Year Zero

Nothing will ever outstrange what happened to the Angels in 1986

But Witt, who had won 18 games during the regular season, responded forcefully, inducing power hitter Dwight Evens to pop up weakly, and everybody kind of chuckled in embarrassment at their own paranoia. There were two outs. The batter was a so-so hitter named Rich Gedman. The anticipation of a wild celebration returned with a rush—until Angels pitching coach Marcel Lachemann began to walk slowly toward the pitcher's mound, coming to take Witt out of the game. Some people booed, irritated by this interruption in what seemed like unstoppable momentum.

In the dugout, however, Angels manager Gene Mauch had noted that Witt hadn't gotten Gedman out all day, surrendering a single, double and homer. In the bullpen, the Angels had left-handed relief pitcher Gary Lucas, who had struck out Gedman in the seventh inning of Game 4 and in another tight spot during the regular season. Statistically, Lucas looked like the better choice to get the final out—and a micromanager like Mauch always took measurable performance over fuzzy concepts like momentum.

Lucas threw his first pitch: it hit Gedman, sending him to first base. Among the fans, irritation turned once again to fearful anger.

But Mauch responded by calling for Donnie Moore, one of the best relief pitchers in the league. Moore had been worked hard all season, had a sore arm and had struggled down the stretch, but statistically he still looked like a pretty good bet—especially since his opponent was Dave Henderson, a reserve outfielder who had batted only .196 for the Red Sox.

Moore threw four pitches: two balls and two strikes. The Angels were one strike away from the World Series. The fans lapped against the railings like earthquake-roiled water against a dam, waiting only for the final strike to flood onto the field.

Moore threw another pitch. Henderson fouled it off. Somehow, the exhilaration intensified even more.

Then Moore threw another, his signature split-fingered fastball. It whizzed toward the plate and dropped, suddenly becoming almost unhittable. Almost. Henderson swung low and connected perfectly, launching it over the wall for a two-run homer and a 6-5 Red Sox lead.

In more than 30 years of covering sports, I have never felt a more profound change in emotion, a more collectivized reaction, than in the moment after Henderson's home run landed beyond the fence. The hysterically happy cheering that had had Anaheim Stadium vibrating evaporated in less than a second. Henderson circled the bases in complete silence, his gestures of personal celebration coming across like the exaggerations of a mime.

That wasn't the end of the game, however. That wasn't the final score. That wasn't the end of the rush and retreat of the crowd's emotions.

Moore got the next batter out. The Angels tied the score, 6-6, in the bottom of the ninth and failed in three attempts to get the winning run home—the last two when Doug DeCinces popped up and Bobby Grich lined out with a runner on third.

The Red Sox won the game, 7-6, in 11 innings, sending the series back to Boston, where the Angels never really seemed to recover from their emotional devastation. They lost the next two games by scores of 10-4 and 8-1.

Moore, the relief pitcher, became the scapegoat for the loss. Fans booed him mercilessly during his next two seasons, especially when he failed to regain his effectiveness—ignoring his claims that his arm was injured. In July of 1989, in the kitchen of his Anaheim Hills home, he shot his wife and then committed suicide by putting the gun to his own head.

*   *   *

I'm still an Angels fan, but not the way I was. I enjoy watching their games on TV, keep track of their story arc and their statistics in the newspapers, and feel it's a little-bit-better day when they win than when they lose. But tickets are much more expensive, good seats are harder to get, and when I get to the stadium I don't feel I have very much in common with the other fans—and not only the ones in the luxury boxes or eating dinner behind home plate.

The Angels fans of today are not the same kind of people who lived and died with the team through most of its history, maybe because they don't have to die nearly so much. They are there because the Angels win. They are satisfied customers who are getting what they pay for. Nothing wrong with that.

But the new Angels say something about their fans, the same way the old Angels said something about me. The success of the new Angels—and the affection I still hold for the team—tells me that all things really do change, eventually, and that success is ultimately possible. They teach me that I have changed too, and gently challenge me not to be resentful of those I consider bandwagoneers.

Still, I wonder where fans like I used to be—idealistic and fatalistic, as fiercely loyal as they are cynical—can go to watch a ball game among their own kind anymore.

Maybe Dodger Stadium.

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