Spiezio's HR left mark on Halos history
Fans recall infielder's three-run blast in 2002 World Series
Barry Bonds watched as the ball sailed over the wall opposite his post at left field, stunned. A barbarian of the batter's box for 17 seasons, Bonds was accustomed to the frenzy elicited by towering blasts into the bleachers.
But on this October night, five years before eclipsing Hank Aaron's coveted home run record, the future Hall of Famer watched as another man -- Angels first baseman Scott Spiezio, a man whose own admission to Cooperstown is subject only to an adult ticket purchase worth $14.50; not the scrutiny of baseball writers -- ignited a swell of emotion with a timely blast that would register aftershocks long after he completed his customary trot around the base paths toward home plate.
This home run, fueled by desperate angst and a rage unbefitting his team's moniker, infused the American League champion Angels with hope. His team barely clinging to contention, facing a 3-2 series deficit and trailing 5-0 in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, Spiezio recorded the most indelible swing in the organization's history.
For all the dread Bonds has evoked from opposing pitchers, all the personal triumph he amassed at their expense, he has never attained what Spiezio's singular swat had just secured -- a World Series title.
It all started with a premature exchange.
Eight outs from elimination, eight outs before being forced into a cruel winter of unwanted contemplation about what could have been, Spiezio stood in the on-deck circle at Edison Field -- brooding.
The would-be redeemer watched as San Francisco manager Dusty Baker and pitcher Russ Ortiz stood at the center of the diamond. More than the standard, "It's time to pack it up, get going, son," routine, this conference was oddly congratulatory. After 6 1/3 scoreless innings, Baker decided to relieve Ortiz of duty. But the parting gift Baker offered -- the game ball -- or rather, the implied logic behind the offering, is what reared Spiezio's fury.
He thought it curious that the game ball would be offered when the game was not yet finished. Unless of course, the game was already won in the mind of one misinformed manager. As the wad of red-seamed leather shifted from manager to player, so too did the momentum of the series.
Less than enthused by the gesture, Spiezio stepped to the plate, a heightened sense of purpose in his stride. The Angel had seen enough. It was time to go to work.
"Spiezio hits one to deep right field. Back is [Reggie] Sanders at the wall. Home run! 5-3 in the seventh!" Fox Sports commentator Joe Buck exclaimed, his audible excitement from the booth a far cry from the pandemonium swirling about in the stands.
Don't uncork the champagne just yet.
Spiezio ended an eight-pitch duel with reliever Felix Rodriguez, Ortiz's replacement, with a defiant swing -- a declaration of promise that strapped the hopes of an entire city to his back.
"It was like slow motion," Spiezio said. "Everybody was on the edge of their seats, going, 'Get out, get out.' I was talking to it. I'm sure the whole crowd was.
"It was like the whole place erupted. It goes from being slow motion and silence to one of the loudest noises I've ever heard in my life. It's just an unbelievable shot of adrenaline through your body."
St. Louis center fielder Jim Edmonds was part of that crowd. A member of the Angels from 1993-99, Edmonds was forced to watch from the stands following the Cardinals' postseason elimination that year. With his former team still trailing 5-0 and likely to share the same fate, Edmonds decided to leave the game. But he waited to watch one more at-bat before retiring to the parking lot. It was Spiezio's.
The three-run blast coaxed Edmonds back to his seat, where he stood for the remainder of the contest. The ex-Halos center fielder watched then-Halos center fielder Darin Erstad lead off the eighth with a blast of his own. Another run shaved from the deficit, the Giants clung to a slim 5-4 lead. A two-run double by Troy Glaus three batters later put the Angels up for good at 6-5, forcing a seventh game.
Residual momentum from the Game 6 rally propelled the Angels to their first world title since Gene Autry decided to field a baseball team in 1960. The Giants were easily dispatched, falling, 4-1, in the somewhat uneventful series finale in front of 44,598 at Edison Field.
"To win it in our home field was very special for us," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "It went a long way to put our organization on the map, especially with that group of players."
Although a bronze bust of Bonds will keep a watchful eye over all that enter Cooperstown for generations after his eventual induction, the bat used by Spiezio in that fateful Fall Classic now sits enshrined in a display case in the same building -- waiting for Bonds.
Larry Santana is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.