Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Donnie Moore Moment

In 1986, the California Angels (later Anaheim and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) led the ALCS 3 games to 1 over the RedSawx. They took a 5-2 lead into the top of the 9th in Game 5 with their ace, Mike Witt (18-10, 2.84, 14 complete games) on the mound to lead Gene Mauch to his first pennant. Witt bonked a bit: he gave up a hit and a one-out homer to Don Baylor = 5-4 Angels. But Witt recovered a bit by getting Dwight Evans to pop out to put the Angels one out away from the Series.

Then Mauch got cute. Because Rich Gedman had pounded Witt (3-for-3 with a HR) that day, Mauch brought in a lefty to face him instead of Angels' closer Donnie Moore (21 SV, 2.97). Gedman got plunked and set the stage for a pitch that changed three lives.

Mauch went to Moore. David Henderson, who had bounced a deep fly off his glove and over the wall for a two-run Angels' dinger three innings earlier, came to the plate. Moore went 0-2 to Henderson: ONE STRIKE AWAY. Moore's next pitch was below the knee, Henderson golfed it . . . and hit a homer. Red Sawx led 6-5.

The Angels tied the game in the 9th; Sawx scored in the 11th and held on. The next two games in Baaaaaaaastin were blowouts (10-4, 8-1) as the Sawx won the pennant.

Henderson went from goat to hero on one of the most famous homers in baseball history. Moore went nuts -- he fell into manic depression that culminated in a murder-suicide on July 18, 1989 when he shot his wife dead and did the same to himself.

Last night, I saw the second Donnie Moore Moment. The Monkette2B and I were watching somedangthing b/c she had control of the TV. I made her pause (UltimateTV, beats TiVo anyday) and switch to the Cards-Astros for the top of the 9th (I'd seen on the computer that the Astros had taken a 4-2 lead) because it was history in the making: the 'Stros were three outs from their first World Series and the first World Series for the great state of Texas with the best closer in the NL on the hill. And he looked it for two batters as Brad Lidge whiffed the first two Cards he faced. Then David Eckstein pulled a two-strike slider into left for a hit and Jim Edmonds walked. Two out, two on, down 4-2, NL MVP-to-be at the plate in Albert Pujols.

Lidge throws 95-99 mph fastballs and will toss a slider. In 1996, Tim McCarver first-guessed Mark Wohlers in game 4 of the World Series for throwing sliders that Jim Leyritz would foul off down the lines instead of the 95-98 mph fastballs Leyritz fouled straight back. McCarver said Wohlers would only speed up Leyritz's bat and do so with his second-best pitch. Sure enough, Leyritz pulled a high slider over the left-field wall for a three-run homer that tied game 4 and turned the momentum of the series as the Yanks won that game and the next two for their first World Series title since 1978.

Lidge did the same thing as Wohlers. And he knew it: 0-1 pitch to Pujols, slider down-and-away, but not enough of either, and when the bat crack on the ball sounded, everyone in the stadium knew what had happened -- a monster homer for Pujols onto the train track running above the left-field wall, a 5-4 Cardinal lead, and, three Isringhausen outs later, a trip back to St. Louis.

Whether Lidge goes the route of Mitch Williams (not Moore, for goodness' sake) and loses his stuff remains to be seen, as does the outcome of this NLCS. But for an instant, I saw the Donnie Moore Moment and a reason why baseball is the most dramatic of the major sports.

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