Ralph Branca had his Bobby Thomson. Mike Torrez had his Bucky Dent. Dennis Eckersley had his Kirk Gibson.
And the Angels had Dave Henderson.
And John Lowenstein.
And Andre Thornton.
And Jerry Willard.
Home runs from hell, Angel fans will tell you. The gravest stories ever told. Tales of despair that ravage the Angel heart and bedevil the Angel spirit.
Satanic verses, indeed.
For nearly 30 years, the Angels have played baseball in the American League. For nearly 30 years, they have failed to win one American League pennant. Along the way, the franchise has seen a smattering of bona fide heroes--Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana, Don Baylor, Bobby Grich--but has been blinded by a dark sea of anti-heroes.
Where to begin?
Does the roll call ever end?
There was Henderson and his heart-breaking home run off Donnie Moore in ’86. There was Lowenstein and his pinch home run in the playoffs of ’79. There was Thornton, and then Willard, swinging from the heels and stomping out Angel playoff hopes in the fall of ’85.
What about Cecil Cooper, whose pennant-clinching single kept Gene Mauch at the doorstep of the World Series in ’82? Or Dick Green, who hit the home run that wrecked Bobby Valentine’s leg and career? Or Mark Belanger, the perpetual banjo-hitting thorn in Nolan Ryan’s side?
The Angels have been vexed and hexed by these people. Others, such as Bert Blyleven and Doug DeCinces, tormented the club to such extremes that the Angels decided to trade for them, just to avoid the aggravation.
You could fill up a roster with the names of Angel nemeses over the years. As a matter of fact, we have. Even managed to squeeze in a few dishonorable mentions.
Position-by-position, blow-by-blow, what follows is a lineup Angel nightmares are made of--the all-time directory of all-time Angel villains.
A moment of silence, please . . .
The bases are loaded with Milwaukee Brewers in the bottom of the seventh in the fifth and final game of the 1982 American League playoffs. Mauch, after two decades of frustration, is seven outs away from his first World Series.
Right-handed relief pitcher Luis Sanchez is on the mound for the Angels. Cooper, the left-handed-hitting All-Star first baseman, is stepping to the plate. Time for a pitching change, right?
Mauch thought not. Leaving left-hander Andy Hassler in the bullpen, Mauch let Sanchez pitch to the dangerous Cooper with a sold-out County Stadium crowd howling for a base hit.
Cooper didn’t disappoint them, lining a two-run single that turned a 3-2 Angel lead into a 4-3 Brewer advantage--a score that would stand after the game’s last out.
Milwaukee was in the World Series . . . and Mauch was in the middle of mass controversy.
Why was Sanchez allowed to pitch to Cooper? Where was Hassler?
Even Cooper had to wonder.
“When (Robin) Yount walked (to load the bases), I really thought I’d see Hassler,” Cooper said. “He has a tailing fastball that’s tough on left-handers and he’s really tough on me. Sanchez is a power pitcher. I knew where he’d be throwing.”
Mauch, perhaps overanalyzing the situation, tried to explain how Hassler got most of his outs on pitches outside the strike zone, which is why the manager didn’t want to bring him in, needing his pitcher to throw strikes.
Hassler, though, wasn’t buying any of that.
“I’m not going to let that . . . put the monkey on my back,” Hassler angrily told reporters. “If he’s not man enough to say he made a mistake, then I’ll say it.”
The Angels had become the first team in the AL playoff history to blow a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series. Cooper, meanwhile, went on to plague the Angels for many more seasons, finishing with career totals of .294, 18 home runs and 79 RBIs against them.
Dick Green was the archetypal good-field, no-hit second baseman during his career with the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics, which spanned 1963 to 1974. In 11 seasons, Green hit a total of 80 home runs.
None, however, was more devastating--at least to Angel minds--than the one he launched at Anaheim Stadium on the evening of May 17, 1973. Heart-breaking, this home run wasn’t. But it was leg-breaking--effectively ending the career of one of the most promising prospects to ever wear an Angel uniform.
Bobby Valentine, the 23-year-old ex-Dodger gem, a key component in the previous winter’s landmark Andy Messersmith trade, was supposed to replace All-Star Jim Fregosi at shortstop. He started the 1973 season there and was batting .302 by mid-May.
But on this night, the versatile Valentine was manning center field, filling in for an injured regular. It was to be only a temporary assignment, but for Valentine and the Angels, it lasted one pitch too long.
When Green lofted his drive to deep left-center, Valentine gave chase and leaped against the wall in an attempt to flag the ball down. All he ended up catching, though, were the cleats of his right shoe in the green canvas that covers the outfield fence.
Valentine’s leg snapped in two places, forming a grotesque L-shape just below the knee. “When I saw my leg,” Valentine would later recall from a hospital bed, “it had flopped over in a 90-degree angle. I never saw a break like that before.”
Valentine never really recovered. He missed the rest of the 1973 season and tried to come back the next year. But the leg failed to heal properly, leaving an ugly knot on his right shin, and Valentine never was the same. The Angels traded him to San Diego for pitcher Gary Ross in 1975, and by 1978, at the age of 28, Valentine’s career was over.
Is it any wonder Angel fans remember that 1973 home run as their own Green Monster?
Before he anchored AL West-winning infields for the Angels in 1982 and 1986, DeCinces was a slick-fielding third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles.
Too slick for Angel tastes, as they would discover in the 1979 AL playoffs.
Down, two games to one, in the best-of-five series, the Angels also trailed the Orioles, 3-0, in the fifth inning of Game 4. But with one out, the Angels loaded the bases against Baltimore starter Scott McGregor, a nemesis of another kind, and saw a three-run double flash before their eyes when rookie shortstop Jim Anderson drilled a smash down the third-base line.
DeCinces, however, was there to intercede. Flinging himself, head-first, to his right, DeCinces gloved the ball, scrambled to his feet and stepped on third for one out. Then, he fired across the diamond to retire Anderson for an inning-ending, rally-crashing, Angel-crushing double play.
Demoralized by DeCinces’ defense, the Angels limped through the final four innings, absorbing an eventual 8-0 defeat.
“If he doesn’t make that play, it’s a whole different story,” Angel Manager Jim Fregosi lamented.
In the other locker room, DeCinces exulted. For the much-maligned successor to Mr. Third Base, Brooks Robinson, this was DeCinces’ moment of deliverance.
“Maybe now,” he said, dripping with champagne, “everyone will know who plays third base for the Orioles.”
The Angels certainly knew. Two years later, they made DeCinces one of their own--and for the next five seasons, DeCinces gave the Angels the best third-base play in the club’s history.
Another Bird of the same feather, except that Belanger, the Orioles’ Q-Tip of a shortstop, didn’t harass entire Angel teams.
Just Nolan Ryan.
A .228 career hitter, Belanger had a major hand in the ruination of two Ryan no-hit bids. And the worst was the first, with Ryan attempting in 1973 to become the first pitcher to throw back-to-back no-hitters since Johnny Vandermeer.
Coming off No-Hitter No. 1 against Detroit, Ryan had stretched his hitless streak to 16 innings, taking a potential second no-hitter into the eighth inning against Baltimore.
There, however, Belanger broke it up with a bloop single to center field. Worse yet for Ryan, was the fact the Orioles would send the game into extra innings, where the Angels would lose in the 11th, 3-1.
Three years later, Ryan’s hope of another no-hitter would again be quelled by Belanger. By game’s end, Ryan would walk away with a nondescript three-hitter--two of the singles coming off the bat of Belanger.
Asked to explain his success against The Express, Belanger could only shrug his bony shoulders.
“If you swing at enough pitches,” he surmised, “you’re going to hit some.”
Sometimes at precisely the very worst time.
The horror, the horror. It all comes back in such a cruel, crude rush, the most shattering, flattening moment in Angel history.
Donnie Moore winces and lets his throbbing right arm unleash that unforgettable forkball.
Dave Henderson, .189-hitting reserve outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, swings and golfs a tee shot to deep left field.
The ball disappears over the outfield fence.
A capacity Anaheim Stadium crowd, on the verge of pandemonium only seconds earlier, instantly goes mute.
The Angels, one pitch away-- one pitch --from their first World Series, go from a 5-4 lead to a 6-5 deficit, to eventual extra innings, to eventual 7-6 defeat in Game 5 of the 1986 AL playoffs.
Then, the Angels fly back to Boston, where they are obliterated in Games 6 and 7, losing both by a combined score of 18-5.
It can be argued that the Angels never really recovered from Henderson’s blow. Even to this day. Look at what has happened to the Angels since: back-to-back 75-87 finishes, last place in 1987, 29 games back in 1988, a third manager in three seasons in 1989.
If one swing can shake an entire franchise at its foundation, Henderson’s was it. To the Angels, it was more an earthquake than a home run, an emotional and spiritual disaster.
Nearly 30 months later, the Angels are still sifting through the rubble.
And another crusher. Equally unexpected as Henderson’s, Lowenstein’s home run against the Angels in 1979 helped wrest another AL pennant away from Anaheim.
It happened in Game 1 of the Angels’ first-ever appearance in the playoffs, in the bottom of 10th inning. The score was tied, 3-3, with John Montague, veteran journeyman relief pitcher, beginning his third inning of work.
In the Baltimore dugout, Manager Earl Weaver poured over statistical data. Montague, Montague . . . Oh, yes. Came to the Angels in late August from Seattle. As a Mariner, he faced Lowenstein twice previously. And in those two meetings, Lowenstein had hit safely twice--homering once.
So, with one out and two runners on base in the 10th, Weaver knew who to send up as a pinch-hitter. And on an 0-2 forkball by Montague, the left-handed Lowenstein sliced a fly ball down the left-field line, traveling maybe all of 312 feet.
The left-field foul pole at Memorial Stadium is 309 feet away from home plate.
The Orioles had won, 6-3 . . . on an opposite-field home run . . . on an 0-2 pitch . . . in extra innings.
Afterward, Lowenstein was asked when he had last hit a home run to the opposite field.
“In 1958--in Little League,” he said.
And in this series, it would be Lowenstein’s only hit. He wound up one for six.
But because of that one hit, Baltimore wound up in the World Series.
What is it with Boston Red Sox outfielders? Dave Henderson. Jim Rice, who has 25 home runs against Angel pitching through 1988. Dwight Evans, who enters 1989 with 24 career home runs against the Angels.
Yastrzemski tortured the Angels for more than two decades, since the franchise’s very inception. From 1961 through 1983, Yaz hit 36 home runs against the Angels. He drove in 164 runs. He batted .284, collecting 281 hits in 988 at-bats.
Two of those hits will live forever in anti-Angel lore.
One was Yastrzemski’s home run off George Brunet in Anaheim Stadium on May 9, 1969. It nearly landed in Placentia. For the record, Yaz’s blast was tape-measured at 518 feet, still the longest home run ever hit at the Big A.
The other came on July 9, 1972. It was only a single. But it broke up another Ryan no-hitter, representing Boston’s only base hit in a 3-0 Angel victory.
Before there was Moore and Henderson, there was Moore and Thornton. The stakes didn’t seem quite as high on Sept. 28, 1985, in Cleveland, but the consequence was another sour ending to a 90-win Angel season.
The Angels took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning, needing only six more outs to move a game ahead of Kansas City in their race for first place in the AL West. Angel starter Don Sutton had limited the Indians to three hits through seven innings, but had thrown 89 pitches in the process--approaching his customary 100-pitch limit.
By mutual agreement, Manager Gene Mauch and Sutton decided to call on Moore, the Angels’ All-Star reliever, on his way to a club-record 31 saves.
“It looked like a laugher to me,” Mauch said. “Donnie Moore in the ballgame with a five-run lead. We already had it counted up.”
Mauch was still counting when Moore served up a leadoff home run to George Vuckovich. Then came a single to Carmen Castillo . . . an out . . . a single to Tony Bernazard . . . an out . . . a run-scoring single to Julio Franco.
Then came Thornton, Cleveland’s hulking designated hitter, staring at a 5-2 deficit with two runners on base. Moore delivered one pitch. Thornton delivered it over the left-field fence.
Instant 5-5 tie. Out went Moore, in came Stewart Cliburn, and the game entered the ninth inning.
Which brings us to . . .
Willard was the better-hitting half of the 1985 Indians’ catching platoon, not a difficult thing to be when Chris (.139) Bando is the other half. Willard hit seven home runs in 1985, but none more significant than the one he drove out against Cliburn.
With his two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, Willard climaxed a Cleveland rally that turned a 5-0 Angel gimme into a 7-5 Angel giveaway. And it was a most expensive giveaway. One week later, the Angels would finish the regular season at 90-72. Kansas City, however, would finish at 91-71, just enough to win the West.
And those Royals would go on to win the AL playoffs and the World Series, upsetting Toronto and St. Louis in succession.
If not for Sept. 28, 1985, it might’ve been the Angels.
Blyleven might never decide to retire, so after 19 seasons, the Angels finally figured, what the heck, might as well end these headaches and find a way to bring the enemy over to their side.
It was a trade the Angels should have made about 18 years earlier. If they had, they would have been spared that 14-28 record they racked up against Blyleven, that no-hitter he threw at them in 1977 and all the embarrassment of flailing away so fruitlessly at all those curveballs.
Blyleven owns a 2.52 ERA against his current teammates. That’s a career ERA, covering more than 389 innings.
The last Angel starting pitcher to complete one season with an ERA that low was Tanana, who fashioned a 2.43 mark in 1976.
Even in Blyleven’s worst season--last year, when he went 10-17 with a 5.43 ERA--he befuddled the Angels. In his only start against them in 1988, Blyleven won, 8-2, and struck out seven.
Now, at 38, Blyleven has joined them. The Angels enter 1989 hoping it isn’t too late.
For long and meritorious service, this spot should rightly go to Dan Quisenberry, who saved 17 games against the Angels over the years.
But for sheer, one-time, everlasting Angel agony, Ladd is our lad.
The line on the 1982 AL playoffs was this: If the Angels could get into the Milwaukee bullpen--ailing with ace Rollie Fingers sidelined by a bad elbow--they would get into the World Series. Fingers had saved 29 games that year; no other Brewer had saved more than six.
Well, the Angels got into the Milwaukee bullpen, all right. A lot of good it did them. In Games 3 and 5, they were stopped cold by a part-time deputy sheriff in Cumberland County, Me., who did his moonlighting as a struggling rookie reliever.
Ladd, who had pitched just 18 innings and saved just three games during the regular season, worked the final 1 innings of Milwaukee’s 5-3 victory in Game 3. Then, in decisive Game 5, Ladd entered a 4-3 game in the top of the ninth and stranded the tying run at second base by retiring Brian Downing and Rod Carew on ground outs.
Quisenberry went on to a far more notable career than Ladd, but because of those two dark days in October of 1982, the Angels will always remember Ladd as the devil with the blue cap on.
Wade Boggs--For Boggs, there’s apparently more to Orange County than Margo Adams. Entering 1989, he takes a career .393 average against the Angels. Last year, Boggs batted .489 (22 for 45) against Mike Witt and Co.
Dennis Leonard--The former Royal pitcher won 14 of 16 decisions against the Angels from 1974 to 1985. His ERA in those games: 2.69.
Scott McGregor--The left-handed bookend to Blyleven, McGregor went 20-7 against the Angels--21-7 if you count his 8-0, playoff-clinching shutout in 1979.
Eddie Murray--Facing Murray once a year in the Freeway Series sure beats the alternative. Before his trade to the Dodgers, Murray batted .330 with 28 home runs and 104 RBIs against the Angels. In one 1986 game, he deposited three home runs in the Anaheim Stadium seats.
Jim Palmer--Another dreaded Oriole, Palmer finished his career with a 25-10 record and a 2.57 ERA against the Angels. Even in retirement, he continued to make life miserable for the Angels, telling the world in 1987 how Don Sutton once taught him how to scuff a baseball with sandpaper.
Bob Stanley--Can you believe it? Once booed at Fenway Park as the Red Sox’s opening-day pitcher, Stanley is 15-4 against the Angels. Last year, he went 2-0 with a 0.73 ERA against them.
NIGHTMARES ON STATE COLLEGE BOULEVARD
Every baseball team has its dark moments in club history. It’s just that the Angels seem to have more than their fair share. Consider the deeds perpetrated by the following players. They occupy a special place in Angel lore and probably haunt the dreams of many an Angel fan as well. Pos: 1B Perpetrator: Cecil Cooper Deed: His two-run single in the ’82 playoffs sends Milwaukee to the World Series and the Angels home. Pos: 2B Perpetrator: Dick Green Deed: Angel star-to-be Bobby Valentine breaks his leg chasing a rare Green homer in ’73. Pos: 3B Perpetrator: Doug DeCinces Deed: Great defensive play in ’79 playoffs saves the day for Orioles, who head off to the Series. Pos: SS Perpetrator: Mark Belanger Deed: Good-field, no-hit Oriole breaks up Nolan Ryan’s bid for a second consecutive no-hitter in ’73. Pos: OF Perpetrator: Dave Henderson Deed: If you have to ask, you’re no Angel fan. Pos: OF Perpetrator: John Lowenstein Deed: Oriole sets the tone for Angel postseason play with game-winning homer in Angels’ first playoff game. Pos: OF Perpetrator: Carl Yastrzemski Deed: From 1961-83, hits 36 homers against Angels, including longest (518 feet) in Anaheim Stadium. Pos: DH Perpetrator: Andre Thornton Deed: His homer helps Cleveland come back from 5-0 deficit late in ’85 pennant stretch. Pos: C Perpetrator: Jerry Willard Deed: His homer, after Thornton’s, gives Indians a win. A few days later, Royals win West by one game. Pos: P Perpetrator: Bert Blyleven Deed: Before becoming an Angel, he goes 28-14 (including a no-hitter) with career 2.54 ERA against Angels. Pos: P Perpetrator: Pete Ladd Deed: Brewer rookie stops Angels twice in relief in ’82 playoffs, thwarting comeback efforts.