AngelsWin.com's Top-50 Greatest Moments in Angels Baseball
When the word went out that AngelsWin.com was compiling a list of the 50 greatest moments in Angels history, my first thought, sadly enough, was to the tumultuous moments in our team’s history: I thought of how the Angels have always been second-class citizens living in the shadow of Chavez Ravine; or how we have spent most of our history grasping at greatness, yet coming up empty. I did not immediately think about the World Series win in 2002. But that’s the price I have paid for being a fan of this team, an experience I would not trade for anything.
But I quickly reminded myself that we have also had moments that rival those of any team in MLB history. Imagine compiling an All-Star team made up of past and present Angels. Heck, I would line them up against anyone. We would be able to choose a rotation from a pool of guys like Dean Chance, Clyde Wright, Chuck Finley and John Lackey. And who could forget about Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana, a duo known as much for its dominance as it was for the inability of the rest of that staff to get wins? “Tanana and Ryan, and two days of cryin’,” anyone? And what about our offense? It seems almost unfair to only choose a starting nine: Albie Pearson, Don Baylor, Alex Johnson, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Wally Joyner, Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson and Vlad Guerrero. I know I didn’t pick by position, but what would be the fun in that? The bottom line is that there was much to think about in comprising a list of 50 great moments and it’s because of all the great players we have been lucky to watch.
I must confess, I have had a peek at the final list and I have gotten chills just thinking about some of these incredible moments. And while some of the Angels baseball aficionados may not find this list filled with too many surprises, the point of this feature is to ultimately wipe the cobwebs from our memories and begin thinking about baseball again. Obviously, many of us were not around for all of these moments, but we have read about them so much that we sometimes imagine them in a manner that suggests we were in the front row!
The name of our team dates back as far as 1892, but this team as we have come to know and love them came into being when it was suggested to Gene Autry that he buy this new franchise.
For the next 50 days, AngelsWin.com will count down the top-50 moments in Angels history, with No. 1 being revealed on Sunday, March 30 — the eve of opening day. We hope the list brings back great memories, inspires debate and generally reminds Angels fans we have, in fact, had quite a lot to cheer about over the years.
In 1960, Autry purchased the franchise known as the Los Angeles Angels and in 1961 the team took the field for the first time. It seems only fitting that our list start there.
#50 - Dec. 6, 1960: Gene Autry awarded the AL expansion franchise to be known as the Los Angeles Angels
Looking back, it seems simple enough. Gene Autry was a big baseball fan. He had made plenty of money in show business; he was, after all, known as the “Singin’ Cowboy.”
A friend suggested Autry buy the team after Walter O’Malley, the shrewd businessman and owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers (and owner of the Los Angeles Angels moniker), resisted attempts to purchase the franchise by famed baseball promoter and entrepreneur, Bill Veeck.
Autry proved to be a more suitable owner for a team that would play its first few years under O’Malley’s watchful eye. And when he had enough of being bled dry in rental fees for playing in O’Malley’s stadium (Autry had to purchase the name “Los Angeles Angels” from O’Malley for a reported $300,000), Autry looked to greener pastures, finally settling in Anaheim.
In 1966, the Angels began play at the “Big A” as the California Angels and they led the American League that year in attendance. Things were finally looking up. But the Angels would spend Gene Autry’s long tenure as owner mired in mediocrity and stunning disappointment. The Angels front office often unloaded young and talented players for overpriced veterans in an attempt to finally win one for the aging “cowboy.” He would never live to see his dream of a World Series Championship.
Gene Autry passed away in 1998 and is forever immortalized by way of a bronze statue inside the gates of Angels Stadium.
#49 - Aug. 18, 2009: Nine Times .300
In the top of the fifth inning of their Aug. 18 game at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Angels catcher Mike Napoli smashed a line drive single into center field off Indians starter Fausto Carmona. It was Napoli’s second hit of the game, lifting his batting average to .302.
And though Napoli popped up and struck out in his final two at-bats of the Angels 5-4 victory, his average at the game’s conclusion was .300. While it’s always noteworthy when a batter (especially a career .256 hitter) eclipses the magical .300 mark, this particular moment was altogether monumental. Napoli was just one of nine Angels hitters who finished that game with a batting average of .300 or better.
Chone Figgins: .308
Bobby Abreu: .310
Juan Rivera: .310
Vladimir Guerrero: .313
Kendry Morales: .303
Torii Hunter: .307
Maicer Izturis: .300
Mike Napoli: .300
Erick Aybar: .313
It would last only those final four innings and the time leading up to the next day’s game — Angels manager Mike Scioscia inserted .275 hitting Howie Kendrick for .300 hitting Izturis and Napoli flew out to left field after walking twice, dropping his average back to .299 — but it was historic, however fleeting as it may have been.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it marked the first time since 1934 that any Major League team at least 100 games into its season finished a game with every player in its starting lineup hitting .300 or better. Mickey Cochrane’s Tigers accomplished the feat Sept. 9, 1934, against Boston — which was all the more impressive considering pitcher Lynwood “Schoolboy” Rowe and his .301 average was batting ninth. The Tigers lineup that day included four Hall of Famers (Cochrane, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Goose Goslin) and two All-Stars (Rowe, Gee Walker).
The Angels hitting heroics helped rookie starter Trevor Bell win his first Major League game — one that he and Angels fans won’t soon forget.
#48 - Chuck Finley becomes all-time Angels leader in Wins
“Fin to Win!” And he did. More than any other pitcher in Angels franchise history.
It was Tuesday evening, July 29,1997, when Chuck Finley took the mound in Cleveland to face an Indian lineup that included Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Matt Williams. In the bottom of the second inning, Finley gave up two runs on three hits — the only runs or hits he would surrender on the night en route to a 7-2 complete game victory. Jack Howell homered twice to pace the Halos.
In front of 42,975 at Jacobs Field, Finley upped his record to 10-6 on the season, but more importantly, he had just notched victory No. 139, surpassing Nolan Ryan as the team leader in career wins.
A five-time All-Star, Finley ended his Angels career with 165 wins — a record that still stands (and should for several more seasons — John Lackey is the team’s active leader with 79 victories.)
Chuck Finley Trivia – Finley is the only Major League pitcher to strike out 4 batters in one inning more than once, accomplishing the feat 3 times (twice as an Angel)
Anaheim Angels IP H R ER BB SO
Finley, W (10-6) 9 3 2 2 2 9
#47 – June 6, 2000: The Rally Monkey debuts
Picture it: An average Tuesday night game at Edison Field of Anaheim.
In the midst of another mediocre season, the Angels were trailing, ironically enough, the San Francisco Giants, 0-3, in the sixth inning of an interleague game. The Anaheim crowd was its typical lethargic self when suddenly a clip from the film “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” popped onto the Jumbotron. It was very simple footage of a monkey jumping up and down on a stool with the words “Rally Monkey” superimposed underneath it.
The Angels scored a run that inning, on a hardly-riveting Mo Vaughn groundout to score Darin Erstad, but it was a run nonetheless. The monkey returned in the seventh inning and the Angels scored twice, cutting the Giants lead to 4-3. In the eighth, Tim Salmon tied the game with a solo home run.
The Giants regained the lead in the ninth, however, on a Marvin Benard double, but the Rally Monkey’s work was not done.
Giants closer Robb Nen replaced Felix Rodriguez for the bottom of the ninth and gave up a one-out single to Adam Kennedy and walked pinch hitter Scott Spiezio. The Rally Monkey appeared again. Erstad singled to right to score Kennedy and tie the game. And following a Kevin Stocker fielder’s choice, Vaughn singled home Erstad with the game winner. Angels 6, Giants 5.
The next night, the Angels blew a 9-4 lead in the seventh and eighth innings and entered the bottom of the eighth tied with the same Giants, 9-9. A fan seated above the video control booth began yelling at the top of his lungs, “RALLY MONKEY!” Shortly thereafter, Dean Fraulino and Jaysen Humes, working in the booth, flashed the video of the monkey. The crowd, and the Angels, responded.
Bengie Molina singled with one out and after a Kennedy lineout, Edgard Clemente singled. The Rally Monkey again coaxed the fans to their feet and Erstad singled to left to score Molina with the eventual game winner. Angels 10, Giants 9.
The video proved very popular with fans and the Angels decided to film their own videos of the monkey. The Rally Monkey was now portrayed by “Katie,” a white-haired Capuchin monkey, and the song “Jump Around” by hip-hop group House of Pain and a voice over were added: “Believe In the Power of the Rally Monkey.”
Rules were implemented dictating how the monkey was to be used: The Angels must be tied or trailing by three runs or fewer in the seventh inning or later, and the Halos must have put at least one runner on base.
While the Angels fans and the Rally Monkey became fast friends during the 2000 and 2001 seasons, the mascot wouldn’t became a national phenomenon until the historic 2002 World Series season.
The power of the Rally Monkey reached its peak during Game 6 of the World Series, against those same Giants and their closer Nen. Angels 6, Giants 5. But that’s another story, isn’t it?
Since then, the Rally Monkey has become a sports mascot icon, appearing in ESPN SportsCenter commercials and mentioned in the monologues of late night hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman.
She also became a staple of the Angels fan experience. Fans bring their stuffed animal monkeys to the game and the monkey video features — now a bit more slickly-produced — are still being shown regularly, with the monkey being superimposed into scenes of popular movies such as “Star Wars,” “The Ring” and “Jurassic Park.”
#46 – April 27-28, June 9, 2002: Eckstein is thrice grand
“Yes! No way! YES!”
Three reactions to three grand slams. More specifically, three grand slams hit over a six-week span of the 2002 season by diminutive shortstop David Eckstein, the first two coming in consecutive games.
Ultimately, these home runs would be justifiably overshadowed by some slightly bigger wallops by Eckstein’s teammates later in the season, but if 2002 is remembered as a magical season for the Angels, this is where the magic started.
Starting the season 6-14 on the heels of a 2001 campaign that saw the Angels finish 41 games out of first place, Anaheim seemed anything but magical as 2002 began. A 10-6 win at Seattle on April 24, snapped a four-game losing streak and the Angels headed home with at least a small puff of wind in their sails.
Back home again, Kevin Appier and three relievers combined on a 9-hit shutout over Toronto to provide a little more momentum. What happened the next two days, however, is the stuff people tell their grandkids about.
In the second game of the Toronto series, the Angels went to the bottom of the fifth inning tied, 4-4. RBI-hits by Troy Glaus and Brad Fullmer, and a run-scoring groundout by Bengie Molina gave the Angels a three-run lead. And following a walk to Scott Spiezio, Eckstein put the game away.
On a 1-2 pitch from Scott Cassidy, Eckstein snuck one just over the short wall in left field, near the foul pole, for a grand slam and an 11-4 lead. It was the Angels biggest inning of the season to that point, Eckstein’s first home run and only the fifth of his career.
A day later, things went from surprising to just plain silly. A back-and-forth game saw the Angels and Blue Jays tied, 4-4, in the 14th inning. Toronto finally broke the deadlock with a run in the top of the inning, however, and the Angels run of bad luck appeared to have returned. But Glaus led off with a single and Salmon doubled him to third. A one-out intentional walk to Molina loaded the bases, but Kennedy struck out, leaving it up to Eckstein.
The 5-foot 6-inch shortstop took a 1-1 offering from Pedro Borbon Jr. to nearly the same exact spot in left field for a second grand slam in as many days, this one a walkoff shot that gave the Angels their first three-game winning streak of the season and, finally, some serious swagger. Two days later, they’d defeat the Indians, 21-2, in Cleveland and not look back in winning 21 of 24 games following their 6-14 start.
With the Angels magic in full swing now, it was only fitting that Eckstein had one more trick up his sleeve. On June 9, in the second inning of an interleague game against the Cincinnati Reds, Eckstein again came to the plate with the bases loaded. No sooner than you could think, “He couldn’t possibly do it again, could he?” he did it again.
“I don’t know if one time is better than another for a home run,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “… but (Eckstein) has hit them at three times which have been incredible and have won three games for us.”
Eckstein became only the second Angel ever to hit three grand slams in one season. Joe Rudi did it in both 1978 and 1979. Of course, Rudi hit 179 home runs in his career. Eckstein has 30.
That thing they say about big things coming in small packages — in 2002, David Eckstein proved it.
#45 – Sept. 9, 2005: Vlad’s Mad Dash
A reasonable argument can be made that 2005 was the second-best season in Angels history. The team won 95 regular season games and again defeated the favored New York Yankees in the American League Division Series. They might just have made it back to the World Series, too, if not for a now infamous umpiring call that certainly won’t be referenced anywhere else on this list.
The team formerly known as the Anaheim Angels was the Los Angeles Angels again. (Well, almost.) Fitting that in order to win this standout September game against the Chicago White Sox, Vladimir Guerrero and the Angels had to steal a scene straight out of Hollywood.
The play brings immediate comparisons to the climax of the 1989 film “Major League.” In the film, the perennially lousy Cleveland Indians, comprised of a bunch of washouts and no-names, somehow forces a one-game playoff against the division rival Yankees (Remember when the Indians and Yankees were in the same division?) for the AL East pennant. The ending features bad-kneed catcher Jake Taylor calling his shot before laying down a bunt on which speedster Willie Mays Hayes scores from second base to send the Indians to the playoffs.
In the Angels version, the team was clinging to the slimmest one-game lead over Oakland and locked up in an extra-innings donnybrook with the White Sox. In the 11th inning, the White Sox appeared poised to win the game, but Juan Rivera nailed Aaron Rowand at the plate to preserve the 5-5 tie.
Leading off the 12th, Guerrero scorched an 0-1 pitch from Dustin Hermanson to deep center field. Believing he’d just given the Angels the lead with one swing, Guerrero was slow out of the box and barely got into second ahead of the tag once he realized the ball had remained in the park. Frustrated at himself for his mental blunder, Guerrero seemed determined to score by any means necessary.
Up stepped catcher Bengie Molina to lay down a sacrifice bunt and move Guerrero to third. (Molina did not call his shot and, sadly, unlike Taylor he didn’t get the girl, either.) Molina bunted to third baseman Geoff Blum, who threw to first where Tad Iguchi was covering. Guerrero, who will never be confused with a great baserunner, charged straight through third base coach Ron Roenicke’s stop sign and galloped, as only Vlad can, toward the plate.
“I never got to the yes part,” Roenicke said. “I was ‘No, no, no.’ I didn’t hold my hands up but I said ‘no’ a couple of times. When his mind was made up to go, he got going in a hurry.”
Iguchi’s throw home got there well ahead of Guerrero, but was offline, leaving catcher A.J. Pierzysnski (Booo!) out of position. Guerrero awkwardly shifted his momentum to avoid Pierzynski’s tag and fell down with his hand landing on home plate to score the go-ahead run. Stunned by the play, Angels broadcaster Steve Physioc instinctively called Guerrero out before seeing that home plate umpire Ron Kulpa had indicated safe.
“You look back at the last 150 years of baseball and you can probably count on one hand how many times that play has worked,” Blum said. “So you can call it luck, you can call it savvy, you can call it whatever you want.”
The Angels held on to win the game, 6-5, with Frankie Rodriguez striking out the side in the bottom of the inning.
All of his home runs and clutch hits not withstanding, this play captures so much of Guerrero’s almost certain Hall of Fame career in a nutshell. Even blessed with such immense talent, he still plays the game how most of us imagine we would: with joy, passion and occasional recklessness that remind us why we love the game so much.
#44 – Angels become first AL franchise with four 30-home run hitters
Over the past few seasons, the Angels have entered Spring Training with seemingly just one concern — a general lack of home run power throughout the lineup. Some fans, specifically those who jumped on the 2002 bandwagon, may forget that just eight short years ago the Angels, in manager Mike Scioscia’s first season with the club, fielded an historic group of sluggers.
In 2000, Angels third baseman Troy Glaus led the American League with 47 home runs. Glaus became only the third Angel ever to lead the league (Grich, 1981; Jackson, 1982) and at the time set the record for most home runs by an AL third baseman (tied by Alex Rodriguez in 2005 and surpassed by Rodriguez last season.)
To complement Glaus, the Angels had not one, not two, but three others who hit more than 30 home runs, becoming the first team in the American Leagues’ history to have four players hit 30 or more round trippers.
Mo Vaughn clubbed 36, Garret Anderson walloped 35 and Tim Salmon rounded the bases 34 times. (And if that wasn’t enough power for you, Darin Erstad added 25 homers from the leadoff spot, just for good measure.)
The 2000 club’s power fit hand in glove with the newly born Rally Monkey, as a significant chunk of the Angels’ 82 victories were of the come-from-behind variety, due in large part to the team’s power surge.
While the 2000 Angels fell short of the postseason, the team did inject hope into a suffering fan base, a hope that would be realized just two years later when the Angels won the World Series.
#43 – July 6, 1983: Lynn simply grand in the All-Star Game
For the first 40 years of the Los Angeles/California/Anaheim Angels history, the 1982 season was arguably the franchise’s best – albeit one with a real stinker of an ending.
Preceding the collapse in Milwaukee, however, was a fine campaign. The Angels won their second division title with a 93-69 record; Reggie Jackson led the league in home runs with 39; and Fred Lynn, acquired the year before, but sidelined by injuries, had his best season with the Angels, batting .299/.374/.517 with 21 home runs and 86 RBI.
Though the Angels blew a 2-0 lead in the ALCS against the Brewers, Lynn was still named series MVP after batting .611 (11-for-18) in the five games.
On the heels of the 1982 season, 1983 was a season of great promise for the Angels. It was not to be, however, as the team slumped badly to a 70-92 record and a fifth-place finish in the division.
One bright spot was Lynn. The USC graduate, who had longed to play for a team in Southern California after beginning his career in Boston, was voted to start the All-Star Game in Chicago. Old Comiskey Park played host to the 50th anniversary of the mid-summer classic. The nod represented Lynn’s ninth consecutive All-Star game appearance.
In the third inning, with the National League trailing 3-1, San Francisco ace Atlee Hammaker elected to load the bases by intentionally walking Milwaukee’s Robin Yount, taking his chances instead with Lynn, who hadn’t seen the batter in front of him intentionally walked since becoming a professional. Big mistake.
Lynn took a 2-2 slider from the lefty and deposited it into the right field bleachers for the first grand slam in 54 All-Star Games. (And to this day the only such home run.)
The American League scored seven runs in the inning and cruised to a 13-3 victory, snapping an 11-game losing streak for the junior circuit.
“I hadn’t won a single All-Star Game in eight years up until that point,” Lynn would later say. “That grand slam put us up 7-1, and I knew we wouldn’t blow that lead. I didn’t care that they walked Robin to get to me. I wanted to win.”
It was Lynn’s final All-Star appearance. He finished with four home runs and 10 RBI in 20 career All-Star at-bats. At the time, only Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Ted Williams had more home runs and RBI, respectively. Musial finished with five homers and 10 RBI in 63 at-bats, Williams with four homers and 12 RBI in 46 at-bats.
#42 – GA steals the All-Star show
If the Angels were to retroactively come up with a slogan for the 2003 season, it might have been “Come bask in the afterglow of 2002.”
As April rolled around, and pennants were hoisted up gold painted flagpoles, Angels fans were still drunk on World Series emotion. Only trouble was the players seemed to be, as well.
The team sleepwalked through April, May and June and arrived at July with a perfectly mediocre 40-40 record. But with fans flocking to Edison Field in record numbers (attendance would surpass 3 million for the first time ever in 2003), most of them wearing something bearing the words “2002 World Champions,” it was difficult to be too disappointed.
Heading into the All-Star break, however, the team finally seemed to recapture a little bit of the 2002 magic of which it was constantly reminded on the scoreboard in right field. They won nine of their first 12 games in July, including five straight before the break. Sure, they were still 8.5 games out of first, but it was better than the 12.5 deficit they faced when the month began.
And for two amazing days at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field, it was like October all over again. The Angels had three players selected to the American League squad: Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus and Brendan Donnelly, the latter of whom was in the midst of one of the best relief seasons in franchise history. He hit the break with a 0.38 ERA, having given up only two runs in 48 innings pitched.
On top of that, as American League champions the previous season, Mike Scioscia was the A.L. manager, bringing his entire coaching staff along with him. The Angels presence in Chicago was already assured, but this contingent seemed determined to be seen and heard.
The most improbable of events actually occurred first; in hindsight a harbinger of things to come. Garret Anderson, who hit 22 home runs in the first half of the season, beat out former teammate Jim Edmonds in the semifinals and then 23-year-old phenom Albert Pujols in the finals to win the Home Run Derby.
“I don’t look at myself as a home run hitter, but I know I’m capable of hitting the ball out of the park,” Anderson said. “It’s just another platform to go out and show America what I can do.”
The GA show wasn’t done, either. The next night, with the American League trailing, 5-1, in the sixth inning, Anderson smoked a two-run homer to right-center on Woody Williams’ first pitch to pull the A.L. within two runs.
Donnelly pitched a perfect top of the eighth to hold the N.L. lead at 6-4. In the bottom half, Anderson’s one-out double off the Dodgers Eric Gagne, his third hit of the night in four at-bats, started a three-run rally that was capped by Hank Blalock’s game-winning two-run home run.
The A.L. won, 7-6, Donnelly was the winning pitcher, Scioscia the winning manager and Anderson named the game’s MVP, his second trophy in as many nights.
It was an outstanding night and the perfect denouement to the championship season. But, of course, all good things must come to an end, and those two nights in Chicago were indeed the end of the afterglow. The Angels lost their first five games after the break and finished the season 77-85, in third place, 19 games behind the A’s.
For a couple of days, however, the defending champs looked every bit the part.
#41 - Jan. 11, 2004: Angels sign Vladimir Guerrero
It’s rare that a sports event that occurs away from the field of play would make any sort of top “anything” list. The vast majority of the moments highlighted on our list took place on the baseball diamond, because those are the moments that are most celebrated and seldom forgotten by fans.
However, on Jan. 11, 2004, when ESPN Radio affiliate KSPN’s update man Dave Denholm announced that the Anaheim Angels had reached an agreement on a five-year contract with free-agent slugger Vladimir Guerrero, it incited a reaction from fans on par with a postseason series victory.
It had been expected that the Montreal Expos’ four-time All-Star right fielder would sign with the Mets, Dodgers or Orioles. There hadn’t been a whisper that the Angels were even interested in the National League’s best kept secret.
As the story goes, then Angels General Manager Bill Stoneman made a call to Guerrero’s agent, Arn Tellem, to inquire about Rafael Palmeiro.
“How about Vlad?,” the agent responded.
Stoneman, surprised that Guerrero was interested in the Angels, approached Angels owner Arte Moreno with the idea. Three days later, Moreno had a new face for the franchise he’d acquired just eight months earlier..
Though he’d already gained credibility among fans by making other waves during the off-season with the signings of Jose Guillen, Kelvim Escobar and Bartolo Colon, Moreno removed any doubt that he truly meant business with the Guerrero signing.
And what a signing it was. Guerrero won the American League MVP award in 2004, carrying the Angels on his back down the stretch to their first division title in eighteen years. In his four years with the Angels, the quiet superstar has averaged a remarkable .327 batting average, 33 homeruns and 119 RBI per season while the Angels have won three division titles.
#40 - Aug. 18, 2000: Erstad is 'incredible'
Few who are familiar with recent Angels history would be surprised that the man at the center of the team’s most memorable comeback of the 2000 season was Darin Erstad. Even though his teammates were hitting home runs at a record pace, there was never any question about who was that season’s MVP.
And no game better illustrated the magic of that year than this shocker in the Bronx.
Early on, it was like so many Angels/Yankees games of the past, with the Angels scoring one run and the Yankees answering with two. And two more. And two more. After the sixth inning, New York led, 8-3, and Roger Clemens found his groove, retiring the Angels in order in the seventh and eighth.
And though he’d already thrown 119 pitches, Clemens came out for the ninth. Singles by Troy Glaus and Bengie Molina sent him to the showers, however, and reliever Jeff Nelson was summoned to quell this minor uprising. Nelson retired Adam Kennedy on a flyout, but walked Kevin Stocker to load the bases, convincing Joe Torre to go to his bullpen ace, Mariano Rivera. And when Erstad hit into a fielder’s choice at third, the Angels gained a run, but were now down to their last out against the game’s premier closer.
But then the Angels grabbed a bit of that Yankee Stadium “mystique and aura” for themselves when Orlando Palmeiro laced a double into right field to score Stocker and cut the Yankees lead to 8-5. Two pitches later, Mo Vaughn launched an 0-1 Rivera cutter into the upper deck in right field, tying the game and bringing the Angels all the way back from an 8-3 ninth inning deficit.
“Until the game is over, you keep battling,” Erstad said. “How many times are you going to see that kind of comeback in your career, against one of the best pitchers ever and one of the best closers in the game? That’s why we play until the last out.”
The Yankees didn’t quit, either, and appeared poised to snatch back the victory in the bottom of the tenth when pinch runner Luis Polonia reached third with two outs and Derek Jeter was intentionally walked in favor of Jorge Posada. Posada smashed a drive into the left-center gap that had walk-off written all over it. Somehow, Erstad, motoring from over near the left field line, managed to get close enough to make a full-extension dive on the ball already past him, reaching out and hauling it in before crashing violently onto the outfield grass.
“I thought it split the gap when he hit it,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “All I can say is incredible.”
Many Yankees had already spilled out of the dugout to celebrate, most then lingering in amazement that they had not just won the game.
“I thought the game was over,” Clemens said. “That was one of the top three catches I’ve seen in my years in the game.”
Instead the Angels players were the ones celebrating, greeting Erstad in foul territory and mobbing him in the dugout.
“They wouldn’t leave me alone, and I’m like, ‘I’ve got to go hit, leave me alone,'” Erstad said.
Due up second in the eleventh, the Erstad Show was primed for an encore. After Stocker’s failed bunt attempt, Erstad lofted a Mike Stanton offering high into right field and just over the fence to give the Angels a 9-8 lead. The Yankees went 1-2-3 in the bottom half and the Angels won a game they twice seemed sure to lose.
“Posada smoked that ball,” Erstad said of his catch in the tenth. “It was just one of those things. You just react and let your ability take over.”
Whether it was ability, luck, grit or some combination of all three, Erstad’s 2000 season is arguably the greatest offensive (and defensive) performance in franchise history. He batted .355 with 240 hits (No. 13 all-time), 121 runs scored, 39 doubles, six triples, 25 home runs, 28 stolen bases and an unprecedented 100 RBI, all from the leadoff spot, the first player ever to reach the century mark from the top of the order.
He was eighth in the A.L. MVP voting and won a Silver Slugger award.
In a word, Erstad in 2000 was incredible.
#39 - Nov. 8, 2005: Bartolo Colon awarded Cy Young
Despite the dynamic runs of Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana in the ’70s and the marvelous Angels careers of guys like Mike Witt, Chuck Finley, Mark Langston and Jim Abbott in the ’80s and ’90s, it had been 41 years since Dean Chance took home the Angels franchise’s only Cy Young award in 1964.
The Angels had quite possibly their busiest off-season before the 2004 campaign, signing four of the most highly touted free agents, including Jose Guillen and Kelvim Escobar, and top prizes, Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo Colon.
Guerrero did not disappoint in 2004, taking home the American League MVP award. A year later, after earning a league best 21 victories against just 8 losses, Colon became the second Angel to win a Cy Young award, easily beating out Yankee closer, Mariano Rivera and Twins ace, Johan Santana.
Without the statistical dominance of Cy Young winners past – Colon was eighth in the A.L. with a 3.48 ERA, tenth in complete games, seventh in innings pitched and eighth in strikeouts – it was Colon’s consistency and ability to win that propelled him to the A.L.’s top honor for pitchers in 2005.
While a bad back and shoulder limited Colon to just 8 innings in the 2005 ALDS, and kept him out of the ALCS altogether, his 2005 regular season will go down as one of the greatest in Angels history.
#38 - Trio of Hall of Fame moments
Sept. 17, 1984: Reggie hits No. 500
Aug. 4, 1985: Carew collects No. 3,000
June 18, 1986: Sutton wins No. 300
For three consecutive seasons, one each year, Angels fans were treated to a player reaching a Hall of Fame milestone while wearing an Angels uniform. More impressively, each accomplished the feat at Anaheim Stadium.
First up was Reggie Jackson. The self-proclaimed “straw that stirs the drink” arrived in Anaheim two years earlier, signing as a free agent and bringing with him 425 home runs in 14 previous seasons.
Jackson immediately delivered to his billing, whopping 39 home runs in 1982 and helping the Angels clinch their second division title. Jackson slumped badly in 1983, batting .194 and hitting only 14 home runs. But he was now just 22 home runs shy of 500.
In the waning days of the 1984 season, with the Angels in a pennant chase with the Twins and Royals, Jackson’s pursuit of No. 500 gave the season some additional drama. In the seventh inning of a foggy Monday night game against the Royals, with the Angels trailing, 7-0, Jackson connected, driving Bud Black’s first pitch deep over the right field fence. (It was one of only three hits Black would allow the Angels on the night.)
“My first thought was, ‘That’s it,’ ” Jackson told reporters after the game. “My second was, I wish we could be winning. I wished it could’ve been a seven-run homer to tie the score.”
The home run came 17 years to the day that Jackson hit his first homer, as a member of the Kansas City Athletics against the Angels at Anaheim Stadium in 1967.
Jackson would hit 123 of his 563 career homers for the Angels, none more memorable than this one.
The following August, Rod Carew was also chasing baseball immortality. A seven-time batting champion in 12 seasons with the Twins, Carew came to the Angels in 1979 with 2,085 hits.
Though he was never a great run producer for the Angels as he had been with the Twins, Carew could still bat .300 in his sleep and his .339 average in 1983 was a team record that held up for 17 years.
As the 1985 season, and his career, wound down, Carew landed himself in the exclusive 3,000-hit club. With his patented slap swing, Carew lined No. 3,000 to left field off Minnesota Twins lefty Frank Viola. Most Angels fans can vividly recall the image of Carew reaching up to secure his helmet as he trotted to first base under a bright Sunday afternoon sky.
“He threw me a tough pitch (a slider down and away),” Carew said. “If I hadn’t stayed with that pitch and taken it, I would have been called out on a third strike. Fortunately, I was able to get the bat on the ball and place it in left field.”
Carew retired following the 1985 season with 3,053 hits. His .314 average with the Angels is second only to Vladimir Guerrero’s .327.
And finally, Don Sutton, in the midst of his 21st Major League season, was closing in on his own place in baseball history.
Acquired during the Angels ultimately fruitless stretch run in 1985, Sutton came to Anaheim having already won 293 games. He won two more in 1985 and entered the 1986 season five shy of the milestone.
On a Wednesday night against the visiting Texas Rangers, sitting on 299 victories, Sutton pitched like a man half his age. Through six innings, he’d allowed only one hit and carried a three-hitter (one run) into the ninth.
More than 37,000 fans climbed to their feet as Sutton took the mound for the ninth inning. He quickly retired Scott Fletcher and Oddibe McDowell on flyouts. In a fitting finale, Sutton struck out Gary Ward to end it. Sutton had pitched a complete game, three-hitter to win his 300th game.
“It’s remarkable how time after time it’s been proven how special people do special things,” manager Gene Mauch said. “I imagine that Don is proud that No. 300 was this kind of game rather than just another win.”
Sutton won 15 games in 1986 and 11 in 1987 before finishing his career back with the Dodgers in 1988, retiring with 324 victories.
Carew was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1991, his first year of eligibility. Jackson was enshrined in 1993, also his first eligible year, and Sutton in 1998. And though none of these players went in representing the Angels, their milestone moments will forever be part of Angels lore.
#37 - April 11, 1961: Big Klu leads Angels to first victory
It was a great story. Gene Autry had purchased an expansion baseball franchise, naming it the Los Angeles Angels. Then the reality set in.
The Angels would have to field a team and then go out and compete. Without free agency, the odds were against any team in that era being able to start from scratch and compete. This is not the part of the story where the young scrappy team goes on to win itself a championship in its inaugural season – again, a great story, but not part of the reality.
Not only were the Angels expected to compete in the tough American League, where the mighty Yankees and the M and M boys, Maris and Mantle, were perennial favorites for the Word Series crown, but their first game would be against the Baltimore Orioles, a team that would contend every year until finally winning it all in 1966.
The Angels were led by big Teddy Kluszewski, a .298 career hitter and 4-time All-Star who once cut off the sleeves of his uniform to alleviate the restrictions on his large biceps as he took rips with the bat. But Kluszewski, who had 3 times hit more than 40 homers and 8 times batted at least .300, was at the end of his career and had been so plagued by injuries that he was left unprotected in the expansion draft. The Angels made Big Klu their first baseman.
Kluszewski was true to form in the curtain lifter of what would turn out to be is final season. In the first inning of the Angels inaugural game at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, Kluszewski came to the plate with two outs and a young Albie Pearson on first. The big lefthander hit a homer down the right field line, quickly giving the Angels their first ever lead. But Klu wasn’t done. In the second inning, he came to the plate again, this time with two men on, and hit a blast to deep right field that put the Angels up 6-0. Bob Cerv would later add a solo homer and the Angels went on to an easy 7-2 victory.
Kluszewski finished the game 2-for-4 with two home runs and 5 RBI. He would finish the season batting .243 with 15 homeruns. The 1961 Angels won 70 games, the most ever by an expansion team in its first year.
#36 - 1993: Salmon named Rookie of the Year
A year after putting some hurtin’ on Pacific Coast League pitchers, hitting .347 with 29 home runs, 105 RBI and a ridiculous 1.141 OPS for the Edmonton Trappers, the Kingfish headed upstream to Anaheim and won a unanimous vote for the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1993 .
Salmon, a notorious slow starter who holds the unique distinction of having the most home runs of any player never selected to an All-Star team, was no different during his rookie campaign as he started the ’93 season in the shadow of rookie sensation J.T. Snow, who got off to a tremendous start. The second half was always much kinder to Salmon, as it seemed that his bat heated up with the weather and, boy, did he put a pounding on the Texas Rangers.
Salmon, not Snow, wound up winning the award, representing a first for the California Angels. He batted .283 with 31 home runs and 95 RBI, along with 35 doubles, 93 runs scored and a slugging percentage of .536. He was also tied in A.L. outfield assists with 12. Snow started the 1994 season in the minors after struggling badly in the second half of Salmon’s ROY campaign.
Salmon quickly became a favorite of the Angels organization and a household name among the team’s fans thereafter. Timmy played a crucial role in the Angels’ playoff and World Series run in 2002, hitting two key home runs in Game 2 of the World Series against the San Francisco Giants, a moment in Angels history that fans will never forget.
The King Fish was hampered by injuries late in his career and was forced to retire in 2006. Salmon played his final game on Oct. 1, 2006, against the Oakland Athletics. He is the Angels’ all-time leader in home runs (299), runs scored (983), walks (965) and slugging percentage (.499). He finished his career second in franchise history with 1,012 RBI, behind only Garret Anderson.
Until 2012 when Mike Trout won the rookie of the year award, Tim Salmon held the honor of winning this prestigious award since the birth of the organization.
All of that said when Angels fans remember King Fish, it won’t be just the stats, the big home runs or all of his accolades, no, they will recall the type of man that Tim Salmon the person was both on and off the field. Tim Salmon was the quintessential gentleman of the game of Baseball.
Salmon played his entire career with the Angels and one day the organization will retire #15, Even today, Tim Salmon is regarded as many fans’ all-time favorite player.
Career Highlights, Awards, and Accolades:
* Named 1992 Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America
* Named 1992 Minor League Player of the Year by The Sporting News
* Named 1993 AL Rookie of the Year by Baseball Writers of America
* Named 1993 AL Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News
* Named 2002 AL Comeback Player of the Year by The Sporting News
* Named outfielder on The Sporting News AL All-Star Team in 1995 and 1997
* Named outfielder on The Sporting News AL Silver Slugger Team in 1995
* Member of the World Series Champion Anaheim Angels in 2002
* Hit 30 or more home runs in five seasons
* Compiled a lifetime .883 OPS
#35 - July 15, 1973: Ryan throws second, most-dominant no-hitter
Nolan Ryan pitched far more than one man’s fair share of dominant games while wearing an Angels uniform, including all of those games with 10 or more strikeouts, six one-hitters and, of course, four no-hitters – none, perhaps, more dominating than this game in Detroit.
Two months to the day after tossing his first no-no in Kansas City, Ryan again seemed up to the task from the get-go. He struck out seven of the first 10 Tigers he faced, including fanning the side in the second inning.
A Vada Pinson sacrifice fly in the third inning gave the Angels an early 1-0 lead, but it would be all Ryan would have to work with for most of the game. On this day, it was plenty.
Ryan fanned the side in the fourth and added two more strikeouts in the fifth. In the seventh, he struck out the side again.
In the top of the eighth, the Angels erupted for five runs and the drama over who would win the game was mostly gone. But by this point, the focus had shifted to the zero in the Tigers’ hit column and the 16 in their strikeout column.
Detroit went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning, the middle out coming on Ryan’s strikeout of shortstop Ed Brinkman. It was Ryan’s 17th strikeout of the game, the highest total of any of his no-hitters and one short of Bob Feller’s American League record at the time.
After retiring Mickey Stanley on a groundout and Gates Brown on a soft liner to start the ninth, Ryan needed only to get 15-year veteran first baseman Norm Cash to seal the deal. Having struck out in each of his previous three plate appearances, Cash strode up to home plate carrying not his bat, but rather a table leg he’d grabbed from the Tigers clubhouse.
The umpire immediately ordered Cash to return with a regulation bat, an order to which he begrudgingly complied, telling the umpire it wasn’t as if it mattered anyway.
With his regular bat, Cash hit a harmless pop up to Angels shortstop Rudy Meoli and Ryan completed the second no-hitter of his career.
“This was definitely a bigger thrill than the first one,” Ryan said after the game. “I had better stuff today and I knew what a no-hitter meant. I was a little more nervous, but I probably had as good as stuff today as I’ve had all year.”
Ryan thoroughly tamed the Tigers in 1973, finishing the season 4-0 with a 1.15 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 39 innings.
# 34 - April 19, 1966, Official Opening of Anaheim Stadium
When the Los Angeles Angels were born in 1961, home was a more transient notion than a place for them to call their own.
They spent their inaugural season at tiny Wrigley Field, a former minor league ballpark ill suited for Major League play with its 345-foot power alleys and paltry 20,457 seating capacity. The next year, the Angels moved into newly constructed Dodger Stadium, or Chavez Ravine as the American Leaguers called it, where they appeared as sub lessees who got to use the field while the “real” tenants were away.
The Angels needed their own home.
In the ensuing years, Angels owner Gene Autry was courted by many southland cities, including a strong wooing from Long Beach, but eventually settled on Anaheim, which offered a 160-acre parcel near the intersection of three freeways. Ground was broken Aug. 31, 1964, on the $24 million facility, and 19 months later it was ready for the Angels to move in.
The new stadium featured 43,204 seats and outfield dimensions derived from a scientific study intended to insure offensive balance. But the real calling card was the $1 million “Big A” scoreboard in left field. At 230 feet, it was the tallest structure in Orange County at the time and featured a state-of-the-art video display that could not only show fans the score and lineups, but also lead cheers and highlight statistical milestones.
The Angels hosted the San Francisco Giants for a pre-season exhibition at their new stadium on April 9, 1966, during which Willie Mays hit the “unofficial” first home run in Anaheim Stadium history.
Ten days later, the stadium officially opened Major League play, with Tommy John and the White Sox facing off against Marcelino Lopez and the Angels. Outfielder Rick Reichardt connected for a solo home run, the stadium’s first, in the second inning, giving the Angels a lead they’d hold until the sixth. But the Sox tied it on a Tommie Agee solo homer in the sixth and took the lead with two in the eighth to hand the Angels a 3-1 defeat in their home opener. Jim Fregosi’s first inning double was the stadium’s first hit.
The Angels notched their first Anaheim home victory the next night, defeating the White Sox, 4-3, in 11 innings.
The new location and facility were both a hit with fans. The Angels drew only 566,727 fans during the 1965 season at Chavez Ravine, but nearly tripled that figure to 1.4 million their first year in Anaheim.
Since that first season, the venue has hosted the 1967, 1989 and 2010 MLB All-Star Game and the 2006 World Baseball Classic. It has also witnessed Hall of Fame achievements such as Don Sutton’s 300th victory, Rod Carew’s and George Brett’s 3,000th hits, and Reggie Jackson’s 500th home run. While tenants in Anaheim/Edison Field/Angel Stadium, the Angels have won eight division titles and one World Series Championship.
#33 - June 2, 2004: Guerrero's monster night
If 2004 was the “Year of Vlad,” then June 2 was Independence Day, Christmas morning and New Years Eve all rolled into one. Vladimir Guerrero won the 2004 American League MVP in large part due to his monstrous performances down the stretch, but there was no better day for Bad Vlad than the one he gave the Angels against the Boston Red Sox in early June.
With Red Sox ace and future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez on the mound, runs would certainly seem to be at a premium. Unfortunately for Pete and the Sox, no one told Vladdy, who torched Boston, driving in nine runs, a Angels franchise record at the time, to lead the Angels to a 10-7 victory.
Guerrero got started early, hitting a two-run homer to left field in the first.
With the score knotted, 2-2, in the bottom of the third, Guerrero stepped to the plate with two men on and laced a double into left, scoring both Chone Figgins and David Eckstein.
Down, 7-4, in the fourth inning, Guerrero came up with the bases loaded and lined a ball sharply to Red Sox right fielder Kevin Millar. Bengie Molina scored on the sacrifice fly. It was Boston 7, Guerrero 5.
With the Angels still trailing in the bottom of the sixth inning by the same 7-5 score, Guerrero once again entered the batter’s box, this time with two men on, and ripped a Mike Timlin offering just over the green wall in left center field. Guerrero’s three-run shot and second home run of the game gave the Angels an 8-7 lead. Guerrero had driven in all eight Angels runs.
An inning later, after an Eckstein hit-and-run double into right center field scored Bengie Molina from first base – one of the game’s other miraculous events – Figgins singled, setting the table for Guerrero to drive in his team-record ninth RBI of the game. Guerrero delivered with a sharp single just out of the reach of Boston shortstop Pokie Reese to push Eckstein home for the fourth time in the game.
As a fan in attendance at the Big A that night, I can honestly say it was the single greatest performance I’d ever seen on a baseball field. I was glad to share the moment with my father from the right field terrace section.
A little later in the list, we’ll feature the man who broke Guerrero’s record.
#32 - May 17, 1989: Rookie Jim Abbott bests Roger Clemens
No Angels draft pick arrived with more notoriety and instantaneous fan support than Jim Abbott. Even before the team made the lefthander its first-round pick (No. 8 overall) in the June 1988 amateur draft, Abbott was already known outside of strictly baseball circles. And when he led the 1988 U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal at the Summer Games in Seoul, Korea, he became a household name.
His exploits on the baseball field, of course, lent to Abbott’s celebrity, but not as much as the fact he accomplished all of them without a right hand. Born with a genetic defect, Abbott overcame his disability and became an inspiration to thousands of children and adults living with disabilities around the world.
Following the 1988 draft and Olympics, Abbott arrived at Angels spring training in Palm Springs, Calif., having never thrown a pitch as a professional. There was some question entering camp as to where Abbott, 26-8 in three years at the University of Michigan, would begin the season: in the minor leagues or in the Angels rotation?
When the Angels broke camp, they took Abbott with them to Anaheim, making him the 15th player to make his professional debut in the Major Leagues. Abbott lost his first start, 7-0, April 8 at home to future teammate Mark Langston and the Seattle Mariners. He earned his first victory April 24 at home against the Baltimore Orioles.
Heading into his May 17 match up in Anaheim with two-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, Abbott had experienced mixed results, entering with a 2-3 record and 4.50 ERA. Had the Angels misjudged the lefty’s preparedness for big league hitters? Did he need more seasoning in the minor leagues?
Abbott answered both questions with a resounding “No.”
The Red Sox went down in order in the first and Clemens retired Angels leadoff hitter Claudell Washington on a strikeout to start the Angels half. But then Johnny Ray and Devon White singled and Wally Joyner drew a two-out walk to load the bases for Chili Davis, who doubled down the left field line to clear the bases. Catcher Lance Parrish followed with a blast to deep left field, giving Abbott and the Angels a 5-0 first inning lead.
Clemens began the third inning by issuing a walk to Brian Downing and single to Joyner before being pulled for reliever Dennis Lamp. The outing was the shortest of Clemens’ career to that point.
Abbott, on the other hand, was dominant. He got into a two-on, one-out jam in the fourth, but Jim Rice lined into a double play to end the inning. Only two Red Sox reached base the rest of the game.
As Abbott came out to pitch the ninth inning, the Anaheim Stadium crowd of 31,230 stunned fans rose to its feet to cheer the rookie on. Not only had the mighty Roger Clemens been rudely dispatched in the third inning, but also the kid for whom everybody liked so much to cheer was three outs from his first complete game and shutout.
The inning began with a Wade Boggs come backer that Abbott was unable to field cleanly for an infield hit. The crowd briefly stirred, wondering if the miscue would throw off Abbott’s concentration. Their fears were soon quelled, however, as Abbott used his cut fastball to induce Marty Barrett into a 5-4-3 double play.
And when Ellis Burks grounded out to third, the crowd erupted. Abbott (9 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 4 K) had the shutout, Clemens lost for the first time at Anaheim Stadium and the Angels improved to 26-13 on the year. With the shutout, the Angels’ ninth of the season, Abbott lowered his ERA almost a full run to 3.56.
For Abbott, it was the best game of a rookie season that saw him post a 12-12 record with a 3.92 ERA, good for fifth in A.L. Rookie of the Year voting. The 21-year-old had proven he belonged in the big leagues and would soon cement his status as a fan favorite with his infectious smile, selfless personality, inspirational attitude and, oh yeah, some pretty darn good pitching in subsequent seasons with the Angels.
But for this fan, the night Abbott beat Clemens will always be one of the greatest moments in Angels history.
#31 - 1986: The Birth of Wally World
When Wallace Keith “Wally” Joyner started the season in 1986, he had some big shoes to fill. Those shoes belonged to future Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who retired at the conclusion of the 1985 season. Wearing uniform No. 21, no one knew how the baby-faced 23-year-old lefty would do.
On April 9, Joyner hit his first home run off Seattle’s Mark Langston in just his second game as a Major Leaguer. Angels fans immediately embraced the rookie. Chants of “WAL-LY! WAL-LY! WAL-LY!” broke out during every one of his at-bats. Anaheim Stadium soon became known as “Wally World” to the fans and media.
For six weeks, Joyner ruled the American League, slugging 16 home runs by May 26. Joyner also had a knack for timely hitting to go with his surprising power. He played spectacular defense and had a wholesome, infectious smile.
Joyner became a national sensation, as he reached 20 home runs by the All-Star break. He became the first rookie ever voted as a starter in the All-Star Game. Joyner batted third for the American League in 1986 and tied the Mets’ Darryl Strawberry for the most home runs in the All-Star Home Run Derby.
Joyner finished up 1986 with a .290/.348/.457 line on the year with 22 home runs and 100 RBI. A staph infection, suffered in early August, sapped his strength for the rest of the season. The illness required Joyner to be hospitalized after Game 3 of the American League Championship Series and he missed the rest of the series. In one of the more controversial Rookie of the Year votes, Joyner finished second to Jose Canseco.
In 1987, Joyner had his best year, posting a .285/.366/.528 line with 34 home runs and 117 RBI. He became the ninth player in Major League history to have back-to-back 100 RBI seasons at the start of his career.
Following the 1992 season, Joyner signed as a free agent with the Kansas City Royals. He played for four years with the Royals before they traded him to the San Diego Padres. After four years in San Diego, he was traded to the Atlanta Braves. Finally, in 2001, he returned to the Angels, where he retired on June 16, 2001.
As an Angel, Joyner ranks ninth in RBI, 10th in doubles, 11th in at-bats, 12th in hits, batting average and home runs, and 13th in slugging percentage and runs scored. Defensively, amongst all Angels first basemen, he ranks first in total chances, put outs, assists and double plays, and had a career .994 fielding percentage.
Anaheim Stadium has had many names over the years, but none have been as fun as the time when it was called “Wally World” and echoed with chants of “WAL-LY! WAL-LY! WAL-LY!”
#30 - 2014: Jered Weaver Becomes the First Angel Pitcher to Lead the AL in Wins over Multiple Years
When you talk about pitching records and the Angels organization, it’s difficult to not automatically assume that Nolan Ryan will hold whatever record it is you’re talking about. While Ryan’s career span an amazing 27 years, it was during his tenure with the Angels that Ryan put up many of his Star Wars like numbers.
So if one was to ask, “Who is the only Angel pitcher to lead the American League in wins in multiple years, it’s a safe bet that many fans would quickly spit out “Nolan Ryan” as their response.
Those many fans would be incorrect.
On Saturday, September 20, 2014, in from of a Big A crowd of 35,890, Weaver threw 102 pitches over 7 innings, recorded 7 strikes out and allowed just 3 earned runs. This outing provided Weaver with his 18th and final win of the year. That 18th win was enough to secure him his share of a three-way tie for most wins by an American League pitcher in 2014. (An honor he shared with Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer.)
Having also won his share of the most wins by an American League pitcher title in 2012 (an honor he shared with David Price), Weaver became the first Angel pitcher to win the title in multiple years. Prior to that, only two other Halo pitchers had secured the Most AL Wins title: Dean Chance in 1964 with 20 wins and Bartolo Colón in 2005 with 21 wins.
In 2017, Weaver’s 11-year career with the Angels came to an end when, as a free agent, he signed with the San Diego Padres. Over those 11 years, Weaver notched some impressive achievements …
• 3 time All-Star (2010, 2011 and 2012)
• Starting pitcher for the American League All-Star Team in 2011
• MLB strikeout leader in 2010 (233 strikeouts)
• A no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins on May 2, 2012
• 150–93 Record
• 3.55 ERA
• 1,598 Strikeouts
A local Southern California kid, born and raised in Simi Valley, CA, Weaver also attended Cal State Long Beach. During his college career, Weaver won the 2004 Golden Spikes Award (given to the top amateur baseball player in the country), the 2004 Dick Howser Trophy (given to the national collegiate baseball player of the year) and the 2014 Roger Clemens Award (given to college baseball’s top pitcher).
Soured by the lofty bonus demands of his agent, Scott Boras, many teams passed on Weaver early in the first round of the 2004 MLB Draft and the Angels were able to secure him with the 12th overall pick.
The negotiations between Weaver and the Angels lasted for almost a year, when the two sides finally got the deal done in May of 2005. Weaver made his Major League debut one year later on May 27, 2006, pitching seven shutout innings against the Baltimore Orioles and securing his first Major League win in the process.
Weaver’s tenure with the Angels ended on February 19, 2017, when he signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the San Diego Padres. However, there is no doubt he has secured his place in team’s rich history, and in the hearts and minds of the Angel fans who watched him play for 11 outstanding years.
We all will miss your passion for the game while wearing an Angels uniform, Jered. Thank you for all the memories.
#29 - Oct. 1-27, 2002: K-Rod dominates like no other rookie
Darin Erstad settled under a deep fly ball to center field and closed his glove around the last out of the 2002 World Series. Pandemonium ensued. The Angels were Champions of baseball. Tim Salmon paraded around the stadium with gene Autry’s famous Stetson and Troy Glaus hoisted the MVP trophy. But none of that would have been possible had it not been for a young pitching phenom from Venezuela.
Francisco Rodriguez, nicknamed K-Rod that same October for striking out more than a batter an inning, was a mid-September call-up to an Angels bullpen riddled with injuries. Rodriguez gave the Angels a glimpse of what he would soon do on the world stage. In fewer than 6 innings of regular season play, Rodriguez gave up 2 hits and struck out 13.
The Angels faced the New York Yankees in the ALDS. In Game 2 in New York, Rodriguez earned his first career win as a Major League pitcher. While he was also credited with the blown save, he’d pitched two effective innings for a much needed victory that tied the short series at one game a piece. The Angels would win the next two games and take the series. “Franky” officially became K-Rod. In 3.2 innings, Rodriguez struck out seven, and in the crucial third game, he got the win by holding a powerful Yankees line-up down while the Angels recovered from an early five run deficit.
After the Angels blew through the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS, they would meet the San Francisco Giants, led by Barry Bonds, in the World Series. In almost nine innings of work, Rodriguez was downright electric; he fanned 13 and walked one. In a crucial Game 2, Rodriguez pitched three scoreless innings and struck out four. The Giants batters were simply over matched by K-Rod’s fastball-slider combo and the Angels would win that seesaw battle, 11-10. It was the Angels first World Series game victory, and Rodriguez was credited with the win.
Rodriguez piled up 28 strikeouts in just more than 18 innings of playoff work; he was the youngest pitcher in 32 years to pitch in a World Series game and at 20 years old was the youngest ever to win one.
The young Venezuelan entered the playoffs as nondescript Francisco Rodriguez and emerged from them a bona-fide star known as K-Rod.
#28 - April 11, 1990: Langston and Witt combine on no-no
The 1989-90 Major League baseball offseason began with a bang for the California Angels and their fans. On Dec. 1, 1989, the team signed free agent lefthander Mark Langston to a five year, $16 million contract, outbidding the Yankees and Dodgers. It briefly made Langston the highest paid player in baseball.
The signing gave the Angels a formidable rotation, with Langston joining Chuck Finley, Jim Abbott, Kirk McCaskill and Bert Blyleven – and pushed Mike Witt, at that time the franchise’s second-winningest pitcher, to the bullpen. Though he’d won 109 games in nine seasons with the Angels, Witt slumped to 9-15 with a 4.54 ERA in 1989.
As February neared, however, hopeful exuberance from fans turned to frustration as rumors of another work stoppage became reality. The players, concerned that the owners were talking about a salary cap, threatened a strike. The owners, concerned about a strike, instead locked out the players, putting spring training on indefinite hold.
After 32 days, the second longest work stoppage in MLB history, an agreement was reached on March 19 and an abbreviated spring training was begun. Opening Day was pushed back one week to April 9, but starting pitchers did not work as many innings as they would have during a normal spring. For their first regular season starts, most were placed on a strict pitch count.
Langston made his Angels debut in the season’s third game, a Wednesday night tilt at home against the Seattle Mariners, his former team.
Langston walked two Mariners in the first inning, but helped himself out by inducing a double play ball between them. He issued another walk in the third, but another double play erased that threat. The Mariners went down in order in the fourth and Langston worked around a fourth walk in the fifth to hold Seattle scoreless and, as most of the 25,632 fans in attendance were starting to realize, hitless, as well.
Mariners starter Erik Hanson, meanwhile, was pitching his own shutout against the Angels, but running up a high pitch count by working in and out of jams. After five innings, Hanson had already thrown 89 pitches and his night was done.
Langston retired the Mariners in order in both the sixth and seventh and walked off the mound locked up in a scoreless tie, already over his pitch count at 99 pitches thrown. There was as much question as to whether he’d come out for the eighth as to if he’d even win a game in which he’d thrown seven hitless innings.
The Angels offense, finally, answered one of those questions, literally pushing across one run on Dante Bichette’s bases loaded walk to score Johnny Ray. The inning ended with the Angels leading, 1-0.
Much to the disappointment of the fans at Anaheim Stadium, Langston’s night was finished. He was replaced by none other than the man he’d relegated to the bullpen, Witt, the last Angel to throw a no-hitter. (1984 perfect game against Texas.)
The big righty, who would soon be traded to the Yankees for outfielder Dave Winfield, was on his game, retiring Edgar Martinez and Greg Briley on groundouts and striking out Dave Valle. The Angels went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eighth and Witt, not closer Bryan Harvey, took the mound for the ninth.
The crowd, which had booed his appearance the previous inning, this time rose to its feet and cheered every strike. Pinch hitter Scott Bradley and Harold Reynolds each grounded out to second, bringing Ken Griffey Jr. to the plate as Seattle’s last chance to break up the no-hit bid. On a 2-2 pitch, Griffey swung and missed, completing the Angels eighth no-hitter and first involving more than one pitcher.
It was quite a debut for Langston (7 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 3 K), though 1990 would go on to be arguably his worst season in an Angels uniform (10-17, 4.40 ERA). And a tidy ending to a solid Angels career for Witt, who would make nine more relief appearances before heading to New York on May 11.
#27 - 1979: Baylor wins A.L. MVP
At some point during the 1979 Angels season, a new statistic was born. Though the abbreviation RBI has traditionally stood for “runs batted in,” Angels cleanup hitter Don Baylor redefined it to mean “runs Baylored in.”
The outfielder/DH, acquired as a free agent prior to the 1977 season, was so adept at producing in the clutch during the Angels first division championship season that radio play-by-play man Dick Enberg coined the new phrase. And he used it a lot.
Baylor batted .296 with 36 home runs and a still franchise best 139 RBI, netting him 20 of a possible 28 first place votes for the American League MVP award. For good measure, Baylor also scored 120 runs, which like his RBI total also led the league.
Baylor got off to blazing start, driving in a then league record 28 runs in April, and never cooled off. On April 21, he belted a grand slam during the Angels 13-1 victory over the Athletics. On May 15, Baylor beat the Brewers with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the ninth to break a 1-1 tie.
On August 8, Baylor was already sitting at 98 RBI and hit the century mark in style, connecting in the third inning off the Athletics’ Matt Keough for a two-run shot for Nos. 99 and 100. Baylor went 4-for-5 with that home run, a double and later added an RBI-single for RBI No. 101.
But the man they called Groove was hardly satisfied with that. On Aug. 25, Baylor had one of the best single days in Angels history against Toronto, as the Angels blistered the Blue Jays, 24-2. Baylor belted two home runs and drove in a career-high eight runs.
It was simply one of those seasons where everything fell into place.
“Everyday I went to the park, I knew I’d get two or three hits and some RBI,” Baylor recalled. “In mid-December, I started jogging 2 1/2 to 3 miles a day, so I’d be in the best shape ever. In 1978 I hit 34 home runs and 99 RBI, and I was really longing for that 100th. After April, I had (nearly) 30, and I knew I was on a roll.”
In addition to leading the league in RBI and runs scored, Baylor also led (or tied for the lead) the Angels in home runs, triples (5), doubles (33) and stolen bases (22). He played in all 162 games and, perhaps most amazingly, struck out only 51 times in 628 at-bats.
For the Angels in 1979, Baylor was without question their MVP: Most Valuable Producer.
#26 - 1964: Chance wins Cy Young Award
Of all the compliments one could pay to Dean Chance’s incredible 1964 season and subsequent awarding of the Cy Young Award, perhaps the highest praise is this: he beat Sandy Koufax.
The Dodgers Hall of Fame lefthander, during arguably the most dominant four-season stretch in Major League history, took home three Cy Young Awards. Chance’s brilliance in 1964, however, prevented Koufax from winning four. (Only one winner was named for all of MLB prior to the 1967 season.) And he did so pitching half his games from the same Chavez Ravine mound as Koufax.
Wilmer Dean Chance came to the Angels in the 1960 expansion draft after spending two seasons in the Baltimore Orioles organization, and made his major league debut late in the 1961 season. Following a strong rookie season in 1962 (14-10, 2.96 ERA), Chance had a sophomore slump, slipping to 13-18 in 1963, despite a respectable 3.19 ERA.
At the All-Star break in 1964, Chance was again a victim of awful run support and sported a mediocre 5-5 record. His 2.19 ERA, however, was good enough to earn him the All-Star Game start, during which he pitched three scoreless innings.
The honor seemed to inspire Chance and the 23 year old took matters into his own hands in the second half. He won nine straight games from July 11 through Aug. 18 – six of them shutouts, and four of those by a 1-0 score. During the streak, Chance allowed only seven earned runs in 79 innings (0.80 ERA).
His brilliance was perhaps best illustrated by his complete and utter dominance of the New York Yankees.
Chance pitched five games against the Bronx Bombers, posting a 4-0 record. But here’s where things just get silly: In 50 innings of work against New York, Chance allowed one run. And it came on a solo home run by Mickey Mantle, who called Chance the toughest pitcher he ever faced.
When all was said and done, Chance was 20-9 with a 1.65 ERA, the 70th lowest ERA in Major League history and No. 7 all-time in the modern era. He threw 11 shutouts, five of them by a 1-0 score. (He also lost four games, 1-0.)
Of the 278 1/3 innings Chance pitched in 1964, opponents crossed the plate in only 35 of them. The other 243 1/3 were scoreless.
In 47 years of franchise history, the Angels have had many pitchers carry the label of staff ace – some even legitimately deserving. But only one can claim a season as the best pitcher in all of baseball. That man is Dean Chance in 1964.
#25 - May 4, 2007: Scioscia passes Rigney
It was a seemingly meaningless early season game for the Angels, who did as they had done so often under manager Mike Scioscia – won in front of their home fans at Angel Stadium.
In game No. 30 of the 2007 season, the Angels beat the Chicago White Sox, 5-1, to improve to 17-13 and maintain their one game lead in the American League West. Most of the 44,126 in attendance that night stayed for the fireworks show, which had become and remain a Friday night tradition at the Big A. But on this night, the brightly lit sky and deafening explosions were more fitting than arbitrary as the Angels, their fans and their field general celebrated a great feat: Mike Scioscia had become the winningest manager in franchise history, passing the team’s first skipper, Bill Rigney, with his 626th regular season victory.
Rigney managed the team for its first 1,333 games, spanning nearly the entire decade of the ’60s (1961-1969) and compiling a 625-707 (.469) record during his tenure. While his steadying influence was a good match for the freewheeling Angels teams of his decade, the best Rigney could manage was the surprising third place finish of 1962. They never got higher than fifth in his subsequent seasons.
On the other bookend of Angels history stands Scioscia, manager for the entire decade of the ’00s. During the first 1,296 games of Scioscia’s reign, the Angels have posted a 1490-12643 (.541) record, including five of the top-5 regular season victory totals in franchise history. The former all-star catcher has guided the Angels to six division titles, one wild card and, of course, the only World Championship in franchise history.
Victory No. 626 said in the midst of the greatest era in Angels history needs no further explanation than this: Mike Scioscia is the best to ever manage the Angels.
Mike Scioscia's career totals as manager of the Angels.
#24 - May 5, 1962: Bo Belinsky tosses first no-hitter in Angels history
“This crowd about to explode. Ball one, strike one the count. Can he do it? … There’s two men away … Belinsky now looks out toward center field … turns, walks back on the hill … and the 1-1 pitch … is swung on, it’s popped up into shallow left field … into foul territory goes Torres … it’s going to be a no-hitter … IT’S A NO-HITTER FOR BELINSKY! (Radio partner exclaims “Whooo hoooo!”) Belinsky a no-hitter! How about that one? Belinsky, in his fourth Major League start, has startled 15,000 fans here tonight. His teammates mob him. And I have (pause) seen my third no-hitter.”
It’s hard to blame announcer Buddy Blattner for getting so wrapped up in the excitement of Belinsky’s no-hitter that he felt compelled to drop in that personal detail at the end of his call. After all, nobody expected the former pool hustler from Trenton, N.J., to pitch a no-hitter in his fourth major league start. Not even Belinsky himself.
“If I’d known I was gonna pitch a no-hitter today, I would have gotten a haircut,” he said after the game.
And that, in a nutshell, was Bo Belinsky in 1962 – always conscious of his image, even when his on-field successes were actually keeping up with his off-field ones. No starting pitcher likely got more mileage out of 28 career victories than Robert “Bo” Belinsky.
“Bo had more fun off the field than he did on the field,” said former big league first baseman Mike Hegan. For an amazing couple of months of the Angels second season, however, Belinksy meant good times whatever he was doing.
Freed from minor league purgatory in the Orioles organization the previous November when the Angels selected him in the Rule 5 draft, Belinsky immediately felt right at home in Los Angeles, where both the baseball and society writers ate up his antics. Despite having spent five years in the minor leagues with the Pirates and Orioles, Belinsky held out for an additional $2,000 on his rookie contract.
And then an amazing thing happened: Belinsky actually appeared to be worth it. He won his first start, April 18, 3-2 over the Kansas City Athletics. Then he beat the Indians, 6-2, on April 25 at home, and again on May 1, 8-6, at Cleveland.
Back at Chavez Ravine and starting on three-day’s rest, Belinsky found himself flirting with something other than a Hollywood starlet.
He struck out the first two Orioles during a 1-2-3 first, but a walk and hit batter put him in a jam in the second. Belinsky escaped, however, thanks to a groundout and another strikeout. In the fourth, the Orioles loaded the bases with one out following two walks and an error by third baseman Felix Torres. But Belinsky struck out Dave Nicholson and Ron Hansen flew out to deep center field to end the inning.
Meanwhile, the Angels pushed across single runs in the first and second, but were held to only three hits of their own for the next six innings. Didn’t matter. Belinsky got stronger and retired 12 of 13 Orioles heading into the ninth.
Jackie Brandt struck out to start the inning, Belinsky’s ninth and final strikeout of the game. Then Gus Triandos grounded out to Joe Koppe at short, setting up the final showdown with Nicholson, who’d struck out twice. Nicholson popped out to Torres in foul territory and Belinsky made history, throwing not only the first no-hitter in Angels history, but the first at newly-built Dodger Stadium.
Belinsky won his next start to begin his career 5-0, and on June 21 the 25-year-old lefty was 7-2 with a remarkable 2.90 ERA.
Unfortunately, Belinsky’s story doesn’t stop there, though, as the promising rookie’s drinking and carousing finally started to catch up with him. He lost 9 of his final 12 starts and finished what once seemed like a dream season a mediocre 10-11.
1963 got worse as he slumped to 2-9, making just 13 big league starts and seeing his ERA swell to 5.75. 1964 was better (9-8, 2.86), but an August hotel room fight with Los Angeles Times writer Braven Dyer was the last straw for the Angels, who suspended Belinsky for the remainder of the season and shipped him off to Philadelphia for Rudy May and Costen Shockley later that winter.
Belinsky’s star burned bright and fast in Los Angeles, but for an expansion team with no previous sense of identity, for a couple of years he was the face of the franchise. And though his pitching didn’t always match, Belinsky made sure that face looked good.
#23 - Oct. 1, 1970: Alex Johnson wins Angels first batting title
Alex Johnson knew exactly what he needed to do to wrestle the batting title away from Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Yastrzemski when the California Angels took the field against the Chicago White Sox at Anaheim Stadium for the final game of the 1970 season.
A 2-for-3 night for the Angels’ moody outfielder and Johnson would edge Yaz by mere percentage points to become the franchise’s first batting champion.
A difficult task became improbable when Johnson grounded out in his first plate appearance.
But a single to right in the third inning set the stage for Johnson when he stepped up to the plate in the fifth.
“I didn’t feel any pressure,” he’d later claim. “I knew I had a big job to do.”
One of the game’s greatest hitters, Tony Gwynn often quipped that it’s the infield singles and Texas-leaguers that determine the batting title. It certainly rang true for Johnson, who chopped a high bouncer to White Sox third baseman, Bill Melton. Despite a nifty backhanded stop, Melton was unable to throw a hustling Johnson out at first. When manager Lefty Phillips sent in Jay Johnstone to pinch run, Johnson and the Angels had their first batting title.
Ironic that it was a hustle play that earned him his “biggest achievement.” Johnson, along with being a great hitter, was viewed by many fans as a lazy player. Some say he refused to jog between innings, oftentimes barely making it to the dugout before the next half inning would begin.
Johnson finished the 1970 season with a batting average of .3289 to edge Yastrzemski, who hit .3286.
“Winning the batting title is the biggest achievement of my life,” Johnson said after the game.
But there would be no more great achievements for Johnson in an Angels uniform. The very next year was a tumultuous one, as it seemed that Johnson’s baggage had finally caught up with him. A lack of hustle, discontentment and a heavy temper ultimately wore thin with his teammates, the organization and beat writers. After a series of suspensions in 1971, the Angels traded him in the off-season to the Cleveland Indians, where Johnson would only hit .239 in 1972.
In fact, Johnson would never approach .300 again, finishing his career with unspectacular stints in Texas, New York (AL) and Detroit.
For the Angels and their fans though, he will always be remembered as the man toting the “silver bat” signifying his great achievement in 1970. Johnson remains the only Angels hitter to win the batting title.
#22 - Sept. 21, 1982: Downing and Lynn crash and catch
There have been many outstanding catches made over the years in Major League baseball. Willie Mays’ over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series. Ozzie Smith’s barehanded diving stop. Jim Edmonds’ outstretched layout in Kansas City. Each among the best.
Another great catch in Angels history came down the stretch of the 1982 American League West pennant chase. Four days earlier, the Angels title hopes were looking grim, as a three-game losing streak dropped them two games behind the Kansas City Royals with 15 games remaining in the season.
But the Angels won the next two games of their series in Toronto and returned home to begin a critical three game series against the Royals, with the two teams now tied atop the division with identical 84-65 records.
The Angels took the opener, 3-2, behind Geoff Zahn’s eight strong innings and Reggie Jackson’s seventh inning RBI double.
Game two was another pitchers’ duel, this time between Ken Forsch and the Royals’ Dennis Leonard. In the fourth inning of a scoreless tie, Amos Otis drove a ball to the left center field gap, sending Angels left fielder Brian Downing and center fielder Fred Lynn on a collision course at the wall. The two fielders reached the fence at the exact same time, both leaping for the ball with no regard for their own welfare or each other. The impact was so powerful that the fence gave way, with Downing landing on the warning track and Lynn tumbling through the opening the collision had created.
For a moment, it was unclear which, if either, of the players had caught the ball. Then Lynn emerged displaying the ball. The umpires conferred and ruled Otis out, reasoning that in effect the outcome was the same as if Lynn had made the catch and fallen into the stands since he caught the ball with the fence giving way.
The Angels took a 1-0 lead in the fifth, but Kansas City scratched across a tying run in the eighth.
In the bottom of the ninth, however, Bobby Grich and Bob Boone singled with one out off Royals closer Dan Quisenberry. Daryl Sconiers, who’d begun his sophomore season 0-for-8, slapped a 3-2 pitch into center field to score pinch runner Gary Pettis, giving the Angels a 2-1 victory and a two-game division lead they would not relinquish en route to their second division title.
If not for Lynn’s remarkable catch, it might have been an entirely different story.
#21 - May 15, 2003: Arte Moreno purchases the Angels
May 15, 2003, is a memorable day for many people, but few likely more so than Arturo “Arte” Moreno, who that day officially acquired ownership of the Anaheim Angels from the Disney Corporation. In completing the purchase, Moreno became the first Latino owner of a major sports franchise in the United States.
Moreno, who was born in 1946, is the oldest of 11 children. He grew up in a two-bedroom house in Tucson, Ariz. Upon graduating high school, Moreno enlisted in the U.S. Army and went on to serve in Vietnam. In 1968, having completed his tour of duty, Moreno enrolled at the University of Arizona, where he graduated with a degree in marketing. After college, he was hired by Eller Outdoor, a move that would prove pivotal in his life. Moreno eventually joined Outdoor Systems, where he rose within the company to become its president and CEO. Under Moreno’s watchful eye, the company’s profits rose from $500,000 to $90 million in less than 10 years. In 1998, Moreno sold the company for $8 billion.
The Angels were not Moreno’s first foray into baseball ownership. In 1986, Moreno with 17 other investors purchased the Salt Lake Trappers of the Pacific Coast League. His ownership group would sell the trappers in 1992. More recently, Moreno was a minor partner in the group that owned the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team he tried to purchase in 2001, and a minor owner of the Phoenix Suns.
As owner of the Angels, Moreno’s first major move was to slash prices on both beer and tickets, a marketing bonanza that still earns him publicity almost five years later. In addition, he showed a willingness to sign – in their prime – superstars that included Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar.
Moreno has also been known to leave the owner’s box during games and mingle with fans throughout the stadium, and he is always willing to pause for a photo, or in many cases, sit down with a child and talk baseball or whatever else comes to mind. Moreno has shown that he is a fan’s owner.
For all the positives, there have been a few sticking points, including the most controversial: Prior to the 2005 season, seeking to increase the team’s revenue and marketability, Moreno changed the name of the club from the Anaheim Angels to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The move brought about a lawsuit from Anaheim’s city leaders and cries of outrage from many fans. But the results, like most things Moreno has touched, have been incredible. Recent sponsors have included the San Diego Zoo and the Los Angeles Times. In addition, Moreno was able to sign a very lucrative contract with Fox Sports Network.
As recently as April of 2006, Forbes Magazine estimated the team’s worth to be $368 million, which is more than double what Moreno paid for the club.
In a 2005 Time Magazine article, Moreno was quoted as saying: It’s one thing to have the means to buy a baseball team, but more important, do you really respect the opportunity?”
I believe in Moreno’s short tenure as owner of this franchise, he has show that he truly respects the opportunity and wants to bring another World Series title to Southern California and the fans of this great ball club.
#20 - May 15, 1973: Nolan Ryan throws his first no-hitter
When Nolan Ryan stepped on the mount at Royals Stadium on May 15, 1973, none of the 12,205 in attendance could have had any clue they were about to witness history. Ryan, after all, was coming off a terrible start in which he gave up five runs to the White Sox, failing to get out of the first inning (0.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER).
His next start, however, could not have been any different. On this night, Ryan was special, recording the first of his seven career no-hitters.
Before he threw his first pitch, Ryan’s teammates had already staked him to a 2-0 lead. He then started off his night by striking out the side in the bottom of the first. Ryan would strike out at least one Royals hitter per inning, save for the fifth, fanning a dozen altogether.
Ryan, who despite his strikeout dominance, was always capable of painting himself into a corner with bases on balls, avoided trouble all night, spreading his three walks out over the first, third and eighth innings. In fact, Ryan was so overpowering that third baseman Al Gallagher, left fielder Vada Pinson and shortstop Rudy Meoli fielded only two balls between the three of them, both by Meoli.
With the Angels leading, 3-0, Ryan faced the top of the Kansas City order in the ninth. Shortstop Freddie Patek fouled out to first and right fielder Steve Hovley struck out. That brought outfielder Amos Otis to the plate. Angels announcer Don Drysdale made the call:
“The one strike pitch, high fly ball, this could do it. Barry going back, to the warning track, to the wall, MAKES THE CATCH! … Nolan Ryan has pitched his first no-hitter of his career!”
Telling that Drysdale specifically called it Ryan’s first, as if it was inevitable there would be others – which of course, there would be.
“From the sixth inning on, I was given a lot of space in the dugout.” Ryan said after the game, “The Angels believed in the old saying: Don’t bother a pitcher who’s got the no-hitter going. Don’t even talk to him.”
Ryan became the first Angels right-hander to throw a no-hitter and it was the first no-hitter thrown at Royals Stadium, which had only opened the previous month.
“I never honestly felt I was the type of pitcher to pitch a no-hitter,” Ryan said. “My curveball isn’t overpowering and after you’ve gone through the lineup once or twice, the hitters can get on the fastball better. A lot of that is timing. I don’t have the type of fastball that really moves. A lot of guys have that explosive type of fastball that really moves. Also, I jam the hitters a lot so the really strong guys can bloop it over the infield for singles.”
One wonders if you’d have told him then he’d throw six more, would he have believed it?
Nolan Ryan no-hitter trivia: Angels second baseman Sandy Alomar made the first out of this game. 18 years later, his son Roberto Alomar struck out to end Ryan’s seventh no-hitter.
#19 - 2012: Trout’s Rookie Season for the Ages
Of all the superlatives that can be lavished upon Mike Trout’s rookie season, perhaps the simplest and most appropriate is “unprecedented,” because no rookie in Major League history reached the statistical heights Trout achieved. For that matter, no second-, third- or even 20th-year player did so, either.
And he did it all as a 20-year-old.
.326/.399/.594, 129 runs, 27 2B, 8 3B, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 49 SB
Trout led the American League in runs scored and stolen bases and finished second in batting average, despite starting the year at AAA Salt Lake and missing the first 20 Major League games. As for “unprecedented,” no player in Major League Baseball’s 141 years had ever surpassed 125 runs, 30 home runs and 45 stolen bases in the same season. Not one. Furthermore, he became the youngest player in history to record a 30 HR-30 SB season and the first rookie to combine 30 HR and 40 SB. Only two rookies scored more runs: Joe DiMaggio (132 in 1936) and Ted Williams (131 in 1939).
He was named an American League All-Star, American League Rookie of the Year, won a Silver Slugger and finished second in the American League MVP balloting to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
And, oh, all of those gravity-defying catches…
After making his celebrated, but far-from-polished big league debut as a 19-year-old in 2011 (batting just .220 and coming within a couple plate appearances of qualifying as a rookie), Trout was no sure bet to make the Angels 2012 roster out of spring training, especially not with an outfield/DH picture crowded by big contracts (Albert Pujols, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells), big emergences (Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos) and big question marks (Kendrys Morales). When Trout missed almost all of the spring with an energy-sapping illness, his fate was sealed — he would start the season in the minors.
While the “Millville Meteor” was batting .403/.467/.623 for the Bees, the Angels were woefully matching the franchise’s worst start (6-14) and falling nine games behind the Rangers for the division lead. In the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Angels recalled Trout on April 28 with the team in Cleveland. He went 0-4 from the leadoff spot, but the Angels won, 2-1.
With Trout setting the table, the Angels fortunes quickly turned. The team went 18-11 in May and climbed back to .500 for the first time since the season’s fourth game. Trout batted .324/.385/.556, but continued to fly under the radar of a baseball world that seemed preoccupied by Nationals rookie Bryce Harper. He was even better in June, posting a .372/.419/.531 line and helping the Angels to a 17-9 record in the month to pull within 4.5 games of the division-leading Rangers.
It was what he did on June 27 in Baltimore, however, that finally made the baseball world truly sit up and take notice. With his family and friends watching at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Trout made an unbelievable leaping catch in center field to rob shortstop J.J. Hardy of a first-inning home run. The catch was replayed for weeks and when people started to look at what he was doing with his bat and on the bases, as well, the youngster was not only a lock for the All-Star game, but suddenly in the discussion for AL MVP.
In July, Trout moved from “discussion” to “front runner,” posting an astounding .392/.455/.804 line. Comparisons to baseball’s immortals — DiMaggio, Williams, Mays, Mantle, even Ruth — became commonplace as statistical projections started to paint a picture of accomplishments matched only by the greatest of all-time — or no one in some cases.
Though he “slumped” to .287/.383/.500 from Aug. 1 on, and the Angels were ultimately unable to keep up with the Rangers and surprise division-winning Athletics, Trout made three more remarkable HR-robbing catches and sold more merchandise in the Angels team store than Pujols and all of his teammates combined.
At 10.7, he led the Major Leagues in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a “new-age” unit of measure that combines all conceivable statistical information — offense, defense and baserunning — into the number of victories a player is worth over a league-average alternative. Only three players in history posted a higher WAR before the age of 25: Ruth (11.6 in 1920), Gehrig (11.5 in 1927) and Mantle (11.1 in 1957 and 11.0 in 1956). His season ranks 20th all-time and every player ahead of Trout (Ruth, Hornsby, Yastrzemski, Bonds*, Gehrig, Ripken, Wagner, Cobb, Mantle, Mays, Morgan, Musial and Williams) is in the Hall of Fame.
For Angels fans, it was a rookie campaign for the ages, only the franchise’s second ROY (Salmon, 1993) and left just one question: What will he do for an encore?
#18 - June 10, 1997: Jim Edmonds makes "The Catch"
Jim Edmonds’ catch in Kansas City won’t be remembered because it contributed to a division championship or turned the momentum of a postseason series. It did neither. It won’t even be remembered because it helped win a game – which it incidentally did; the Angels defeated the Royals, 6-2, that night.
No, “The Catch” will be remembered quite simply because it was an unforgettable display of physical prowess that might never be duplicated.
In the fifth inning of a 1-1 tie at Kauffman Stadium, David Howard came to the plate with two on and two outs. Howard lined a Jason Dickson fastball to straightaway center field on a frozen rope. Edmonds, who always played a shallow center, turned, put his head down and charged back to where his instincts told him the ball might land.
As the ball sailed over his head, Edmonds threw his body in the air and blindly reached out his gloved hand as far as he could and, as Angels television broadcaster Steve Physioc called it …
“A long run for Jim Edmonds … OH, HE MADE A CATCH! UNBELIEVABLE!”
Edmonds wound up on the edge of the warning track, rolling onto his back with his legs in the air, left hand reaching up to display the ball.
“I looked up and saw it come over the bill of my cap and thought I might as well lay out for this one, the game’s on the line here,” said Edmonds, who doubled home the go-ahead run in the ensuing inning. “I heard (Tim) Salmon screaming and I saw Luis (Alicea) throw his glove up in the air and (Gary) DiSarcina had a blank look on his face.
“I’m thinking, ‘Man, I got the ball in my hand. Is there something else I’ve got to do?’ I had to sit there for a second and think about it.”
What everybody else thought about it was they’d never seen anything like it.
“That was one of the greatest plays ever,” veteran umpire Dave Phillips told the Kansas City Star. “That made Willie Mays’ play look routine.”
“It’s one of the greatest catches I’ve ever seen, and 95 percent of the guys in here will tell you that,” Howard said. “People don’t just dive on their face with their back to the infield as they’re heading into the wall.”
“The angle of the ball directly over his head, diving away from home plate … tells you what a great player this guy is,” Angels manager Terry Collins said. “He’s a brilliant outfielder.”
The play helped Edmonds net the first of two Gold Glove Awards he’d win for the Angels. He won six more playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.
USA Today in 2002 ranked the catch as the third-most amazing play of all-time, behind Mays’ 1954 World Series grab and Ozzie Smith’s barehanded magic in 1978.
#17 - Sept. 27, 1973: Ryan strikes out 383 to pass Koufax
Heading into his final start of the 1973 season, Nolan Ryan had already accomplished more than most pitchers these days can claim in two or three seasons.
38 starts. 25 complete games. Four shutouts. 20 victories. 22 games with 10 or more strikeouts. Heck, he even recorded a save, pitching the final two innings a day after the shortest start of his career (0.1 inning) to secure an Angels 6-5 victory on May 12.
And, oh yeah, he also tossed two no-hitters, on May 15 and July 15.
With all of that already under his belt, it seems almost absurd that Ryan saved his best for last. You see, while he was ringing up all of those strikeouts, they were adding up to something potentially very special.
During his first five September starts (all complete game victories), Ryan struck out 53 batters, giving him 367 strikeouts for the year – 15 shy of Sandy Koufax’s Major League record 382 in 1965.
Nursing a torn calf muscle, Ryan took the Anaheim Stadium mound in front of just 9,100 fans looking to make history one more time in 1973. When the Twins immediately jumped out to a 3-0 first inning lead, it didn’t seem likely he’d stick around long enough to collect the requisite strikeouts – though he did fan the side in the inning.
The Angels answered with three in the bottom of the first and Ryan had new life. Through five innings, he had 11 strikeouts and the Angels led, 4-3. In the sixth, the Twins pushed across the tying run, which would prove fortuitous for Ryan later in the night.
In the seventh, he again struck out the side, giving him 14 strikeouts, one shy of tying Koufax. But he’d also walked six batters, allowed seven hits and was piling up a lot of pitches on an aching leg. In the eighth, Ryan struck out Steve Brye to end the inning, tying Koufax with No. 382.
After nine innings, the game remained tied, 4-4, with Ryan stalled at 15 punchouts. And when he pitched a scoreless 10th, sandwiching a fly ball between two groundouts, fans wondered if he had enough left for one more inning.
With reliever Steve Barber warming in the bullpen, the Angels went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning. Announcer Dick Enberg made the call.
“The crowd is standing in anticipation, watching the bullpen gate,” Enberg said, pausing in his own anticipation. “And here he comes!”
Ryan jumped ahead of Brye, 1-2, but the center fielder grounded out to short. Ryan’s body language couldn’t disguise his fatigue or his frustration.
“Ryan now is like the heavyweight fighter with a knockout punch that has gone so many rounds that he has his opponent staggering and staggering but doesn’t have enough left to deliver that one blow that will knock him to the canvas and put him away,” Enberg said. “He’s getting the two strikes on hitters, but can’t get the third.”
Next up was Rod Carew, who struck out only 55 times in 1973, though three of them came earlier in this game. Carew drew a walk, Ryan’s seventh of the game, bringing manager Bobby Winkles to the mound. The crowd bristled, but Enberg was unfazed.
“He is going to let Nolan Ryan pitch as long as he wants,” Enberg said.
During Tony Oliva’s at-bat, Carew broke for second, drawing a throw – and a gasp from the crowd, which did not him to be thrown out, thus robbing Ryan of an opportunity for the 16th strikeout. Carew was safe. Oliva, however, flew out to center field, bringing up light hitting Rich Reese, who’d pinch run for Harmon Killebrew in the ninth.
“You can feel through the crowd a vibration saying, ‘Maybe this is the guy,’ ” Enberg said.
Reese swung and missed at Ryan’s first two pitches, another two-strike opportunity for the right-hander. On Ryan’s 0-2 pitch…
“Swung on and missed! Nolan Ryan is the Major League strikeout king of all time! He walks off the mound, his teammates come over to greet him one by one, the fans stand cheering.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have seen one of the finest young men to ever wear a baseball uniform record one of the most incredible records in Major League history. Three hundred and eighty-three for Nolan Ryan!
“Fans are shaking hands with each other as if they’re all part of this great night, as if to say, ‘Yes, we saw it. We saw it all.’ ”
With their ace now the strikeout king, the Angels rewarded Ryan with the victory when pinch hitter Richie Scheinblum doubled home Tommy McCraw with the game-winner in the bottom of the 11th.
Ryan finished 1973 with a 21-16 record, 2.87 ERA and finished second in Cy Young Award voting to Jim Palmer. But it was the last pitch he threw that season that remains his most memorable.
#16 - Sept. 30, 1984: Witt produces perfection
On the final day of the 1984 season, the Angels found themselves playing out the string, division also-rans to the Kansas City Royals. They would wrap the season in Arlington, facing the last place Rangers in front of a small crowd of 8,375.
Angels starting pitcher Mike Witt came into the game with a record of 14-11 after going 7-14 the previous season. Even before this game, 1984 had been a breakout season for the lanky right-hander as he’d doubled his win total from each of the previous three seasons and already enjoyed a 16-strikeout performance against the Seattle Mariners on July 23.
Witt, who made his Angels debut at 20 in 1981, had a great curveball and fastball, and was able to change speeds effectively with both. From 1984-1987, Witt led the Angels in victories, starts, complete games, strikeouts and innings pitched. In his best season, 1986, Witt won 18 games with a 2.84 ERA, finishing third to Roger Clemens and Teddy Higuera in A.L. Cy Young voting.
Unlikely as it seemed at the time, his last start of 1984 would prove to be the gem of Witt’s career.
Witt and Texas knuckleballer Charlie Hough were locked up in a scoreless pitcher’s duel through six innings. Hough had allowed the Angels just three hits, but Witt was quite a bit better. He was perfect, retiring all 18 batters he faced.
In the seventh, the Angels broke the deadlock with an unearned run scored on Reggie Jackson’s fielder’s choice. Witt retired the Rangers again in order in the seventh and eighth and took the mound for the ninth having fanned nine batters. The sparse crowd at Arlington Stadium rose to its feet and cheered as Witt went to work.
A first pitch strike to Tom Dunbar put his nerves at ease.
“When I walked out there for the ninth,” Witt said, “I was as nervous as I was in my first big league game. But once I threw that first strike, I got right back into it.”
Two more pitches and Dunbar was quickly strikeout No. 10, but more importantly out No. 25. Pinch hitter Bobby Jones hit a routine grounder to Rob Wilfong at second for No. 26. And on a 1-1 pitch to pinch hitter Marv Foley, Witt got another easy grounder to Wilfong, who tossed it to Bobby Grich at first for the final out – and baseball immortality for Witt.
“It probably won’t be until tomorrow and the next day, and every day this winter, that I’ll be saying to myself, “Hey, I did that,” Witt said after the game. “I mean, to get 27 straight batters out is unbelievable. For me to be able to say it is unbelievable.”
Witt’s perfecto is the only such game pitched on the final day of the regular season and only the second no-hitter with that distinction. (Four Oakland A’s – Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers – combined to no-hit the Angels on Sept. 28, 1975.)
The game took just one hour and 49 minutes to complete and Witt needed only 94 pitches to finish it, 70 of them strikes.
Witt was an All-Star in 1986 and 1987 and had the Angels within one strike of the World Series in 1986. He combined with Mark Langston on April 11, 1990, to throw the most recent no-hitter in Angels history, becoming the only pitcher to participate in a collective no-hitter while also throwing his own.
Witt ranks third all-time in Angels victories (109), fifth in games (314) and third in innings (1,965.1) and strikeouts (1,283).
#15 - Oct. 11, 2009: Vlad Finishes Some Business
It was a moment almost exactly 23 years in the making and the principle players couldn’t have been dreamed up any better:
Angels and Red Sox. Fenway Park and October. Vladimir Guerrero and Jonathan Papelbon.
So much history between the two teams, almost all of it favoring Boston. Recently it was the ALDS sweeps in 2004 and 2007 and the gut-wrenching walk-off hits in those series and again in 2008. All of those, of course, were merely aftershocks to the debacle that was the 1986 ALCS, specifically Game 5 on Oct. 12, 1986.
Anybody with more than a passing interest in Angels baseball understands that what happened in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS wasn’t just a clutch hit off a dominant closer. It was the hit many fans had wanted to see for more than two decades — dare I say it was the hit they needed to see.
Though the Angels had already jumped out to a commanding 2-0 series lead on the strength of dominant pitching performances by John Lackey and Jered Weaver in Games 1 and 2 in Anaheim, no Angels fan took a series victory for granted. How could they after all that had happened in the past?
And when the Red Sox, back home in their comfy bandbox, roughed up Scott Kazmir and took a 5-2 lead into the eighth inning of Game 3, Angels fans were already fast forwarding to Game 5 and Josh Beckett.
Red Sox reliever Billy Wagner, however, allowed the Angels to mount a threat in the eighth, forcing Boston manager Terry Francona to summon Papelbon for a four-out save. In 26 postseason innings, the Red Sox closer had not allowed a single run. But with runners on second and third, Juan Rivera drove Papelbon’s first pitch to right field, drawing the Angels to within one, 5-4.
All hope seemed to die moments later, however, when pinch runner Reggie Willits was picked off first base to end the inning and the Red Sox added an insurance run in the bottom half of the inning.
Papelbon made quick work of Maicer Izturis and pinch hitter Gary Matthews Jr. to start the ninth and Game 4 seemed assured. But Erick Aybar, 2008 ALDS goat, lined an 0-2 Papelbon offering into center field to keep the Angels alive. Chone Figgins, in the midst of a horrible series (0-12) worked a seven-pitch walk.
When Bobby Abreu slapped a 1-2 pitch over left fielder Jason Bay’s head, the Fenway crowd grew so quiet the sound of the ball slamming into the Green Monster echoed throughout the stadium. Aybar scored, the Angels trailed, 6-5, and Game 1 hero Torii Hunter was due up.
Francona elected to walk Hunter and load the bases for Guerrero. The face of the Angels franchise for much of the most successful period in team history was no longer the same “Super Vlad,” injuries and age sapping much of his power and presence. A likely free agent at season’s end, there was every indication this might be Guerrero’s last hurrah with the Angels.
To nobody’s surprise, Guerrero swung at Papelbon’s first pitch, a knee-high 95 mph fastball, and served into into center field, where it dropped in front of a fast-charging Jacoby Ellsbury. Figgins and Abreu scored, giving the Angels a 7-6 lead, and Guerrero stood safe at first base with the biggest hit of his postseason career.
Papelbon walked off the Fenway Park mound to a chorus of boos.
A few minutes later, Brian Fuentes retired Boston in order in the bottom of the ninth and the Angels completed an unbelievable series sweep of the Red Sox.
Though they would succumb to the eventual World Champion Yankees, 4-2, in the ALCS (though not before providing two more memorable victories), there was undoubtedly a sense that the Angels had indeed completed some “unfinished business,” thanks in huge part to the ninth inning heroics the man who may one day become the first player enshrined in the Hall of Fame as an Angel.
#14 - Oct. 2, 2004: Angels rally for A.L. West crown
It would come down to this: the best two out of three takes the division.
The Angels, 2002 World Champions and 2003 underachievers, along with their new owner and an unprecedented number of fans, would converge on Oakland in a tie with the A’s atop the division and three games to play. No tie-breakers, no one-game playoffs; just the simple math. Win twice or go home.
Despite their World Series title two seasons earlier, the Angels still had some unfinished business, having not won an American League West championship in 18 years. (The 2002 team entered the postseason as a wild card.) Arte Moreno, who acquired the team 17 months earlier, promised a winner, spent $145 million buying players to help build one and appeared on the verge of delivering the goods.
But the games were going to be played in Oakland and the Angels would have to go through the A’s “Big Three” starting pitchers – Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson – to get there. The series’ Friday night opener turned out to be a laugher, with the Angels roughing up Mulder with four in the second and little Alfredo Amezaga delivering the knockout punch to Joe Blanton with a grand slam in the sixth. The Angels rode seven shutout innings from Bartolo Colon to an eventual 10-0 victory, and were now in the driver’s seat needing only to win one of the following two games.
Hours before the first pitch of Saturday’s matinee, Moreno proudly sifted about the lower sections of McAfee Coliseum, wearing a big smile and happily chatting up any Angels fan who approached him – and there were a lot of them. An Angels victory would represent a coronation of sorts for the man who talked a big game and seemed poised to back up his lofty aspirations with results.
With the stadium filled with more red than the blood typically spilled at a Raiders game, Zito and Kelvim Escobar locked horns in a tightly contested duel. Escobar would be the first to blink, giving up one-out singles to Mark Kotsay and Eric Byrnes ahead of Eric Chavez’s double to score both of them and give Oakland a 2-0 lead.
Zito, meanwhile, was dealing. Through five innings, the Angels had managed only a hit and walk off the 2002 Cy Young Award winner. In the sixth, however, the Angels’ would-be MVP evened the score. With two outs and Chone Figgins at first, Vlad Guerrero took the first pitch from Zito and crushed it over the tall fence in center field, bringing a subdued Angels fan contingent back to life.
But the A’s answered quickly in the bottom half of the inning. Catcher Damian Miller doubled home Jermaine Dye with the go-ahead run, sending Escobar to the showers. Brendan Donnelly struck out Bobby Crosby for the second out, but frequent thorn in the Angels’ side, Marco Scutaro, singled to score Miller and give the A’s a 4-2 lead. And when Zito retired the Angels in order in the top of the seventh, it looked like the series would become a winner-takes-all affair on Sunday.
Donnelly did his part, getting the A’s 1-2-3 in the seventh. Zito, who’d allowed just three hits in seven innings, however, told manager Ken Macha his legs felt tight and suggested he go to the bullpen. The Angels, apparently sensing a reprieve, wasted no time in making that decision a bad one.
With Jim Mecir now pitching, Bengie Molina led off with a groundball single to left and Josh Paul pinch ran. Curtis Pride, pinch hitting for Amezaga, struck out looking, but Figgins singled to center, moving Paul to second. Macha summoned lefty Ricardo Rincon to face Darin Erstad.
Rincon would warm up for several minutes in order to deliver one actual pitch – a fat one right in Erstad’s wheelhouse that he drove deep into right field about a foot from the top of the wall for a double to drive in Paul and Figgins and again tie the score. Rincon would issue an intentional walk to Guerrero before being relieved by A’s closer Octavio Dotel.
“I asked (pitching coach) Curt (Young) if he was confident in the bullpen right now and he said yes,” Zito said. “In retrospect, it was the wrong call. But my legs were tightening up for the last couple of innings. I have to trust myself. I’m going to pitch as long as I can.”
After Troy Glaus flew out to right for the second out, Garret Anderson rolled Dotel’s 1-1 offering through the infield, just out of the reach of a diving Scutaro, and Erstad slid across home plate ahead of the throw from Dye to give the Angels their first lead of the game, 5-4. Erstad was greeted by the entire Angels roster outside the dugout as Angels fans reached a fever pitch.
“I knew our guys weren’t going to melt,” manager Mike Scioscia. “We have a lot of very, very talented players.”
Francisco Rodriguez pitched a scoreless eighth and Troy Percival came on in the ninth to close it, inducing three straight fly balls to Jeff DaVanon in left field, the last giving the Angels their first division title since 1986.
“What we did to be at this point, nobody expected it,” Figgins said. “It’s motivation. We were down four or five games, but we still had to play in our division. When you still have to play in your division and it’s coming down to the home stretch, you get a little more energy.”
Angels fans who made the trip north lingered long after the game, congregating behind the visitor’s dugout and celebrating while the players, coaches and Moreno showered each other in champagne in the clubhouse. The Angels were once again the kings of the West and Moreno was bestowed a crown of beer and champagne for helping them get there.
#13 - Oct. 26, 2002: All the way back
Angels fans everywhere in despair. After the 16-4 pounding the Halos took in Game 5 of the 2002 fall classic, the series shifted back to Anaheim for the possible final game of the season.
But the team that had made a habit of coming back late all season long had yet another one up their collective sleeves. And while a home run by a certain red-bearded first baseman figures largely in this particular game, it would have all been for naught without more heroics in the eighth inning. (We’ll get to the aforementioned home run soon enough.)
The top half seemed to be played in a haze. Emotions high. Thunderstix booming. Hope restored. Fans again allowing themselves to believe.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia brought in rookie Brendon Donnelly to replace uber-rookie Francisco Rodriguez. Donnelly promptly walked leadoff hitter Benito Santiago after putting him in a 1-2 hole. When J.T. Snow drove the first pitch he saw to center, for a second, for one brief moment, memories of Game 5 came flooding back. But Darin Erstad settled under the routine fly ball and there was one out.
Five more to go.
Donnelly next faced Reggie Sanders, firing in a first pitch fastball that Saunders couldn’t lay off for strike one. A foul ball made it 0-2. Next pitch: strike three, swinging.
Four more to go.
Next up, David Bell. Two quick foul balls signaled that Bell was dialed in. Two pitches out of the zone evened the count and Donnelly stared Bell down, sweat dripping from his cap. Strike three, swinging.
Three outs remained. Time for the Angels new mascot, the Rally Monkey, to go back to work.
Erstad would lead off the eighth for the Halos. Tim Worrell, who’d made quick work of David Eckstein to end the seventh, remained on the mound.
First pitch: Ball one. Second pitch: Erstad out in front, foul. Next pitch: Crack! Over the right field wall on a frozen rope. 45,000 fans at once erupted. 5-4, Giants.
Tim Salmon, Mr. Angel, came to the plate. On a 1-0 pitch, he lined it into center field and the tying run was 270 feet from home. Rally time.
Chone Figgins came in to pinch run for Salmon. Everybody in the stadium knew he was going – but on which pitch?
As it turned out, he wouldn’t get the chance. After smoking a foul ball into the stands, Garret Anderson blooped a Worrell pitch down the left field line. With Figgins tearing around second base and heading for third, Barry Bonds in left juggled the ball twice, allowing Anderson to hustle into the second.
Giants manager Dusty Baker motioned to the bullpen for closer Robb Nen for what would turn out to be the three-time All-Star’s final appearance. He’d face third baseman Troy Glaus.
Nen’s first three pitches were nowhere near the strike zone, though Glaus helped him out by swinging at and missing the second one. On a 2-1 count, Glaus hammered a poorly placed offering toward the left center field gap. Bonds, galloping back to the warning track, stretched his glove over his head in a vain attempt to catch the ball, but he’d have needed another 10 feet of reach to snare it.
Figgins and Anderson scored, and the Angels led, 6-5, Glaus pumping his fist as he retreated to second with the double. The Angels saved their best comeback of the season for last. Nen then retired the side without additional damage, but with Troy Percival warmed up and ready for the ninth, the damage was already done. There would be a Game 7 and momentum was back with the Angels.
#12 - Oct. 5, 1979: "Yes We Can" one more time
Yes they had. It took 19 mostly frustrating, often painful, at times utterly heartbreaking years, but the California Angels were finally playing in October.
Unfortunately, the Baltimore Orioles weren’t the sentimental type and felt no guilt in dropping the Angels into an 0-2 ALCS deficit that to that point in MLB history had never been overcome. (The Angels would play an unfortunate role in changing this three years later.) Following 6-3 and 9-8 defeats in Baltimore (each in its own way gut wrenching), the Angels returned home to a down, but not out fan base, for which “Yes We Can” had become more than a chant. The sentiments were palpable, exemplified by the sheer audacity of the word “we.”
Fan use of “we” when talking about their favorite sports team is an acceptable misnomer, but rarely means anything literal. For the 1979 Angels and their fans, at times it did indeed seem to be a group effort. This night would define the “we” of that season.
The Angels got a gutsy five innings from Frank Tanana and four outstanding innings of relief from Don Aase, but reached the bottom of the ninth inning, three outs from elimination, trailing Dennis Martinez, 3-2.
Don Baylor, whose solo home run in the fourth briefly gave the Angels a 2-1 lead, flew out to left field for the first out. But Rod Carew drove a ball into the left center field gap for a double. The crowd of 43,199, again picked up the refrain: “Yes we can! Yes we can!”
Orioles manager Earl Weaver summoned reliever Don Stanhouse, despite the fact he’d thrown 33 pitches and nearly lost the game the day before in Baltimore. Brian Downing worked an eight-pitch walk and Angels fans raised the decibel level another notch, prompting broadcaster Dick Enberg to observe that he’d never heard Anaheim Stadium any louder.
Bobby Grich lined a Stanhouse offering that center fielder Al Bumbry broke in on late and mishandled, allowing it to drop to the grass. Carew hustled around third and beat Bumbry’s throw home to tie the score, Downing advancing to second. Bumbry would later admit the crowd noise prevented him from hearing the crack of the bat, contributing to his miscue.
“Yes we can! Yes we can!”
Then, on the second pitch he saw from Stanhouse, outfielder Larry Harlow slapped a line drive to Bumbry’s left and Downing charged home with the winning run, making a wide turn at the backstop and continuing right into the dugout to celebrate with his teammates. The Angels staved off elimination, winning their first ever playoff game, 4-3.
Angels fans lingered in the afterglow long after the game and continued to chant “Yes we can!” as they exited the stadium.
It hardly mattered that 20 hours later it was all over, Scott McGregor pitching a six-hit shutout to send the Orioles to the World Series. For the Angels and, more importantly their long-suffering fans, that one victory might as well have been the whole World Series. For one more incredible night, yes, they did.
#11 - Aug. 12, 1974: Ryan fans 19
Nolan Ryan started his career with the Mets and was mostly a relief pitcher and spot starter, never quite able to crack the Mets’ outstanding rotation for good during his four seasons in Queens. Ryan was a young flame-thrower, but he had control issues and it appeared that he would languish in the Mets bullpen despite flashes of brilliance in the 1969 postseason.
At the conclusion of the 1971 season, Ryan, who never felt comfortable in New York, expressed a desire to be traded. The Mets needed a third baseman and felt Angels veteran shortstop Jim Fregosi could make the switch. They offered Ryan, along with catcher Frank Estrada, pitcher Don Rose and outfielder Leroy Stanton. The Angels wisely accepted. Some would argue it was the best trade the Angels franchise ever made.
By the time the 1974 campaign rolled around, Ryan was on his way to becoming one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history. The season prior, Ryan threw two no-hitters, fanning 12 and 17, respectively. And while critics point to his paltry winning percentage as a reason why he should not be cast in the same breath as Sandy Koufax and his ilk, Ryan was dominating hitters while mired on bad teams.
On June 14, 1974, Ryan fanned 19 Red Sox in 13 innings (also walking 10 and earning no decision for his effort.) On Aug. 20, he did it again, striking out 19 Tigers, this time through 11 innings of a four-hitter he’d go on to lose, 1-0.
But it was two starts prior to that one that Ryan produced one of the most dominating performances, not only of his career, but in American League history.
On Aug. 12, five weeks before he would stifle the Minnesota Twins for his third no-hitter, Ryan struck out 19 Red Sox in a nine-inning game (walking only two), breaking an American League record held for 36 years by Bob Feller, who fanned 18 Detroit Tigers on Oct. 2, 1938. And this time, the Angels would actually make Ryan a 4-2 winner.
Ryan would strike out the side three times and fanned five of the final six batters he faced, a fly ball to right field by Rick Burleson to end the game preventing Ryan from breaking the Major League record he then shared with former Mets teammate Tom Seaver (April 22, 1970, vs. San Diego) and lefty Steve Carlton (Sept. 15, 1969, vs. New York).
Three players have since struck out 20 batters in a nine-inning game*: Seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens (twice), Kerry Wood and five-time Cy Young winner Randy Johnson.
(* Johnson’s 20 strikeouts came in the first nine innings of a game that would eventually be won by the Diamondbacks in 11. MLB has recognized Johnson’s effort as equaling the record.)
Despite his numerous feats of dominance, Ryan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999 having never been awarded a Cy Young. But then maybe some day baseball will recognize Ryan by naming a strikeout award after him.
#10 - Aug 21, 2007: GA has a night to remember
Garret Anderson’s may be one of the quietest careers in the history of baseball considering all that he has accomplished with so little fanfare. He is one of only 92 MLB players to date to have at least 2,500 hits in their career and his 522 doubles rank him No. 38 all time. His three-run double in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series was the difference in a 4-1 Angels victory. He even has Home Run Derby and All-Star Game MVP trophies to his name.
Yet for all these accolades, Anderson has never received the widespread recognition one might think he would garner. Garret has never been seen as a player who has sought out public attention in any manner. He has always presented a very professional, guarded demeanor when talking to the press or to fans. Even among his own team’s fan base, players such as Tim Salmon, Darin Erstad and later Vladimir Guerrero frequently overshadowed Anderson. On Aug. 21, 2007, however, for one night at least, he made the entire baseball world take notice; and he did it against baseball’s flagship franchise, no less — the New York Yankees.
Taking the mound that night for the Yankees was a possible Hall of Famer in Mike Mussina. The Big A was sold out, as was customary for any game the Yankees were in town. The Angels were in a tight division race against the Mariners while the Yankees were fighting for the Wild Card spot. Little did anyone know at the beginning of the game, one that would feature Alex Rodriguez hitting two home runs, that all the attention would end up being focused on Garret Anderson. His night started with a trademark two-run double in first against Mussina. In the second inning, he added another run-scoring double. Most players would consider it a great night with those two hits. Garret’s night was just beginning, however.
In the third inning, with Mussina chased from the game, Anderson faced reliever Edwar Ramirez. His rampage on Yankees pitching continued as he launched a three-run shot into the right field seats — three at-bats, six RBI.
Leading off the fifth inning, he relented briefly in the form of a ground out to second, but the offensive onslaught culminated in the sixth when he faced reliever Sean Henn with the bases loaded and sent an 0-1 offering into former bullpen in right field for his sixth career grand slam. With that hit, Anderson tied the American League mark with 10 RBI in one night and bested teammate Guerrero’s previous team-high of nine.
The fans in Anaheim urged their normally reserved player out for his first curtain call. Anyone watching the game knew, however, that this was more than a mere sign of appreciation for a good night’s work. This was a chance for a fan base and a player to acknowledge what their decade-plus long relationship meant to each other.
Amazingly enough, Anderson had a chance in the eighth inning to tie or even break the all-time record of 12 RBI in one game. With runners on first and third, he hit a ball up the middle that found the glove of shortstop Luis Vizcaino, who was cheating toward second.
Still, Anderson now owned at least a share of history; he is on an elite list of players with double-digit RBI games: Mark Whiten, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Fred Lynn, and perhaps Garret’s greatest antithesis when it comes to seeking and accepting adoration, Reggie Jackson. But for one night, the quiet superstar made so much noise everybody had to take notice.
#9 - 2014, 2015, 2016: Mike Trout's MVPs
Starting with the day Mike Trout was drafted to all of his accolades in the minors to his dominance of MLB, Angels fans knew it was only a matter of time until he was the AL MVP. In 2012 his first full season he put on a dynamic display of power, speed, and athleticism leading the league in stolen bases, runs, OPS+ and making catches in center field that no human should ever be capable of. In 2013 he did more of the same, leading the league in walks and for the second year in a row, in runs scored, stepping up his OPS to .988 and OPS+ to 179. Both years he finished second in MVP voting to Miguel Cabrera, who might be a statue in the field but offensively he was mashing the ball including the first triple crown in decades. If you are a believer in WAR and sabermetrics, Mike Trout deserved the MVP both years but if you believe in the old school stats they favored Miguel Cabrera and it didn’t help that the Angels failed to make the playoffs both years.
In 2014 it was a different story. After hitting a single in his first at-bat of the 2012 All Star Game and a double in his first at-bat of the 2013 All Star Game, he hit a triple in his first at-bat of the 2014 All Star Game and ended up adding a double and a walk to go 2-3 with a run scored, two RBI and his first MVP, the all-star variety. He wasn’t finished though leading the league in RBI and for the third straight year runs scored and WAR, slugging the Angels to the best record in baseball and his first playoff series. The conversation was no longer about WAR vs old school, there was no doubt he would be the MVP and on November 13th 2014 it was announced that he was unanimously selected as the AL MVP, the sixth player ever to win both the ASG and league MVP in the same season and the fifth-youngest player ever to win the MVP.
His first at-bat of the 2015 All Star Game was a home run to right field that few players in baseball could hit, finishing off the first at-bat of the ASG cycle. He was the fourth player ever to lead off the ASG with a home run and he finished the game 1-3 with an RBI and two runs scored and became the first player ever to win back to back All Star Game MVPs. Unfortunately the rest of 2015 ended with a familiar story, there was another catch and even though he lead the league in slugging, OPS and once again, WAR, the Angels missed the playoffs and Josh Donaldson had an equally impressive season playing for a playoff bound team, leaving Trout the MVP runner-up for the third time in four seasons.
Some baseball writers and pundits would tell you that there is such a thing as “Trout Fatigue.” That he is so consistently good, and makes it look so easy, that baseball fans and experts take him for granted. I believe it to be true so to claim another MVP award on a team that quite frankly stunk would be a huge accomplishment. As the 2016 season wound down the usual conversation was going on, stop me if you have heard this before… Trout lead the league in WAR, runs, OPS+, OBP, second in OPS, and the list goes on, but he was on a team that was not ever close to the playoff race, and the young Mookie Betts of the hated Chowds seemed to be the favorite to win the award, he had an excellent season and he played for one of the best teams in baseball. Also in the conversation was Jose Altuve, a lovable short guy (seriously, who doesn’t love a short guy) that played for a team that just missed the playoffs and lead the league in average and hits while playing excellent defense. Fortunately, the Trout Fatigue was overcome and once again Mike Trout was rightfully recognized as the best player in the AL with his second MVP award.
As Angels fans, it really is great to be able to watch the best player in baseball do his thing day in and day out.
#8 - Aug. 29, 1986: Schofield leads a grand comeback
It is the biggest ninth inning comeback in Angels history, and shortstop Dick Schofield not only sparked it – he also ended it with one explosive swing of the bat.
With the Angels holding onto a 4.5 game lead over Texas for the division title, the Rangers had already applied some pressure with a 5-2 victory in Chicago earlier that Friday night.
The Angels, meanwhile, were getting trounced by the visiting Detroit Tigers, trailing 8-1 after five uninspiring innings. Heading into the bottom of the ninth, Detroit’s lead stood at 12-5 and it appeared the Angels division bump would soon shrink to 3.5 games.
The rally started innocently enough, with Schofield beating out an infield single to short off Tigers reliever Randy O’Neal, who was beginning his third inning of work. After Rick Burleson lined out, Wally Joyner drew a walk. When Brian Downing singled to load the bases, Detroit closer Guillermo “Willie” Hernandez, the 1984 MVP and Cy Young winner, began to warm in the bullpen – just in case.
Jack Howell doubled to right field, scoring Schofield and Joyner, and Tigers manager Sparky Anderson had seen enough. He called on Hernandez, even though Detroit still led 12-7.
Hernandez, however, would prove no more effective, promptly giving up consecutive RBI singles to George Hendrick and Bobby Grich, pulling the Angels within three runs. But when Gary Pettis grounded into a fielder’s choice at second, California was down to its final out. Up stepped Ruppert Jones, pinch hitting for Jerry Narron. Jones worked a walk from Hernandez, loading the bases for the man who started the rally: Schofield.
Incredibly, the Angels typically light-hitting shortstop – he of the 56 home runs in 1,368 career games – lofted a Hernandez splitter straight down the left field line; a ball that kept carrying … carrying … carrying … and GONE! Dave Collins’ just watched it sail into the stands.
It was a grand slam – a walk-off grand slam, in fact, capping an eight-run ninth that ignited frenzy among those fans from the original 32,992 in attendance that actually remained.
The Angels would maintain their 4.5 game lead on the Rangers, who got no closer than five the rest of the season. It was the signature victory of the Angels’ 1986 division championship season and one that fans, even 22 years later, still recall fondly any time the team rallies in the ninth.
#7 - Oct. 20, 2002: Salmon blasts give Angels first WS victory
The scene: Edison Field, Game 2 of the 2002 World Series, Angels down 0-1 in the series to the San Francisco Giants.
After 7 1/2 seesaw innings, the Angels and Giants stood deadlocked, 9-9. Until Salmon broke it with a sledgehammer, crushing his second home run of the game to put the Angels ahead for good.
Typical of Salmon, despite his own heroism his was not the home run he was gushing about afterward. Salmon was still marveling at the one hit by Barry Bonds in the ninth that sailed some 485 feet into the sea of red in right field.
“That was the farthest ball I’ve ever seen hit in this ballpark, for sure,” Salmon said. But the Angels’ always-humble right fielder trumped that mammoth shot with the drive that counted the most, a two-out, two-run shot that proved the difference in the Angels 11-10 victory and knotted the series at one game apiece.
“We knew there was going to be a hero in the dugout,” Salmon said, “and tonight it was me.”
Until 2002, no active player in the majors had gone longer than Salmon – 1,388 games – without reaching the postseason. But that wasn’t a well-known fact because Bonds had been the center of attention, especially since it was his first World Series, too.
But Salmon put the spotlight squarely on himself on this night by helping the Halos to their first-ever World Series win.
“I think I made the most of my opportunities. It was awesome,” Salmon said. “The way the game went back-and-forth was unbelievable.”
Salmon ended up going 4-for-4 with a walk, while driving in four runs and scoring three. He capped his performance with a drive into the Anaheim bullpen in left field that left Bonds hanging over the top of the fence. A joyous sight indeed!
Earlier in the game, Salmon’s first two-run homer gave the Angels a 7-4 lead in the second inning. They led, 5-0, after the first inning before the Giants rallied with some fireworks of their own.
But as Salmon circled the bases and fireworks exploded overhead after connecting on a 93 mph fastball, ultimately it was the Giants’ Felix Rodriguez angrily tugging on his cap.
After Troy Percival gave up the ninth inning two-out blast to Bonds, the crowd of 44,584 roared as Benito Santiago popped out harmlessly to Adam Kennedy at second to end it.
“It was too much Salmon,” Bonds said after the game. “It’s phenomenal. He did everything any player could do in one game except steal home.”
Salmon will no doubt be remembered for many highlights and accomplishments as an Angel: 1993 AL Rookie of the Year, the sliding catches in right field, the force that he was with the lumber, the Texas Ranger beat downs or his last game played, retiring an Angel for life and the ceremonial send off from the fans in Anaheim.
But for me, this game, with all that was riding upon it, was the highlight of Salmon’s career and clearly one of the “Greatest Moments in Angels Baseball.”
#6 - Oct. 5, 2002: Angels beat Yanks, win first postseason series
Fresh off of a Game 3 come-from-behind win, one in which the Anaheim Angels erased a 6-1 deficit against the New York Yankees in the 2002 American League Division Series to take a 2-1 series lead, the Angels entered Game 4 looking to close out the Bronx Bombers at home for the franchise’s first ever postseason series win.
Once again, the Angels had their opponents on the ropes, facing elimination. It had become, of course, a familiar site for Angels fans. The team had already played six such games in their history.
In 1982, the then California Angels were up two games to none on the Milwaukee Brewers in the best-of-five ALCS. With three chances to beat the Brew Crew and advance to the World Series, the Angels failed – losing all three games.
In 1986, the Angels again found themselves on the cusp of reaching their first World Series. But up three games to one on the Boston Red Sox and just one strike away, closer Donnie Moore gave up a two-out, two-strike, two-run homerun to Dave Henderson, relinquishing a 5-4 lead in Game 5 of the ALCS.
Boston went on to win the game, as well as Games 6 and 7 in Fenway Park.
With such a short, yet heart-wrenching postseason history, many of the 45,067 in attendance on Oct. 5, 2002, were waiting to see how the Angels would let this opportunity slip through their fingers.
With the Angels down, 2-1, entering the bottom of the fifth inning, tension was high. David Wells was 8-1 in his postseason career and was pitching well for the Yankees on this afternoon.
Then, something amazing happened. The Angels put together one of the greatest offensive innings in Major League postseason history.
Shawn Wooten led off the fifth with a homerun to left-center field to tie the game, 2-2. Then, after a Bengie Molina fly-out, Benji Gil recorded the first of five consecutive Angels’ singles with a shot into centerfield.
After a Troy Glaus fly ball out, the Angels connected for four more hits in a row, including Wooten’s and Gil’s second hits of the inning.
When it was all said and done, the Angels had plated eight runs on a record-tying 10 hits in the inning.
Anaheim Angels – Bottom of 5th
David Wells pitching for New York
S Wooten homered to left center
B Molina flied out to right
B Gil singled to center
D Eckstein singled to right, B Gil to third
D Erstad singled to shallow center, B Gil scored, D Eckstein to second
T Salmon singled to left center, D Eckstein scored, D Erstad to third
G Anderson singled to right center, D Erstad scored, T Salmon to third
T Glaus flied out to shallow right
S Spiezio singled to left, T Salmon scored, G Anderson to second
R Mendoza relieved D Wells
S Wooten singled to right center, G Anderson scored, S Spiezio to third
B Molina doubled to deep left, S Spiezio and S Wooten scored
O Hernandez relieved R Mendoza
B Gil singled to center, B Molina to third
D Eckstein flied out to center
8 Runs, 10 Hits, 0 Errors
With a 9-2 lead, the Angels needed only 12 outs to erase the franchise’s playoff demons.
New York scratched across single runs in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings to close the deficit to 9-5, but when Nick Johnson lifted a weak pop-up to deep shortstop, and David Eckstein promptly squeezed it for the game’s final out, jubilation ensued.
The Angels had beaten the mighty Yankees three games to one for their first playoff series win in the franchise’s history.
“It’s been a long time coming for myself and this organization, a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” said Salmon in the clubhouse. “To finally come through and do it, it’s just special.
“Nobody gave us a chance against the Yankees. Maybe we caught them on a bad week, I don’t know. You can’t say enough about how our club’s playing,”
#5 - Sept. 25, 1979: Angels win first ever division title
“The Angels one out away from their first championship ever. Porter at the plate, he waits. The pitch from Frank … swing and a ground ball hit to Carew. He bobbles it, recovers, throws to Tanana … IN TIME! The 19-year wait is over, they’ve done it: The Angels are the champions of the West!”
In light of all the recent success the Angels have enjoyed this decade – a World Championship and division titles in five of six seasons – it’s sometimes easy to forget just how difficult a struggle it was for the franchise to win its first.
But, oh, did they ever struggle; not only through losing seasons – and there were plenty of those, 13 of the first 17 to be exact – but also debilitating injuries and clubhouse unrest. The Angels even suffered the tragedy of not one, but two players’ deaths during their first two heartbreaking decades. In 18 previous seasons, they’d gone through eight managers, four general managers and played in three different home parks.
But finally, in 1979, with a rallying cry of “Yes We Can!” the Angels buried their demons (well, some of them anyway) and on Sept. 25, behind a dominant complete game by Frank Tanana, they won the American League West in front of 40,631 jubilant fans at Anaheim Stadium.
And true to fashion for this franchise, it still didn’t come easily: Nolan Ryan, Rod Carew and Willie Aikens each missed significant time with injuries and Tanana was limited to 17 starts. But manager Jim Fregosi, hired in the middle of the 1978 season, days after retiring as a player, held it all together.
“We’ve been ready for it for an awfully long time around here and I’m just thrilled to death to be part of it,” said Fregosi, who spent 13 of the team’s first 19 seasons in an Angels uniform. “These players have been absolutely fantastic all season. They’ve gone out under really some tough situations, some tough conditions, they’ve battled all year long and I just couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Great offensive seasons from Don Baylor, later named the AL MVP, Bobby Grich, Dan Ford and Brian Downing, along with a solid season from Ryan and the emergence of Dave Frost carried the Angels to the title, which was a watershed moment for the Angels franchise despite the fact the team would go on to lose the ALCS, 3-1, to the Orioles.
“The biggest thing we had to overcome was that we had never won a division,” Fregosi said. “No matter how good the talent was, there seemed to be a black cloud hanging over the team – injuries, people getting hurt. Overcoming that was special to me. Once a team has won, the team knows it could do it.”
It would be another 23 years before the Angels would win it all, but in 1979 they took that first, all-important step.
#4 - Oct. 27, 2002: "Garret Anderson clears the bases!"
After an incredibly emotional come-from-behind victory of historic proportions in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series – one which saw the Anaheim Angels force a deciding Game 7 at Edison Field – the home team had every ounce of momentum on its side.
The Angels entered the bottom of the third inning tied, 1-1, with the San Francisco Giants. Though the scoreboard said it was clearly not make or break time, the guts of 44, 598 fans in the stadium and millions more watching on television said otherwise. Every pitch delivered in the World Series seems to hold the collective fate of everyone with a rooting interest.
David Eckstein led off the third with a single to left field off of Giants starter Livan Hernandez, who won Game 7 of the 1997 World Series for the Florida Marlins. Darin Erstad followed with a single of his own to left in front of Tim Salmon, who was hit by a Hernandez off-speed pitch, loading the bases for team MVP Garret Anderson.
Anderson, who finished fourth in American League MVP voting in 2002, had a remarkable season, finishing with a .306 batting average, 29 home runs and 123 RBI. But his World Series performance had been a modest one entering his second at-bat of Game 7.
The stage had been set for Anderson, who needed to just put the ball in play to give his team a lead. He did two better, driving a Hernandez high fastball down the right field line and into the corner. Eckstein, Erstad and Salmon all scored on the double, giving the Angels a 4-1 lead.
Anderson had cleared the bases! Arguably the greatest Angel, GA had collected his greatest moment.
The Angels would not score another run in the 2002 season. But three rookie pitchers and their outstanding closer made sure they didn’t need to.
#3 - Oct. 13, 2002: "He has homered THREE times!"
Chances are had you asked a diehard Angels fan if he or she would have been satisfied with a nondescript 5-2 victory prior to Game 5 of the 2002 ALCS, the answer would have been “Absolutely!” After waiting 41 years to see an American League pennant flying over Anaheim Stadium, few fans were going to be picky about how it got there.
The Angels, however – especially second baseman Adam Kennedy – had a special treat in store for their long-suffering faithful. Kennedy, who hit just seven homers during the 2002 regular season, launched three round trippers over the right field wall, the third igniting a 10-run seventh inning that carried the Halos into their first World Series with a 13-5 victory over the Twins.
Kennedy’s first home run, leading off the third inning off Joe Mays, shaved the Twins 2-0 lead in half. When he connected again in the fifth, following Scott Spiezio’s leadoff shot, Kennedy briefly gave the Angels a 3-2 lead.
The Twins retook the lead with three in the top of the seventh and with Johan Santana on the mound the Angels appeared to have perhaps blown an opportunity to end the series at home.
But Spiezio and Bengie Molina led off the bottom half with singles and rather than sending up right handed Benji Gil to pinch hit for Kennedy, manager Mike Scioscia allowed the lefty swinger to bat. On Santana’s first pitch, Kennedy squared around to bunt – a textbook Scioscia move – but fouled off his attempt.
With 44,835 fans expecting another bunt attempt, Kennedy got the green light to swing away and fouled it off. After taking a ball, Kennedy lofted Santana’s 1-2 offering, a hanging curveball, deep over the tall wall in right center field for his third home run of the game, a three-run shot to give the Angels a 6-5 lead.
Kennedy became only the fifth player in Major League history to homer three times in a playoff game, joining Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and George Brett, and former Pirate Bob Robertson in the very exclusive club.
“I don’t care if I have another one,” Kennedy said. “This is it right here, the biggest game of my life. Everybody dreams of this. I was in the right spot today.”
For good measure, Kennedy’s teammates proceeded to thoroughly pile on the Twins beleaguered bullpen, scoring seven more runs off three relievers who followed Santana, Kennedy adding a single later in the inning.
Kennedy finished the game 4-for-4 with three runs and five RBI, earning him series MVP honors – some fine hardware for his trophy case, but nothing compared to being remembered as the man whose bat sent the Angels to their first World Series. That is simply unforgettable.
#2 - Oct. 26, 2002: The swing that changed a franchise
It was just one swing out of hundreds of thousands in the Angels’ 47-year history, but it produced three of the biggest runs and, in one instant, shifted an entire franchise’s momentum. With one swing, hopeless became hopeful.
When Scott Spiezio coaxed that ball over the short wall in right field, just far enough to elude the reach of Giants right fielder Reggie Sanders, there was an immediate sense that it would prove the most important hit in Angels history. Around 24 hours later, it was no longer just a sense – it was truth.
Game 6 of the 2002 World Series was do or die for the Anaheim Angels, who were facing elimination, down three games to two against the San Francisco Giants.
Entering the bottom of the seventh inning, with the Giants leading 5-0, the Angels appeared prepped for their casket. The team had shown little life offensively, thoroughly stifled by starter Russ Ortiz, and the Giants’ greatest strength, their bullpen, rested and ready.
Garret Anderson led off the seventh inning with routine groundball to second base. The Angels had just eight outs remaining to prevent a very disappointing end to their season.
The next batter, Troy Glaus, finally gave the Angels and their fans something to cheer about when he singled to left field on Ortiz’s next pitch. And when Brad Fullmer followed with a single of his own, the Angels had the beginnings of a rally.
What happened next proved to be one of the most second-guessed managerial decisions in World Series history – and that’s putting it mildly.
With two on and one out, Giants’ manager Dusty Baker made his way out to the mound. The trip was no doubt to talk strategy, and since it was late into an elimination game it made sense that the manager would forgo sending the pitching coach on such a critical mound visit. After all, Ortiz had dominated the Angels for 6.1 innings and had not yet thrown 100 pitches. Surely Baker would allow him to work through a little bit of trouble in the seventh, especially with a five-run lead.
But Baker had other thoughts. To everyone’s surprise, he raised his right hand toward the bullpen. He was bringing in right-handed fireballer Felix Rodriguez to face previously anonymous Angels first baseman Scott Spiezio.
Baker had pulled his starting pitcher, though he’d not given up a run while scattering just four hits and walking two. What’s more, with Ortiz already a step away from the pitching rubber and on his way to the dugout, Baker reached back, symbolically grabbing his pitcher’s right arm to stop him. A curious Ortiz accepted a gift – the “game ball,” which he no doubt deserved, but that the ball was given to him on the mound for millions to see was what created controversy. It no doubt stuck in the craw of the Angels and their fans.
Spiezio would have his hands full. Rodriguez was one of the best relievers in baseball, as evidenced by the .163 average he allowed to opposing batters during the 2002 postseason. Spiezio, however, was working on a special October of his own, one that saw him tie the postseason record for RBI with 19.
After a first pitch ball, Spiezio fouled off three consecutive Rodriguez fastballs perfectly placed on the outside corner. Rodriguez evened the count at 2-2 when he missed with his fifth pitch. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Spiezio put a great swing on a fastball, fouling it straight back, prompting a rare prophetic statement from FOX announcer Tim McCarver, who cautioned, “If you make a mistake away, it’s a single. If you make a mistake in, it’s 5-3.”
After Rodriguez’ next pitch went wide, making the count full, he did, indeed, miss in. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Spiezio took a low and in fastball high and deep into the right field corner. Sanders drifted back methodically, tracking the towering fly ball. When it left the bat, it appeared Spiezio just missed it, but the ball continued to carry, taking Sanders all the way to the warning track; then over it and to the wall. He reached up and over the short wall, but to no avail. The ball had disappeared into a mob of suddenly reinvigorated Angels fans.
Spiezio, who stopped his trot at first base to watch the fate of his hit – to wish and to pray – showed little emotion as he restarted his jog around the bases, a subtle fist shake sufficing.
The fans were another story. Edison Field exploded with roars and cheers, which could no doubt be heard miles away. The Angels – a team of grinders, who had come back time and time again throughout the regular and post-seasons – had trimmed the Giants’ once seemingly insurmountable lead to 5-3. And though its not the kind of thing that shows up on the scoreboard, had stolen away from the Giants every last bit of momentum.
From hopeless to hopeful; and following the Angels’ half of the eighth and the Giants’ futile ninth, from hopeful to absolutely sure the Angels would now win the series.
But then, it was only one swing, right?
#1 - Oct. 27, 2002: Champions of baseball | Top-50 Greatest Moments in Angels Baseball
By now, most Angels fans can recite Rory Markas’ call verbatim:
“Here’s the pitch to Lofton. Fly ball, center field. Erstad says he’s got it. Erstaaaaaad MAKES THE CATCH! The Anaheim Angels are the champions of baseball!”
When the Angels’ unofficial team captain settled under and clasped his glove around that most precious of final outs, it was the culmination of many things: an incredible World Series comeback; a riveting postseason run; an unprecedented 99 win regular season; the antidote for heartbreaking collapses in 1995, 1986 and 1982; a delivery on the promise of 1979; and the realization of a dream first dared to be dreamt in 1961.
The textbook version is simply that the Angels reached the pinnacle of their sport 42 seasons after their pursuit began. But to the fans, players, coaches and front office people who followed the Angels for any significant amount of time, of course the emotions run immensely deeper.
For me, it actually required a season or two of separation before I could truly appreciate the significance. Don’t get me wrong; I was as elated as anybody when the confetti and streamers came raining down upon us following Erstad’s catch.
But maybe I’d already spent all the emotion I could spare the day before, when I witnessed the birth of my first child and the rebirth of the Angels World Series hopes all within a span of about six hours. Or perhaps it was because even before the first pitch, the Game 7 victory truly seemed like a foregone conclusion following the previous night’s drama; and when was ANYTHING positive for the Angels a given during their first 41 seasons?
And that’s what struck me after the World Series championship had really sunk in – it happened, and it could happen again. Previously, I honestly wasn’t sure it ever would. Now, I believe it will again.
And while I think the moment when I first knew they were actually going to play in the World Series will always rank as the most emotional high in my years of being an Angels fan, in retrospect I’m so glad they went ahead and won it all while they were there. I mean all the greatest stories have a happy ending, don’t they?
Champions of baseball … yeah, that’ll do.
Here’s how other contributors to our Top-50 Greatest Moments list feel about No. 1:
Adam Dodge – AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
It is hard to describe exactly what I felt when Erstad squeezed Kenny Lofton’s fly ball for the final out. I was relatively calm from the first pitch of the game until the Angels had finally won. After the complete swing in emotion I felt watching Game 6, I was too exhausted to work up any emotion for Game 7.
For the entire postseason, I had either been in attendance or at my favorite watering hole to celebrate every moment with other fans. I needed a break. So, I watched the entirety of Game 7 alone; poetic in a sense because growing up none of my friends or family members felt the same way about the game of baseball, and there was certainly no one that loved the Angels as much as I did. It wasn’t my intention to watch the game alone. I just didn’t feel like sharing that moment with anyone else.
Had I been there or watched the game with friends I doubt I’d have noticed – I was focused on each pitch, nothing else existed but the game. When the final out was made, I felt accomplished. Not that I had anything to do with the victory, but that my fanship had finally paid off. The years of suffering through bad teams and monumental collapses proved worth it. I felt like a champion.
Geoff Stoddart – AngelsWin.com Director of Social Media
Surreal is the only word that comes to mind when I think back on the final out of the 2002 World Series. I had been at Game 6 the night before and it such an emotional roller coaster. Leaving the ballpark that night, I truly felt there was no way the Giants could come back and win Game 7. I felt that way right up until Game 7 actually started.
The Giants get on the board first in the top of the 2nd. The Angels knotted it up in the bottom of the 2nd. The Angels put three more on the board in the bottom of the 3rd and then for six innings we bite our nails.
When Erstad caught the final out, I screamed. I jumped around the room. But somehow, it didn’t seem real. Could this really be the team I had watched and cheered for my entire life? The team I watched during the 80’s & 90’s with only 7,000 in attendance in, what was then, a football stadium? Crazy. Unreal. Surreal.
Robert Cunningham – AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
I was forced to work that week but I was listening on the radio in the backroom at work.
For me hearing that final call was the ultimate culmination of years watching Angels baseball. It immediately made me think of my parents, particularly my mom, who were not there to see it. For just a brief instance it felt like we were all there together again basking in something that was hidden from us in the past and not promised to us in the future, but present in one short moment in time.
It is something I’ve really come to savor and appreciate, more, over the years and one that I know all Angels fans understand and empathize with.
Chuck Richter – AngelsWin.com Founder and Executive Editor
When Kenny Lofton drove that ball to right-center field, my heart leapt with both uncertainty and joy, thinking it could either be ’86 all over again or the burying of what seemed to be the franchise’s October curse.
When Darin Erstad pulled it down, I picked up my best friend’s 16-year-old son and spun him around like a baton, as I have never in my life experienced such combined joy and adrenaline from what was essentially a routine outfield put-out: tears of joy, ear to ear smiles about my living room and a moment in my life’s history that words cannot describe.
To me, this was the Greatest Moment in Angels baseball. Buried were the thoughts of any curse. Born anew was a World Series Championship for fans to claim, who throughout the years have expressed love and passion for the club. And on this grand night, destiny paid back some respect to Angels fans around the world.
Editor’s note: I’d like to thank all of the writers who contributed to this monumental project the past 50 days. It was quite an undertaking while simultaneously working full time, managing a Little League team and looking after a family of six, but was it ever worth it!
Here’s to the memories and debates we hope our list inspired and to the making of many more outstanding top-50 worthy moments in the seasons to come.
Thanks for reading!