In 2002, no one expected the Angels to come back.
It was the seventh inning of Game Six of the 2002 World Series and the San Francisco Giants had champagne on ice, leading 5-0 and 3-2 in the series.
Up to the plate stepped Scott Spiezio, a lifetime .255 hitter. Sporting his trademark soul patch and the same can’t-lose attitude that has made him a postseason legend, Spiezio locked in and knocked a Felix Rodriguez pitch into the right field stands to narrow the margin to 5-3.
The Angels would go on to win Game Six and then the World Series in Game Seven, their first and only title in franchise history. And it all came down to that one moment.
Though the remainder of the 2012 regular season provides the Angels with a bit more time for heroics, gutsiness a la Speizio may be needed to vault them past either the Yankees, Orioles or Athletics for one of two Wild Card spots.
7.5 games back of the Rangers with 15 games to play, winning the AL West is all but impossible. The Tigers recent woes have taken them out of the Wild Card race and into a dogfight with the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central title and the Tampa Bay Rays are now gasping for air after losing five of six against the Yankees and Orioles last week.
Now the AL Wild Card picture figures to be an odd-man-out three-team battle between the A’s, who are comfortably into the first Wild Card slot, the second-place finisher in the AL East and the Angels.
In Anaheim, the last mile of the season-long marathon will prove to be difficult. 9 of their remaining 15 games will be against division leaders (White Sox and Rangers) and the remaining six are face-offs with the Seattle Mariners, a team that is far better than many expected at 70-77.
The M’s have relied on solid pitching to compensate for an offense that fares no better than 29th in the MLB in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and now look forward to an opportunity to spoil any postseason plans the Angels may have.
In order to avoid a possible media circus this offseason, heart is a must down the stretch for the MLB’s third most highly-paid team at $154,940,524.
With the second-best batting average in the MLB, one would think the playoffs would be a foregone conclusion, but for the latter part of the second half hitting hasn’t been an issue.
Instead, bullpen pitching has acted as their Achilles heel. In a ten game road-trip in early August that made a tremendous comeback even necessary for the Angels, the team’s bullpen ERA was an atrocious 10.54.
Numbers aside, the “clutch” factor has at times been absent. Last Sunday, the Angels had an opportunity to at least draw a tie with the A’s in a crucial four game set, trailing 6-5 with runners on first and third with no one out in the ninth.
Needing a mere sac fly to tie the game, the Angels buckled. Kendrys Morales struck out and Howie Kendrick grounded into a game-ending double play.
While that is probably the most dramatic example of failing to deliver the Angels have had all season, it should serve as a reminder of what not to do in the coming two weeks.
They have the offense, they have the pitching, now it’s just a matter of clutching up as the season draws to a close.
Besides, growing a soul patch never hurt anyone, did it?