By Geoff Bilau, Angelswin.com Senior Editor
Yes they had. It took 19 mostly frustrating, often painful, at times utterly heartbreaking years, but the California Angels were finally playing in October.
Unfortunately, the Baltimore Orioles weren’t the sentimental type and felt no guilt in dropping the Angels into an 0-2 ALCS deficit that to that point in MLB history had never been overcome. (The Angels would play an unfortunate role in changing this three years later.) Following 6-3 and 9-8 defeats in Baltimore (each in its own way gut wrenching), the Angels returned home to a down, but not out fan base, for which “Yes We Can” had become more than a chant. The sentiments were palpable, exemplified by the sheer audacity of the word “we.”
Fan use of “we” when talking about their favorite sports team is an acceptable misnomer, but rarely means anything literal. For the 1979 Angels and their fans, at times it did indeed seem to be a group effort. This night would define the “we” of that season.
The Angels got a gutsy five innings from Frank Tanana and four outstanding innings of relief from Don Aase, but reached the bottom of the ninth inning, three outs from elimination, trailing Dennis Martinez, 3-2.
Don Baylor, whose solo home run in the fourth briefly gave the Angels a 2-1 lead, flew out to left field for the first out. But Rod Carew drove a ball into the left center field gap for a double. The crowd of 43,199, again picked up the refrain: “Yes we can! Yes we can!”
Orioles manager Earl Weaver summoned reliever Don Stanhouse, despite the fact he’d thrown 33 pitches and nearly lost the game the day before in Baltimore. Brian Downing worked an eight-pitch walk and Angels fans raised the decibel level another notch, prompting broadcaster Dick Enberg to observe that he’d never heard Anaheim Stadium any louder.
Bobby Grich lined a Stanhouse offering that center fielder Al Bumbry broke in on late and mishandled, allowing it to drop to the grass. Carew hustled around third and beat Bumbry’s throw home to tie the score, Downing advancing to second. Bumbry would later admit the crowd noise prevented him from hearing the crack of the bat, contributing to his miscue.
“Yes we can! Yes we can!”
Then, on the second pitch he saw from Stanhouse, outfielder Larry Harlow slapped a line drive to Bumbry’s left and Downing charged home with the winning run, making a wide turn at the backstop and continuing right into the dugout to celebrate with his teammates. The Angels staved off elimination, winning their first ever playoff game, 4-3.
Angels fans lingered in the afterglow long after the game and continued to chant “Yes we can!” as they exited the stadium.
It hardly mattered that 20 hours later it was all over, Scott McGregor pitching a six-hit shutout to send the Orioles to the World Series. For the Angels and, more importantly their long-suffering fans, that one victory might as well have been the whole World Series. For one more incredible night, yes, they did.