"As a father I wanted him out of there," Bob says. "As a manager, I was in a quandary. I had no one to go to. As a manager in that situation you just say, That's my ace, what can I do?"
Aron walked the first hitter in the third. Then Chu singled. Kuo hit an RBI grounder. Lin homered. After a walk and a groundout, Pang homered for the second time. Aron looked through tears for a sign from his catcher. He had given up two home runs all year; Taiwan had now hit three of them in half an hour.
Shih singled. Wang belted Aron's next pitch 100 feet over the leftfield fence. Bob came to the mound and took the ball. "That's the toughest thing in the world—taking your son off the mound," he says.
He replaced his ace with sore-thumbed second baseman Ryan O'Toole, who would shut out Taiwan the rest of the way. Aron trudged off the field and chucked his glove against the dugout wall—more like Joaquin Andujar than Palmer. He sat on the bench, put his head in his hands and cried. His pitching line in the final: 2⅔ innings, 13 hits, 21 runs, six walks, one strikeout.
ABC left the scene of the disaster in the fifth. The Irvine faithful back home, crowded around three wide-screen televisions at Northwood Pizza, caught the final inning by switching the dish to a satellite that carried the Taiwanese feed, and they heard the play-by-play in Chinese. Taiwan won the Little League World Series 21-1.
After the deluge. Bob says, "We had a lot of tears. Aron said, 'Dad, I let us down.' He felt like he let the whole country down. I told him, "Son, feel proud. You won the national championship. You have to realize that there's one bad day for everyone—there's gonna be a day when Ozzie Smith tries to do his flip and falls. This was your bad day.' "
Irvine's All-Stars moped through an endless flight home, only to find 150 fans waiting at the gate at Los Angeles International Airport, cheering the U.S. champs. That helped dry their tears. The city of Irvine gave them a ticker-tape parade, and because Irvine has few tall buildings, fans lining the streets threw confetti up at the players on a flatbed truck. The All-Stars were guests of honor at a California Angels game at Anaheim Stadium. And, best of all, Sept. 2, 1987 was Irvine Little League Day at Disneyland. The parade route there took the boys down Main Street U.S.A. and dropped them off at Fantasyland.
"Rad!" said Aron.
Thirteen-year-old hearts are resilient. Aron and his dad now revel in the thrills of last year, and chalk the Taiwan game up to a tired arm and the 103-degree fever that kept Aron awake the night before the game. When father and son watch tapes of the Little League World Series, "We tease about it," Bob says. "One time Jim Palmer was talking about Aron being this great athlete—football, baseball, basketball and everything—and Palmer asked him who taught him all that. Aron said he taught himself. I get on him about that."
"Aron really loves his dad," says Susie. "They shared a wonderful adventure last year—after they got back I had to get call-waiting, they were getting so many calls. They were such celebrities."