Saturday, October 28, 2006

Los Angeles Angels of St. Louis Spark World Series Victory

In January 2005, Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno renamed the franchise the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The cumbersome name drew widespread mockery from sports fans. Today a geographical adjustment would make the name completely appropriate. The Cardinals are the World Series champions, thanks to the Los Angeles Angels of St. Louis.

Friday night at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals defeated the Detroit Tigers 4-2 to capture the Fall Classic in five games. Shortstop David Eckstein, previously of the Angels, was named World Series MVP. Known for his boundless energy, the 5’7” Eckstein’s position is only half-correct. He is short, but he never stops. Eckstein now has two World Series rings, despite looking young enough to receive creepy emails from Mark Foley.

Game 5’s winning pitcher also came to St. Louis from Anaheim. Jeff Weaver pitched eight strong innings as part of an unlikely stellar postseason. Weaver was basically dumped by the Angels in July after going 3-10 with a 6.29 ERA to start the season. His spot in the Los Angeles rotation was taken by brother Jered, who enjoyed an excellent rookie campaign. Overshadowed by a star younger sibling, Jeff was the Johnny Drama of the Angels. On Friday night, however, he got to raise his arm and yell “Victory!” Fortunately, major league rules prohibited him from taking the mound in Viking Quest attire.

The turning point of the series came in game 3, after Detroit had tied the series at one game apiece. The first two runs of the Cardinals’ 5-0 triumph were driven in by outfielder Jim Edmonds, who was acquired from the Angels in 2000. In addition to his prowess at the plate, Edmonds is renowned for his outstanding play in centerfield. His highlight reel catches are particularly amazing to NFL coach Dennis Green, who rarely sees Cardinals playing great defense.

Angels general manager Bill Stoneman contributed to Anaheim’s 2002 World Series championship team. Since then, despite signing free agents such as Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo Col√≥n, he has often been criticized for being overly conservative in pulling the trigger on deals. However, Stoneman’s detractors were proven wrong by Friday’s celebration in St. Louis. He had accomplished what they said he couldn’t do: help build another World Series winner.

Scott Spiezio did not come directly from Anaheim to the Cardinals, having played for the Seattle Mariners in 2004 and 2005. However, he was a teammate of Eckstein on the Angels’ championship team. His heroics versus the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series brought back memories of his series-turning home run in Game 6 of the 2002 Fall Classic. In honor of his efforts, the Budweiser Clydesdales are now wearing red soul patches.

The Angels’ influence on the Cardinals is also seen in less obvious ways. Catcher Jose Molina has played in Anaheim for many years, as brother Bengie did before joining the Toronto Blue Jays this season. At some point it became trendy for major league clubs to have a catcher named Molina. Therefore, St. Louis eagerly drafted Yadier Molina, whose ninth inning home run won game 7 of the NLCS. Less successful were the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who failed to agree to terms with actor Alfred Molina.

The Cardinals’ triumph is not the first championship aided by an Anaheim-to-St. Louis pipeline. The Rams captured Super Bowl XXXIV in their fifth season since departing southern California. That dramatic victory inspired part of manager Tony La Russa’s strategy on Friday. If there had been a play at the plate in the top of the ninth inning, Mike Jones was ready to tackle the Detroit runner just short of home plate.

The Angels helped to make Busch Stadium a heavenly place on Friday. Although he was not needed, one other member of the Halos was available to help the home team. St. Louis did not trail after taking the lead in the fourth inning. But the Rally Monkey was ready for action, dressed in Cardinal red.