Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October 12, 1986: Henderson homers off Moore

ANAHEIM, Calif. - It can change in an instant.

In one moment, the California Angels were one strike away from going to the World Series. Anaheim Stadium was rocking, the champagne was ready, and the Angels just needed one more strike.

In the next moment, they were trailing, the dreams of an entire franchise shattered with one swing. Instead of going to the Series, they were facing a deficit. Little did they know what was coming next.

Perhaps no fanchise has been so devastated by one swing as the Angels were when Dave Henderson homered of Donnie Moore in the top of the ninth on October 12, 1986. This was far more than a heartbreaking loss; it was a loss that set the franchise back decades, and it ended up possibly costing a man his life.

The ninth inning had started so promising for California. Leading the Red Sox 5-2 with their ace on the mound, they just needed three outs to advance to the World Series. But Mike Witt tired, and he eventually gave up a two-run home run. It was 5-4, but there were two outs. Witt gave way to reliever Gary Lucas, who promptly hit Rich Gedman on the first pitch. Exit Lucas, enter Moore, the Angels' closer, to face Henderson. Normally in that situation, the closer would be starting the inning, or would at least be the first reliever in, but Moore hadn't been summoned immediately because of a poor performance in game 2. But now he was in the most pressure-packed situation possible: an out away from the World Series.

The first pitch Moore threw to Henderson was a ball, followed by two strikes. Now the Angels were a strike away. Another ball came, followed by two foul balls. The seventh pitch of the at bat went into the left field bleachers.

And really, that was that. The Angels tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, but the Red Sox got one in the top of the 11th to win the game and send the series back to Boston. Games 6 and 7 were runaways, Boston winning easily to advance to the World Series.

It took the Angels franchise years to get over the loss, with them failing to reach the World Series until 2002. But the loss took an even heavier toll on Moore. Fairly or not, most of the blame for the loss was placed on Moore. Granted, he hadn't given up the first two runs of the ninth inning, and he hadn't hit Gedman, but that home run was the true dagger. He never lived it down. He went from an all-star caliber closer to out of baseball within two years, unable to cope with being the man that gave up the home run.

After he had burned out of the majors, in July of 1989, Moore got in an argument with his wife, shooting her. The wound wasn't fatal, and his wife was able to get herself to the hospital, but Moore then shot and killed himself. It might be unfair to blame the suicide on his giving up the home run, but many people pointed to that moment as the point where his life started going downhill, that Moore's suicide was just final act of a downward spiral that began when Henderson went deep.

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