Opening Day, April 1, 2013 is 39 days away. There have been one hundred walk off home runs in Angels history. This is the story of #39 - a rookie's first major league hit comes on the last day of the season. But it sure counted.
October 3, 1982 - Over 62,000 fans were in attendance on Fan Appreciation day to cheer the team that had won the American League West. The regulars started the game. Reggie Jackson hit a three-run home run as part of a five-run first inning and the Angels were in control.
Of course everyone sticks around for the chance to win prizes on Fan Appreciation Day, so a big chunk of the audience stayed to watch Angels relieve pitching choke up the cushion. Down 6-0 in the fifth inning, the Rangers scored one in the fifth, three in the sixth and two in the eighth to tie the game at 6-6.
Rookie Gary Pettis had entered the game as a pinch runner for Fred Lynn in that first inning and stayed in the game. In the bottom of the ninth inning with one out and the bases empty, Gary Pettis broke a 6-6 tie with his first major league hit, a walk off solo home run.
Pettis went on to have one of the great Angels careers of all time. His 186 Stolen Bases was a franchise record for nearly twenty seasons until Chone Figgins broke it. But it was his elite defense that gave him acclaim. Once voted the best off-field dresser by his major league peers, Pettis was famed for undressing would-be home run hitters look bad with over the fence catches on a regular basis. Think Mike Trout almost a decade before Trout was even born.
Pettis had over 2,000 plate appearances with the team and shined in the 1986 American League Championship Series. He was traded for pitcher Dan Petry after the 1987 season. Devon White matched his defensive brilliance and the Angels needed pitching. It was a terrible trade. Pettis went on to have four more productive seasons.
Meanwhile, he was left off the 1982 playoff roster having only appeared in ten games, mostly as a defensive replacement, with his one hit in five at-bats. A week later the Angels would suffer a terrible defeat in the then-best of five ALCS. Having won the first two games at home, they lost three straight in Milwaukee to the Brewers.
They could have used that five-run first inning from the regulars on the following Sunday.