There have been many great comeback in the history of the California Angels (now LA Angels), but the one many long-time Angel fans including myself will never forget was on August 29, 1986 vs. Detroit.
The California Angels were leading the AL West by only 4.5 games coming to the end of August. The Angels needed a spark to go into September with some momentum, but it seemed not to be in the cards on this night as the Tigers roughed up starter Kirk McCaskill for five early runs and after Chuck Finley relieved McCaskill the Tigers scored three more runs to put the Angels down 8-1.
The Tigers continued to have their way with Angels pitching scoring four more times and taking a 12-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. With second place Texas already winning early in the night the Angels looked like their lead would be down to 3.5 games over the Rangers.
The Angels started the bottom of the 9th with a single by shortstop Dick Schofield, which was followed by a Wally Joyner walk and a Brian Downing single to load the bases. That brought up Jack Howell who promptly doubled to right field to score two runs and bring the Angels within five at 12-7. George Hendricks and Bobby Grich registered RBI-singles to make it 12-9 before the second was recorded. Rupert Jones then drew a walk of Willie Hernandez, the Tigers closer that loaded the bases and set the stage for Dick Schofield to be a hero.
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“It was a special game to be a part of for me being a young player. To be able to get a key hit that got things going was special,” long-time Angel third baseman Jack Howell said. “To be a part of any part of Angels history is very special to me. 1986 had a lot of ups and downs, but this game was one of the best. This game was a testimony to the determination of our team to try and win it for the city of Anaheim and especially Gene Autry.”
The light-hitting shortstop quickly fell behind 0-2. Schofield jumped on the 0-2 offering by Hernandez and lifted a drive to left field that barely dropped into the left field seats for a walk-off grand slam that sent the 32,992 fans into euphoria as is it gave the Angels an improbable comeback victory that sparked a three-game series sweep which allowed the Angels to pull away from the Rangers and clinch the AL West title.
“The 1986 team had a great combination of young guys and veteran superstars as well as some future Hall of Famers (Don Sutton, Reggie Jackson) ,” Howell said. “Dick (Schofield) was more of a defensive mainstay for us at shortstop. But he came up and surprised with a big grand slam. The comeback helped set the stage for us winning the division. It may have been Dick’s biggest moment as an Angel.”
For the next four seasons (1987-1990) Howell and Schofield anchored the left side of the Angels infield. Both were known for the great defensive work, but they could also come through with a big fly (HR) or a key hit when needed. Jack Howell hit exactly 100 homers for the Angels while Schofield hit 50 for the Halos. Howell’s crowning achievement may have been a broken bat home run he hit in Yankee Stadium in 1990 on national TV with Vin Scully on the mike.
Two Angel legends forever linked by their roles in the greatest comeback in club history.