SAN FRANCISCO — In the aftermath of tragedy, last year's World Series evoked some of America's deepest emotions from the pride of a nation unbowed to the exhilaration of impossible pitching performances and a seventh-game, bottom-of-the-ninth bloop single to take the championship.
This year, there is no dynasty to topple, like the Yankees. No unstoppable force, like the Diamondbacks' pitching. Even the sense of national unity has fractured somewhat as America readies for war.
Yet beneath the surface of a series between two largely overlooked teams the Anaheim Angels and the San Francisco Giants lies a storyline more subtle, yet perhaps just as inspiring, as any that emerged last year: redemption.
For the Giants' Barry Bonds, it is the chance to ensure that his career one of the most remarkable in baseball history will no longer be asterisked by playoff failure. For the Angels, it is an opportunity to begin a new tradition untainted by 41 years of frustration.
And for baseball itself, it is the fruit of a remarkable postseason that almost never was and was saved only when players and owners, for once, put the good of the game ahead of their pocketbooks.
In that moment, it was as if the gears of baseball's cosmic order a cycle of labor lockouts and Yankees pennants began to run in reverse. Everything has been backward since.
How else could one explain the Anaheim Angels? (Aside from the rally monkey.) This is a franchise so shunted that it changed its name three times from Los Angeles to California to Anaheim Angels. It is a team that, until two weeks ago, had never won a playoff series. Indeed, its brightest moments have coincided with its most dismal failures.
Since their founding by singing cowboy Gene Autry in 1961, the Angels have been to the playoffs three times. Once, they were ahead 2-0 in a best-of-five series, only to be swept the next three games. Four years later in 1986, they were one strike from the World Series when the Boston Red Sox hardly a team known for its good fortune rallied, then won two more games to oust the Angels.
Now, as conquerors of the dreaded Yankees, they thumb their nose at Boston. Their long-silent stands are flooded with the largest tide of red-clad fans this side of Alabama. They even have that pet monkey that was on "Friends" as a mascot.
Indeed, in the land of the one-minute attention span, where the only real teams are the Lakers and Dodgers, the Angels have won something nearly as elusive as a world championship: respect.
For the other West Coast team, respect has never been a problem. When the Giants come to Anaheim Saturday for Game 1, they will come with a dossier nearly as impressive as the one the Yankees brought earlier this month, including 16 trips to the World Series.
The players, however, come with something of a chip on their shoulders.
When Bonds broke one of the most coveted records in all of sport last year, hitting 73 home runs, he said it meant little. Until he won a World Series, he added, he would not be satisfied.
He was merely echoing what some critics were already saying. For all his titanic achievements during a 162-game season, he had only hit .196 with one home run in five playoff series. In fact, like the Angels, no Barry Bonds team had ever won a playoff series before this year.
Some looked at Bonds's personal recliner in the locker room and his habit of not warming up with the team and said he was selfish. Others said he was simply choking
Now, he's hitting nearly .300 with four homeruns and 14 walks in 10 games. His clutch home run crushed Atlanta in the opening playoff round, and "aloof" was hardly the way to describe his mad, grinning dash across the diamond Wednesday to bearhug Kenny Lofton after Lofton's single beat the Cardinals.
But the vindication spreads well beyond Bonds.
Rumors abounded that two-time Manager of the Year Dusty Baker would be axed after the season. The knock on him: He couldn't get a team to the World Series.
Second baseman Jeff Kent was also on the way out after he broke his wrist while allegedly doing motorcycle tricks in the offseason, lied to the team, then got into a fight with Bonds in the dugout later in the season. Recently, Bonds says he wants Kent back. Ageless catcher Benito Santiago, cast off by other teams as too old at 37, was named Most Valuable Player of the Cardinals series.
Even the Giants, this most-vaunted team, which made up one-third of the axis of baseball's golden age along with the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers is in need of new promise. Of their 16 trips to the World Series, 14 came during 53 years in New York.
The 44 years in San Francisco: Three World Series trips and no titles.