Looking to Buck the Odds

Is there a Bucky Dent in the house?

Do the Angels have what it will take to handle Mission Improbable--beat Randy Johnson, in the Kingdome, in front of 50,000 howling Marinermaniacs, with a berth in the American League playoffs on the line--now that their once-lost season has been found again, at least for one more day?

In today's one-game winner-take-all showdown in Seattle, the Angels need something Ruthian, something Dentian, something they have never managed before.

Something roughly akin to Dave Henderson-in-reverse.

"That's precisely what I was talking about with my wife yesterday," said Angel third base coach Rick Burleson, a member of the 1978 Red Sox team that was undone by Dent's home run in the historic one-game playoff with the Yankees at Fenway Park.

"I told her, 'DiSarcina hits a three-run home run.' Yeah, DiSarcina with a three-run home run in the seventh.'

How about it, Gary?

DiSarcina, owner of 14 home runs in his five-year Angel career, first blushed, then laughed at the very idea.

"Oh, I don't know about that," he said, not wanting to touch that prediction with a 50-foot foul pole.

Then, diplomatically, ever the team player, DiSarcina straightened up and declared, "I would like to think there are a lot of Bucky Dents on this team."

If so, good for the Angels.

Most likely, they'll need every one they can find.

In the one-game playoff they forced by beating Oakland, 8-2, Sunday at Anaheim Stadium, the Angels clearly got the short end of the draw.

Leaders of the American League West for 124 days, they are the ones who will play on the road, in an ear-splitting echo chamber amplified by the hysterical voices of a Seattle population that has just discovered the concept of "winning baseball."

Ahead of Seattle by 13 games on the last day of July, the Angels will have to win one game against the best pitcher in the league on his home turf on the second day of October or else call off the season on the third.

Was that the nonstop to Seattle the Angels boarded late Sunday afternoon . . . or one long flight to nowhere?

"Ideally," Burleson said, "we wouldn't want to be having to play this game. Really, we're going up against the best pitcher in our league.

"But a one-game playoff is a crapshoot. With the guy [the Mariners] have going, this game is similar to '78. The Yankees had [Ron] Guidry going in that one. Seattle's got the probable Cy Young Award winner. But, we've got an opportunity. Let me tell you, it's a great feeling to get on a plane tonight instead of driving home."

For the 34,716 who found the time in their busy schedules to show up at Anaheim Stadium for a free sample of season-extender, it was hard to know how to react.

Does the fashionable Angel fan storm the field after the home team clinches . . . what? A tie for the AL West tie? No, the Angels haven't even managed that. Officially, they are tied for first place with one game left on the schedule. Lose that and the 1995 Angels will forever be remembered as a second-place ballclub.

Is raiding the pitcher's mound and ripping chunks out of the infield grass the proper etiquette when your team tailspins through one of the all-time late-season fadeaways, pulls off not one, but two nine-game losing streaks in September, falls three games back with five to play and then rallies with five consecutive victories to pull even, barely, at the 11th hour and the 59th minute?

The Anaheim Stadium security troops thought so, which is why the right- and left-field lines were each adorned with a phalanx of black-shirted police officers during the ninth inning. Apparently, there was fear of a full-scale riot of "Y.M.C.A."-singing, arm-flapping Angel zealots just as soon as Troy Percival notched the final out.

For a few frightening moments, it looked for all the world like Game 5 Revisited, until the Angel reliever, this time, blew a third fastball past the last hitter.

But, no, there was no mayhem. Only some long-lost standing and cheering as Marcel Lachemann and his players formed a mid-diamond receiving line to shake a few hands, hug a teammate or two and then, rather sedately, retreat to the clubhouse.

And that, in truth, was all the moment deserved. Sunday, the Angels accomplished something--a fifth straight victory after last rites were administered Tuesday in Seattle--and yet, they have achieved nothing. Unless they win today, they will be remembered as the '78 Red Sox are--early-season front-runners who choked away the pennant, never mind the fact those Red Sox closed the regular season by winning 12 of their last 14.

If that is the epitaph-to-be, Lachemann attempted to shoot holes in it as soon as he could.

"I think we've eliminated the stigma, to be honest," Lachemann said. "It takes more character to do what we've done--lose a big lead and then fight your way back--than to fall behind and dig your way out.

"I may not look like it," Lachemann added, deadpan locked into place as always, "but I'm very excited about what we've accomplished here. This team didn't go in the tank. It didn't throw in the towel. I'm very proud of them."

Besides, the gag rule applies to everyone involved in today's playoff.

Didn't the Mariners just blow a three-game lead over the Angels with five to play?

Who's choking now?

When someone put it in that fashion for Lachemann, he actually elicited a chuckle.

"It can happen," Lachemann said. "We've both seen that now. The way the game is set up today, there's no one series that's ever easy."

Nor a one-game playoff with Randy Johnson glowering down the hill at you.

"I tell you what," Burleson said, fishing for a glimmer of hope, "anything can happen tomorrow. I wish I was a player again. It's going to be very, very exciting."

If DiSarcina or Rex Hudler or anyone else feeling the urge decides to step up and hit one for the ages, Gene Autry would be much obliged. "I'd be a happy cowboy," Autry said, and wouldn't that be a change after the previous 34 Octobers?

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World