Before 2002, the defining moment for the Angels franchise was an ultimate downer.
It was Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series. Just about anybody with a passing memory of mid-eighties baseball remembers it, particularly if they live in Southern California or New England. The Angels, holding a 3-1 series lead had a 5-2 lead going into the ninth inning.
Don Baylor’s home run cut it to 5-4 and Angels manager Gene Mauch summoned reliever Donnie Moore with two outs. After Dave Henderson’s famous -- or is it infamous? -- home run on a 2-2 pitch from Moore, the Red Sox would go on to win in 10 innings. They made it to the World Series by winning the next two games in Boston.
To call that a tragedy, of course, is absurd. The tragic part came a little less than three years later, when Moore -- during a violent argument with his wife -- committed suicide with a handgun. He was 35.
Well before the story got to that point, a rookie left-handed reliever couldn’t believe what was unfolding on the field. Chuck Finley was 22 years old and in his first season in the big leagues.
“I was sitting right there,” Finley said one recent evening at Angel Stadium, pointing to what is now the right-field stands, but then was the home bullpen.
I’m going, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m going to the World Series,’ “ Finley said. “The place was so loud and I saw the cops lined up. I was going to the World Series in my first year and then -- Boom! -- 30 minutes later, I’m out there on the mound pitching. I got the last out and we could have won that game.
“I’m like, ‘What just happened here? I’m on a plane going back to Boston,’ but I never thought in my wildest dreams we’d lose two in a row.”
Finley would pitch 13 more seasons with the Angels, but never get back to the playoffs with them. He made it with both Cleveland and St. Louis. Little did he know at the time how difficult it was to reach a World Series, particularly in the days before the wild card.
What Finley remembers about that 1986 team was how difficult it was to be a rookie. Baseball was different then. Veterans like Bob Boone, Brian Downing and Bobby Grich patrolled the clubhouse, often on the lookout for mouthy young players.
“My God, the (stuff) that went on that year… in buses, in locker rooms,” Finley said. “I’d sit over at my locker and hide. I didn’t want to be seen. It was a rough crowd, man. You had guys on that team who were 12 and 18-year veterans. They didn’t want to hear a word out of me.”
When Finley got called up earlier that season, Reggie Jackson told him, “You must have had pretty good numbers to get called up from Triple-A.”
Finley was afraid to tell him he had actually been called up from Single-A Davenport. He had arrived straight from Quad Cities.
“I kept my mouth shut. That may have been the smartest thing I ever did,” Finley said. “If I’d told him, he would have been like, ‘Are we even (bleeping) trying?’ “
Editor's note: This is the second in an occasional series of Angels Moments which, when it's complete, will -- we hope -- add up to 50. The Angels are celebrating their 50th anniversary this season. These are not intended to be an exhaustive list, but simply an assembly of scenes and anecdotes that are part of the team's colorful past.