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Closer Look

Spiezio's seventh-inning at-bat sparks Angels' comeback

Posted: Sunday October 27, 2002 1:04 AM
Updated: Sunday October 27, 2002 4:12 AM
  Scott Spiezio is 11-for-15 with runners in scoring position in the World Series. AP

By John Donovan, CNNSI.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A good at-bat can be a beautiful thing. Not just the final swing. Not just the homer flying over the wall or the swinging strikeout. The whole at-bat.

The mind games between the pitcher and batter. The war of wills. Getting ahead. Getting behind. Staying alive.

Saturday night, in one of the most thrilling World Series comebacks in history, first baseman Scott Spiezio of the Anaheim Angels and reliever Felix Rodriguez of the San Francisco Giants met in the seventh inning and hooked up for a memorable Fall Classic duel.

It was an at-bat that could have changed the direction of this World Series. It certainly changed the direction of the game.

"It was a great at-bat," said Spiezio's teammate, shortstop David Eckstein.

The Angels have a reputation for fighting, for staying in games by any means possible until they can find some way to win. In Game 6 of the Series, down three games to two, the Angels were behind 5-0 going into the bottom of the seventh. They were, in effect, nine outs away from losing the Series.

Giants starter Russ Ortiz had cruised through six innings, giving up only an infield hit, and he started the seventh by getting Garret Anderson to ground out.

But Ortiz gave up back-to-back singles to Tim Salmon and Brad Fullmer, putting men at first and second with one out. Manager Dusty Baker had seen enough. After Fullmer's hit, on Ortiz's 98th pitch, he called for Rodriguez.

And up stepped Spiezio.

"Rodriguez has been tough on me this whole Series," Spiezio said. "He's been in every game. Seems like I've faced him every time he's come in. I haven't hit one on the barrel yet."

Rodriguez had been in all five games of the Series, giving up three hits in 5 1/3 innings with a 3.38 ERA. He had faced Spiezio twice. Spiezio had flied out both times.

So Saturday, Rodriguez came in and fired a first-pitch fastball that missed, immediately putting him behind in the count. Advantage, Spiezio.

Rodriguez came in with the next pitch and the next and the next. Spiezio fouled off all of them. He found himself behind 1-2 and, suddenly, he was just trying to stay alive.

"It seemed like he was seeing the ball well," said Joe Maddon, the Angels' bench coach. "He was taking the balls and swinging at the strikes."

Easier said than done, of course. But that is what the Angels do better than anybody -- stay alive at the plate. They will foul away two-strike pitches all night, waiting for that next good pitch to hit.

"You have to win by TKO every once in a while," Maddon says, "not the KO."

Rodriguez missed with the next pitch, too, making the count 2-2, before Spiezio fouled off yet another offering.

"He was trying to ride the ladder on him," Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said. "But [Spiezio] was getting some swings in on him."

Rodriguez's next pitch missed, too, making the count 3-2 and setting up the eighth pitch of the at-bat.

"I kept fouling balls off that at-bat," Spiezio said. "I kept telling myself that I was right on it, just keep looking for a pitch to hit."

It was coming.

On the eighth pitch, the left-handed hitting Spiezio turned on an inside fastball and drove the pitch deep into right field at Edison Field. Giants right fielder Reggie Sanders drifted back. It looked for a while he'd have a play on it.

But the ball kept carrying and carrying until it landed, finally, a couple of rows back for a three-run home run.

The Angels added three more in the eighth on a home run by Darin Erstad and a two-run double by Troy Glaus to win 6-5, completing the biggest comeback in World Series history by a team facing elimination.

"I finally got one that was in my zone. I finally got the head on it. Just enough of it to get it out," Spiezio said.

"It was," Maddon said, "a beautiful thing."


 
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