Wednesday, December 7, 2011

1982 ALCS: Brewer breakthrough

How they got here
The 1982 ALCS featured two teams who had never won a playoff series before. The Brewers made their first playoff appearance in the strike-shortened 1981 season, losing in five games to the Yankees.

With the majority of their team returning in 1982, they were expected to replace the Yankees atop the AL East. Instead, though, they struggled at the start of the season, leading to Harvey Kuenn taking over as manager. With a new manager, the Brewers became Harvey's Wallbangers, crushing the ball all over the park. They ended up leading the league in home runs and runs scored and finished with the second-highest batting average. It almost wasn't enough, though, as the Brewers let a four-game lead slip away in the final week before winning game 163 against the Orioles.

Joining them in the playoffs were the California Angels; after making their first playoff appearance in 1979, the Angels had two bad seasons before returning to prominence in 1982. They spent most of the season in a tight battle with Kansas City for the AL West lead, finally pulling away with a three-game sweep of the Royals in late September.

With Reggie Jackson and Rod Carew playing for the Angels and Paul Molitor and Robin Yount leading the Brewers, four future hall of famers were playing in this series; if Brewers closer Rollie Fingers hadn't been injured, it would have been five. However, it was Don Baylor and Fred Lynn, two other who have received Hall of Fame votes, who led the Angels in the first two games. Baylor had five runs batted in, while Lynn had a home run among his three hits to lead to an 8-2 win for the Angels in Game 1. Jackson's home run sparked California in Game 2, and the Angels went to Milwaukee one win away from the World Series.

Yount and Molitor sparked the Brewers the next two games, as Milwaukee evened the series, overcoming a Baylor grand slam in Game 4. The deciding Game 5 would be a rematch of the Game 2 pitching matchup between AL Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich and World Series veteran Bruce Kison.

The Game
You'd think Luis Sanchez would have known enough not to relax, but you couldn't blame him if he had, if only for a moment. Facing Robin Yount with two outs and two on in the seventh, the Angel reliever had thrown eight tense pitches to Yount before walking him. It wasn't the preferred outcome, of course, but considering what Yount was capable of, a walk was almost like a win for the Angels.

Plus, following Yount was Cecil Cooper, normally a reliable hitter but one who had struggled terribly in the ALCS. Cooper had somehow only driven in two runs in the series at that point despite having Molitor and Yount batting directly in front of him. Now, he was given one more chance, batting with the bases loaded and the Brewers trailing 3-2.

The Angels had gotten there with a lot of help from Lynn. The former Boston star continued his red-hot series with a run batted in in the first and third. The Brewers had fought back, and the score had been 3-2 since the bottom of the fourth. By the time Cooper came to the plate in the seventh, both starters had been knocked out of the game.

Sanchez had been reliable for the Angels in these situations during the year, but he couldn't work out of the mess he created for himself on this day. Cooper drilled a single to left to score two, and the Brewers had a 4-3 lead.

Normally in this situation, the Brewers would turn to the dominant Fingers to shut the door, but Fingers was out for the season with an injury. Instead, they went first to Bob McClure, who was normally a starter, and then to Pete Ladd, who had thrown only 18 innings all season. Between the two of them, the Brewers got it done, advancing to their first World Series.

After getting past the Angels, the Brewers faced the Cardinals in the all-beer World Series, losing in seven games. Despite the power in their lineup, Milwaukee didn't get back into the playoffs until long after Yount and Molitor had retired and been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

For the Angels, it was the start of heartache. After losing three straight elimination games to the Brewers, California lost three more in 1986. They didn't win their first playoff series until winning the World Series in 2002.

What I'm doing.

The list so far:
9. 1982 ALCS: Milwaukee 4, California 3
10. 2008 ALCS: Tampa Bay 3, Boston 1
11. 1984 NLCS: San Diego 6, Chicago 3
12. 2003 NLCS: Florida 9, Chicago 6
13. 2004 NLCS: St. Louis 5, Houston 2
14. 1972 ALCS: Oakland 2, Detroit 1
15. 1973 ALCS: Oakland 3, Baltimore 0
16. 1985 ALCS: Kansas City 6, Toronto 2
17. 2007 ALCS: Boston 11, Cleveland 2
18. 1991 NLCS: Atlanta 4, Pittsburgh 0
19. 1973 NLCS: New York 7, Cincinnati 2
20. 1987 NLCS: St. Louis 6, San Francisco 0
21. 1988 NLCS: Los Angeles 6, New York 0
22. 2004 ALCS: Boston 10, New York 3
23. 1986 ALCS: Boston 8, California 1
24: 1996 NLCS: Atlanta 15, St. Louis 0

Still to come:
1972 NLCS: Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh
1976 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1977 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1980 NLCS: Houston vs. Philadelphia
1981 NLCS: Los Angeles vs. Montreal
1992 NLCS: Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh
2003 ALCS: Boston vs. New York
2006 NLCS: New York vs. St. Louis

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