Depending on the affiliation of the player, coach or manager who witnessed Sunday's fifth game of the American League playoffs, in which belief was suspended along with the Angel victory party, different visions of yesteryear came rushing back.
1975: Carlton Fisk slices his historic home run inches inside the left-field foul pole to stave off elimination for the Red Sox in Game 6 of the World Series. Eleven years later, Boston's Dave Henderson homers to left field to stave off elimination in Game 5 of the American League championship series. Both games go extra innings. Both games are won by Boston, 7-6.
1982: Gene Mauch plays craps with his pitching staff, starts Tommy John in Game 4 on three days' rest and leaves in right-hander Luis Sanchez long enough in Game 5 to yield a game-winning single to left-handed Cecil Cooper. Four years later, Mauch rolls the dice again--pulling his ace starter, Mike Witt, with a one-run lead and only one out from victory. Snake-eyes both times. Mauch's Angels lose both games by a run.
The fallout from the '82 loss was particularly heavy on Mauch and the Angels. Then, the league playoffs were best-of-five affairs and defeat in Game 5 meant a vacation. The Angels were denied their first-ever trip to the World Series and Mauch was second-guessed so severely that, in what he considered a face-saving gesture, turned in his resignation.
The entire episode--the 2-0 series advantage that evaporated once the Angels left home--remains stuck in the consciousness, and craw, of every Angel veteran who watched the shrapnel fly. To this day, they regard the memory of '82 as an old war wound.
It is referred to only by geographic location.
Kind of like the way historians talk of Pearl Harbor or Normandy.
"Until we win it," Brian Downing says, "none of us can forget Milwaukee."
They never had a better chance to win it than Sunday, when Mauch and Witt and Gary Lucas and Donnie Moore combined in various ways to turn a 5-2 ninth-inning lead and a virtual World Series admission pass into Game 6 at Boston.
And so, tonight at 5:25 (PDT), the Angels reconvene at Fenway Park with a 3-2 series edge. One way or another, they will provide an answer to the ominous question now hounding them:
Will Boston become the Milwaukee of 1986?
One can already say this much: The potential is there.
The way the Angels played their last game in Fenway, they acted as if they'd never been there before and never wanted to go back. Their defense threw and kicked the ball all over the Eastern seaboard, their offense squeezed out two whole runs and their third base coach lost a baserunner in the sun. That was back in Game 2, which the Angels lost going away, 9-2.
Kirk McCaskill was the Angels' pitcher that day. He will again be the Angels' pitcher tonight.
McCaskill, you'll remember, spent the first two innings of that one under siege. The Red Sox hammered out seven hits before McCaskill could record six outs.
When McCaskill looks back and then ahead, he tries to focus on two factors:
1--The fact that Game 6 will be played at night, avoiding that blinding sun and light air that accompanied Game 2. "There are different circumstances this time," McCaskill said.
2--During the last five innings McCaskill pitched in Game 2, he allowed only one earned run. "If I throw the same game I did last time--with a better start--I'll take it," he said. "One thing I wasn't satisfied with was the start of the game. I'll try to prepare better and not be as tense."
Entering into those preparations will be an attempt at amnesia. McCaskill observed the emotional devastation among his teammates in the wake of Game 5. He knows they are looking for him to stop the pendulum swing of momentum that could reach top speed if Boston wins tonight.
"The first thing to do is forget about this game," McCaskill said Sunday. "It was the most unbelievable game I've ever seen, but there's nothing positive that can come out of sitting and dwelling on it. I just have to forget about it."
There is a sense of urgency surrounding the Angels in Game 6. They know Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd, tonight's Boston starter, is as flammable as his nickname suggests--an opportunity that must be capitalized upon. If not, the Angels will enter their own personal Temple of Doom on Wednesday night--Game 7, a frenzied Fenway crowd and Roger Clemens on the mound.
"We gotta go like hell this next game," Downing said. "If we let it get away Tuesday, (the Red Sox) will be some kind of fired-up Wednesday."
And, then, there is the ghost of '82 to contend with.
"Well, I definitely don't want that to happen again, and I'm trying to block it out, but it's there," Downing admitted. "That's why we played so hard (Sunday).
"Then this happens and you say, 'No, not this one more time.' You think back on the 26 years of ills and the things that have happened to this organization . . . and then it's not meant to be.
"We had a chance to win it here and keep us at home for the next three or four days. Now, we've got to travel all over the place. We just have to play our butts off Tuesday. Boston can get second life off a game like this one."
Witt was a second-year pitcher during 1982. He went 8-6 with a 3.51 earned-run average in 26 starts but made only one relief appearance against Milwaukee as Mauch adopted a three-man rotation of John, Bruce Kison and Geoff Zahn for the playoffs.
Witt downplays any comparisons to '82--mainly because Mauch's '86 starting rotation consists of Witt, McCaskill, John Candelaria and Don Sutton.
"We only need one (victory) and we've got McCaskill," Witt said. "If McCaskill doesn't do it, then we've got Candelaria. McCaskill and Candelaria, I'd put those two against anybody."
Mauch puts it this way: "When you're going in with a Kirk McCaskill, you're not going in naked."
Mauch does not want to discuss Milwaukee. For obvious reasons, he bristles whenever the subject is mentioned.
"You guys make more of a deal out of it than I do," Mauch told reporters. "I have been going at this a long, long time. All this means is that when we win this, it give us an opportunity to really do something."
Translation: A bitter Game 5 would make an Angel pennant-clinching celebration all the sweeter.
If . . .
Flashbacks, flashbacks. Once Milwaukee won Game 3 back in that Angel-forsaken year, the snowball effect took hold. The Brewers also won Game 4 . . . and Game 5, all the way into the World Series.
Boston, likewise, has been allowed to scramble back off the deck. Isn't there something to be said for momentum?
No, Mauch said.
"How the hell do you think the Red Sox felt about coming back (after Saturday's 4-3 loss)?" he said. "What's so different about us coming back? They just did it.
"I've never believed in the word momentum. Momentum is very fickle."
So is Fenway Park.
So tune in tonight. This series has developed into the best mini-drama of the fall season. As yet, it remains untitled.
The Angels are hoping to prevent it from becoming "Bridesmaid Revisited."