Team effort gives Angels hope

Team effort gives Angels hope

ANAHEIM -- Never mind Los Angeles and Anaheim. Any more of this, Santa Barbara and even Barcelona will want to claim the Angels.

A night after being laid-back, the Angels and their fans both lashed back Wednesday night to even this Division Series with the Yankees at a game apiece.

On opening night for the National Hockey League, the Angels could've been iced. Instead, they came, they thawed, they conquered.

Big, this win to knot the Series, instead of their stomachs?

"Absolutely," Adam Kennedy said. "You don't want to go to New York down two-nothing. You do that in a five-game set, you're looking for trouble."

And for some, New York is a good place to find it -- even if you don't play baseball.

After this 5-3 special, the Angels don't have to be concerned with stepping into Yankee Stadium with one foot in the baseball grave.

That was the final score, of course, but the numbers also represent the two biggest plays that drew the two biggest roars from 45,150 who clearly appreciate the subtleties of the game.

In the fifth inning, with two out, one run in and New York already leading 2-0, third baseman Chone Figgins dove and extended his body beyond its 5-foot-8 limits to backhand Hideki Matsui's laser and throw him out -- with the scooping help of Darin Erstad.

For good measure, Figgins and Erstad re-created the play on Alex Rodriguez for the game's final out.

"Really good plays, on both ends," Kennedy said. "It's nice to know Ersty is at first to pick up those balls."

The significance of this win for the Angels goes far beyond merely knotting the 2005 Division Series. Swept in this exercise last year and similarly brushed aside in Tuesday night's opener, the Angels had to kick back some sand.

And they did, by faithfully playing the type of opportunistic ball that has been their trademark for years.

Low pitches and low pitch-counts. That's the lowdown on Chien-Ming Wang. He got 20 outs, 14 of them on the ground.

Three of the Angels' runs were unearned because of errors on Wang's specialty.

"He was getting ground ball after ground ball," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "He was just pounding that heavy sinker."

Wang must've thrown his heaviest ball to start off the seventh, because Juan Rivera beat it so much into the ground, shortstop Derek Jeter didn't know whether he was fielding a popup or a grounder. Rivera belly-flopped across the bag, safe.

A couple of sacrifice bunts, one of them drawing an errant throw, another two-out hit (by Orlando Cabrera) in a season full of them, and the Angels led a postseason game for the first time since the final out of the 2002 World Series.

"Even the bunts were chopped way in the air," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "They are usually going to hit the ball in the ground [against Wang] and you're going to have to live with the consequences."

The Angels came alive with them.

"We know we can win at their stadium, and there's no doubt," said Bengie Molina, who drove in the sixth-inning tying and eighth-inning insurance runs.

All this took place in front of the leader of millions of people in this state, whose image on the Angel Stadium video board elicited loud roars. By the way, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was also on hand.

But, of course, we're referring to the Rally Monkey, who cheated by making a premature appearance in the sixth inning. Nevertheless, the Yankees did not play the game under protest.

Much has been made here about the Angels appearing in their third postseason in four years, but, until they finally won a game, it was a hollow boast.

Atlanta understands. It has a considerably longer streak of Octobers, but when you keep losing them, the only legacy you are nurturing is dark.

There was a time the Angels mimicked the Yankees only in recycling managers. From 1969 through 1999, they went through 17 of them. If you catered managerial introductory press conferences in Anaheim, you got rich.

Now the Angels have begun to mirror more impressive aspects of the Bombers' tradition. The three playoffs in four seasons are as many as they had in their first 41 seasons combined, and Scioscia is finishing up his sixth year on the job.

It is the longest tenure for an Angels manager since the original, Bill Rigney, lasted 39 games into his ninth season.

And if you want to compare rings, that end-all piece of jewelry, the current Angels are better rigged than the Yankees. A dozen Angels have earned their rings; by comparison, 10 Yankees have rings -- and that includes five who won them elsewhere.

Orlando Cabrera is an old hand at this. Before he put on Angels Red, he wore Boston Red, and hit .379 with five RBIs in the Red Sox's triumph over the Yankees in last year's AL Championship Series.

"You can easily see why he had some a big impact in Boston," noted Scot Shields, the first of three relievers used by Scioscia to hold, then vanquish, the Yankees.

It was another night of magic in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom, where the Angels' next game is guaranteed to also be against the Yankees.

The question is, will it be Sunday, when a 2-2 Division Series would return here for resolution? Or next April 7, in the 2006 season opener?

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.