Groundhog Day: Giants would like 2002 World Series do-over
Title was within sight in climactic Game 6
SAN FRANCISCO -- Winning three World Series in five years has exorcised the Giants' postseason demons. Willie McCovey's line drive that ended the 1962 Fall Classic with the potential tying and winning runs aboard ... Bobby Jones' one-hitter for the Mets that stymied San Francisco in the 2000 Division Series ... or (for history buffs) infielder Freddie Lindstrom's inability to snare Earl McNeely's bad-hop grounder in the 12th inning of Game 7 that drove in the Series-clinching run for Washington in 1924. Such events can be termed more often as history and less frequently as disappointments, given the Giants' recent success.
Yet if there's one contest that continues to gnaw at the Giants -- subject to the endless review suggested by Groundhog Day, which happens to be Monday -- it's Game 6 of the 2002 World Series at Anaheim.
Leading the Series, 3-2, the Giants owned a 5-0 advantage and needed eight outs to win their first title since the franchise moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958. The Angels dashed the Giants' hopes by scoring three runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth to emerge triumphant, then winning Game 7 and the Series the next night.
Former shortstop Rich Aurilia, a key member of that 2002 team, understood the lingering frustration of that Series -- mainly among fans -- yet discussed the experience philosophically.
"I rarely think about it," Aurilia said recently. "I talk about it when I'm asked about it. I don't harbor any ill feelings about it. Of course, it would have been nice to win."
Victory appeared imminent for the Giants on that fateful night of Oct. 26, as starter Russ Ortiz took a two-hit shutout into the seventh inning. He yielded a pair of one-out singles, prompting Giants manager Dusty Baker to summon reliever Felix Rodriguez. Before Baker excused Ortiz, he gave the right-hander the ball as a souvenir of his excellent effort. Many observers believed that this gesture gave the Angels extra motivation, but as Angels shortstop David Eckstein told Giants left-hander Kirk Rueter at a baseball function years later, "Most of us didn't see it."
Scott Spiezio and Rodriguez engaged in an eight-pitch confrontation. It ended when Spiezio homered on a 3-2 delivery, shredding the Giants' cloak of invincibility.
Some believed that Baker was too quick to remove Ortiz.
"I think the only thing I would change would be to maybe leave Russ in that ballgame, to at least finish that inning," Aurilia said. "I think they had hit one ball hard off him the whole game."
Rueter pointed out that the Giants had used their bullpen in this manner all season, with Rodriguez and Tim Worrell setting up closer Robb Nen.
"I don't think I would have changed anything," Rueter said. "We had it set up the way that we wanted it. Sometimes you have to tip your cap."
Aurilia admitted that, at the moment, nobody questioned Baker's deployment of his relievers.
"They basically did the job all year long," Aurilia said. "And that's what Dusty said on the mound -- 'Hey, the guys are ready and they've done it all year long; let's get them in here.'"
Worrell got in there to open the eighth and surrendered Darin Erstad's homer and a pair of singles. Left fielder Barry Bonds' accompanying fielding error on the second single helped set up Troy Glaus' two-run double off the sore-shouldered Nen that gave the Angels their first lead of the night. It was all they needed.
"That's sports," Rueter said. "They were able to come back and put together some great at-bats and finish it off the next night."
Earlier in Game 6, the Giants broke a scoreless tie with three runs in the fifth inning, two coming on Shawon Dunston's one-out homer. One inning later, Bonds homered off Francisco Rodriguez, who had been virtually untouchable during the postseason. Even the usually impassive Jeff Kent seemed to anticipate San Francisco's seemingly impending triumph after lining a seventh-inning RBI single.
"That was one of the first few times we actually saw any emotion out of Jeff. He actually did a fist-pump coming down the line," Aurilia said.
Other Giants shared Kent's confidence.
"I would have bet a lot of money when we were up 5-0 that we were going to win the World Series," Rueter said.
"Usually for us, five runs is enough," Aurilia echoed. "But it wasn't that night."