March 28, 2017

The 1985 California Angels

September 12, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The Angels attempted to regroup after two consecutive seasons in which they failed to live up to their potential. Gene Mauch replaced John McNamara, reprising his role as manager after a two-year hiatus. California promoted Mike Port to the dual role of Executive Vice President and General Manager in September 1984. Port allowed ten players to walk as free agents, including Fred Lynn. The Angels claimed relief pitcher Donnie Moore from the Atlanta Braves on January 24, 1985, as compensation for the loss of Lynn. Port signed Ruppert Jones to replace Lynn as an outfield/DH option, and promoted Angels minor league prospects to fill the remaining roster spots. The infusion of young talent included starting pitcher Kirk McCaskill, relievers Stew Cliburn and Pat Clements, and backup infielder Craig Gerber.

Rick Burleson, Ken Forsch, and Frank LaCorte missed the entire season due to injury, and Geoff Zahn was limited to 7 starts due to a shoulder injury. The offense generally under-performed, with one exception: The Halos led the American League in walks. A few highlights included 56 stolen bases from Gary Pettis, a third consecutive .300 season from Juan Beniquez, and an .847 OPS from Reggie Jackson (.252/27/85). Brian Downing led the squad with 85 RBI. Downing, along with Doug DeCinces and Ruppert Jones, surpassed the 20 home run mark.

On August 4, 1985, Rod Carew became the 16th player in Major League Baseball history to collect 3,000 career hits. He delivered an opposite-field single off Twins’ lefthander Frank Viola. Carew stated, “When you’ve been around 19 years, you’re bound to collect a lot of hits. To be mentioned with the Cobbs, Hornsby, Rose and Clemente, it’s a great feeling for me. You hear those names for so many years and then you’re right there with those guys.” Gary Pettis commented, “Most guys hit when they can—he hits when he wants to.” Bobby Grich echoed similar sentiments about his long-time teammate. “He stays within himself so well. He doesn’t try to hit home runs. Because of that, there are hitters who can cause more damage and can carry a team further, but for getting on base and getting base hits, he’s the best.”

The Angels pitching staff shined in ’85. Mike Witt continued his development into one of the top starting pitchers in the American League. Witt compiled a 15-9 record, with a 3.56 ERA over 250 innings. Ron Romanick followed a solid rookie season with a 14-9 mark, with a 4.11 ERA. However, his peripheral numbers indicated that he wasn’t fooling too many batters (210 hits allowed in 195 innings, and a 1:1 walk/strikeout ratio). Kirk McCaskill turned in a decent rookie effort, earning 12 victories. Tommy John was released in mid-June after 12 largely ineffective outings (2-4, 4.70 ERA, 1.722 WHIP). Urbano Lugo enter the starting rotation, and won 3 of 4 starts in June. He struggled in July, and was banished to the bullpen in August.

Port made two mid-season deals to bolster the pitching corps. On August 2, he acquired John Candelaria (7-3, 3.80 for the Angels), George Hendrick, and Al Holland (1.48 ERA) from the Pittsburgh Pirates, in exchange for outfielder Mike Brown, and pitchers Pat Clements and Bob Kipper. On September 10, Port sent two minor leagues to the Oakland Athletics, in exchange for veteran starting pitcher Don Sutton (2-2, 3.69 for the Angels).

Donnie Moore enjoyed a sensational debut season for the Halos. He amassed 31 saves with a stellar 1.92 ERA, along with 8 victories. Moore earned an invite to the All-Star Game, finishing sixth in the A.L. MVP voting, and seventh in the A.L. Cy Young race. 28-year-old Stew Cliburn placed fifth in the A.L. Rookie of the Year voting after compiling a 9-3 record, with a 2.09 ERA in the setup role. Fellow rookie Pat Clements pitched to a 5-0 record with a 3.34 ERA prior to the deal with the Pirates.

Down on the Farm

OF Reggie Montgomery led the Midland Angels (AA) with 22 home runs and 101 RBI along with a .289 batting average in 1985. He followed that effort with a .285/18/82 season for the Edmonton Trappers, but never received the call to the major leagues. Third baseman Jack Howell’s torrid start for the Trappers (.373/13/48) earned him a mid-May recall to the Angels. Future gold-glove outfielder Devon White received a cup of coffee after swiping 58 bags along with a .274/8/74 season, split between Midland and Edmonton.

Fight to the Finish

California rode a six-game winning streak at the end of April into sole possession of first place in the American League Western Division. The Angels fell out of first place briefly in early June, but by the All-Star Break (July 15-17), they had stretch their lead to six games over the Athletics. The Royals sat 7.5 games behind in third place. California lost 5 straight at the end of July (4 in Toronto), and their lead shrank to 2.5 games over Kansas City.

The Angels remained in first place until the first week of September. The Royals reeled off an eight-game winning streak at their home park, taking three straight from the White Sox, then five in a row from the Brewers. Kansas City traveled to Anaheim, and proceed to win 2 of 3 from the Halos. The Angels then took 3 of 4 from the Rangers, and 2 of 3 from the White Sox, while the Royals lost 4 straight at home to the Mariners (after winning 3 of 4 in Oakland). On September 20, the Angels and Royals were deadlocked at 82-64. The White Sox were 7.5 games behind with 16 remaining, so this was essentially a two-team race.

California won five of their next 10 games, while Kansas City went 4-6, giving the Angels a one-game lead entering their final series with the Royals. The four game set was scheduled for September 30 to October 3 in Kansas City. Bret Saberhagen delivered his 20th victory in the opener, 3-1. He struck out 10, allowing only a solo home run to 3B Doug DeCinces. George Brett and Jim Sundberg countered with long balls against John Candelaria. In the second game, the Angels countered with a 4-2 victory. Bobby Grich launched a solo homer in the second inning off Charlie Leibrandt. In the fifth inning, Brian Downing doubled in a run, followed by RBI singles by Rod Carew and DeCinces. Mike Witt pitched 7 2/3 innings for his 14th win, with Donnie Moore notching his 30th save. Kansas City pulled even with California in the third game, on the strength of a 3-hit shutout by Bud Black.

George Brett cracked his 27th round-tripper, a three-run blast off Ron Romanick in the first inning. The Royals took the final game of the series, 4-1, with Don Sutton yielding gopher balls to Frank White, Steve Balboni, and Brett. The Angels scratched their lone run in the ninth inning, as Bobby Grich tripled in DH Rufino Linares to chase starter Danny Jackson. Royals’ closer Dan Quisenberry walked pinch-hitter Reggie Jackson, bringing the tying run to the plate. Juan Beniquez struck out to end the threat, and the Angels headed for Arlington, Texas, trailing the Royals by one game. Dave Schmidt twirled a 7-hit shutout, while the Royals beat the Athletics, 4-2, setting the Angels two games back with two games remaining. California attempted to keep pace with Kansas City, defeating the Rangers, 3-1. Kansas City put an end to the suspense, eliminating the Angels with a 5-4 victory over Oakland in 10 innings. The Royals lost their final game, while Mike Witt and the Halos “B-Team” beat Texas, 6-5. Rufino Linares, Darrell Miller, and Pat Keedy all dialed long distance for the Angels.

Kansas City ultimately won the 1985 World Series, after coming back from 3-1 deficits in the American League Championship Series (vs. the Toronto Blue Jays) and the World Series (vs. the St. Louis Cardinals).

Silver Lining

California won 90 games for the second time in franchise history (93 victories in 1982). The farm system consistently produced talented ballplayers, providing the Angels with the means to replace the veterans that were nearing the end of line due to age or injury. Gary Pettis received his first Gold Glove award. Donnie Moore and Stew Cliburn emerged as a spectacular 1-2 punch from the bullpen. 24-year-olds Mike Witt, Ron Romanick, and Kirk McCaskill anchored a promising starting rotation.

On Deck

Gene Mauch leads the Angels within one pitch of the World Series. Alas, they would have to wait another 16 years to finally attain their goal.

References and Resources

Baseball-Reference

Baseball America – Executive Database

Rod Reels In His 3000th Hit – Sports Illustrated article, Bruce Anderson, 8/12/1985

Carew Collects 3,000th Hit in Angel Win – Los Angeles Times article, 8/5/1985

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