1979 was a watershed year for this particular blog writer, it was my last full year of living in Los Angeles before my parents would uproot us to San Diego in 1980. I remember being 8 years old in the Summer of '79, attending a couple of games, and being very, very excited about the Angels that season.
1979 was a year of firsts for the Angels; they won their first AL West Division Title, and got their first MVP performance from Don Baylor. They made their first playoff appearance, and they won their first playoff game. Unfortunately they lost the ALCS to Baltimore in four games.
Finishing the season off with an 88-74 record that was good enough to edge out the Royals by three games, the Halos sent six players to the All-Star Game in Seattle, including starting pitcher Nolan Ryan. I personally remember attending two games that season, one very early on where the Halos scored a ton of runs in the first inning and sailed to an easy victory. I still have the programs for those games, and I’d dig them out, except they are in storage with all my other Angel memorabilia.
Meanwhile, their opponent the Baltimore Orioles had the best record in baseball with 102-59 (there was a 45 day umpire strike that caused a few games to be lost and another 7 weeks worth of games to be called by scabs). Despite the powerful lineup, the Angels were out-hit and out-pitched in the post-season.
Game One was a star-studded affair that featured two HOFers as the starting pitchers, Ryan for the Angels and Jim Palmer for the Orioles. Dan Ford hit a solo shot off of Palmer in the first and got a second RBI when he drove home Rick Miller in the third. The Orioles tied it in the bottom of the third with two runs, one unearned and took the lead in the fourth. They were tied in the sixth with a run produced by HOFer Rod Carew and fan-favorite Bob Grich. The game would stay tied and go into the 10th when reliever John Montague gave up a three-run dinger to PH John Lowenstein. Ryan pitched 7 innings, gave up 4 hits, 1 earned run, 3 walks and 8 strikeouts in the first game in Angels post-season history. The game would be a harbinger of things to come.
The Halos made quite an effort in Game Two attempting to come from behind, but were thwarted in the top of the 9th by Don Stanhouse who got Baylor to ground out with the bases loaded and the Angels lost by a single run. The game appeared to be over in the third inning when the Orioles took a commanding 9-1 lead, but the Angels roared back with single runs in the 6th and 7th, then three more in the 8th.
The series shifted to the West Coast for game three, the first ever playoff game to be played at The Big A. The home team thrilled the crowd with a manufactured run in the first courtesy of Carney Lansford and Dan Ford, who had a great series. They’d take a 2-1 lead in the 4th on a Baylor homer, but in the 7th the Eastern Division Champion would take a 3-2 lead, which they’d hold until the bottom of the 9th. Oriole Starter Dennis Martinez gave up a one-out double to Rod Carew and was pulled by manager Earl Weaver in favor of Stanhouse, who proceeded to walk the next batter Brian Downing. Bob Grich hit a fly ball that was dropped and Carew tied the game, putting Downing on 2nd. Larry Harlow batted next and doubled home the winning run, the Angels had won their first playoff game ever and cut the lead to 2-1. There was hope yet for the Halos.
Unfortunately that hope quickly diminished in the closing Game Four. No Angel batter got past second base, and the Orioles cruised to an easy 8-0 victory going to their sixth World Series, where they would become the victims of the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates with Willie Stargell and Dave Parker, whom some would say were a team of destiny.
1b – Rod Carew (4)
2b – Bob Grich (4)
3b – Carney Lansford (4)
SS – Jim Anderson (4)
LF – Larry Harlow (2), Bobby Clark (1), Don Baylor (1)
CF – Rick Miller (4)
RF – Dan Ford (4)
C – Brian Downing (4)
DH – Don Baylor (3), Merv Rettenmund (1)
1. Nolan Ryan
2. Dave Frost
3. Frank Tanana
4. Chris Knapp
If you’d like to take a more detailed look at the 1979 AL Championship Series, click here.