Angels building postseason tradition

Angels building postseason tradition

ANAHEIM -- When the Angels wake up Tuesday morning, you'll have to excuse them for not knowing where exactly they are.

It will be their third state in two days of frenetic travel and fantastic baseball. So, is this New York, California or Illinois?

Let's just call it the state of euphoria, and leave it at that.

After the Angels beat -- beat? how about survived, by the laces of Darin Erstad's first baseman's glove? -- the New York Yankees, 5-3, in Game 5 of the American League Division Series here Monday night, champagne corks weren't the only things popping in their clubhouse.

So were the buttons on their jerseys, their chests were puffed out so much.

"We've been trying to reach a certain level, and now we're there," said Tim Mead, the Angels' vice president of communications.

When this franchise broke through in 2002 for its first World Series championship, that set a foundation. But if you do not build on a foundation, it becomes just a cold slab.

After 2004, albeit a losing Division Series appearance, and Monday night's glory, the Angels have added on to that foundation. Now it is a tradition.

"It's incredible," said manager Mike Scioscia. "To be able to beat a team like the Yankees at any point is unbelievable."

"Absolutely," agreed Adam Kennedy. "They play the game right. It took a perfect series to beat them."

Next, we're in for a perfectly entertaining AL Championship Series. Don't shoot till you see the White of their Sox? The Angels have Chicago in their crosshairs.

The teams' similar styles -- hustle for the manufactured run, amid frequent big bangs -- complement each other and should make for a very competitive and entertaining series. The teams met 10 times during the regular season, the Angels winning six, half of the games ending in one-run affairs.

By the way, has a team ever played a Championship Series game hung over?

The Angels' post-victory celebration was not extraordinary. What is unusual is a postseason agenda concentrated by Saturday's rainout of Game 4 of this Series, resulting in Game 1 of the ALCS unfolding Tuesday without a break.

"We don't play until 7 o'clock [CT]," beamed Erstad. "We'll be fine."

They were fine in this pivotal game, even after the early forced ouster of Bartolo Colon, their biggest winner and money pitcher -- both in terms of getting and giving.

"We weren't worried," said Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera. "We knew we had Ervin standing by."

Rookie Ervin Santana, Colon's emergency relief, entered to promptly surrender two runs in the top of the second, and a pall covered Angel Stadium. But the 22-year-old Dominican right-hander was just getting his feet wet -- and perhaps drying his moist palms.

Those watching him certainly were nervous. Santana himself insisted he was not. In fact, to him, the word "nervous" is a slur.

"Same question, all season," the youngster said, bristling a bit. "I don't have to be nervous, because that's why I'm here. That's just a baseball game."

Just? If he didn't realize he was facing the mighty New York Yankees in the decisive game of a playoff series, who are we to clue him in?

Santana toughened quickly enough -- and that mattered, because the aggressive, opportunistic, dashing Angels lineup would torment Mike Mussina and his defense.

The game turned quickly, with two out in the bottom of the second, when, with men on the corners, Kennedy took his patented uppercut at Mussina's first pitch to him.

We've all seen that Kennedy swing before. It's the one he used three years ago in Game 5 of the ALCS to knock down the Minnesota Twins. This time he knocked down two Yankees, as Bubba Crosby and Gary Sheffield collided where salvation meets despair, as the two runs that gave the Angels a 3-2 lead crossed the plate.

We have also heard this racket before. Nine innings on the ledge brought back the fans' voice after the relative quiet of Games 1 and 2. The crowd of 45,133, ThunderStix back in force, would've made it impossible for either outfielder to hear the other call for the ball.

"You'd have to ask them," said Bill Stoneman, the Angels' drenched general manager. "But the fans were tremendous all night. It was nice having that home-fan advantage."

The crowd's roars grew with each subsequent out, as if counting down toward the Championship Series.

These Angels won the second-most games in franchise history, and lived on top. They led the AL West for 171 of 183 days, so there was little need to play catchup in the standings. They made up for it by playing catchup on the field, developing a you-can't-keep-us-down edge with 44 comeback wins, 16 of them mounted in the late innings.

The most important of their 95 wins was the last one, when people had even stopped paying attention to them because they'd clinched the AL West days earlier.

That last-day win in Texas had pulled the Angels even with New York, and presented them with the Division Series home-field advantage.

The Yankees are a perfect 3-0 in the winner-take-all final games of five-game series at home, but now only 2-3 in those situations on the road.

So after not winning a postseason series in the first 41 years of their existence, the Angels now have won four in four years.

They had precious little time to pause in celebration of the latest.

"It will be back to business [Tuesday]," Stoneman said.

"You take what's in front of you and keep plugging away and moving on," Scioscia said.

Still, the taste of victory went down smoothly, as smoothly as that bubbly of reward.

"Whenever you get a chance to move on, it's a great opportunity," said Stoneman, the architect of that inaugural '02 championship season. "I'm not into comparing them."

"I want to congratulate the Yankees on an incredible series," Scioscia said. "We had our hands full with them. It's a terrific achievement for us right now. Hopefully, it's one rung up the ladder."

The first rung. The Yankees were wrung out. Jittery Angels fans can go back to wringing their hands Tuesday night.

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