- Mark Saxon, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.