All I have to ask those of you who prefer football to baseball because nothing happens in baseball, or it's boring, or there's not enough scoring, is this: When was the last time a football playoff game had a score of 77-70?
I don't mean to knock football, but that's what the score of a game would have to be before it equaled Sunday's 11-10 win by the Anaheim Angels over the San Francisco Giants in Game 2 of the World Series in Anaheim, which tied the Series at a game apiece. Game 3 is Tuesday in San Francisco.
The equally entertaining Angels and Giants are so evenly matched that the only possible upset in this World Series would be a dull game. Eighteen innings in, they don't appear to be capable of playing one.
The Giants won a tense pitcher's duel in the opener Saturday, 4-3, behind Jason Schmidt and their usual trio of relievers, Felix Rodriguez, Tim Worrell and Robb Nen. All of the games' runs except one were scored on homers. Troy Glaus hit a pair of solo shots for the Halos. Barry Bonds hit one for the Giants to start the scoring that elicited a reaction from hitting coach Gene Clines that was caught by the Fox cameras: "Oh! My God!" But the key to the game -- just as it will be the key to the Series -- was that the Giants got big hits from the guys who hit behind Bonds.
Reggie Sanders, who in nine playoff games had hit .147 with one run batted in, homered after Bonds in the second inning. And J.T. Snow, whose modest .282 average, one homer and five RBIs in 10 playoff games represented a vast improvement over his regular season output, hit a two-run homer that gave the Giants a three-run lead in the sixth. The Angels got those two runs back in the bottom half but could do no more.
The guys following Bonds in the order -- Benito Santiago, Sanders, Snow and David Bell -- are so important because Bonds, great as he is, rarely gets a chance to drive runners in. Any time he can do damage, he gets pitched around. The strategy is sound if you can then get the guys behind him out, which is not an unrealistic expectation for a major-league pitcher. With Santiago et al., we're not exactly talking about Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri, the boys who followed Babe Ruth in the 1920s. If you can't get them out, you tip your hat to them, as baseball players say. At least you didn't get beat by the one guy who ought to be able to beat you.
Those other guys, Sanders excepted, have been hitting enough this postseason to get the Giants this far. Santiago was the Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Snow went 6-for-19 in the Division Series win over the Atlanta Braves and had a game-tying hit in the NLCS. Bell hit .412 against St. Louis.
They hit some more in Game 2, but then, everybody did. The After Barry Four (I think they should form a singing group and take it on the road -- maybe we could stop hearing about Scott Spiezio's band, Sand Frog) went 7-for-17 Sunday with five runs scored and seven driven in, and oh lordy it wasn't nearly enough! The only thing more plentiful than runs at Edison Field Sunday were those infernal Thunder Stix, which not only make an ugly noise but also make the fans holding them look like idiots.
Oh yeah, there were also a lot of stars in the crowd, including a bunch of Los Angeles Lakers. Anaheim has evidently become the place to be seen, and I never thought I'd type those words. Unmentioned in all the talk about the Angels' great, rabid fans, with their red shirts and their rally monkeys and their noisemakers and their enthusiasm, is that a mere month ago, they were leaving 10,000 seats a night unfilled for pennant-race games against the Oakland A's.
But anyway, Game 2 was for all you folks who didn't get a kick out of the good pitching in Game 1. Giants starter Russ Ortiz got drilled for five runs in the first. Not to be outdone, Kevin Appier of the Angels got smacked for four in the second, on homers by Sanders and Bell. They went at it that way all night. The Angels got three more in the second. The Giants got another in the third when Jeff Kent, their second-best hitter, who has been mostly absent from the offensive festivities for about seven weeks, hit one out.
And so on. The Giants pulled ahead, the Angels pulled even. Just when you were getting into the rhythm of all the scoring and settling in for a game that really would end up 77-70, each team produced a fine relief performance. Chad Zerbe of the Giants turned in a sturdy four innings, giving up two runs, one earned, and stanching the flow of runs that Ortiz had opened, allowing his club to take the lead in the middle innings.
But the pitching star of the night was the pitching star of the month, Francisco Rodriguez, the Angels' rookie phenom, who pitched three innings that were perfect, but for which the word "perfect" is damning with faint praise. He was scintillating. Sensational. Boffo. He struck out four of the nine men he faced, and the other five must have felt like heroes for even making contact against his blazing fastball and inhuman slider.
Rodriguez picked up his fifth win of the postseason, neatly matching the number of regular-season games in which he has appeared. He's never won one. He's 20. It's a fad among baseball wise guys to guess at the "real" age of Latin players in the wake of revelations that several of them are older than they'd always said they were. It goes without saying among this crowd that Rodriguez, who is from Caracas, must be older than 20. OK, let's say he's 22. Let's say he's 28. Pick an age. The guy's electric. Whatever he does from here on in, he's already etched at least a little place in history. If he develops into something special, this World Series will be remembered as his coming-out party. If he fizzles, we'll look back at this Series and remember his brief, shining moment.
But the Angels' newest star wouldn't have gotten the win without two home runs from their oldest, Tim Salmon, whose second was the game-winner, a two-run blast off Felix Rodriguez in the eighth inning. Salmon, who has suffered through 10 seasons in Anaheim before this year, became the first player in World Series history to hit two home runs while getting four hits in a game. There were several weird little records like that. No Angel struck out, for example, the first time that's happened since the Bill Mazeroski game, the finale of the 1960 Series, in which nobody for either team struck out, a fact nobody remembers partly because it was overshadowed by Mazeroski's home run and partly because, well, who gives a damn?
Salmon's homer was the game winner, but it wasn't the last. In the top of the ninth, Angels closer Troy Percival faced Bonds with two outs and nobody on. With a two-run lead, Percival, a fireballer, could afford to challenge Bonds. He did, and Bonds hit a home run that, judging by the TV pictures, has yet to come down as you read this.
In a great bit of camera work, the first-base camera zoomed from Bonds at the plate, finishing his swing, over to the third-base dugout, where Salmon, removed from the game for defensive purposes, leaned on the rail and watched. "My God," the camera caught him saying, in an echo of Clines' religious outburst of the night before, "that's the farthest ball I've ever seen." He said it twice, looking dumbstruck. Even for those playing in it, this is a hell of a Series to watch so far.
The current Sports Illustrated cover trumpets "Football Fever!" while almost totally ignoring the World Series. And, putting aside the question of whether this would be the case if the Fall Classic were being broadcast on an AOL Time Warner property, that's fine. Football's our national game these days, after all. But if you're missing this Series because you're too busy calculating the effect of that Oklahoma-Iowa State rout on the BCS standings, I'd suggest your problem is more serious than a fever.