Monday, August 29, 2011
Angels Moment No. 23: Schofield's slam
By Mark Saxon
Look up the box score of the Angels' game from 25 years ago today and you'll see an "8" under the bottom of the ninth inning. You'll see that the Angels rallied furiously and somehow beat the Detroit Tigers 13-12.
But you won't quite get the improbability of that night's crowning event.
Of all the people to hit a walk-off grand slam in the heat of a pennant race, few players were less likely to do so than Dick Schofield. A .217 lifetime hitter at that point, the 23-year old shortstop had averaged six home runs a season in his first two-and-a-half years in the big leagues.
Forget about whether Schofield would hit a home run in that spot. Why would he even bat? Manager Gene Mauch had Reggie Jackson sitting on the bench that day. What was he waiting for to pinch-hit Jackson, a gold-plated invitation?
But Mauch went with his hunch -- Schofield's bat had started to heat up judging by hits in two previous at-bats -- and it paid off magnificently in one of the Angels' most memorable wins. Schofield connected on a hanging breaking ball from Detroit closer Willie Hernandez, who had won the AL MVP award just two years earlier, scoring the final four runs of the Angels' bizarre comeback.
"The Angels win, and I don't believe it," said broadcaster Ron Fairly after the ball carried over the left-field fence.
The sequence of that at-bat made Schofield's heroics even less likely. Hernandez threw a breaking ball for a strike to get ahead, then he dropped his best pitch, a screwball, in the dirt and Schofield swung and missed it by two feet. He seemed set up for another off-speed pitch that would put him away and end the game.
"I kind of circled the plate, came around behind the umpire and then just said, 'All right,' just make contact,' " Schofield recalled in a televised interview later that season.
The swing would preserve the Angels' 4 1/2-game lead and they would win the division by five.
Of course, another late-inning home run -- Dave Henderson's off Donnie Moore -- would lead to the end the Angels' run against the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs that season. But nobody knew it at the time. It seemed as if the only miracle of 1986 would be the crazy comeback and the unlikely home run from a light-hitting shortstop.