Los Angeles Angels: California Angels

Angels Moment No. 23: Schofield's slam

August, 29, 2011
8/29/11
1:47
PM PT
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.

Angels Moment No. 10: Nolan Ryan and 1973

June, 30, 2011
6/30/11
12:48
PM PT
Norm Cash had already struck out three times and he was the last man standing between Nolan Ryan and his second no-hitter when the Detroit Tigers slugger dreamed up a little gag.

Cash came to the plate carrying a table leg that he had hacked off one of the clubhouse tables. When umpire Ron Luciano ruled the bat illegal, Cash said, "Why, I won't hit it anyway," before retreating to the dugout for a real bat.

He was right, in a way. Cash popped up, leaving Ryan stuck on 17 strikeouts for the day -- July 15, 1973 -- two shy of the major-league record. But Ryan would have his strikeout record, 383 that season, surpassing Sandy Koufax's single-season record for the modern era, a record that still stands.

He would have to wait a while to have his revenge. Ryan faced Cash a couple of years later and left him with a little souvenir: a 98-mph fastball on his right arm. Ryan's teammate, pitcher Clyde Wright, saw Cash the next day.

"He was black and blue all the way down his back," Wright recalled. "A lot of people didn't realize, Nolan could be mean. If he didn't like you or something, he could get pretty nasty. Everyone thinks he was just good, ol' boy Nolan. Uh-uh."

Wright usually pitched the day after Ryan. He would sit on a towel on the top dugout step to watch the big right-hander work. What stood out for him about that remarkable 1973 season was how intimidating Ryan could be. His brushback pitches sparked several benches-clearing brawls that year. Reggie Jackson once said Ryan was the only pitcher he feared, and not because he could get him out.

When he was asked to comment on Ryan surpassing his record, Koufax said at the time, "I suspect half those guys swung rather than get hit."

The other amazing thing about 1973 is that, somehow, Ryan, 26 at the time, didn't win the Cy Young award. Jim Palmer, who had 30 fewer innings and 180 fewer strikeouts, won it. Why? Palmer had one more win and seven fewer losses. Ryan would go 21-16 with a 2.87 ERA. Palmer was 22-9 with a 2.40 ERA.

Ryan would win 22 games the next season and lead the majors in strikeouts, falling just 16 short of his own record. He also led the league in walks.

Later, Ryan's command would improve dramatically, helping him pitch until he was 46 with the Texas Rangers. But he would never be as dominant as he was in his twenties with the Angels, when hitters had basically two choices: dig in and risk their safety or give in meekly and walk back to the bat rack.

Angels Moment No. 2: Chuck Finley recalls '86

May, 17, 2011
5/17/11
12:12
PM PT
Before 2002, the defining moment for the Angels franchise was an ultimate downer.

It was Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series. Just about anybody with a passing memory of mid-eighties baseball remembers it, particularly if they live in Southern California or New England. The Angels, holding a 3-1 series lead had a 5-2 lead going into the ninth inning.

Don Baylor’s home run cut it to 5-4 and Angels manager Gene Mauch summoned reliever Donnie Moore with two outs. After Dave Henderson’s famous -- or is it infamous? -- home run on a 2-2 pitch from Moore, the Red Sox would go on to win in 10 innings. They made it to the World Series by winning the next two games in Boston.

To call that a tragedy, of course, is absurd. The tragic part came a little less than three years later, when Moore -- during a violent argument with his wife -- committed suicide with a handgun. He was 35.

Well before the story got to that point, a rookie left-handed reliever couldn’t believe what was unfolding on the field. Chuck Finley was 22 years old and in his first season in the big leagues.

“I was sitting right there,” Finley said one recent evening at Angel Stadium, pointing to what is now the right-field stands, but then was the home bullpen.

I’m going, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m going to the World Series,’ “ Finley said. “The place was so loud and I saw the cops lined up. I was going to the World Series in my first year and then -- Boom! -- 30 minutes later, I’m out there on the mound pitching. I got the last out and we could have won that game.

“I’m like, ‘What just happened here? I’m on a plane going back to Boston,’ but I never thought in my wildest dreams we’d lose two in a row.”

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