When Milwaukee's Cecil Cooper came to the plate in the last of the seventh inning of the final game of the American League playoffs Sunday, he seemed like anything but a man of destiny. He had struck out in his two preceding at bats, leaving three runners on base. For the series, he was 2 for 19 for an embarrassing .105 average, with only two runs batted in, scarcely the contributions expected of a player who had finished among the top five in virtually every significant offensive category during the regular season. And on defense the first baseman had committed a boo-boo—tagging a runner with his glove while holding the ball in his throwing hand—that would have been comical had it not been for the seriousness of the occasion. And yet, here he was up there with the bases loaded, two outs and Milwaukee losing to the California Angels 3-2. "Coooop...Coooop...Coooop!" the faithful chanted, rattling County Stadium to its foundations.
Cooper fouled off the first pitch from Angel Reliever Luis Sanchez and then took the next, a fastball high and outside, for a ball. "Coooop! Coooop!" Sanchez threw another fastball. "I was thinking about going to leftfield," Cooper said afterward. He did. His line drive fell in front of Angel Leftfielder Brian Downing for a clean single, scoring Charlie Moore from third and Jim Gantner from second. Cooper was, suddenly, a man of destiny. There would be other clutch performances for the Brewers, notably sub Centerfielder Marshall Edwards' leaping catch of Don Baylor's drive to the wall in the eighth and Pete Ladd's stalwart relief pitching in the ninth after a leadoff single by pinch hitter Ron Jackson, but Cooper's hit was it. It won the game 4-3 for the Brewers, sent their howling fans into a nightlong celebration and made a little history. "I'm just thankful I had an opportunity to redeem myself," said the triumphant Coooop.
His hit gave the Brewers their first American League pennant. It gave the city of Milwaukee its first pennant since 1958, when the Braves, then in residence there, won in the National League. And it was the climactic blow in a comeback unprecedented in baseball history. No team had ever lost the first two games of a league championship series and then come back to win it all. Coooop!
Cooper was not the only hero for the new champions. Ladd retired all 10 batters he faced in his three playoff appearances, striking out five. Leadoff man Paul Molitor hit two homers, drove in five runs and scored four. And Ben Oglivie, who had been having an even worse series than Cooper—he finished 2 for 15 overall and committed two errors in the final game—hit the fourth-inning homer on Sunday that kept his team close. Actually, the Brewers didn't play their game in winning. The middle of their batting order was eerily silent—Cooper, Ted Simmons, Oglivie and Gorman Thomas had only nine hits among them—and Milwaukee's defense was deplorable. It committed eight errors, four in the final game.
But the Brewers were indomitable. They nearly blew the division championship by losing three games in a row to Baltimore before winning the regular-season finale, and the Angels had them, as Milwaukee Manager Harvey Kuenn inadvertently put it, "with our walls to the back." And they got into the World Series without the services of their star relief pitcher, Rollie Fingers, whose right arm was injured early last month. In the jubilant Brewer clubhouse after the game, Fingers hugged his surrogate, Ladd, and said, "You can do it. I couldn't have done it better myself."
"We were like a junkyard dog come up to bite you," said Thomas. "Last year when we made the mini-playoffs, I said it was like a flower opening," he continued, jumbling metaphors. "Well, the flower's blossomed into a bouquet now."
"Maybe we're a little lucky," added the final game's starting pitcher, Pete Vuckovich, "but we're there."
The Angels, as usual, aren't. They have yet to win a pennant in their 22-year history. And in 23 years of leading major league teams in both leagues, their manager, Gene Mauch, has still not won a league championship. The Angels got 11 hits in the final loss, and the Brewers made those four errors; still, California could manufacture only three runs. For them, it was a typical exercise in frustration that wasted superlative individual efforts by Centerfielder Fred Lynn, DH Don Baylor and Pitcher Bruce Kison. Lynn batted .611 with a major league playoff record-tying 11 hits and became the first playoff MVP in either league from a losing side. Baylor set a mark with 10 RBIs. Kison was the winning pitcher in Game 2 and left Game 5 with a 3-2 lead after five innings. But they couldn't do it alone.
"No sense rehashing," said Reggie Jackson, the former Mr. October, who hit just .111 in the five playoff games. "They beat us fair and square." And after the Angels had had them two down with three to go. It was a comeback-and-a-half.
The Brewers had pulled even with a 9-5 win on Saturday, which in itself was a historic feat of sorts because only one other team in American League playoff history, the 1972 Detroit Tigers, had ever won two after losing the first two. It was a day as climatically uncongenial to the summer game as any of the cloudbursters in the National League games in St. Louis earlier in the week. But American League President Lee MacPhail and both teams were determined to get on with it, despite bruised skies and a persistent rain that fell alternately as mist and showers. The game was to have started at 11:55 a.m.; it began an hour and 44 minutes later after MacPhail and his meteorological counselors had debated their options. Once started, the game was twice delayed—for 12 minutes with the Brewers at bat in the fifth inning and for 19 with the Angels up in the sixth.