As Angels fans, we have more time on our hands than usual with no baseball for the foreseeable future. Why not take a trip down memory lane and reflect on all of the postseason appearances in Angels franchise history?
Today marks the fourth part in a 10-part series documenting every Angels playoff appearance. I’ll go chronologically, going from the first playoff appearance all the way to their most recent appearance. Next up on the list is the 2002 team that put all the past demons to rest and brought the first World Series title to the franchise.
PART 1: The 1979 Season
PART 2: The 1982 Season
PART 3: The 1986 Season
After 42 years of existence, the Angels finally did it. They not only made their first World Series appearance but they won it in an epic 7-game series. The season was filled with magical moments throughout, adding to the Cinderella story that was the 2002 Angels.
Nobody expected the Angels to do what they did. They finished 75-87 in 2001, putting them 41 games back of the first-place Mariners (to be fair, Seattle won an MLB-record 116 games). Even the 2002 season started off rocky with the club starting a franchise-worst 6-14 in the first 20 games. Come playoff time, the club didn’t make it easier when they lost the first game of each series. But for anyone who witnessed the 2002 season or is reflecting on it now, this was a magical year that catapulted the Angels into relevance.
The Angels fielded superb position players across the diamond, impacting the game in multiple ways. Mike Scioscia’s small-ball mentality was evident across the roster although not quite as drastic as you may remember. From a pure offensive perspective, the group finished fourth in runs (851) and sixth in wRC+ (105). While they finished with the ninth-fewest home runs (152), they finished with the seventh-best SLG (.433) thanks to their 333 doubles that ranked third in baseball. The club was also baseball’s premier contact-hitting team, finishing first in both average (.282) and strikeouts (12.7%).
The Angels also made their presence known on the bases and in the field. By Fangraphs BaseRuns, they were the second-best baserunning team in baseball (12.5). This makes sense, given they finished fifth in stolen bases (137), had a strong 70 percent success rate and were second in bases taken (180). Defensively, they graded out as baseball’s best defensive unit by Total Zone Runs Above Average (98). The next closest team (Atlanta) finished at 77.
What’s most impressive about this group was the fact that there was no elite player but a plethora of above-average or good players. David Eckstein (4.5 fWAR) was the only player in the top 50 for position player WAR but they had 8 regulars in the top 100. Only catcher Bengie Molina (minus 0.9 WAR) didn’t produce at a league-average rate or better. Even the bench players, such as Orlando Palmeiro (1.2 WAR), Benjie Gil (0.7 WAR) and Shawn Wooten (103 wRC+) pitched in big contributions.
As a whole, the pitching staff was superb at preventing runs. While they finished with roughly average peripherals (97 FIP-), they finished with the third-best ERA- (83) in the sport. Both the rotation and the bullpen pitched in huge contributions throughout the year. The rotation tied for the fifth-best ERA- (90) while the bullpen was baseball’s second-best unit (67 ERA-).
The rotation was headed by Jarrod Washburn, who enjoyed a breakout career-best season (4.2 WAR, 71 ERA-). Veterans Kevin Appier (88 ERA-) and Ramon Ortiz (85 ERA-) were strong performers while rookie John Lackey was superb (82 ERA-) in his first 18 MLB starts. The bullpen was even better. In the regular season, the bullpen had a four-headed monster of Troy Percival, Brendan Donnely, Ben Weber, and Scott Shields. Those four pitched at least 49 innings apiece and had an ERA- of 57 or better. Adding rookie phenom Francisco Rodriguez into the fold come playoff team further bolstered an elite unit.
ALDS vs Yankees
With 97 wins, the Angels finished second in the division to the Moneyball Oakland Athletics. As a result, they had a first-round matchup against the behemoth New York Yankees. Winners of the World Series from 1998-2000 and losers in the 2001 WS, the Yankees were not only extraordinarily talented but they were experienced. The 2002 Yankees team was certifiably loaded, finishing in the top-5 in both pitching and hitting WAR.
The series kicked off in New York, where the Yankees won a dramatic and heartbreaking Game 1. Holding a 5-4 lead into the 8th inning, the Yankees staged a comeback and once again reminded Angels fans of playoff heartbreak. The club valiantly responded in Game 2, however, winning 8-6 and sending the series back to Anaheim tied. The Yankees came out firing on all cylinders in Game 3, taking an early 6-1 lead. The Angels rebounded, scoring 8 unanswered runs and taking the series lead. The Angels clinched the series in Game 4, batting around in the 5th inning and scoring 8 runs. For the first time in franchise history, the Angels won a playoff series, overtaking the juggernaut Yankees. Angels pitchers posted a horrid 6.17 ERA in the series but it didn’t matter as the offense hit an absurd .376/.406/.624.
ALCS vs Minnesota
Just like the prior series, the Angels started off on the road and took the Game 1 loss. And just like the prior series, the Angels responded by not losing the rest of the series. The Angels won close affairs in Game 2 in Minnesota and the Anaheim opener in Game 3. They then proceeded to blow the Twins out in Games 4 and 5. After a 7-1 win in Game 4, the Angels clobbered Minnesota with 13 runs scored in Game 5. Adam Kennedy clubbed three home runs en route to an ALCS MVP. In front of their home crowd, the Angels clinched their first spot in the World Series and would face off against the San Francisco Giants.
World Series vs San Francisco
The 2002 World Series boasted the two Wild Card winners for the first time in a Fall Classic. The Giants were led by Barry Bonds, baseball’s premier star, who was in the midst of the most dominant stretch in baseball history. The Giants were no slouch behind Bonds, boasting other strong players such as Jeff Kent (6.7 WAR) and Jason Schmidt (4.5 WAR). The two teams squared off quite nicely and the series results reflected that. Four of the seven games were decided by one run.
Like the previous two rounds, the Angels started off with a Game 1 loss but it took place at Angel Stadium. Barry Bonds hit a moonshot in his first World Series at-bat, the first of four home runs he would hit in the series. Game 2 was an instant classic filled with tons of runs (21), home runs (6) and drama. The Angels took a commanding 5-0 lead in the first inning, nearly lost the lead in the second, lost it in the fifth inning and took it back for good in the 8th inning. Tim Salmon, the longest-tenured Angel, had a game for the ages by reaching base in all five plate appearances and homering twice (including the game-winner).
The Angels took the opener quite handily in San Francisco by a score of 10-4. The momentum of the series changed the next two games when the Giants took a close 4-3 win in Game 4 and then crushed the Angels 16-4 in Game 5. Back in Anaheim, the Angels had little margin for error in Game 6. Naturally, the Angels were down 5-0 heading into the 7th inning, nine outs away from elimination. Heading into that inning, the Angels win expectancy sat at 4 percent.
What happened next is forever etched in Angels lore. Spiezio’s three-run home run. Erstad’s solo shot. Glaus doubling home the go-ahead run. The Angels, who were all but dead in the 7th inning, pulled off one of the wildest wins in World Series history. Game 7 was far less nerve-wracking. Garret Anderson’s bases-clearing double in the third inning gave the Angels the 4-1 lead, a score they’d hold the rest of the game. With two outs in the ninth, Kenny Lofton’s fly ball landed in the glove of Darin Erstad, which secured the first World Series title for the Angels.
- Troy Glaus took home World Series MVP honors, posting a ridiculous 1.313 OPS and slugging three home runs. Glaus had quite the stretch for the Angels, hitting 40 home runs and making the All-Star team in both 2000 and 2001 while taking home the WS MVP in 2002.
- Francisco Rodriguez was an absolute force at the age of 20. Having thrown just 5.2 MLB innings prior to the postseason, K-Rod shoved in 11 games in the playoffs. In 18.2 innings, Rodriguez had a 1.93 ERA, struck out 28 batters and walked 5.
- The 2002 World Series was not just monumental from a baseball standpoint but also from a business perspective. Current Angels owner Arte Moreno bought the team from the Walt Disney company the following April for $180 million.