Opening Day, April 1, 2013 is 53 days away. There have been one hundred walk off home runs in Angels history. This is the story of #53 and the rookie who hit it in a season where he could not fill the shoes of the infielder who came before him.
July 2, 1987 - The shock over the playoff defeat in 1986 remained fresh during the 1987 season, an open wound that the Anaheim faithful were dying to salve. While a majority of the lineup returned, the absence of Bobby Grich and Reggie Jackson were ameliorated with Devon White's great rookie season and stellar campaigns by Brian Downing and Wally Joyner. But for the fans, the heartbreak of '86 was compounded by the losing of '87.
Amidst this came the rookie season of Mark McLemore, a highly regarded 22-year old infield prospect who seemingly was the perfect (and affordable) replacement. Well, a rookie campaign replacing a high-profile fan favorite in a post-Grich denouement better be one for the ages and, well, to be charitable, it was a forgettable season. McLemore stole 25 bases but batted only .236 with an On-Base Percentage of .310. His OPS+ of 66 was his ticket back to the minors. McLemore never really caught on and was shipped to Cleveland near the end of the 1990 season. He wound up having a stellar late career with Texas and Seattle, where he finally had two seasons as a starter with an OPS+ over 100: 115 and 110 in 2001 and 2002 with Seattle at age 36 and 37. His last season saw him play for the fourth of four American League West teams, Oakland, in 2004 and his retirement saw him broadcasting Rangers games, a fan favorite in Arlington.
But on Thursday night, July 2, 1987, he started at 2B and batted ninth in a game against Tom Treblehorn's Brewers and Juan Nieves on the mound. Mike Witt gave up FIVE unearned runs (four in the first inning on his own throwing error) and saw his team battle back to tie the game and take the lead. McLemore was up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth when Brewers pitcher Jay Aldrich BALKED in a run! That made the game 7-5, but closer Greg Minton gave up two runs on an Ernest Riles single that plated Rob Deer and Greg Brock.
The game went into extras and when Minton walked the first batter of the tenth inning, who should Gene Mauch call form his bullpen but Chuck Finley. Fin would pitch four innings of scoreless relief and be in line for the win when former Angel Mark Clear faced McLemore after walking Gary Pettis with two out. McLemore got his first hit in five ABs - he hit it out of the park and the Angels won a wild one 9-7. The win took them one game over .500 at 40-39 and made Mark McLemore the most popular Angel, if only for one late night in Anaheim...