Opening Day, April 1, 2013 is 5 days away. There have been one hundred walk off home runs in Angels history. This is the story of #2, a nice way to end the second game of a doubleheader.
July 19, 1961 - LA's Wrigley Field hosted 24 Doubleheaders in 1961. Yes, you read that right - of the 81 home games that the Angels played in 1961 - 24 of them were followed by another nine-inning game twenty minutes after the final out. There were only 57 home games that were solo afternoons or evenings out at the park.
Now get this: a ticket to a doubleheader did not cost any more than a ticket to a single game. You got two games for the price of one. Was this a phenomena that the first year expansion Angels, playing in an antiquated ballpark, were trying in order to get fans in the seats? Nope. It was the norm. The 1961 Yankees played 23 scheduled doubleheaders and this was at the zenith of their golden era.
Nobody talks about doubleheaders much in our current era of regimented season ticket holders. Some teams schedule the rare day-night doubleheader where they clear the park after Game One and take a separate ticket to enter the park for the second game. Barring weather-related incidents, the double-header as it existed for a large portion of baseball's history has disappeared completely.
But baseball is losing its popularity these days, say the pundits, event though teams do not have any 2 for 1 doubleheaders and get more fans in the seats than ever 81 times a season despite the games being broadcast live in high definition.
The Angels had lost the first game of a "twi-night" doubleheader 6-0 to the Minnesota Twins - the team that had been the Washington Senators from 1901 - 1960 and then left for Minnesota, only to be replaced by an expansion Washington Senators who haplessly flailed in the nation's capital for eleven seasons until moving to Texas and opening the 1972 season as the Rangers.
This second game of the double header saw them score almost as few runs. Albie Pearson walked in the third inning and scored on a Ken Hunt single. That put the Angels up 1-0 and broke an eleven-inning drought. That seemed to be enough for Angels starter Jim Donohue, who allowed only four hits through eight innings, striking out seven and walking one. Skipper Bill Rigney wanted his ace to get the complete game shutout and he sent him back on the mound.
Leading off the top of the ninth Donohue faced future Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew leading off. He had already struck out the big slugger twice in the game already. There would be no third K. There would only be a souvenir for a fan in the Centerfield bleachers of the stadium. Killebrew hit a solo home run to tie the game 1-1. Donohue got an out and walked a batter and was taken out. Art Fowler mopped up after that and the tie game went into the bottom of the ninth.
In the bottom of the ninth Twins reliever Ray Moore got two outs and it looked like the free baseball of paying for one ticket and seeing two games was about to yield free innings as well. Up stepped Angels Left Fielder Lee Thomas to remind Los Angeles you get what you pay for. There would be no more free baseball - Lee Thomas hit a tie-breaking solo walk off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Final Score: Angels 2, Twins 1.
Lee Thomas played two games for the 1961 Yankees before being traded to the Angels in May. The Angels got the better of the trade - he hit 24 home runs for them the rest of the season - he and teammate George Thomas were known as T-N-T ...the original T-N-T of the Angels lineup 52 years before Trout 'N Trumbo. Thomas hit another 26 HRs in 1962, was named an All Star, came in eleventh place in the AL MVP voting and then quickly saw it all disappear. In 1963 he batted .220 and hit 9 homers and was traded to the Red Sox, where he rebounded for one year, 1965, putting up a career best 128 OPS+ but fading by decade's end.