The Most Disappointing Season For … The Angels (Whatever They Were Called at the Time)

The 1995 California Angels (At that point they were not the LA Angels of Anaheim, or other such foolishness)

Record: 78-67 (2nd in the AL West, 5th out of 14 in AL)

Pythagorean Record: 82-63

Runs Scored: 801 (2nd in AL)

Runs Allowed: 697 (5th in the AL)

Prior Season Record: 47-68

Manager: Marcel Lachemann

Hype: The entire AL West was hot garbage, but thankfully 1994 was wiped due to a strike. There’s two studs in the rotation, a much better bullpen, and offensive talent through the lineup. If not us, who?

The Gory Details: Things were cruising right along for the Angels entering August.

They had built a nice lead in the AL West by great hitting, a great bullpen, and getting just enough from their starters to keep them in the game. At 54-33 on July 31, and 10 games in front of Texas, and 11 in front of Seattle, possessing the second best record in the AL, it seemed the sailing was going to be smooth going forward.

Sure, they had some issues, every team does. Of their original rotation of Chuck Finley, Mark Langston, Shawn Boskie, Scott Sanderson and Brian Anderson, they withstood some injuries and travails. Sanderson was done for the year (and basically his career) after seven starts due to back surgery.

Anderson, their prize young lefty had spent time on the DL as well and had made just nine starts on the year. Boskie pitched excellent ball in May, OK ball in June and went on the DL after one rough start in July. His ERA had grown from 3.27 on May 29th to 4.81 on July 5th.

But the Angels adapted. Russ Springer and Mike Bielecki filled in at times, with limited success. Springer had a 7.67 ERA and an OPS+ against of 175, while Bielecki’s ERA was 5.93, but at least he ate innings.

So, realizing that they needed some arms to get them through the season and into the playoffs, they made a waiver claim on Mike Harkey, and traded some top prospects (including McKay Christensen) to get Jim Abbott from the White Sox.

Earlier, they made a shrewd deal to add bullpen depth to grab John Habyan from the Cards for Mark Sweeney. It was a win now situation – the future was now. The star-crossed franchise wanted a World Series win desperately for aging owner Gene Autry

The big improvement was due somewhat to the bullpen, with Lee Smith taking on the role of closer and mentor to rookie wunderkind Troy Percival. Habyan, Bob Patterson and Mike James were all solid relievers as well, and after discarding Mitch Williams it seemed smooth sailing on the back end.

The Angels offense had a mix of younger players who were entering their peak (JT Snow, Jim Edmonds, Tim Salmon), a fresh faced rookie (Garrett Anderson), an outstanding DH (Chili Davis) and a veteran presence in Tony Phillips, who California stole from Detroit for Chad Curtis. Add in steady shortstop Gary DiSarcina and improving second baseman Damion Easley, and the Angels had most every position covered, and covered well.

The only question was catcher, where Jorge Fabregas had offensive struggles, and Greg Myers was thought to be more of a DH in catching gear but had a decent lefty stick.

That lineup pretty much was healthy through the season, except for a stretch where Davis was on the DL. Losing the DH didn’t really cost them at all, though.

August started out just like the other months. California won two of three against Seattle, then Texas came to town. Doing well against those two teams would add to their lead and make it easier to rest players in September so the nagging injuries could heal up a bit.

But there was bad news. DiSarcina, who had greatly improved his hitting and was among the steadiest shortstops in baseball (he had just made his sixth error of the season on August 2nd), slid into second base on a forceout and had to leave the game. The verdict was a torn ligament in his thumb, and he needed surgery.

The original verdict was that he’d be out until the end of the year, but there could be a chance that he could come back for the playoffs. In the meantime, they could make do with some combination of Easley, Spike Owen, Rex Hudler and Jose Lind (who they prudently grabbed from Kansas City on waivers and stashed in AAA for insurance) in the middle. They also signed veteran shortstop and Angels favorite Dick Schofield on August 4th, and sent him to AAA to get him into shape in case they needed him.)

Those five players were all either established veterans, or in the case of Easley, a young player who was a good defender at second and third in the majors, and was a regular at shortstop in AAA in 1992.

Besides, it’s only one player. The shortstop, yes, but one player doesn’t win a pennant, nor does one player lose a pennant. Especially not the #9 hitter on a team full of hitting stars.

Welp…

They split the four game series with Texas. The lead was still 11 games, at 58-36. Thanks to the strike settlement causing the season to start later, the season was 144 games. If they split their remaining 50 games, they’d finish 83-61. That should secure the division.

Up next was a nine game road trip, against Kansas City, Minnesota and the White Sox. Those three teams were struggling, well out of the pennant and wild card race, and just playing out the string. The Angels won six of the nine games, and were now 64-39, still 10 ½ games ahead.

Then the Angels came home, facing Boston, the Yankees and Baltimore in a homestand. They lost the first two games, then won the next two. But then Boston won three in a row, and then Baltimore took three of four from them.

A 3-8 homestand was not what the Angels needed. Still, it was almost September, and the Angels were still up 7 ½ games at 67-47. They had gone 9-11 since that Texas series, almost on track for the “split the games and walk away with the division” theory.

Looking them in the eye was a nine game roadie against those same teams that spanked them at home. They were entering the road trip after being swept by the Orioles in three games, losing the series by a margin in runs of 20-4 with the Orioles lighting up Langston and Habyan in one game.

Finley and Habyan were blitzed in the first game against the Yankees, a 12-4 loss. Andy Pettitte held the bats in check in game two, and New York beat Abbott 4-1. Anderson, who had gone from hero (6-2, 3.86 through August 1st), to zero, was clobbered in an 11-6 loss.

On to Boston, and Boskie was activated and Harkey moved to the bullpen. It wasn’t a happy return, as the Red Sox crushed him 11-3. The next day Langston couldn’t get out of the fifth in another loss, then in the series finale Finley was crushed 8-1. That was nine losses in a row.

Still, STILL, the Angels held a 5 ½ game lead, and had a 67-53 record. 24 games remained. After this road trip, they had home games against the dregs of the central, then road games against the now struggling A’s before heading to Texas and Seattle.
They needed to play the Orioles first.

The Birds had been limping along all season, but Baltimore won three of four against California just recently. Abbott, though, stopped the losing streak with a 5-3 win. A sigh of relief was heard all throughout Orange County.

Anderson was clobbered AGAIN the next day, losing 8-0. Since his last win, he had made seven starts. The Angels were 1-6 in those starts, he was personally 0-6 and had an ERA of 10.86 ERA. Lachemann decided to pull him from the rotation and they went with a four man rotation the rest of the year.

The next day Baltimore beat Boskie 4-2. It was a horrible awful very bad road trip. A 1-9 record. They were 12-21 without DiSarcina. Easley was passible at short, as was Owen, but Rod Correia was awful when he briefly came up to play short, Lind was an offensive wasteland, and Hudler wasn’t much better (he hit .195 in August).

Hope and salvation came in the form of the Twins. The Angels won two of three from them, and then took two of three from Chicago. Entering the Kansas City series, they were 72-57, five games ahead of a surging Seattle and 6 ½ ahead of Texas. Kansas City was right at .500, and shouldn’t be much trouble for a deep and talented club.

Kevin Appier shut out the Angels in the Friday game. On Saturday, Boskie didn’t get out of the first inning and a spirited comeback fell one run short. The Sunday game featured Langston against an entity named Jason Jacome. California chased Jacome in the fifth, but the Royals did likewise to Langston, and the visitors escaped with a 10-8 win.

On to Oakland. The lead was 3 games.All of a sudden the Wild Card standing were of import. Monday, September 18th, the Angels took the field against Oakland.

Doug Johns. Let me repeat myself…Doug Johns, pitched a two hitter as the A’s beat Finley 4-0. It was a two game lead.

On Tuesday, September 19th, Oakland scratched out a run in the third, and one in the eighth, but Snow blasted one to right center off of Dennis Eckersley to tie the game at 2. Percival, working into his third inning of relief in the 10th, walked Rickey! Henderson to lead off the inning. Of course, that’s trouble.

A steal, a sacrifice, a walk, an intentional walk, and then a single by Terry Steinbach, who homered off of Percival in the 8th, won the game for Oakland. Meanwhile, Seattle beat Texas and were now just one single solitary game behind the Angels.

Wednesday, September 20th was the must wins of all must wins. In the first, though, Mark McGwire touched Boskie for a three run shot, and then the A’s wreaked havoc against Boskie and Bielecki in the sixth.

It was 9-0 entering the ninth inning, but an Anderson home run, four singles plus a misplay in the outfield and a three run bomb by Salmon put the score at 9-6. Davis singled, but Eckersley got Snow to hit into a double play and preserve the win.

Seattle romped over Texas 11-3. They were now tied and just one game ahead of the Yankees in the race for the Wild Card.

DiSarcina, though, beat the odds and his thumb was healed enough to play. So when they went to Texas for a weekend three-game series, he was back in the lineup. The Angels went from 56-34 to 72-63 with him out of commission.

He didn’t give them much lift, though.

Texas scored three in the second and five in the seventh off of Langston to win 8-3 on Friday. Saturday, Finley lost 5-1 to Roger Pavlik. Meanwhile, Seattle won two in a row, and were now two games AHEAD of the Angels.

The bleeding stopped on Sunday, as Abbott pitched a three-hit shutout. Seattle won AGAIN, though, and at 73-65 California was still two games behind with a short two game series in the Kingdome coming up. They needed to take BOTH games, especially since New York had now taken the Wild Card lead.

The game on Tuesday, September 26th, almost sealed the division for Seattle. They won their seventh in a row, by blistering Boskie, Rich Monteleone (who had pitched well since coming up in September), and the usually reliable trio of  James, Patterson and Smith. The 10-2 loss put the Angels three games behind. Since coming back on September first, Boskie was 1-5 with a 7.48 ERA.

Three behind with five to play. Gotta win all five, and pray that either Seattle or New York stumble.

Finley and Smith shut out Seattle 2-0 on Wednesday, September 27th. Two behind with four to play, and those four games were against Oakland at home, starting Thursday, September 28th.

Johns was working his magic again, but the Angels finally broke through against him when he misplayed a bunt horribly and allowed two runs to score on the play. Another run came in via a sacrifice fly, and California walked away with a lucky 4-2 win. Seattle won, though, so they were two behind with three to play for the division, and one behind the Yanks in the Wild Card.

California jumped ahead of Oakland early on that Friday, but the A’s came back to lead 6-4 after 4 ½, chasing Abbott. But two singles, a double by Hudler, an error and a sac fly put the Angels ahead, and they held on. Meanwhile, Seattle won, again, and now they were up two with two to play.

All the Angels could do was win both games, hope Seattle loses both, and then win the special playoff game on Monday, in Seattle. This was a long way from the days of an 11 game lead in August.

The A’s got to Boskie early, again. But Harkey came in and shut down Oakland for 6 2/3 innings of relief, and California beat up on John Wasdin and Mark Acre and came away with an easy 9-3 win. Meanwhile, Texas beat Seattle 9-2. California still had a puncher’s chance for the division, but the wildcard was probably out of reach as the Yankees kept winning.

The Seattle / Texas game started an hour before the California / Oakland matchup. By the time the Angels took the field, they saw that Texas had rolled out to a 5-1 lead off of Tim Belcher. No doubt they kept an eye on the scoreboard, and saw the Rangers put them away 9-3.

Meanwhile, Todd Stottlemyre was no match for the Angels bats. He gave up six runs in four innings, and Finley and Percival cruised to an 8-2 win. Edmonds was the star, with four hits, including a double and a triple.

There was no time to celebrate, it was off to Seattle. Win this game, and they were in the playoffs. Lose, and they were out, since the Yankees would have a better record than them.

It was Mark Langston against Randy Johnson, set for a 1:30 start in Seattle. Both pitchers were on their game through 4 ½ innings, but Seattle finally broke through when Vince Coleman’s single scored Dan Wilson from second.

Johnson was absolutely dealing. This was the Mariners first crack at making the playoffs, and Johnson was an incredible 17-2 on the season. He allowed one scratch hit to Hudler through the first seven frames. Langston knew he had to keep the Mariners off the board.

Mike Blowers led off the 7th with a single. Tino Martinez bunted, and it was such a good bunt, and a surprise, that Langston threw late to second and all hands were safe on the fielder’s choice. Wilson then dropped another successful bunt, a sacrifice that put runners on second and third with one out.

Joey Cora was up, followed by Coleman. Cora wasn’t a power threat, but he was a contact hitter. Langston needed to make sure he hit the ball on the ground, preferably on the left side of the infield.

Thwack. On a 1-2 pitch Langston hit him. Bases loaded.

That brought up Coleman. Again, not a power threat, and not a double play threat due to his speed. A grounder would be what the Angels needed.

On the eighth pitch of the at bat, Coleman hit a short sinking liner to Salmon in right. Salmon fell on the ground catching the ball, but Blowers tagged up too late and he couldn’t go, and the bases were loaded but with two outs, and Luis Sojo at the plate. At the time, it looked like a huge blunder by Blowers.

Swinging on the first pitch, Sojo broke his bat. The ball hugged the first base line and wound up in the bullpen. Salmon had to run a long way to get it, and by the time he did, the bases were clear and Sojo scored when the ball got away from Langston at home. It was 5-0, and anticlimactic after that. The final wound up 9-1.

The Sojo at bat (and the Coleman fly) is on You Tube for everyone to see. Langston laid on his back at home plate after the play, realizing the season, which saw the Angels have complete control of the division, was lost.

DiSarcina’s absence was conspicuous, sure. Many pointed to him as the reason they fell apart, and he got some MVP votes because of that. But it probably was more coincidental, and mental, than anything he brought to the table.

The offense was OK, but as you can read above, the starting pitching was mostly dreadful during that stretch. This collapse could be the worst in baseball history, because it was in slow motion until the end.

Reeling from this, the Angels finished last the next season before rebounding a bit. Only a few remained for their triumphant 2002 World Series win, a win that many thought they would get  when the calendar turned to August in 1995.

Chicken Wolf All-Stars: Salmon had a 6.6 WAR and 34 home runs. Edmonds was right behind with a 5.6 WAR and 33 homers. Phillips, stolen from the Tigers, paid dividends with a 4.3 WAR, 113 walks and 119 runs scored.

Honorable Mention Team: The 1971 squad deserves its own mini essay, which is here.

Bad Blast from the Past: The PCL Los Angeles Angels were a Cubs farm team for many years. They even played in a place called Wrigley Field (which you remember from the old Home Run Derby series). The Cubs had many disappointments, of course, but their first in the NL was way back in 1877.

In the first NL season, Chicago ripped through the league, winning 52 and losing just 14. But the next year, they had two problems. One, Ross Barnes could no longer do his famous “fair-foul” hit, and two, Al Spalding retired from pitching and George Bradley wasn’t up to par. They fell to 26-33 and fifth place.

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