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1979 Angels ALCS: Running into the Baltimore buzzsaw

The Angels’ first postseason series featured a pair of gut-wrenching losses to the Orioles

Baltimore Orioles v California Angels, Game 3
Don Baylor hit one of the Angels’ three home runs during the ALCS, but was just 3 for 16 (.188) against Baltimore.
Photo by Getty Images

The California Angels in 1979 made the playoffs for the first time in 19 seasons as a franchise, winning the American League West. They faced a powerhouse in the ALCS in a 102-win Orioles, who handled the Halos during the regular season.

The Orioles won nine of 12 games against the Angels during the regular season, and outscored them 56-33.

Home field advantage alternated every other year by division, so even though the Angels won only 88 games, they had home field advantage. But under the rules at the time, that meant the first two games on the road, followed by up to three straight at home.

Here’s a recap of the ALCS:

Game 1

This was a pretty good battle between Nolan Ryan and Jim Palmer that needed extra innings to decide. Dan Ford homered in the first and doubled home a run in the third. A Bobby Grich double tied things up at 3-3 in the sixth, which is where is stayed until the bottom of the 10th.

Doug DeCinces singled to start the frame, then was bunted into scoring position. With two outs, Jim Fregosi opted to intentionally walk Al Bumbry, leaving John Montague to face pinch hitter John Lowenstein.

As far as first-ever playoff games go, this was a brutal way for the Angels to lose.

Final: Orioles 6, Angels 3 (10)

Game 2

As deflating as the walk-off home run was on Wednesday, Dave Frost getting bombed on Thursday was even worse. Four singles, two walks, and an error led to four runs in the first inning, then an Eddie Murray three-run home run punctuated another big rally in the second inning, after Frost was already pulled.

By the third inning, the Angels trailed 9-1, and things looked bleak.

But the league’s best offense kept chipping away, scoring single runs in the sixth and seventh, then rallying for three in the eighth, finally getting starter Mike Flanagan out of the game.

Orioles reliever Don Stanhouse lived up to his nickname “Full Pack” in the ninth, allowing a walk to Larry Harlow and a double to Willie Davis. Rod Carew grounded out to bring home one run, then Carney Lansford singled home another to pull the Halos to within 9-8.

Ford followed with a single, and Don Baylor was intentionally walked to load the bases with two outs, but Brian Downing grounded out to third base, ending what would have been one of the greatest comebacks in postseason history.

The Angels fell to 1-7 in games in Baltimore in 1979.

Final: Orioles 9, Angels 8

Game 3

Needing to win all three games at home to advance to the World Series, the Angels led 2-1 thanks to a home run by Baylor, but reliever Don Aase allowed runs in the sixth and seventh, putting the Angels on the brink of elimination.

The Angels went down in order in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, and when Baylor flew out to start the ninth that made 11 batters in a row retired by Baltimore pitching.

But then Rod Carew doubled to chase starter Dennis Martinez, followed by Stanhouse walking Downing and Bobby Grich reaching on an error to tie the game.

That brought up outfielder Larry Harlow, who was acquired from the Orioles in June when several Angels were injured. He gave the Angels new life with a double to center field, bringing home Downing for the walk-off win, the first postseason victory in Angels history.

Final: Angels 4, Orioles 3

Game 4

A Angels win on Saturday would set up an epic, winner-take-all Game 5 with Ryan against Palmer on Sunday. But the Orioles chased starter Chris Knapp in the third inning with a pair of runs.

While the Angels couldn’t muster up much offense against Scott McGregor, Baltimore broke it open with a five-run seventh inning, with Pat Kelly delivering the death blow, a three-run home run off Montague to make it 8-0.

The Angels did not score, and only managed 15 runs in four games. Rod Carew was 7-for-17 (.412) with three doubles. Dan Ford was 5-for-17 (.294) with two home runs and a double. But the Angels hit just .234/.267/.350 as a team.

Final: Orioles 8, Angels 0

Thanks everyone for reading this look back at the 1979 Angels all year long. I hope you enjoyed it.