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The Pennant was in Angels' grasp when suddenly...

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Dave Henderson plays jai alai with the baseball, and the camera catches it all. We see the ball slingshot out of Henderson's glove and over the center-field fence. We see Bobby Grich exult over the sudden change of events and begin his home-run trot.

We see Grich round first base. We see him step on second base and push off in an explosion of emotion. Grich leaps into the air, thrusts a fist over his head, and the camera zooms in on his flushed, beaming face.

Freeze.

With that, the California Angels' 1986 highlight film ends. Grich is suspended on the screen for several moments as the narrator's voice intones, "But there would be no World Series for the Angels in 1986 . . . " Then, owner Gene Autry comes on to thank the fans for their support and the credits begin to roll.

Film editors succeeded where Gary Lucas and Donnie Moore failed. Only here does Game 5 of the 1986 American League championship series provide the Angels with a happy ending.

Left on the cutting room floor were all the agonizing events that followed Grich's hip-hop home run in the sixth inning.

No two-run homer by Don Baylor, which sliced the Angels' lead from 5-2 to 5-4 with one out in the ninth inning.

No controversial removal of starting pitcher Mike Witt by Gene Mauch, who sent in reliever Lucas, who promptly plunked Rich Gedman with his first pitch.

No 2-and-2 split-fingered fastball by Moore that hung around high enough and long enough for Henderson to hammer out of Anaheim Stadium, which pushed the Boston Red Sox ahead, 6-5.

No bottom-of-the-ninth rally by the Angels, which produced a tie but not a victory when Doug DeCinces and Grich failed to deliver with the bases loaded.

No 7-6 Angel defeat in 11 innings, bringing on the trail of tears that led back to Boston for the Angels' eventual elimination in Game 7.

Out of sight, out of mind?

Well, perhaps that was the intention. It is, after all, called a highlight film. And what the climax of this game meant to the Angels--from the doorstep of the World Series to the depths of despair--ranks as one of the lowest episodes in the franchise's history.

But what celluloid ignores, the memory does not erase. Game 5 of the 1986 American League playoffs has taken its place in the pantheon of postseason baseball moments--sidling up next to Bobby Thomson's home run in 1951, Bill Mazeroski's home run in 1960 and Carlton Fisk's home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

Even the Angels, so close to their first pennant and so bitterly disappointed, recognize the struggle for what it was.

Grich called it the greatest game he ever played in.

Lucas called it "a game I don't know if I'll ever get over. It's something I think about all the time. . . . During the winter, fans came up to me and said that was the best game they'd ever seen in Anaheim Stadium, that they hadn't seen a playoff game so intense since the Astros and the Phillies in 1980."

Mauch, given four months to remove himself from the sting of being one pitch away, doesn't flinch anymore when asked to look back. He describes Game 5 as "beyond equal, as far as drama goes" and the ninth inning of Game 5 as "the greatest ninth inning of baseball--ever."

And about his emotions in the aftermath, rumored to have been beyond repair last October?

"It's not what people think it was," Mauch says. "Sure we had it. It was right there, in the top of the ninth, and it got away.

"But we still had two games to play and Kirk McCaskill and John Candelaria pitching for us. There was not a doubt in my mind that we'd win one of those games.

"When we didn't, Game 5 became magnified."

The date that will live in Angel infamy is Oct. 12, 1986. It was a warm Sunday afternoon in Orange County and, for the Angel fans among the capacity Anaheim Stadium crowd of 64,223, the outlook was as bright as the sun overhead. Pregame talk in the stands focused on the remarkable turn of events of the previous evening--how the Angels had recovered from a 3-0 deficit against Roger Clemens in the bottom of the ninth and scored a 4-3 victory in the bottom of the 11th.

Victory in Game 4 pushed the Angels closer to the World Series than they had ever been before. They led Boston, three games to one, in the best-of-seven series. One more and they would meet the New York Mets.

And on the mound for the Angels was Witt, the club's best starting pitcher, winner of 18 games during the regular season and Game 1 of the playoffs. Opposing him was a tired Bruce Hurst, starting for the Red Sox on only three days' rest.

All in all, it seemed a good day to sip some nice California champagne.

The bottles were chilled after the sixth inning. Gedman had given the Red Sox an early 2-0 advantage with his two-run homer, a line drive that beat Angel right fielder George Hendrick to the seats just inside the foul pole, but Grich negated it with his long drive to center field.

Without Henderson's assistance, the ball would not have left the playing field. Henderson gloved Grich's shot with a leap on the warning track, but his momentum sent him smashing into the fence. Henderson's arm hit the padded railing on the top of the wall and the baseball, precariously nestled in the tip of the glove's webbing, squirted loose.

It fell on the other side of the fence for a home run. A 2-1 deficit had become a 3-2 Angel lead--and Grich became unglued.

His home-run lap around the bases made for fine entertainment. There were the jump and the clenched first at second base. There was another hop, then a yell at third, high-fives at home plate and a little bump and grind at the top step of the Angel dugout.

"I lost it," Grich said after the game. "I don't imagine Boston appreciated it much. But at the time, the way Mike was throwing, I thought that was it. I could taste the champagne."

Two more Angel runs made it 5-2 in the bottom of the seventh. Witt put down the Red Sox in the top of the eighth.

Angel publicist Tim Mead was dispatched to the home clubhouse with a baseball cap emblazoned with a 1986 World Series logo. Mead was to present the cap to Angel center fielder Gary Pettis, symbolic of the playoffs' most valuable player.

At the same time, ABC-TV technicians were laying cable and constructing an interview platform in the Angel clubhouse. Cameras were brought in. Clear plastic wrapping was draped over each locker stall to prevent the anticipated blasts of champagne from soaking the clothes inside.

On came the top of the ninth. From the Angel dugout, designated hitter Reggie Jackson watched thousands of fans rise. Having played on six pennant winners with the Oakland A's and New York Yankees, he had witnessed this scene before, he knew the feeling.

Jackson removed his wire-rimmed glasses and slipped them into a pocket. He didn't want them to get crushed in the mob scene that was to follow.

He walked over to congratulate Mauch, who was on the verge of losing his reputation as the best manager never to win a pennant. But Mauch kept staring ahead, watching Witt throw.

"It isn't over yet," Mauch said quietly.

It had merely begun.

Bill Buckner led off with a single. Dave Stapleton was sent in to pinch-run for him. Jim Rice struck out for the first out.

Then Witt faced Baylor, the former Angel designated hitter who led California to its first postseason appearances in 1979 and 1982. On a full count, Baylor reminded the home crowd why he had captained both those teams--hitting a pressure home run that cut the Angels' advantage to a nervous 5-4.

What Witt remembered most was not the crack of the bat, but the silence immediately afterward.

"The way it was at the start of the inning, the fans were on their feet and hanging over the railing," Witt said. "The whole scene really pumped me up. But Buckner broke the ice and then Baylor, doing what he did, calmed the crowd down. It took a lot out of the crowd."

Witt came back and got Dwight Evans to pop out to DeCinces at third base. One out to go, and the crowd was back.

Down in the Angel bullpen, Lucas tried to warm up amid pandemonium.

"The bullpen was filled with security guards," Lucas said. "Bob Clear (Angel bullpen coach) was yelling at them, 'Get outta here! We gotta have the mounds!'

"All the way down the foul line, the fans were lined up, ready to run onto the field. It was so loud in the bullpen, we could barely hear the phone ring."

After Witt had retired Evans, Mauch made the pitching change that will be forever scrutinized. He summoned Lucas, a left-hander, to pitch to Gedman, another left-hander who had hit a home run, a double and a single in three at-bats against Witt.

Lucas, who had struck out Gedman twice during the regular season and hadn't hit a batter in four seasons, hit Gedman with his first pitch. That brought on the confrontation between Moore, the Angels' sore-armed bullpen ace, and Henderson, a .189-hitting reserve outfielder.

On a 2-and-2 pitch, Henderson became an instant New England legend and the Angels fell behind, 6-5.

Mauch was second-guessed by people ranging from the national media to his own players. Witt was 18-10, the Angels' most valuable player, a Cy Young Award contender. He was Mauch's best pitcher, a man who had pitched 14 complete games during the regular season.

"Yeah, I was surprised when he took him out," Moore said. "I thought it was Mike's game to win or lose. I thought I wasn't going to pitch again until the World Series."

DeCinces figured that the game was over when he caught Evans' pop up. "There was no doubt in my mind," he said. "Mike was pitching well. Don Baylor had hit a good pitch. Mike came right back to get Evans. The emotions were so high, I felt there was no doubt."

Witt said his removal from the game became an instant--and endless--conversation piece during the off-season.

"Everybody I ran into asked me, what would've happened if he left me in," Witt said. "Like I've got an answer for it.

"If he left me in, anything could've happened. I thought I had a good game plan going in for Gedman, but it wasn't working too successfully. Would I have tried anything different? I never got around to it.

"I wanted to end the game, but it could've gone either way. If Lucas comes in and gets him out, I might be talking to you as a world champion. I guess it's a waste of time to think about what might have been."

Flash back to 1982. The Angels lose Game 5 to the Milwaukee Brewers when Mauch fails to bring in left-handed reliever Andy Hassler and allows right-hander Luis Sanchez to pitch to Cecil Cooper. Cooper, a left-hander, singles in the winning run.

In '86, Mauch is criticized for bringing in a left-hander. In '82, he's criticized for not bringing one in.

Mauch doesn't second-guess himself. He says he'd make the same decision again tomorrow.

"I can only tell you that if I kept Mike out there, he would've pitched very carefully to Gedman," Mauch said. "Suppose Gedman gets on. If a chinker falls in for a double and scores Gedman, I couldn't forgive myself.

"I know it's over when I bring Lucas into the game. There won't be any chinkers, no nothing. All I've ever seen the man do against Gedman is strike him out.

"I'm eliminating all the chances of anything going wrong. It's all over. There won't be any doubles or home runs or walks. Just an out."

So Lucas hits Gedman with his first pitch. It was the first batter Lucas had hit in more than 400 innings.

"That never entered my mind," Mauch said.

Lucas said: "I sure picked the wrong time to hit somebody."

Lucas' offering was a split-fingered changeup. "I struck Gedman out with the same pitch in Game 6," he said.

But Lucas needed the strikeout--or any out--in Game 5.

"It's not like the ball slipped out of my hand or anything," Lucas said. "I'd gotten wild with it from time to time and missed my location with the fastball. (Gedman) stands right on top of the plate anyway. It just got away from me."

The split-fingered changeup was not the pitch of the hour for the Angels. Moore threw the same pitch to Henderson, with unforgettable results.

Moore was pitching with a sore right shoulder that had bothered him all season, requiring a month-long stint on the disabled list. Immediately after Game 5, Moore had the shoulder, and his right rib cage, injected with cortisone.

He said the shoulder had been "just as bad as it always was" when he pitched to Henderson. "To me, (Henderson) had the advantage anyway. It's tough enough to get it done with your good stuff. But when I'm without my good stuff, when I can't throw with pain, I'm at the disadvantage."

The split-fingered fastball is Moore's best pitch, but when his arm is hurting, it is the pitch that causes him the most trouble. "It doesn't have the good sinking action," he said. "If my arm is right, the ball falls right off the table. He doesn't touch it."

Moore also wondered if he and catcher Bob Boone had selected the correct pitch in that situation.

"He's an all-speed hitter, with breaking-ball bat speed," Moore said of Henderson. "Our judgment to come in with an off-speed pitch was probably wrong."

It became a pitch Moore may never be able to live down.

"I don't think anyone felt as bad as I did," Moore said. "I thought about it for a couple weeks after that. I don't know if you can completely get over it.

"But, personally, to me, that's history. If you can't handle the bitter with the sweet, you're in the wrong game. But that pitch didn't lose the game for us. We still could've won the game."

The Angels had their opportunities in the bottom of the ninth. While they disassembled the platform and pulled down the plastic in the Angel clubhouse--"That's all our guys needed to see," Mead said--the Angels staged a comeback.

Rob Wilfong singled home Ruppert Jones, with Jones beating a powerful outfield relay by Evans by inches. It required a head-first slide by Jones, who dived to the dirt behind home plate, reached around catcher Gedman and slapped the plate with his hand. By that much, the Angels tied the score at 6-6.

Dick Schofield then singled Wilfong to third, and Boston relief pitcher Steve Crawford issued an intentional walk to Brian Downing. With one out, the bases were loaded. And DeCinces, with 96 RBIs and the Angels' best clutch hitter after the All-Star break, stepped to the plate.

"How sweet it is, that's all I was thinking," Mauch said.

All DeCinces needed was a sacrifice fly. Or a walk. A 300-foot fly ball or a free pass and everyone would forget about Witt and Mauch and Lucas and Moore.

DeCinces swung at Crawford's first pitch. He hit a fly ball. But it was a short fly ball and it went to right field, to Evans, who still has one of the strongest throwing arms in baseball.

Wilfong had no choice but to hold at third base.

"I remember how high it went," DeCinces recalled. "I was praying, ' Please carry.' It took an eternity for the ball to come down. And it had to go to Evans, of all people. It was tough to accept. I wish I had a chance to do it again."

If he had, would DeCinces play it differently? Crawford was a rookie making his first postseason appearance, and he had yet to retire a batter--yielding Schofield's single and walking Downing. Was he nervous? After the game, Crawford joked, "If there was a toilet on the mound, I would have used it."

Some criticized DeCinces for jumping on Crawford's first pitch, for not waiting out the rookie and possibly working him for a walk or a wild pitch.

Ask DeCinces about it and he snaps: "Are you second-guessing my at-bat?

"In that situation, I know Crawford throws a sinker, and I've got to look for a ball I can get in the air. I can't hit the ball on the ground. That could mean a double play and the inning's over.

"I had to look for a fastball, a pitch I could drive. Crawford came in with a fastball on the first pitch, and I just missed. I did my job--I got the ball in the air. It just wasn't far enough."

DeCinces looks back on Game 5 and says: "A lot of little things got overlooked."

Such little things as:

--Wilfong holding at first after driving in Jones with his single to right. When Evans' throw went through to home plate, Wilfong had the opportunity to advance to second--where he might have scored the winning run on Schofield's deep single. Instead, Wilfong stayed at first and wound up getting stranded at third.

--Pettis' long fly ball in the bottom of the 10th. The drive forced Jim Rice back to the wall--his back was actually pressed against the wall--before the Boston left fielder could reach up and haul the ball down. It was inches away from a home run or, at the very least, from a run-scoring double.

--Moore loading the bases in the top of the 11th by hitting Baylor with a pitch, giving up a single to Buckner and throwing away a sacrifice bunt by Gedman. That was enough to set the stage again for Henderson, whose sacrifice fly finally brought home the winning run.

The Angels had lost, and more than a game, it turned out. By failing to finish off the Red Sox in five, the Angels were forced to venture back to Boston, where Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd, Roger Clemens and Fenway Park were lying in wait. A demoralized Angel team never had a chance. Boston won Games 6 and 7 by a combined score of 18-5.

Game 5 was the opportunity the Angels had waited a quarter century for. Those who played in it will remember it for the rest of their lives.

"We reached out and touched it," Witt said. "If you ask the guys, to a man, none of them have forgotten Game 5. I haven't.

"And until I get to the World Series, I'll never forget about it."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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