The Angels’ Five Most Memorable Games
October 26, 2002: Rubbin’ the Rally Monkey’s Foot
The Angels’ first World Series looked headed for defeat; the opposing San Francisco Giants, who, like Anaheim, entered the postseason as a wild card, led the series three games to two and took command of Game Six, 5-0, at the end of the seventh-inning stretch. The enthusiastic Angels throng, happily promoted to death with all-red attire and deafening ThunderStix, were ready to have the team pull out its secret weapon: The Rally Monkey, a sophomoric video featuring a jumping chimp exhorting the team and their fans to fuel a comeback, something the Angels excelled at all year long.
What may have fueled the Angels more than a low-brow video was Giant manager Dusty Baker giving a “game ball” to starting pitcher Russ Ortiz as he departed with one out, two on and the five-run lead—as if it was a message that the Giants had the game, and thus the series, in the bag.
Determined to prove the Giants wrong, the Angels came roaring to life. Scott Spiezio greeted Ortiz’s replacement, Felix Rodriguez, with a three-run home run to right field. An inning later, the Angels wasted little time teeing off on new Giant reliever Tim Worrell, as Darin Erstad hit a leadoff homer; the next two batters singled. Not even San Francisco’s vaunted closer Robb Nen could shut down the rally, as Troy Glaus doubled to bring home the two baserunners and cap the electrifying comeback, which sapped the Giants’ spirit; they were retired in order by Troy Percival in the ninth to tie the series, and the Angels went on to win the decisive Game Seven, 4-1, to bring home the World Series trophy for the first and only time.
October 12, 1986: Mauch Trial
Angels manager Gene Mauch had been at the precipice of glory many times—only to be denied each time. His 1964 Philadelphia Phillies couldn’t hold a 6.5-game lead with 10 games to play. His 1982 Angels couldn’t hold a 2-0 series lead against Milwaukee in the ALCS, losing the next three to bow out. His 1985 Angels couldn’t hold onto a slim AL West lead going into the regular season’s final week, as the Kansas City Royals caught up and passed them by.
But the 1986 ALCS gave Mauch his cruelest dose of fate.
The Angels entered Game Five with a 3-1 series lead over Boston; they had three games to win one and enter the World Series for the first time—and early on, they didn’t appear to be wasting their time, overcoming an early Red Sox advantage to take a 5-2 lead going into the ninth inning. Three outs, and the AL flag—the Angels’ first ever—would be theirs.
Bill Buckner led off and singled. Two batters later, Don Baylor homered to cut the lead to one, but after Dwight Evans popped out to bring the Angels one out away from triumph, Mauch pulled starting pitcher Mike Witt in favor of reliever Gary Lucas—who promptly hit Rich Gedman with the first pitch. Out went Lucas, in came closer Donnie Moore—who promptly served up a home run to Dave Henderson to give the Red Sox a 6-5 lead.
To the Angels’ credit, they overcame the deflating dread and fought back, tying the game in the bottom of the ninth when Rob Wilfong’s single brought home Ruppert Jones—but adding to the bittersweet circumstances, they failed to bring home the game-winner with the bases loaded and one out. It would be the last time the Angels would put runners on base; the Boston bullpen retired all six batters it faced in overtime while Moore, staying in the game, struggled anew—and handed the Red Sox the ultimate win when Henderson, again, brought home the go-ahead tally with a sacrifice fly in the 11th inning. The Angels’ loss revived the Red Sox, who won the next two games and clinched the AL pennant in seven, pegging Mauch with yet another historic collapse.
September 27, 1973: The Last K is the Sweetest
Baseball’s record book was rewritten after the 1973 season with numerous new listings featuring the name of Nolan Ryan, whose accomplishments throughout the year included 21 wins and two no-hitters. But he saved his biggest achievement for the very last pitch on the very last game of the year.
With 9,000 in attendance and the opposing Minnesota Twins at the Big A, Ryan started his fourth straight game on three days’ rest; he had already logged well over 300 innings for the year and had gone the distance in each of his six previous starts. It appeared that exhaustion was ready to get the best of him right off the bat, as the Twins scored three runs on him in the first inning, but the Angels came to the rescue in the bottom half of the inning to quickly even the game—then took the lead in the third on a run-scoring single by Tommy McCraw. Ryan, meanwhile, began to settle in—keeping Minnesota scoreless over the next four innings while predictably racking up on strikeouts, before the Twins evened the score in the sixth. But he also matched history in the eighth when he struck out Steve Brye to end the inning for his 15th K on the night—and the 382nd of the year, tying Sandy Koufax’s 1965 mark. He pitched threw a ninth-inning jam without breaking the record, but got a personal reprieve when the two teams failed to unlock the tie, sending the game—and Ryan, who refused to sit down—back to the mound for extra innings.
In the 10th, the Twins again threatened without scoring—and Ryan once more could not get the record punchout. After the Angels failed to score, Ryan returned for the 11th—and with two outs (via a grounder and a fly ball) and Rod Carew at second after a walk and a stolen base, he got Rich Reese to swing and miss to pass Koufax on his 205th—and last—pitch of the night, as the Angels finally broke through with the winning run in the bottom of the 11th on a Rich Schienblum double that brought home McCraw.
October 13, 2002: Angelic Uprising
Game Five of the 2002 ALCS had all the makings of an eerie throwback to 1986: A 3-1 series lead at home, the element of trailing early, the quick rebuttal and a tight lead for much of the game—only to lose it as the game grew into the late innings. But the 2002 Angels had something Gene Mauch did not: The Rally Monkey. (They also didn’t have Gene Mauch.) Yet again, the Angels would answer the video chimp’s call to arms—this time with a bludgeon.
Trailing 5-3 going to the bottom of the seventh, the Angels had their work cut out against a young but ever-sharpening Johan Santana—who was performing relief duties for the time being. But Santana’s edge was badly lacking on the evening; Spiezio singled, as did Bengie Molina; then Adam Kennedy—with seven homers on the year but two already on the night—blasted his way to the hat trick, his three-run shot giving the Angels a 6-5 lead. Santana was finished, but the Angels weren’t; they teed off on three more relievers, sending 15 men in all to the plate, scoring a postseason record-tying 10 runs (Kennedy had a shot at a fourth homer but settled for a single) and blowing past the staggered Twins to a 13-5 lead which would remain to the end, giving the Angels their very first AL pennant.
September 13, 2008: Tearing Past Thigpen
The Angels dominated the AL West in 2008 with 100 victories, the responsibility for a majority of those directed at closer Francisco Rodriguez, the fiery Angels closer who had developed into one the game’s premier ninth-inning stoppers with 40-plus saves in each of his previous three years—but that was nothing compared to the numbers he was racking up in 2008.
With two weeks still left to the season, Rodriguez sat in the bullpen tied in the record book with Bobby Thigpen, who saved a record 57 games in 1990 for the Chicago White Sox. As they had done for much of the season to date, the Angels built up just enough of a lead to allow Rodriguez to swoop in late to pick up the historic save; the bulk of the offensive damage was supplied by outfielder Juan Rivera, who homered and hit three doubles before exiting with an injured leg to help give the Angels a 5-2 lead over Seattle in the ninth inning, setting up Rodriguez.
At first it didn’t appear that the script would work in K-Rod’s favor. Miguel Cairo doubled and Luis Valbuena walked, and suddenly the tying run—Mariner hitting machine Ichiro Suzuki—was at the plate with nobody out. But Francisco got the All-Star outfielder to hit into a force, then struck out the next two batters to wrap up the contest and pull ahead of Thigpen with his 58th save, on his way to 62 to finish the campaign. In triumph, Rodriguez fell to the ground for a moment of prayer, then got mobbed by his teammates in celebration, later declaring, “I haven’t felt like this since we won the World Series.”
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