There have been few moments in my life that I can remember with pure joy, but one of them happens to be the 2002 World Series. I have been a Los Angeles Angels fan since childhood. Prior to 2002, the team had blown multiple opportunities for postseason glory, which caused me to expect the worst of the club every year.
In my lifetime, I saw the Angels fall apart in both the 1982 and 1986 postseasons. I'll never forget Dave Henderson breaking my heart with his home run off of Angels closer Donnie Moore in the 1986 American League Championship Series. Nine years later, the Angels threw away an 11-game lead in the season's final two months. That team was then eliminated by the Seattle Mariners in a one-game playoff.
The Angels fielded multiple teams throughout the rest of the 1990s that were contenders on paper, but it wasn't until 2002 that they finally pulled it together. The club overcame a 6-14 start to the season to earn the American League's wild-card spot. Then the Angels beat the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins to reach the World Series. It was a dream come true.
I was stationed in Italy at the time, which meant that I had to get up each night at 1 a.m. to watch the games, but it was worth it. The Angels and the San Francisco Giants battled it out through seven intense games, and I watched every minute of it.
The Giants were led by the most-feared hitter in baseball, Barry Bonds. During the 2001 and 2002 seasons, opposing teams made it a habit to pitch around him because of his home-run power. That didn't change in the World Series. The Halos pitched around him whenever they could, but that didn't stop Bonds from making an impact. Bonds hit the Series' first home run in the second inning of Game 1 and drove in three runs during Game 2. Overall, Bonds hit .471 with four home runs, but it wasn't enough to beat the Angels.
The Halos had no real superstars at the time. They were a team built around a core of good contact hitters and aggressive base runners, which constantly put pressure on opposing pitchers. And that's exactly what they did against the Giants.
There's no greater example of this than Game 6. The Giants were leading the best-of-seven series 3-2 and would have won the title with a victory. When San Francisco took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning, I thought that it was all over. However, the Angels had done an outstanding job working over the Giants' pitchers in the first five games, and their efforts paid off in that inning.
San Francisco manager Dusty Baker sent tiring starting pitcher Russ Ortiz out to face the Angels in the bottom of the seventh. Ortiz got the first out, but then he allowed back-to-back singles to Troy Glaus and Brad Fullmer. Baker took Ortiz out of the game and brought in Felix Rodriguez. This was a problem because Baker had already used him too much in the Series. The Angels' Scott Spezio immediately hit a three-run home run off of Rodriguez, and the comeback was on. The Halos would go on to win the game 6-5.
At that point, I knew the Angels were going to win the World Series. You could see it in how the Giants' players reacted to Game 6. It was as if the Angels were a team of destiny, and no one was going to beat them. The next day, I woke up at 1 a.m. one last time and watched the Angels finish off the Giants 4-1 to win their first World Series.
It meant everything to me as a Halos fan to see the team celebrate in the middle of the field. I went to work that morning with a smile on my face that sleep deprivation couldn't take from me. I'll never forget that moment, and that's why the 2002 World Series is my favorite Fall Classic.
Derek Ciapala has been following the Angels since childhood. He has been published on Yahoo! Sports, GatewayMMA.com and multiple other websites. You can check him out on Facebook or Twitter @dciapala.
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- 2002 World Series