By Brett Borden – AngelsWin.com Columnist
Recently our AngelsWin.com Senior Editor Geoff Bilau added two new memorable moments from the 2009 season to our Top-50 Greatest Moments in Angels Baseball feature. While one loves to reflect on the good, the great and the triumphant moments of Angels Baseball, there are unfortunately some disappointing, ugly and downright frustrating moments that Angels fans had to endure throughout their lifetime as a follower the team. The guys at AngelsWin.com love to use the word FAIL (stemming from the ever-so-popular failblog.org Website) when identifying a moment of utter failure — so here’s your Top-10 Moments of FAIL from this Angels fan’s perspective.
10. The Eight-Inning No-Hitter
As most of you know, complete games that go eight innings usually mean one thing: a loss. The Los Angeles Angels managed to do that one better on the night of June 28, 2008, against the crosstown rival Los Angeles Dodgers. Jered Weaver and Jose Arredondo combined to pitch eight no-hit innings — and yet the Angels managed to lose, 1-0.
The fact that the Dodgers were amazingly the fifth team in history to accomplish the feat was little consolation for Angels fans, who saw the hated Dodgers score the game’s only run on Weaver’s fielding error in the fifth inning. The Angels have had the upper hand in the series with the Dodgers, but this is one game that Dodgers fans can bring up in retaliation — the night the Angels pitched a no-hitter and still lost.
9. Royal Flush
The Angels and Royals battled for AL West supremacy from 1978 until pretty much the arrival of the Bash Brothers in Oakland. One of their most intense pennant races came in 1985. The Angels had surprised everyone that year with the return of manager Gene Mauch. They probably overachieved, but with one week to go in the season the Angels indeed arrived in Kansas City for a four-game series with a one-game lead in the division. They lost the opener, but came back to win the second game and things looked very promising for the visitors. But Bud Black shut the Angels out, 4-0, and Danny Jackson beat them, 4-1, to win the series and the Angels, no longer in control of their destiny, finished one game behind. That Royals team won the World Series.
8. Brian Fuentes vs. Alex Rodriguez
The Angels came into the 2009 ALCS as sizable underdogs against the New York Yankees. They knew going in they would have to somehow steal a victory in one of the first two games in New York to position themselves for a chance at pushing their advantage to 3-0 over the Yankees in postseason series. When C.C. Sabathia and a brain-dead play by infielders Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar sealed their fate in Game One, the Angels hoped that Game Two would turn in their favor.
In the top of the eleventh inning of a tense battle, the Angels plated a run and it looked like they’d swipe that needed victory. But closer Brian Fuentes inexplicably put an 0-2 pitch in the worst spot anybody outside of the Bronx could imagine, the upper outside corner, perfect for the slugger to flip it into the short porch in right field, retying the game.
The Yankees, of course, wound up winning in 13 innings on an error by second baseman Maicer Izturis. The Angels won two of three at home, but lost Game Six at Yankee Stadium and finished two wins short of their second World Series.
7. Ninth inning, Game Four, 2008 ALDS versus Boston
The words Boston Red Sox are like nails on a chalkboard to most Angels fans. While the Halos exorcised many demons with their sweep of the Beantowners this past season, they still owe the Red Sox and their fans a lot of misery. After losing the last three games of the 1986 ALCS, then all three games of the 2004 and 2007 ALDS, and the first two games of the 2008 ALDS, the Angels, who had won 100 games for the first time in franchise history, were looking at an unprecedented 11-game postseason losing streak against one team. On top of that, they had to win two games in Boston just to bring the series back home.
The Angels gutted out a tough win in Game Three and looked poised to do it again in Game Four, putting a runner on third base in the top of the ninth with just one out. Pinch runner Reggie Willits was the runner and the batter was Erick Aybar. You know the rest. Mike Scioscia tried to squeeze the runner home, Aybar whiffed on the bunt attempt and Willits was a dead duck. The Red Sox plated a runner in the bottom of the ninth to stick it to Angels fans once again.
6. Nolan Ryan heads home to Texas
Nolan Ryan was the face of the Angels franchise for most of the 1970s. He finished with a 16-14 record in 1979, helping the Angels earn their first-ever playoff appearance, and was looking for a new contract with the team for whom he had pitched an amazing four no-hitters. But E.J. “Buzzie” Bavasi didn’t think Ryan was worth what he was asking, saying “We’ll just have to find a couple of 8-7 pitchers to replace him.” As we all know, Ryan went on to great success for the Astros and Rangers, pitching three more no-hitters and extending his strikeout record to a point where it may never be broken. After his sixth no-hitter in 1990, Bavasi sent Ryan a message that read “Nolan, some time ago I admitted that I made a mistake. You don’t have to rub it in.”
Ryan was 29-38 in five seasons with the Mets, 138-121 in eight campaigns with the Angels and 157-133 in 14 years with the Astros and Rangers. He developed a killer curveball in Houston to go with his legendary fastball. He could have been to the Angels what Sandy Koufax is to the Dodgers and Bob Gibson is to the Cardinals, a Hall of Fame standard bearer for the franchise.
5. Jose Guillen
There’s a scene in the movie Tin Cup that captures the Jose Guillen saga of 2004 pretty well. Roy McAvoy is caddying for David Simms at his celebrity tournament, then shows up Simms by daring him to shoot for the green instead of laying up on the last hole. Simms, who had given his ex-friend and rival a break with the gig, says “You know, Roy, I gotta admit, for 17 holes I thought you had the concept down pretty well.”
The Angels signed outfielder Guillen, despite his reputation as a hothead and a trouble maker, to provide protection for Vladimir Guerrero in their lineup. And for almost the entire season, that’s what he did. He had flare-ups here and there in the temper department, but it all came to a head when he showed up manager Mike Scioscia for removing him for a pinch runner late in the year. It was so bad that the Angels suspended him. And while Guerrero carried the team on his back the last week of the season to get into the playoffs, they were no match for Boston when they got there, losing 9-3 and 8-3 at home, then 8-6 at Fenway for a sweep. Guillen almost single-handedly torpedoed a promising season.
A few seasons later, he returned in a Washington Nationals uniform and instigated a brawl with his former team, shouting at Scioscia and, rumor has it, turning in former teammate Brendan Donnelly for doctoring the ball. Donnelly got suspended for having pine tar on his glove in that series.
4. Games Three through Five at Milwaukee, 1982 playoffs
The Angels were a collection of stars in 1982, with four former League MVPs in their lineup and “name” players at every position. Their pitching staff was a collection of veteran starters, but the relief corps was anything but that year. California beat Milwaukee 8-5 and 4-2 in the first two games at then Anaheim Stadium. Then Gene Mauch made two controversial decisions in his playoff rotation. He gave ace Geoff Zahn just one start, then gave second starts to veterans Tommy John and Bruce Kison in Games Four and Five. Ken Forsch, who was 13-11 and second on the team in innings pitched, was left out of the mix. John lost Game Four, putting the pressure on Kison in the finale. Kison delivered, holding the Brewers into the seventh, where the Angels led 3-2. But Cecil Cooper’s two-run hit off of Luis Sanchez gave the Brew Crew a 4-3 victory, making the Angels the first team to blow a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series.
3. Doug Eddings
The fact that you know this umpire’s name tells you everything you need to know. The Angels had shown amazing moxie and grit in the 2005 playoffs, playing in New York, Anaheim and Chicago on consecutive nights, and winning the last two to win the ALDS and take Game One of the ALCS. They were tied with the White Sox, 1-1, in the ninth inning of Game Two, and were one strike away from taking the game to the 10th inning. That strike seemed to be caught by catcher Josh Paul, who flipped the ball back toward the mound. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski, sensing Paul might not have caught it cleanly, waited a second and then took off for first. The Angels infield, seeing Eddings make the signal for an out, headed for the dugout. Eddings claimed that Paul trapped the ball, though replays seemed to show otherwise. Regardless, his out signal, “my mechanic for strike three,” as he lamely explained, had the Angels thinking the inning was over. Pinch runner Pablo Ozuna scored on Joe Crede’s double and the Angels lost the next three games in Anaheim. They were the only team to beat the White Sox in that postseason and had a decent shot at taking a 2-0 lead back home with them.
2. The last month and a half of the 1995 season
The Angels at one point in 1995 were 66-41. They were the surprise success story of the season, with an offense powered by young stars like Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds and J.T. Snow. Then the greatest collapse in team history, and one of the worst in major league history, ensued. The Halos completely fell down the elevator shaft, losing 25 of 32 games and having to win their last four games coupled with two losses by Seattle just to force a one-game playoff.
Randy Johnson put them out of their misery, limiting them to three hits and striking out 12 in that playoff at the Kingdome. Every series loss hurts in baseball, but watching a team struggle the way this one did for such an extended period of time, especially after their promising start, was a clear case of fan cruelty.
1. Ninth inning, Game Five, 1986 American League Playoffs
For Angels fans, reliving this is like going through a root canal surgery without Novocain. The Angels, who had come back from three runs down in the ninth to win in extra innings the day before (the forgotten game), entered the ninth inning of Game Five with a 5-2 lead over Boston, up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. Still on the mound was ace pitcher Mike Witt. But Witt gave up a two-run homer to former Angel Don Baylor and with two outs manager Gene Mauch made the moves that have haunted long-time Halo fans ever since. He brought lefty Gary Lucas in to face light-hitting catcher Rich Gedman. Lucas hit Gedman on the wrist with the only pitch he threw, bringing Dave Henderson to the plate. Enter Donnie Moore, the Angels closer. Moore quickly got two strikes on Henderson, leaving everyone anxious to celebrate the Angels first-ever trip to the World Series. But Henderson fought off pitch after pitch and eventually golfed a Moore split-finger fastball into the left field seats over a slumped over Brian Downing for a 6-5 lead.
But that’s just the half of it. The Angels tied the game in the bottom of the ninth and had the winning run 90 feet away with just one out. The two players due up were Doug DeCinces and Bobby Grich, two of the most clutch players in Angels history … except on this day. DeCinces popped the first pitch he saw into shallow right field, not deep enough to score Rob Wilfong from third base, and Grich lined back to the pitcher to end the threat.
The Angels lost in 11 innings on a sacrifice fly by, who else, Henderson and went on to lose Games Six and Seven at Fenway Park, officially giving birth to the Red Sox curse. It would take the Angels 16 years to get another chance, which thankfully they cashed in.
Just outside of the top 10:
11. The Gary Matthews Jr. $50 Million FAIL of a contract.
12. The Francisco Rodriguez ninth inning FAIL against the Oakland A’s on Aug. 11, 2005, when he failed to notice the throw back from the catcher, which went right past him allowing the winning run to score.
13. The Mo Vaughn opening night FAIL into the dugout, April 6, 1999.
14. Alfredo Amezaga strikeout FAIL as he swung and missed at two pitches that apparently hit him.
15. Tony Phillips 1997 drug bust FAIL, Aug. 10, 1997.