Opening Day (April 1, 2013) is 76 days away. We are counting down the 100 Walk Off Home Runs in Angels franchise history. Today we look at #76, a Scott Spiezio come from behind blast.
July 31, 2000 - Phil Garner was manager of the Detroit Tigers in 2000, before they fell off a cliff. In 1987, he was teammates with Mike Scioscia, spelling Mickey Hatcher at 3B for 70 Games. Garner had the good sense to take starter Jeff Weaver out of the game after he had pitched eight innings of one-run ball and bring in closer Todd Jones with a 4-1 lead.
But the big story of this game heading into the Monday night contest, was the Angels debut of Ron Gant. This was the big deadline deal that Angels fans had been hungry for, baited by a bored print media with little else to write about. It was a bit of a letdown but it only cost the Angels starter Kent Bottenfield.
Gant had two 30 HR 30 SB seasons behind him. Way behind him, really, but the former All Star added some right handed pop to the Angels lineup. It would come to be told how General Manager Bill Stoneman had to navigate the Disney bureaucracy for weeks in July to simply add Gant's salary to the payroll. Left unsaid is how that corporate labyrinth fundamentally precluded the acquisition of a more expensive player, or one with a more complicated contract. There were many positives to Disney's ownership of the team, which ran from early in the 1997 season to early in the 2003 season, but the negatives were glaring.
Prior to the 2002 season, Disney was trying desperately to sell the team. Failure to get this done caused the resignation of Disney Sports executive Tony Tavarez, who was squeezed out by a higher-up at Disney, Paul Pressler, basically the most unsung of all the 2002 heroes. His philosophy was simple: if the team is a winner, Disney will find a buyer. To be a winner the Angels would have to spend bigger and give the GM freer reign. Nobody could have imagined how aptly his strategy would work, nor how quickly.
Sixteen months after the Tavarez resignation, the Angels were World Champions and Arte Moreno was the owner, netting Disney a $40 Million profit on the sale of the team alone. not to mention on the heels of a huge year at the gate and merchandise counters.
But sixteen months before the Tavarez resignation, Stoneman had wrestled Gant from the Phillies and thru the Disney chain of command and decision making and sat in the dugout having gone 0 for 3 in his Angels debut, recording one of the twelve strikeouts Weaver had notched. One player Weaver hadn't mastered was Tim Salmon, who made it a 4-4 night when he hit a full count leadoff home run in the bottom of the ninth to make it a 4-2 ballgame.
Rattled, closer Jones walked Garret Anderson on five pitches, but struck out Tory Glaus looking. Gant was up and could tie the game with one swing. That would be quite a Disney storyline, right? Of course, with Anderson on 1B, he could ground into a game-ending double play just as well. But a Wild pitch sent GA to 2B and Gant worked a one-out walk.
He didn't stay for the fireworks. Gant was forced out at 2B by a grounder from Catcher Matt Wallbeck, who came out for pinch runner Edgard Clemente. Pinch-Hitter Scott Spiezio hit an 0-1 pitch into the seats for a three-run walk off home run (Final Score: Angels 5, Tigers 4). It was one of only four pinch-hit walk off home runs in Angels history.
In 32 months he would hit the most fabled homer in the history of the team. On this night, Speez got his turn to be the hero through a byzantine series of moves in a system that would have to be eventually gutted to give him the opportunity for immortality.
It is on the backs of the invisible Gants and Presslers of the world that winners rest. When you cheer for a victory, you may have no idea who you are really cheering for.