For the first time in 19 seasons, the California Angels are in the postseason. They clinched the 1979 American League West division thanks to consecutive home wins over the Royals on Monday and Tuesday of the season’s final week.
Nolan Ryan overcame three unearned runs early to beat Kansas City, 4-3 on Monday. Then on Tuesday, catcher Brian Downing had three singles, scoring one run and driving in two more in a 4-1 victory that game the Angels an insurmountable five-game divisional lead with only four left to play.
That the clincher was finished off by Frank Tanana was a sweet moment for the left-hander, who missed three months this year with a shoulder injury. After averaging 210 strikeouts and 259 innings in his first five full seasons, including three All-Star nods, Tanana entered Tuesday with a 4.20 ERA in 1979, with only one outing longer than seven innings in his first 16 starts.
But he retired the first 10 batters faced against the Royals and allowed only five singles and a hit batter in the complete-game win. Tanana covered first base on the division-winning ground out in the ninth.
“There’s nothing worse than to see your friends and teammates bust their tail and not be able to help them,” Tanana told the Los Angeles Times (1). “That’s why this is just unbelievable, such a great feeling. Not just be able to come back but to be able to come back and help.”
Sunday’s win on the road in Texas gave the Angels a franchise-record 88 wins, one of a few milestones set by the team in 1979:
- The Angels led the majors with 866 runs scored, their 122 more than their previous franchise best. (The 2009 squad is the only Angels team since to score more, with 883 runs.)
- The 5.35 runs per game was the fourth-highest total in the majors in the last 25 years.
- Don Baylor led the majors with 139 runs batted in and 120 runs scored, setting Angels records for both. The franchise RBI record still stands, but the runs record is currently held by Mike Trout, who scored 129 times in 2012.
- Baylor captured 20 of 28 first-place votes and was named American League MVP, the first Angels player to receive that award.
- Baylor had just the fifth 162-game season in franchise history, something no Angel has done since.
- Nolan Ryan led the American League with 223 strikeouts, the seventh time in his eight seasons with the Angels he paced the AL in whiffs.
- In the first 18 years in franchise history, the Angels had four seasons in which a qualified player posted a 140 OPS+ or higher — Jim Fregosi (1964), Don Minchner (1967), and Frank Robinson (1973-74). In 1979, they had three — Baylor (145), Bobby Grich (145), and Downing (142). In addition, rookie Willie Aikens had a 137 OPS+ in 447 plate appearances, and Rod Carew had a 125 OPS+ in 493 PA.
22 runs scored (3.67 per game)
24 runs allowed (4.00 per game)
.500 pythagorean record
866 runs scored (5.35 per game)
768 runs allowed (4.74 per game)
.555 pythagorean record (90-72)
AL West final standing: 1st place, 3 games up on Kansas City
- Monday, September 24: Angels 4, Royals 3
- Tuesday, September 25: Angels 4, Royals 1
- Wednesday, September 26: Royals 4, Angels 0
- Friday, September 28: Rangers 5, Angels 0
- Saturday, September 29: Rangers 6, Angels 3
- Sunday, September 30: Angels 11, Rangers 5
The Angels open the American League Championship Series on Wednesday against the 102-win Orioles in Baltimore.
- “Angels hit jackpot gambling in Vegas,” by Ross Newhan. Los Angeles Times, September 26, 1979.