The 1986 California Angels
In the first half of the 1980’s, California waged war with Kansas City, attempting to break the Royals grip as the team to beat in the American League West. The Halos roster was aging, and the organization’s propensity to sign free agents placed the team into a “win-now” mode. In November 1985, the Angels granted free agency to six players, including Rod Carew, Bobby Grich, Don Sutton, Juan Beniquez, Al Holland, and Donnie Moore. Grich, Sutton, and Moore returned, with Beniquez departing to the Orioles, and Holland to the Yankees. Carew retired in 1986 with a .328 lifetime batting average, 7 A.L. batting crowns, and 3053 hits. The Angels honored Carew by retiring his uniform number 29 on August 12, 1986.
In December 1985, GM Mike Port acquired lefty reliever Gary Lucas from the Expos, in exchange for Luis Sanchez. He also released Geoff Zahn and Daryl Sconiers. The absence of Carew and Sconiers created a void at first base, leaving the Angels seeking a replacement from within the organization.
The Angels were counting on a 24-year-old rookie to fill Rod Carew’s shoes at first base. Wally Joyner enjoyed a triple-crown season in the Puerto Rican winter league in 1985-86 (.356/14/48), following three solid minor league campaigns. Joyner earned an all-star berth for his first half performance (.313/20/72), but struggled mightily after the break (.257/2/28).
Bobby Grich (.268/9/30 in his final season) and Rob Wilfong shared the second base chores, while shortstop Dick Schofield improved to .249 with 13 homers and 23 steals. One of the highlights of the regular season occurred when Schofield capped an 8-run comeback in the ninth inning with a grand-slam home run off Tigers closer Willie Hernandez, giving the Angels a 13-12 victory on August 29.
Doug DeCinces anchored the hot corner, catching fire in August (.337/9/25) en route to a team-leading 26 homers. In the outfield, Brian Downing cranked out 20 long balls, and led the squad with an .841 OPS. Gary Pettis was awarded his second gold glove while posting career highs in runs scored (93), doubles, home runs, and RBI. Ruppert Jones and George Hendrick formed a solid platoon in right field, combining to deliver 31 jacks and 96 RBI. Reggie Jackson, the primary DH, contributed with 18 clouts and led the Halos with 92 walks.
Bob Boone earned his fourth gold glove award, but continued to struggle with the bat (.222/7/49). Jerry Narron backed up Boone, while Rick Burleson and Jack Howell provided bench support for the infielders.
Mike Witt enjoyed a sensational season in 1986. He sizzled in August, racking up a 5-0 record in 43 innings, yielding only 1 earned run! For the year, Witt amassed an 18-10 record with a 2.84 ERA, 1.082 WHIP, and 208 strikeouts in 269 innings. He also completed 14 games with 3 shutouts. Kirk McCaskill finished second to Witt in victories (17), complete games (10), innings pitched (246), and strikeouts (202). McCaskill twirled a one-hitter against Texas on June 25. He yielded a gopher ball to Steve Buechele leading off the third inning for the lone Rangers hit.
Don Sutton notched his 300th career win on June 18, defeating Texas with a complete-game three-hitter. Sutton reached the century mark in strikeouts (actually 116), giving him 21 consecutive seasons with 100 or more punch-outs. Nolan Ryan surpassed Sutton in 1991, finishing his career with 23 such seasons. John Candelaria left his first start of the season after 2 innings, and went under the knife to have a bone spur removed from his left elbow. Candelaria pitched very effectively upon his return to the rotation on July 8. He finished with a 10-2 record, 2.55 ERA and 1.025 WHIP. Over his final 9 starts, the Candy Man delivered a 6-1 mark and 1.61 ERA, beginning with a 3-hit shutout of the Mariners on August 9.
Jim Slaton stepped into the rotation in Candelaria’s absence. He was released at the end of June after compiling a 4-6 mark with a 5.65 ERA. Ron Romanick found himself in triple-A Edmonton by the middle of July, compiling an 8.85 ERA in his final four starts after struggling to a 5-5 record with a 4.71 ERA through June 24. No one stepped forward to fill Romanick’s slot in the rotation, as Ray Chadwick (0-5, 7.24) and Vern Ruhle (3 starts, 7.98 ERA) got pummeled in 10 starts. Urbano Lugo was recalled in September, and made 2 quality starts in 3 attempts (3.78 ERA).
In the pen, Donnie Moore saved 21 games, but struggled with injuries throughout the season. Moore missed most of June with a sore right shoulder. After posting 7 saves and a 5.21 ERA prior to his DL stint, Moore pitched brilliantly upon his return to the active roster (14 saves, 1.96 ERA). Doug Corbett earned 10 saves and fashioned a 3.66 ERA and 1.119 WHIP, while southpaws Gary Lucas (4-1, 3.15, 1.117) and Terry Forster (4-1, 3.51, 5 saves) handled the middle-relief roles. The Angels recalled Chuck Finley, a 23-year old left-hander, from single-A Quad City on May 25. Finley filled the long relief role admirably (3-1, 3.30), replacing Ken Forsch (9.53 in 10 appearances).
Down on the Farm
Mark McLemore split time between Midland and Edmonton. He swiped 67 bases and batted .294, while Pete Coachman (.329, 39 SB) and Norm Carrasco (.301 at Edmonton) gave California 3 solid second base prospects. OF Mark Ryal’s .340 batting average placed second in the PCL. Ryal tallied 33 doubles, 14 home runs, and 84 RBI for the Trappers, and he batted .375 (12/32) in a September callup for the Halos. SS Gus Polidor earned a recall with a .300 average for Edmonton. OF Kevin King (30 HR) and 1B James “Sap” Randall (22 HR) knocked in 93 runs apiece for Midland (AA), but both sluggers failed to reach the majors. RP DeWayne Buice garnered 15 saves, along with a 3.08 ERA. SP Willie Fraser received a promotion after fashioning a 13-3 record (3.45 ERA, 1.077 WHIP) for Palm Springs and Edmonton.
The Angels entered into the division lead in mid-April, and held their position until they lost 8 of 9 games from May 21-30. They fell as far as 4.5 games back on June 13. The Halos proceeded to win 8 of 9 from June 16-25, and pulled into first place again. After losing the lead briefly in early July, California forged ahead and never relinquished the lead after July 7. The Athletics keep pace with the Angels in the second half (42 wins for Oakland vs. 44 for California), but their 34-56 first half mark prevented them from mounting a serious threat. The Angels clinched the Western Division crown on September 26, 1986 (an 8-3 victory at home against the Rangers). The win gave them a 10 game cushion over Texas, but a 2-7 skid to end the season left the Rangers 5 games behind the Angels at season’s end.
California headed to Boston to start the playoffs. The teams’ aces, Mike Witt and Roger Clemens, would square off in Game 1. Clemens dominated the American League in 1986, with a 24-4 record and league-leading 2.48 ERA and 0.969 WHIP. He was awarded the A.L. MVP and Cy Young awards. The Angels broke through for an early lead against the Rocket Man. With 2 outs in the second inning, Bob Boone and Gary Pettis drew bases on balls. Ruppert Jones, Wally Joyner, and Brian Downing followed with run-scoring hits, giving the Angels a 4-0 lead. Gary Pettis delivered a run-scoring single in the 4th inning. Sox second sacker Marty Barrett lined a single to right in the 6th inning, scoring Spike Owen to break up Witt’s shutout. In the eighth, three consecutive singles by Dick Schofield, Boone, and Pettis knocked Clemens from the game. Downing grounded a two-run single to left off Joe Sambito, and the Angels led 8-1. Witt set the Red Sox down in order in the ninth inning, and the Halos took the first game of the series.
Bruce Hurst scattered 11 hits in a complete-game victory for the Sox in Game 2. Marty Barrett drove in 2 runs in the first two frames, but the Halos battled back with a Schofield RBI single in the fourth, and a Joyner solo shot in the fifth. Boston answered in the bottom of the fifth, as Dwight Evans flared a pop-fly double behind second base, scoring Bill Buckner. California’s defense collapsed in the seventh inning. They committed 3 errors, permitting three unearned runs to score. Gary Lucas relieved Kirk McCaskill, who kept the Angels within striking distance despite allowing 10 hits and 3 walks in seven innings. Buckner lofted a sacrifice fly to increase the Red Sox lead to 7-2, then Jim Rice greeted Doug Corbett by launching a long ball to right-center field. Boston defeated California 9-2, and the series shifted to Anaheim.
The matchup for Game 3 pitted John Candelaria against Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd. Boston took an early 1-0 lead in the 2nd inning. After a leadoff walk to Jim Rice, Candelaria yielded three singles, with Rich Gedman’s grounder up the middle scoring Rice. Reggie Jackson tied the score with a base hit in the sixth frame. The bottom of the Angels’ batting order knocked Boyd out in the seventh. With two outs, Schofield blasted a round-tripper to deep left. After Boone lined a single to center, Pettis crushed a moon shot to right-center. Joe Sambito induced Joyner to ground out to second to end the threat, but California was ahead, 4-1.
Gene Mauch called on Donnie Moore to get the final six outs. Barrett singled, followed by a Buckner fly out to center. Rice connected with an opposite-field double to right, sending Barrett to third. With Don Baylor at the plate, Moore balked in a run. Later in the inning, Gedman lined a single to left, scoring Rice. Tony Armas skied to center to end the threat, but the Halos’ lead was trimmed to 4-3. California capitalized on an error by Wade Boggs to plate an insurance run on a Ruppert Jones sacrifice fly. Moore allowed a base hit to Barrett in the ninth, but induced Buckner to fly out to left to end the game. The Angels prevailed 5-3, and assumed a 2-1 lead in the series.
Wally Joyner was hospitalized before Game 4, with a staph infection in his right leg. He would miss the rest of the series. Wally batted .455 in the ALCS (5/11 with 2 doubles and a home run). George Hendrick and Bobby Grich played first base in Joyner’s absence.
Don Sutton, the 41 year-old veteran, took the hill for the Halos in Game 4. The Sox, going with a three-man rotation, countered with Roger Clemens. The game was scoreless through five innings. Boston drew first blood with two outs in the sixth. A line drive double to right by Buckner scored Tony Armas. In the top of the eighth, the Red Sox padded their lead to 3-0. Barrett singled off reliever Vern Ruhle, scoring Spike Owen. Chuck Finley relieved Ruhle. After a passed ball allowed Barrett to get into scoring position, Grich booted a Buckner grounder, allowing Barrett to race home. The Angels entered the ninth inning behind by three runs, with Clemens working on a 5-hit shutout. Doug DeCinces connected with Clemens’ second offering of the inning, launching a blast over the left-center field fence. Hendrick grounded out to Boggs, then Schofield and Boone followed with back-to-back singles to left. Red Sox skipper John McNamara called on Calvin Schraldi to nail down the save for Boston. Devon White pinch-ran for Boone.
Gary Pettis greeted Schraldi with a double to left, scoring Schofield and sending White to third with the tying run. McNamara ordered an intentional walk for Ruppert Jones, loading the bases. Bobby Grich struck out swinging, bringing Brian Downing to the plate with two outs. Schiraldi got ahead in the count, 1 ball and 2 strikes, but his next delivery plunked Downing and forced home the tying run! Reggie Jackson grounded out to second base to end the threat, but the Angels had forced extra innings. Doug Corbett shut down the Sox in order in the tenth and eleventh innings. Schraldi remained in the game. Jerry Narron led off the bottom of the 11th with a line drive single to right. Pettis sacrified Narron to second, and Boston issued another intentional pass to Ruppert Jones. Bobby Grich lined a single to left on Schraldi’s next pitch, scoring Narron and giving the Angels a 3-1 lead in the series.
California needed one victory to reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. Mauch started his well-rested ace, Mike Witt, while McNamara countered with Bruce Hurst. Rich Gedman tied into a Witt delivery in the second inning, sending a long drive out of the yard to deep right field, scoring Rice. Bob Boone dialed long-distance leading off the third, cutting the Sox lead to 2-1. Boston center fielder Tony Armas suffered a sprained ankle, so McNamara replaced him with Dave Henderson. With two outs in the sixth, Doug DeCinces blasted a double to deep right-center.
Bobby Grich lofted a drive to center. Henderson raced back and leaped at the wall, and the ball settled into his glove. Hendu slammed into the fence, and the impact jarred the ball out of his glove and over the wall. Grich pumped his fist in the air as he circled the bases, and the Halos took a 3-2 lead. The Angels plated two insurance runs in the seventh against reliever Bob Stanley. Rob Wilfong doubled to center, scoring Devon White, who pinch-ran after George Hendrick led off the inning with a single to third. With two outs, Brian Downing delivered a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Gary Pettis.
The Red Sox were 3 outs away from elimination, and the 64,000 fans at Anaheim Stadium rose to their feet to encourage their team. Witt was brilliant through 8 innings, scattering 6 hits. Three of those hits belonged to Gedman. Bill Buckner started the ninth with a wormburner up the middle, and he was immediately lifted for pinch-runner Dave Stapleton. Jim Rice struck out – two outs to go. Don Baylor worked the count full, then Witt hung the payoff pitch and Baylor connected. The horsehide left the yard, and the Angels clung to a one-run lead. Dwight Evans skied a foul fly on the third base side, and DeCinces camped under it for the second out. Gedman strolled to the plate, and Mauch decided to call on lefty Gary Lucas.
Witt pleaded his case, to no avail. According to Witt, the criticism of Gene Mauch was unfounded. “He made the right move. In that spot, bringing in a lefty makes sense. Anyone who second-guesses the move is using twenty-twenty hindsight.” Lucas, who hadn’t hit a batter in over 4 seasons, plunked Gedman with his first pitch. Mauch made another call to the bullpen. This time, he summoned his closer, Donnie Moore. DeCinces commented, “Donnie Moore had a cortisone injection the night before. He wasn’t supposed to pitch. He was NOT supposed to pitch.” Bobby Grich agreed. “He was hurting and wasn’t at the top of his game, but Gene had no choice. I’m thinking he’s got to bring in Moore now.” Boston’s chances rested on the bat of Dave Henderson. Hendu struggled mightily after his trade from Seattle to Boston in mid-August, batting .196/1/3 in 51 at-bats. Boston had a stellar outfield with Rice, Armas, and Evans, so Henderson was relegated to the role of fourth outfielder.
Moore’s first offering was a ball, followed by a called strike. Henderson swung and missed at the next pitch, and the Angels were one strike away from their first World Series. The subsequent delivery was low for ball two. Henderson fouled off two pitches, the count remaining at 2-2. Boone called for a split-fingered fastball, Moore’s best pitch. The splitter didn’t drop, and Henderson hammered it. Downing drifted back to the wall, but ran out of room. The ball sailed over his head, and the crowd fell silent. Henderson’s home run stunned the Angels and all of their supporters. DeCinces looked like he had been punched in the gut as Henderson rounded the bases. “I don’t think I’ve ever been at such a high and such a low in a matter of seconds. To be on that field and then to just have somebody cut your legs off, it was incredible… You could feel it. All of a sudden, everything was just gone. You have everything, and to have it yanked away like that was difficult.” Ed Romero hit a fly ball to right for the third out, but the Red Sox were ahead, 6-5.
California still had a chance to redeem themselves. John McNamara called upon Bob Stanley to close out the game. Boone led off the bottom of the ninth with a line drive single to left. Ruppert Jones ran for Boone, then Gary Pettis sacrified Jones to second. Rob Wilfong, a .219 batter during the regular season, grounded Stanley’s ensuing delivery between first and second. Jones raced home with the tying run. Steve Crawford relieved Stanley, and Dick Schofield greeted him with a bouncer through the right side of the infield, sending Wilfong to third. Downing was walked intentionally, bringing DeCinces to the plate. The winning run stood ninety feet from home plate, and DeCinces wanted to avoid an inning-ending double play. Instead, he would attempt to loft the ball into the outfield for a game-winning sacrifice fly. DeCinces hacked at Crawford’s initial offering and hit the ball to short right field. Dwight Evans, who possessed one of the strongest arms in the league, camped underneath and made the catch. Jones had to hold at third base. Grich lined back to Crawford, with the scored knotted at 6.
Moore and Crawford escaped the tenth inning unscathed, but Moore ran out of gas in the top of the eleventh. He hit Baylor with a pitch to start the frame. Evans followed with a base hit to center. Gedman surprised the Halos with a bunt hit towards third, loading the bases with no outs. Moore got Henderson to fly out to center, but Baylor tagged up and scored the go-ahead run. Romero flied out to left, and Chuck Finley came on to get Boggs on a groundout to second base. Boston assumed the lead again, 7-6, and McNamara summoned Schraldi from the pen. Wilfong and Schofield struck out, and Downing fouled out to first base to end the game. The Angels, so close to punching their ticket to the Series, would have to fly back to Boston. They led the series, 3 games to 2, but the loss would haunt the organization for years to come.
The Angels struck first in Game 6. With two outs in the opening frame, consecutive doubles to left by Jackson and DeCinces off “Oil Can” Boyd gave the Halos a 2-0 lead. Schofield legged out an infield hit, and Boyd plunked Grich to load the bases. However, he escaped further damage by inducing Wilfong to pop out to Buckner. The Sox evened the score in the bottom of the first. McCaskill walked Boggs and Barrett, and Buckner grounded to first, advancing the runners. Boggs scooted home on a passed ball by Boone, and Barrett scored on a ground out by Rice. Boston broke the game open in the 3rd. McCaskill yielded hits to 6 of the 7 batters he faced in the inning, and after Gary Lucas came on to stop the bleeding, the Angels trailed, 7-2. Boyd settled in, and the Red Sox prevailed, 10-4, and the series was tied at 3 games apiece.
The Angels still had an opportunity to erase the memories of the last two games, but Roger Clemens was standing in their way. Boston drew first blood, scoring 3 unearned runs in the 2nd against John Candelaria. The floodgates opened in the 4th. Gary Pettis misplayed a fly ball by Henderson into a three-base error. Spike Owen’s single to right extended the Sox lead to 4-0. A two-out walk to Dave Stapleton brought Jim Rice to the plate. Rice delivered a back-breaking bomb over the Green Monster, ending Candelaria’s night early and effectively crushing the Angels’ World Series dreams. Don Sutton entered the game, and held the Sox at bay, save for a line-drive homer to left by Dwight Evans. California scratched their lone run across in the eighth against Schraldi, who proceeded to strike out the side in the ninth to seal the dramatic series comeback for Boston.
In bittersweet irony for Angels fans, the Red Sox were one strike away from winning the 1986 World Series when Mookie Wilson topped a ground ball towards Bill Buckner…
Wally Joyner earned the starting nod at first base in the All-Star Game (over Don Mattingly and Eddie Murray). The young ballplayers continued to make strides, with Pettis, Schofield, McCaskill, and Finley contributing greatly to the 1986 division title. Devon White, Mark McLemore, Willie Fraser, and others were ready to become factors as the organization would attempt to phase out the veterans over the following seasons.
The long dry spell begins.
References and Resources
1987 California Angels Media Digest
The Doug DeCinces quotes are from Mike Sowell, One Pitch Away: The Players’ Stories of the 1986 League Championships and World Series, MacMillan, 1995, pp. 143-144
The Bobby Grich quote is from Robert Goldman, Once They Were Angels, Sports Publishing L.L.C., 2006, pp. 176
The Mike Witt quote is from Mike Sowell, One Pitch Away: The Players’ Stories of the 1986 League Championships and World Series, MacMillan, 1995, pp. 134