Opening Day, April 1, 2013 is 47 days away. There have been one hundred walk off home runs in Angels history. This is the story of #47, rookie Jack Howell getting reliever Donnie Moore a win with an extra-inning blast.
August 7, 1986 - Angels starter Kirk McCaskill had only allowed two runs heading into the ninth inning, but the score was tied 2-2. With one out in the ninth he gave up a solo home run to Dave Henderson.
Wait a minute, that Dave Henderson? Yes. It was August of 1986 and Dave Henderson was not on the Red Sox yet. He would of course go on to destroy the Angels World Series dreams two months and five days later as a member of the Red Sox in the ALCS. He was traded by the Mariners o August 19. This was his final homerun as a Mariner. He hit 77 of them in a Seattle uniform in the seven seasons he wore it.
But nobody felt the ominous sink of a stomach when "Hendu" was mentioned. No, he was just another bat in the lineup of a perennial loser. McCaskill finished out the inning and was in line for the loss after a 9-inning, 3 run, 8 hit performance. But Jack Howell, pinch hitting for catcher Bob Boone, doubled to lead off the ninth inning. Gary Pettis bunted him over to 3B and George Hendrick singled him home. The score was tied 3-3 and the game headed to extra innings.
Jack Howell was the heir apparent to Doug DeCinces, a product of the Angels farm who would be given the job after 1986 only to never quite live up tot he billing. Howell did quite well, with an OPS+ of 110, 110 and 103 in the three seasons he had more than 500 Plate Appearances. He was a good defender with nice power numbers (one of only 16 Angels to hit 100 home runs with the team) but high strikeouts.
And of course, the weight of expectations that met him when the Angels rebuilt after their first decade of glory (1977-86) were way too heavy, as were the boos that followed. Fan frustration still bitter abut Henderson's October blast haunted many a late-1980s Angel.
Donnie Moore pitched two scoreless innings of relief. He walled Dave Henderson with one out and the bases empty in the top of the eleventh. If only Henderson had hit the home run off him there, he might have inspired Seattle to hold onto him after being the hero of the game. IF only Moore had walked Big Dave in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the ALCS and gotten a ground out to end the game - maybe Henderson would have even the force out at 2B that would have sent the Halos to the 1986 World Series.
You can play this what-if session all day and all night for the rest of your life. Donnie Moore did and look at what happened to him. As great as the 1986 team was, the sweet victories they provide, including a record six walk off home run victories, there is always a bitter aftertaste in discussing them as their inevitable fate - being one strike away for the World Series and not advancing - looms, and it looms forever.
Henderson was stranded and Jack Howell led the bottom of the eleventh with an extra inning solo walk off home run. He was a hero that night, a hero on a road to nowhere.