- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2002

Ron Gardenhire says it sounds like a Disney movie. Denny Hocking thinks it's "TV's worst nightmare."

The Minnesota Twins and Anaheim Angels call it the 2002 American League Championship Series.

"I guarantee you," Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski said, "not a single person in all of baseball would have bet $1 that the Twins and Angels would be in the ALCS."

Yet here they are, the Contraction Kids and the No-Namers from Disneyland, ready to commence one of the unlikeliest ALCS match-ups since baseball adopted the formula 33 years ago. Anaheim and Minnesota, playing Game1 at the Metrodome tonight, with the winner headed for the World Series.

In this age of escalating payrolls and dominating big-market clubs, this series is a refreshing reminder of how it used to be, how nearly every team felt it had a chance to make a playoff run if all the cards fell right.

The Twins and Angels made it happen, and they knocked off two of the best in the process.

Minnesota, which 11 months ago was tagged for contraction by commissioner Bud Selig, survived a tense, five-game division series with the 103-win Oakland A's, ensuring the franchise's first ALCS appearance since 1991.

"We're not supposed to be here, but we're still standing; we're not even supposed to exist," Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said in a champagne-soaked visitors clubhouse Sunday afternoon in Oakland. "[Selig] tried to get rid of us. I'm not the kind of guy to say anything, but it's going to make him look bad."

All Anaheim did was stun the four-time defending AL champion New York Yankees in four games, fighting off the ghosts of past playoff catastrophes to reach its first ALCS since 1986.

"I think you guys in the media, maybe some fans, might think it's unlikely," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "But if you saw the way the two clubs progressed all year, I think you realize the talent and the quality of both ballclubs.

"People might look at it as unlikely; I don't look at it like that. I know the Twins are an outstanding baseball club. I feel that we are too. I think both teams are deserving to be where they are right now."

Based on the way each team played during the division series, there's no question they each deserved it.

Underdogs from the start against Oakland, the Twins found themselves down two games to one and facing elimination Saturday at the Metrodome. But behind Eric Milton's strong pitching and a record-setting offensive outburst in the fourth inning, Minnesota cruised to a 12-2 victory and forced Sunday's Game5 in Oakland.

Buoyed again by another stellar pitching performance, this time from right-hander Brad Radke, the Twins took a four-run lead into the bottom of the ninth, then hung on to escape with a 5-4 victory. Somewhere in Milwaukee, Selig must have been cringing.

"Having Bud watch 'SportsCenter' and see us popping champagne, that's enough salt in the wound," said Minnesota infielder Denny Hocking, who will miss the ALCS after having his right middle finger spiked during the post-game celebration.

The Angels, too, were given little chance of pulling off a first-round upset against the Yankees. And after watching their team blow a late lead in Game1 at Yankee Stadium where Mystique and Aura appear nightly even the most loyal of fans in Anaheim had to worry.

Never fear. Thanks to an explosive lineup that twice rallied to overcome late New York leads, the Angels took a 2-1 series lead and then stunned the Yankees with a dominating 9-5 victory in Game4 on Saturday.

"I think we've shown the resiliency and the tenacity to get to this level," Scioscia said.

And, with four more wins, one of these teams will add a new chapter to its growing Cinderella story: a date in the World Series.

Said Gardenhire of anyone who could have foreseen this unlikely matchup: "They would have said it was a Walt Disney movie."

Just like "Cinderella."

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