Opening Day (April 1, 2013) is 67 days away. We are counting down the 100 Walk Off Home Runs in Angels franchise history. Today we look at #67, a come from behind blast by shortstop Gary DiSarcina...
July 25, 1996 - Fast forward to September 25, 2002. The Anaheim Angels are in visitors clubhouse in Arlington, Texas and have just clenched their first playoff appearance in sixteen seasons. As the beer and champagne are sprayed all around, Darin Erstad grabs Tim Salmon and Troy Percival, takes out his cellphone and phones former Teammate Gary DiSarcina. DiSar had not played a game for the Angels since 2000, but he was such an integral presence to the team that his longtime peers could not leave him out of the celebration.
On this Thursday night back when the Milwaukee Brewers were in the American League, a four game weekend series began with Tim VanEgmond facing the Angels Jason Grimsley. VanEgmond gave up a double to DiSarcina in the bottom of the first and allowed him to score. But He then blanked the Angels into the sixth inning and got comfortable support from the Brewers bats, who made it 3-1 in the third inning.
The Brewers added one in the ninth and down 4-1, we can imagine that some of the 16,000+ in attendance were headed to the exits early. Ricky Bones was in his third inning of relief when J.T. Snow hit a solo homerun to make it 4-2. When Rex Hudler singled with one out, manager Phil Garner yanked him in favor of Graeme Lloyd. After a Garret Anderson single, pinch-hitter Randy Velarde grounded out, but it was such a slow dribbler, the Brewers could not turn two. With first base empty, they elected to pitch to DiSar. He hit an 0-1 pitch down the LF line and into the seats. His three-run, come from behind, two out walk off home run was a dramatic highlight in a letdown of a season.
Final Score: Angels 5, Brewers 4.
Manager Marcel Lachemann and his team took 3 of 4 from the Brewers at home but Lachemann was fired a week later, the Angels were 52-59 and already out of the pennant race. John McNamara took the helm for his second tour of duty as Angels manger, but a blood clot issue forced him form the job less than a month later. Joe Maddon finsihed the season as skipper that season.
This was the the only walk off home run for DiSarcina, a core Angels player who finished with 1,086 games in uniform, only one of eight Angels to play over 1,00 games with a Halo. While DiSar's numbers are downright terrible for a player who lasted as long as he did, the unquantifiable power of chemistry was in his corner. His teammates swore by his clubhouse presence and leadership, but despite this game's great hit, his on the field accomplishments were one of the weakest showings by a player with as much major league playing time as he accrued.
Part of DiSarcina's mystique was that he had his best season during the incendiary 1995 season, whent he Angels led by double digits at the All Star Break. He made the AL squad that year and garnered MVP votes. He also had a season-ending injury in mid-August. When the team choked up its lead and missed the postseason after a one-game playoff with Seattle, the lore had it that losing DiSar was what caused the collapse - never mind that the pitching went South, Seattle played .900 ball and a total offensive slump buried the team.
It was coincidence, not cause, that the injury occurred and the 1995 Angels collapsed. It was loyalty and chemistry that inspired his former teammates to phone him to make sure he was part of the celebration about which they had all dreamed together.
And it is fact that Gary DiSarcina hit the final Walk Off Home Run in California Angels history. The team would have new owners, a new manager, new uniforms and be renamed after the city in which they played after the end of the 1996 season. Sometimes you don't know what you have until its gone, unless Darin Erstad has you on speed dial.