By Geoff Bilau, Angelswin.com Senior Editor
It is the biggest ninth inning comeback in Angels history, and shortstop Dick Schofield not only sparked it — he also ended it with one explosive swing of the bat.
With the Angels holding onto a 4.5 game lead over Texas for the division title, the Rangers had already applied some pressure with a 5-2 victory in Chicago earlier that Friday night.
The Angels, meanwhile, were getting trounced by the visiting Detroit Tigers, trailing 8-1 after five uninspiring innings. Heading into the bottom of the ninth, Detroit’s lead stood at 12-5 and it appeared the Angels division bump would soon shrink to 3.5 games.
The rally started innocently enough, with Schofield beating out an infield single to short off Tigers reliever Randy O’Neal, who was beginning his third inning of work. After Rick Burleson lined out, Wally Joyner drew a walk. When Brian Downing singled to load the bases, Detroit closer Guillermo “Willie” Hernandez, the 1984 MVP and Cy Young winner, began to warm in the bullpen — just in case.
Jack Howell doubled to right field, scoring Schofield and Joyner, and Tigers manager Sparky Anderson had seen enough. He called on Hernandez, even though Detroit still led 12-7.
Hernandez, however, would prove no more effective, promptly giving up consecutive RBI singles to George Hendrick and Bobby Grich, pulling the Angels within three runs. But when Gary Pettis grounded into a fielder’s choice at second, California was down to its final out. Up stepped Ruppert Jones, pinch hitting for Jerry Narron. Jones worked a walk from Hernandez, loading the bases for the man who started the rally: Schofield.
Incredibly, the Angels typically light-hitting shortstop — he of the 56 home runs in 1,368 career games — lofted a Hernandez splitter straight down the left field line; a ball that kept carrying … carrying … carrying … just fair over the short wall and just out of the reach of Dave Collins’ leaping attempt.
It was a grand slam — a walk-off grand slam, in fact, capping an eight-run ninth that ignited frenzy among those fans from the original 32,992 in attendance that actually remained.
The Angels would maintain their 4.5 game lead on the Rangers, who got no closer than five the rest of the season. It was the signature victory of the Angels’ 1986 division championship season and one that fans, even 22 years later, still recall fondly any time the team rallies in the ninth.