Gary Lucas cracked open the door.
Donnie Moore and Dave Henderson pushed their way through it to the Angels’ shame and Boston Red Sox fame, but neither would have made it without Lucas’ help.
And Lucas knows it.
“If I do my job that night, perhaps he’s still with us,” the former Angels reliever says of Moore, his troubled former teammate, who later shot himself. “I don’t know if that’s even relative, but it’s certainly something I’ve thought about.”
Angels fans remember the situation: Oct. 12, 1986, top of the ninth inning at Anaheim Stadium, Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.
The Angels, holding a 3-1 lead in the series, are one out away from finally reaching the World Series.
Mike Witt is clinging to a 5-4 lead with catcher Rich Gedman coming to the plate for the Red Sox.
Two batters earlier, Don Baylor had hit a two-run homer, but Witt then retired Dwight Evans on a popup for the second out. Witt hopes to finish what he started, but Manager Gene Mauch opts to play the percentages instead.
Gedman, three for three against Witt in Game 5 with a home run and a double, had struck out the night before against Lucas, the Angels’ veteran left-handed setup man.
So, as a crowd of 64,223 roars in anticipation, Mauch summons Lucas to nail down the victory — and the series.
And Lucas’ only pitch nicks Gedman on the forearm.
For the first time in nearly 4 1/2 years, Lucas hits a batter with a pitch — a batter who in his career would go 0 for 3 against Lucas, striking out in all three official at-bats.
That sets the stage for what is most remembered from that game: Lucas is lifted in favor of Moore, who gives up a two-run homer to Henderson. The Red Sox win in extra innings, torch the Angels in Games 6 and 7 and reach the World Series.
“Believe me, I’ve replayed that thing in my head a million times,” Lucas, 55, says from the Midwest, where he is a pitching coach in the Minnesota Twins’ organization. “Perhaps all I tried to do was make it better than it needed to be.”
Even now, all these years later, the frustration of failing to deliver in the clutch is evident in Lucas’ voice.
“I let a lot of people down,” he says. “I let myself down. And to be quite honest, it never leaves you completely. …
“When it absolutely had to be done for your team going to the World Series, I didn’t get it done. I take full blame for that. There’s no excuse. You’re either good or bad in the major leagues, and I was bad that day. That’s all there was to it.”
But in a 1995 book, “One Pitch Away,” former Angels third baseman Doug DeCinces lays blame on Mauch, indicating that the manager made a hasty decision to summon Lucas.
Lucas “wasn’t even warmed up,” DeCinces told author Mike Sowell. “He was sitting there just watching like everybody else.”
Lucas, who played at Riverside Poly High and Chapman University, recalls it differently.
“I thought the Angels gave us plenty of time,” he says, referring to himself and Moore. “I remember some chaos out there — horses on the field, policemen in our dugout, anticipating the last out — but I don’t remember panic in the bullpen.
“Maybe Doug saw something I don’t recall. From my memory, I thought I had every opportunity to be prepared to go in and do what I was supposed to do. I just didn’t do it.”
His errant pitch, called by catcher Bob Boone, was the same one that struck out Gedman in Game 4: a split-fingered changeup.
“I anticipated him calling it,” Lucas says of Boone. “It wasn’t a surprise. I just overthrew it. It’s one that got away. …
“Being in coaching all these years, you try to teach kids to keep it the same, don’t try to overdo it, what’s good enough and working, you don’t have to do it any better. But I certainly tried to throw it harder or make it better … than what I did the night before.”
A year later, Lucas played his final major league game, finishing his career with a 29-44 record and 63 saves in eight seasons with the San Diego Padres, Montreal Expos and Angels.
Moore committed suicide in July 1989, turning the gun on himself after firing three .45-caliber slugs into his wife, Tonya, who survived the shooting at their Anaheim Hills home. A heavy drinker prone to uncontrollable fits of rage, Moore had recently been released by the Kansas City Royals, was separated from his wife and faced severe financial woes.
“It’s still painful to think about,” Lucas says of his former teammate’s actions. “It was hard to hear, hard to take.”
In 1991, Lucas launched a second career as a pitching coach. He and wife Taffee, parents of three grown daughters, live in Rice Lake, Wis., about two hours northeast of Minneapolis.
He says he rarely hears mention of that long ago Game 5.
“I’ve pretty much been left alone since that happened and haven’t been asked about it hardly at all,” Lucas says, “but it certainly had a big effect on me. …
“I think what I learned from that incident in ’86 was, it’s over. In a huge-magnitude moment you didn’t come through, but what are you going to do? Are you going to run and hide, or are you going to keep living? I just chose to move on, best I could.”