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Like many gluttonous champions before them, the Angels discovered the spoils of victory. One minute they're anonymous clock punchers, and the next they own the key to the city and are on everybody's A-lists. But this being a team on which the mascot has the highest Q rating (that would be the Rally Monkey, who turned down a movie deal and has his own trademark), the cities that presented their keys to Anaheim players were the megalopolises of Jamestown, N.Dak.; Abilene, Texas; and Norco, Calif.—the grateful hometowns of centerfielder Darrin Erstad, pitcher John Lackey and third baseman Troy Glaus, respectively. And those red-carpet invitations? Rightfielder Tim Salmon was asked to appear at a bar mitzvah, and pitcher Jarrod Washburn got an offer to address the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association.
Here's all you need to know about the Anaheim clubhouse culture: Less than an hour after the Angels had defeated the Giants in Game 7 of the World Series in October, Erstad, unravelling tape from the broken hand he played with, said in a solemn tone, "Now comes the hard part."
A reporter asked, "What are you talking about?"
Replied Erstad, "We'll have to work twice as hard to do it again."
And so after a short winter break the team that Madison Avenue never met gathered on a February morning for its first full workout in Tempe, Ariz. Every player was in full practice uniform, seated on folding chairs in front of their lockers. It was 8:20 a.m.—10 minutes before the scheduled start of the meeting called by manager Mike Scioscia. "Usually you spend the first part of spring training getting to know guys. We don't have to go through that," Salmon said before the meeting.
Of the 565 postseason at bats taken by Anaheim last fall, the players who accounted for all but 11 of them are back. The pitchers who obtained all 420 playoff outs are back. "The only difference," Salmon says, "is we have John Lackey and Frankie Rodriguez for a whole season. That's like adding two free agents."
Rookie pitchers Lackey and Rodriguez were a combined 7-1 in the postseason. The rest of the staff was 4-4. Lackey, who was called up from the minors June 28, was 11-4 in 21 total regular-season and postseason starts, including the first Game 7 World Series win by a rookie in 93 years. Only six years ago he was playing first base for Grayson County College in Denison, Texas.
Called up on Sept. 15, Rodriguez pitched only 5? innings before the season ended, but it was enough to convince the Angels to employ a loophole in eligibility rules to get him on their playoff roster. Anaheim was 10-1 in the postseason when he pitched, 1-4 when he didn't. Including his regular-season cameo, Rodriguez obtained 41 of his 73 outs (56%) by strikeout. This year the Angels intend to use him as the Yankees initially used a young Mariano Rivera, eating up the seventh and eighth innings to set up the closer.
The spontaneous combustion of Rodriguez and the Eddie Haskell-style mischief of angel-faced shortstop David Eckstein contributed to Anaheim's misleading Little Team That Could image. "It wasn't incredible," Scioscia said of Anaheim's season. "We were a good team. I thought we were a good team that played well, a championship-caliber team, and we proved it."
Not only is that team intact, but the Angels also remain stocked with players in their prime. Besides Salmon, 34, the other eight every-day players are 30 and younger. Only Kevin Appier, 35, has mileage issues in the rotation.