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Bucking a trend

Angels seek to reverse history of pennant failure

Posted: Friday August 23, 2002 11:39 AM

  Longtime Angels fans have their hopes pinned on gritty players like David Eckstein. Otto Greule/Getty Images

By Jacob Luft,

The Angels are good, real good. They have demonstrated that by posting a 69-37 record since a 6-14 start.

But are they good enough?

After more than 40 years, this cursed franchise has yet to play in a World Series. If they are to do so this year, the Angels must first get by fellow AL West powerhouses Oakland and Seattle. But their obstacles do not include just Ichiro and Barry Zito.

As much as anything, they are fighting their own history of late-season collapses and inexplicable bad luck. And perhaps even more than that -- legend has it that their home stadium was built on an Indian burial ground. If true, that might explain a lot.

The Red Sox supposedly have been jinxed since selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees. They got nothing on the Angels.

The Red Sox's darkest moment, Bill Buckner's Game 6 error, would not have been possible if not for a blown save by Angels closer Donnie Moore in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS. Leading the series 3-1 and Game 5 by a 5-4 score, the Angels were just one strike away from the World Series when Dave Henderson drilled a two-run homer off Moore in the ninth inning. Boston went on to win Games 6 and 7 and take home the AL pennant. That's the most well-known Anaheim collapse, but there are plenty more that are nearly as excruciating.

The 1982 Angels also were one game away from clinching the ALCS, only to lose to the Brewers in five games.

In 1995, the Angels joined the 1951 Dodgers, '64 Phillies, '69 Cubs and '78 Red Sox in the Choking Hall of Fame wing for teams that have blown huge late-season leads. On Aug. 10, the Angels possessed an 11-game lead, only to go 6-21 in September and lose the division title in a one-game playoff to Seattle ace Randy Johnson.

Two years later, the Angels were in first place as late as Aug. 19 before the bottom fell out. Their leadoff hitter, Tony Phillips, was arrested for cocaine possession. Ace pitcher Chuck Finley broke his left wrist while backing up a play at the plate. They finished six games out of first place.

The Halos contended again in 1998, building a 3 1/2-game lead on Sept. 6. But they dropped 6 1/2 games in the standings in the next 17 days, thanks mainly to an 0-5 record against eventual division champion Texas.

Sadly, the Angels' tragic luck has not been restricted to the baseball diamond. Reliever Minnie Rojas was paralyzed in a car accident in 1969. Three years later, infielder Chico Ruiz died in a car accident, as did rookie pitcher Bruce Heinbechner in 1974 and shortstop Mike Miley in '77. In 1975, pitcher Jim McGlothlin died of cancer. Up-and-coming slugger Lyman Bostock was shot to death in 1978. And, finally, Moore -- who never really recovered from that Henderson homer -- committed suicide in 1990.

In 1992, manager Buck Rodgers was injured after a team bus collision on the highway.

Even when they win, they can't help but lose: When the Angels clinched the AL West title in 1979, pitcher Jim Barr injured his pitching hand in the celebration and was sidelined for the ALCS.

Consecutive 15-win seasons by Greg Maddux, who needs one more to tie Cy Young for the all-time record. At 11-3, Maddux might fall short if there is a work stoppage.

"It was coming down from everywhere, it looked like. They said another inch and they were probably going to have to call a rain delay. We would have had a rainout in a dome."
-- Milwaukee's Ben Sheets on Miller Park's leaky roof Wednesday.

Things that are more rare than a Curt Schilling walk
1 Rally Monkey fails to deliver
2 Marlins sell out a game
3 Mets no-hitter
4 Bud Selig tells the truth
5 Home run in Comerica Park
6 Successful MLB labor talks

Forgotten man

Bartolo Colon has a chance to become a 20-game winner this season, but it's hard to notice because his statistics reset after being traded to the National League on June 27.

Colon was 10-4 with the Indians and is 6-2 so far with the Expos. Combined, his numbers are outstanding: 16-6, 2.63 ERA, 191 1/3 IP.

If he wins four more games, he will become the fifth pitcher in modern history to have a 20-win season divided by stints in both leagues. Here are the other four:

  • Rick Sutcliff, Indians (4-5) and Cubs (16-1), 1984 (won NL Cy Young)

  • Hank Borowy, Yankees (10-5) and Cubs (11-2), 1945

  • Patsy Flaherty, White Sox (2-2) and Pirates (19-9), 1904

  • Joe McGinnity, Orioles (13-10) and Giants (8-8), 1902

    In 1992, David Cone led the major leagues with 261 strikeouts but was not recognized as a strikeout champion in either league because of a late-season trade from the Mets to the Blue Jays.

    As for hitters, two sluggers have had 40-home run seasons interrupted by an interleague trade: Mark McGwire had 58 with the A's (34) and Cardinals (24) in 1997, and Greg Vaughn had 41 with the Brewers (31) and Padres (10) in '96.

    Perhaps the most memorable case was Willie McGee in 1990. The longtime Cardinal was batting .335 when he was traded to the Athletics with a month left in the season. Since McGee had already qualified for the NL batting race with more than 501 plate appearances, top hitters like Lenny Dykstra and Eddie Murray had to chase a ghost for the rest of the season.

    McGee ended up winning the batting title in absentia; Murray came in second at .330.

    Lidle time
    The A's are unbeatable lately, and so is right-hander Cory Lidle, who one-hit the Indians on Wednesday to extend his scoreless innings streak to 31. It is the second-longest streak in the majors this season, behind Pedro Martinez's 35 innings.
    The platinum sombrero
    Reds phenom Adam Dunn hasn't done much to be embarrassed about during his brief major league career -- until now. In a 5-3 loss to Randy Johnson and the D'backs on Tuesday, Dunn went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts.
    Come one, come all
    The Red Sox don't seem to be suffering any attendance woes. For the second consecutive season, they have set a club record for fewest home games needed to surpass the two million mark in attendance. They reached it in 61 games this season, one fewer than 2001.

    Minnesota's Jacque Jones has led off a game with a home run three times in his past four games. ... The Tigers are thinking about moving the fences in at cavernous Comerica Park in hopes of luring more free agents. "No hitter in baseball would want to come here and play here," Tigers hitting coach Merv Rettenmund said. "The only two guys this park wouldn't hurt are Tony Gwynn and Ichiro." ... Who says baseball doesn't care about fans? For the first time since 1999, the cost of World Series tickets will not increase. Whew! What a relief that is for, what, 5 percent of the game's fans? ... Props go out to El Duque for adding the eephus pitch to his repertoire. ... The Devil Rays' 42 wins entering Thursday night's game are the fewest by a major league team after 126 games since Cleveland went 42-84 in 1991.

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