Los Angeles Angels: Gene Mauch

Angels' charge would be historic

September, 16, 2011

The Angels are trying to do something no American League team has ever done. Believe it or not, no AL team has ever won its division and/or league while trailing by as many as 3 1/2 games with exactly 13 games left.

On the other hand, five teams in the NL have done it, starting with the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals, who charged back from a deficit of 6 1/2 games to take the NL pennant from Gene Mauch's Philadelphia Phillies. The Cardinals beat the New York Yankees in the World Series that year.

Connections: Mauch later managed the Angels; Mike Scioscia grew up outside Philadelphia and was about to turn six.

Here are the precedents for what the Angels are trying to accomplish:

Year Team GB

2007 Phillies 3.5

2001 Cardinals 3.5

1973 Mets 3.5

1965 Dodgers 3.5

1964 Cardinals 6.5

Angels Moment No. 23: Schofield's slam

August, 29, 2011
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. 20: 1982

August, 9, 2011
The 1982 California Angels tend to get lost in the shuffle of even diehard fans' memories. The 1979 Angels were the first in franchise history to make the playoffs. The 1986 Angels had one of the most memorable playoff meltdowns in baseball history.

But even after seeing what happened in 2002, some people will tell you the 1982 team was the best in club history. You could easily make the argument it was the most star-studded.

The Angels had a lineup with four former American League MVPs: Don Baylor, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson and Fred Lynn. Not surprisingly, the Angels could punish opposing pitchers that year. Nine players had at least 100 hits. Jackson, who had ended five tumultuous years with the New York Yankees, by signing as a free agent the previous winter, set a club record with 39 home runs.

Even with all that muscle, the Angels under manager Gene Mauch, created the phrase "little ball." They led the league in sacrifice bunts.

The pennant race went down to the second-to-last game of the season, with a 6-4 win over the Texas Rangers helping the Angels put away the Kansas City Royals. It was sweet redemption for Mauch, whose last contending team was with the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies club that blew a 6 1/2-game lead to the St. Louis Cardinals with 12 games left.

The Angels played in front of massive crowds once the playoffs with the Milwaukee Brewers began. More than 64,000 fans crammed into the old version of Anaheim Stadium, which was configured to share the space with the Los Angeles Rams.

The Angels rewarded their fans by jumping out to a 2-0 series lead. But things began to crumble when the series shifted to County Stadium. The Angels ran into future Hall of Famer Don Sutton in Game Three and lost 5-3. The Angels pitching, never the club's strength, was stretched to the breaking point. Milwaukee had two three-run innings in Game Four and the Angels made three errors.

That set the stage for Game Five, a tense game in which Cecil Cooper's two-run single off Luis Sanchez in the seventh inning decided it, 4-3, in Milwaukee's favor. A similar group would return to the playoffs four years later and, again, blow a decisive series lead.

Squandering leads, in fact, would become the Angels' reputation until 2002 closed that chapter.

This story is part of an occasional series of Angels Moments which, when it's complete, will -- we hope -- add up to 50. The Angels are celebrating their 50th anniversary this season. These are not intended to be an exhaustive list, but simply an assembly of scenes and anecdotes that are part of the team's colorful past.

Angels Moment No. 2: Chuck Finley recalls '86

May, 17, 2011
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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Jered Weaver
18 3.52 164 207
BAH. Kendrick .292
HRM. Trout 35
RBIM. Trout 109
RM. Trout 112
OPSM. Trout .951
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOG. Richards 164