well. Anyway, this is supposed to be a happy memory, sorry for diverging for a minute, but felt I needed to add this in.
In the 8th inning the Angels’ playoff savior came in to pitch, Francisco Rodriguez, A.K.A. K-Rod. K-Rod lived up this name striking out the side although he walked Barry Bonds in between. So now it was on to the 9th inning and history was about to be made, but it wouldn’t be easy.
Troy Percival came out of the bullpen and the crowd went crazy. Former Angel J.T. Snow led off with a single, but was forced out by Tom Goodwin for the first out. Goodwin stole second and then David Bell walked to bring the tying run to the plate in Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Percival after a long battle got Shinjo to swing and miss for out number two.
The final batter standing between the Angels and history was Kenny Lofton. At 8:19 p.m. Percival threw his 20th and final pitch of the night a 96 mile per hour fastball which Lofton lifted to deep center field. Darin Erstad clutched the ball in his glove and set off the craziest celebration I have ever been a part of. Fittingly it was with my best friend Dave along with his father Jeff and a close family friend of mine Guy Humphries (Guy was like a second father to me).
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We all hugged each other and celebrated well into the night. Our beloved Anaheim Angels as Rory Markus had stated were champions of baseball. Hoped you enjoyed a look back to 14 years ago from day. The greatest day in Angels baseball history.