Kennedy lofted that Santana pitch into the rightfield seats, putting the Angels ahead 6-5. His third home run of the day—he had only two daytime homers in his career until Sunday—placed him alongside Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, George Brett and Bob Robertson as the only players to hit three homers in a postseason game. Now it was time for the jugs.
"The hardest thing to do in baseball," Mientkiewicz said, "is to get [a rally] started again, after a guy hits the big home run to put your team ahead. As a hitter, you have to refocus when everybody is celebrating. I don't think people realize how hard that is to do. David Eckstein was the best guy to have up in that situation."
Eckstein, who is generously listed as 5'8", has the rosy face of a cherub and still calls his father, Whitey, every night. The 27-year-old Eckstein signed with Anaheim after the Boston Red Sox released him from Triple A Pawtucket in 2000. He became the Angels' starting shortstop the next season, wowing purists with his mastery of fundamentals and an old-school hitting style in which he slaps the ball while choking up two inches on his 31-ounce bat.
"My son is amazing," says Whitey, one of 13 family members whom David flew in from Florida for the LCS. "He was never the best player on any team he ever played on, but for some reason he wound up winning. There is no substitute for heart. You know, somebody asked me what was the worst thing David did growing up. He was the perfect child. He never caused any trouble."
Eckstein has since carved out a career as a troublemaker. After Kennedy's homer, Eckstein scratched out a two-strike infield single. The Angels would add six more singles, a walk and a bases-loaded hit by pitch. One of those hits was by DH Shawn Wooten, whom Anaheim signed from Moose Jaw, an independent team, in 1997.
Righthanded relievers Weber and Brendan Donnelly are also independent-league refugees. Weber, 32, was ready to quit baseball and enroll in chiropractic school after playing for the Salinas Peppers in 1996, but he received an offer to pitch in Taipei. Fie spent two seasons there before signing with the San Francisco Giants, who released him in 2000, whereupon the Angels picked him up. Having once supplemented his minor league income with a $4.50 hourly wage on an off-season assembly line (Weber says the work was so boring that he can't recall what he assembled), he was beside himself on Sunday: "Fm going to the World Series! Any guy in an independent league can look at me and say, 'If he can do it, I can do it.' "
Donnelly, 31, toiled for two independent teams ( Nashua and Ohio Valley), as well as seven other organizations (not including his off-season gigs digging ditches and exterminating pests) until he rather mysteriously added velocity to his slider and fastball, and made the Anaheim roster last season. The best bullpen in the AL (2.98 ERA) grew more ferocious in the postseason with the emergence of 20-year-old prodigy Francisco Rodriguez, who has already tied an American League single-season record with four postseason victories, this despite never winning a regular-season game.
Until Sunday the Angels' franchise had been 0-6 in games that would have put the team into the World Series. That changed when the final out, a pop-up, alighted poetically in the two-handed grasp of Eckstein. Then it became hard to tell one end of Katella Avenue from the other. Was this Edison Field or Cinderella's castle?
A celebration 41 years in the making ensued in the home clubhouse. As it began to wind down, Eckstein suddenly remembered something. He reached into a wooden lockbox atop his locker—he had to stand on a chair to do so—and pulled out a baseball. He pressed it into the hand of his father. "Here," David said. "It's the last out. It's yours."
Whitey took the baseball and stuffed it into the left pocket of his beige jacket. He didn't say a word. He simply smiled. All around him the Angels hugged one another in a clubhouse wet and sweet from champagne. It was the happiest place on earth.