Kennedy powers Angels to first World Series appearancePosted: Sunday October 13, 2002 8:10 PM
Updated: Monday October 14, 2002 4:30 AM
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- As players jumped around the infield and thousands of screaming fans pounded their plastic sticks together in a victorious drumbeat, the reality was sinking in.
With the help of Adam Kennedy's newfound power, Anaheim finally made it to the World Series, where no Angels' team had gone before.
And then thoughts turned to the late Gene Autry, Hollywood's singing cowboy and the team's founding owner, who wasn't there to see it.
"I know Mr. Autry's smiling up there, and I'm so happy that Jackie's here to enjoy it with us," Tim Salmon said. "To be with this organization as long as I have, and to feel the emptiness of the fans all these years, and the pain and frustration, it's like we're paving a new road here."
In the movies, Autry's horse was named Champion. Now his team is, too.
After 41 seasons of frustration, and four years after Autry's death, the Angels finally got that final out.
Halo-lujah! They did it.
Kennedy, a No. 9 hitter with little previous proclivity for power, had three home runs, four hits and five RBIs, the most heavenly game of his baseball career.
Just minutes after the Angels had squandered another postseason lead, bringing back all those painful playoff memories, Kennedy broke out the biggest Thunder Stick of all -- a 34-inch, 32-ounce Louisville Slugger.
His first homer started the comeback, his second gave Anaheim a short-lived one-run lead. And then came his third, a three-run, go-ahead drive in a 10-run seventh inning Sunday. The Angels humiliated those resilient Minnesota Twins 13-5 to win the AL Championship Series in five games.
The Angels will try on the World Series saddle for the first time Saturday when they open at home against San Francisco or St. Louis. A picture of Autry, Hollywood's "Singing Cowboy" turned-baseball owner, was hanging throughout the weekend on a banner behind home plate and no doubt will be there next weekend.
"This was a goal of Gene's all of his life in baseball, and the fact that he was not here to see it personally -- I know he's watching it from somewhere," said his widow, Jackie, who gave the AL trophy to manager Mike Scioscia in her role as honorary league president.
"His inspiration is what really drove this team," she said. "Guys like Tim Salmon and Troy Percival and the other young men on this ballclub who knew Gene Autry wanted to get it done."
Anaheim had just wasted a 3-2 lead in the sixth when Kennedy's three-run drive off Johan Santana erased a 5-3 deficit and made him just the fifth player to homer three times in a postseason game.
"Oh, man. This is tremendous," said Kennedy, the series MVP. "We worked hard the last few years to bring it all together and we finally got it done."
The Angels, who joined the major leagues in 1961, blew past the New York Yankees to win their first-round series 3-1, then humiliated the Twins in a seventh inning that saw 15 batters come to the plate against Santana, J.C. Romero, LaTroy Hawkins and Bob Wells.
Anaheim, whose playoff hopes had seemed bleak following a 6-14 start, tied postseason records with the 10-run inning and six consecutive hits -- something the Angels also did against the Yankees. The "rally monkey" never even had time to make an appearance.
"They're on a roll," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Those guys, they just keep playing. And they keep swinging. Goodness gracious, I don't know if I've ever seen an inning like that. We couldn't get anybody out. They were hitting balls through holes, over -- bullets."
Anaheim, long the second banana in Southern California to the Los Angeles Dodgers, had been one of only seven major league franchises without a pennant. No more.
"It's the biggest game of my life," said Kennedy, who has 23 regular-season homers in four major league seasons and four in this year's playoffs. "I'm going to enjoy this for a while and then get back to work."
Twice before, the Angels had been one victory from the World Series but failed to make it. They lost three straight to Milwaukee in 1982 and three in a row to Boston four years later, when they were one strike away before Dave Henderson's home run off Donnie Moore.
"Everybody is making a big deal of the 1982 and 1986 teams. We had nothing to do with that," said Scott Spiezio, who had three hits and three RBIs.
When David Eckstein caught the final out -- just as he did in the division series -- he ran over to Kennedy and tapped gloves, then danced with Salmon.
The Angels jumped on each other in a mob between first base and the mound. Fans cheered as Salmon, in his 11th Angels season and the team's senior member, ran around with the AL championship trophy. Percival joined his teammates for a lap around the field.
"I think there is some portion of relief with some of the guys that have been through the wars here," Scioscia said.
After losing Tuesday's opener at the Metrodome, the wild-card Angels won four in a row. And they did it against one of baseball's great survivors.
Anticipating their team finally would ascend to the Series, some fans showed up dressed as angels. Others held their "rally monkeys" and, fittingly, the pitcher who started the game is called "Ape" by his teammates -- Kevin Appier.
Through it all, they pounded together their ThunderStix, long red plastic batons that read "The Halos Are Back." The red-clad fans filled Edison Field, where Angels are 5-0 in the postseason, with a booming sound.
The Twins, who made the playoffs after surviving the attempt by baseball owners to fold them, had had won six straight postseason games when facing elimination, including two in the first round against Oakland.
Hoping to send the series back to the Metrodome, where they are 13-3 in postseason play in front of their Homer Hanky-waving fans, they took a 2-0 lead on David Ortiz's RBI double in the first and A.J. Pierzynski's run-scoring single in the second.
Kennedy, 1-for-10 in the first four games, started the comeback with a third-inning homer off Game 1 winner Joe Mays, and Spiezio's homer tied it leading off the fifth. One out later, Kennedy put the Angels ahead with a drive into the right-field bleachers.
Francisco Rodriguez, Anaheim's 20-year-old rookie sensation, brought back memories of past failures. He walked pinch-hitter Bobby Kielty in the sixth, forcing home the tying run, then threw a wild pitch that put Minnesota ahead and gave up Jacque Jones' sacrifice fly.
But the lead didn't last long, and Rodriguez wound up with yet another win. He's now 4-0 in this year's playoffs -- the first four victories of his major league career.
Spiezio and Bengie Molina singled off Santana, who had escaped a two-on jam in the sixth. Kennedy bunted the first pitch foul, fouled another pitch off with a swing, then smacked a hanging curveball over the wall in right-center.
Even he seemed stunned, not reacting until he rounded first base and started shouting. The only other players to homer three times in a postseason game were Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson, who did it in the World Series, and Bob Robertson and George Brett, who did in the league championships.
"I don't show too much emotion out there," Kennedy said. "When I saw the ball go over the fence, I let a little bit of adrenaline out and gave a cheer."
Anaheim then punished the Twins. Spiezio, like Kennedy, had two hits in the inning and wound up with three RBIs.
Percival closed out the ninth and already was looking ahead.
"We got one more step," he said. "We're not done."
Notes: Kennedy's only other multihomer games were July 4, 2000, against Seattle and against the Chicago White Sox on May 10 this year. The only other multihomer game of the postseason was by the Angels' Troy Glaus against the Yankees. ... The only franchises not to win pennants are Colorado, Houston, Montreal, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Texas. ... The Philadelphia Athletics scored 10 runs against the Chicago Cubs in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the 1929 World Series and Detroit scored 10 runs against St. Louis in the third inning of Game 6 of the 1968 World Series.