Once in a while, you need a World Series game that is so dazzlingly ridiculous, so thrillingly excessive -- and yet so important -- that you don't know whether to laugh, cheer or just hold your breath, hour after hour, for the last stunning act.
The desperate Angels, facing the prospect of losing the first two games of this series on their home turf, and the mauling sluggers of the Giants put on one of those baseball-as-church-picnic-softball contests Sunday night that brings tears of both amazement and amusement to your eyes.
The Angels scored five runs in their very first at bat, something that hadn't been done since the Orioles in 1979. Yet, by the game's midpoint, the Giants had stunned the American League champs with three home runs and 11 hits to take a 9-7 lead.
However, in the end, Tim Salmon's second home run of the night, a two-run blast off Felix Rodriguez, broke a 9-9 tie and gave the Angels the most heavenly of 11-10 victories. The omnipresent rally monkey, as well as 20-year-old rookie phenom Francisco Rodriguez, who pitched three perfect relief innings for the win, had their way. Among them, they succeeded in saving this World Series. For if the Angels had lost this game, considering the humiliating manner in which they'd blown a huge early lead at home, the odds are long indeed that they would have come back to challenge the Giants in this Series.
Instead, the battle lines are well and surely drawn. Seldom have the first two games of the World Series been so closely matched. And seldom has a thrilling October war had a more fitting final star. Salmon entered this postseason having played 1,388 games without ever reaching the playoffs -- the longest streak of futility in the majors. Such is the fate of many an Angel, laboring for a franchise that had not reached a Series since its birth in 1961.
Salmon's long blow left the Giants' Barry Bonds climbing the left field fence, then staring in vain at the 19th and 20th runs of a ludicrously wonderful night. Just to give this game the final fabulous note of excess, Bonds demolished a 420-foot home run halfway up the right field bleachers off Troy Percival with two outs in the ninth. It was too little too late in a night that was much too much from beginning to end.
"That was one of the best games I've ever been in, even though we came out on the short end . . . a tremendous game," Giants Manager Dusty Baker said. "This is what the World Series is all about."
"This game may have been entertaining to watch on TV," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "But it wasn't always entertaining to be in."
The game's starters, San Francisco's Russ Ortiz and Anaheim's Kevin Appier, amassed one of the worst combined pitching lines in the history of organized baseball. They weren't around long, but their deeds won't soon be forgotten. Together, they got out 11 batters, while allowing 14 hits, including four home runs, two walks, a dozen runs and a stand-up steal of home plate. The combined slugging average off them was 1.120.
When pitching coaches Bud Black and Dave Righetti visited the mound -- they did so quite often -- all they could ask was, "You sure you don't want that blindfold?"
Ortiz at least had the right to wonder, "What hit me?" He gave up five runs in the first and only one ball was a rocket. In that frame, he watched an opposite-field slap hit, a bloop hit, a shattered-bat single, a seeing-eye grounder for a hit, a liner that eluded an outfielder by inches and a double steal on which his catcher should never have bothered to throw to second base.
By the time David Eckstein beat out a bunt to start the second inning, Ortiz must have wanted to scream, "Will somebody please hit the ball hard." So, Salmon did, with a two-run homer. Two batters later, Troy Glaus barely missed what would have been a postseason-record seventh home run. Instead, his double nearly put a hole in the center field fence.
Appier, hard as it is to fathom, was worse. Almost every pitch that was hit off him left a vapor trail in its wake, including some of the outs. After Bonds walked and J.T. Snow singled in the second inning, Reggie Sanders and David Bell became the 13th players in Series history to hit back-to-back home runs. How quickly a 5-0 lead became 5-4 and the huge crowd fell silent. What is the sound of one ThunderStix clapping?
No sooner did the Angels boost their lead back to 7-4 than Appier put a hanging slider on a tee for Jeff Kent, who deposited it into the left field bleachers. After a walk to Bonds, Appier left.
In perhaps the most desperately important game in Angels history, Appier had been given seven runs of support in two Angels at-bats. And he couldn't hold it. Almost as bad, he forced Scioscia to use his Game 4 starter, John Lackey, in long relief. Can't lose the first two at home, boys. Gotta stop the bleeding.
Here is everything you need to know about Southern California fans. They cheered politely for Appier. Not a boo in the house. That is, no doubt, very nice. Any number of Disney characters from Minnie Mouse to Pluto would probably approve. It is also profoundly wrong. However, like global warming, there's probably not much that can be done about it.
To make matters worse, after throwing 32 pitches, Lackey got into a jam in the fifth and Scioscia gave him the hook. Maybe the Angels skipper wanted to bring him back semi-fresh to start Game 4. Maybe he just trusted journeyman reliever Ben Weber, the career minor leaguer with the herky-jerky windup and the menacing expression, but the decision blew up in Scioscia's face. Snow yanked a two-run single to tie the game at 7. Then Bell and Shawon Dunston drove home runs with singles for a 9-7 lead.
Baseball has seen very few Series contests like this since the legendary 10-9 Pirates win over the Yankees in Game 7 of the '60 World Series -- a contest that's on a short list of Greatest Baseball Moments. Fans love a slugfest, managerial mayhem and foiled strategy. The regular season provides plenty, but the Series, with its star teams and off days, ensure that only the best pitchers take the mound. So we seldom have a monster mess of a game like this with a 9-8 score before the sixth inning ends.
In recent Series memory, there have been two games with comparable thrilling silliness. Just five years ago on a frozen night in Cleveland, the Marlins scored seven runs in the top of the ninth only to watch the Indians score four in the bottom -- 11 runs in one inning -- as the eventual world champion Marlins won, 14-11. That epic of errors took only 252 minutes.
However, that couldn't compare with the highest-scoring game in Series history: the Blue Jays' 15-14 win over the Phillies in 1993. Toronto needed six runs in the eighth to break Philadelphia's heart.