Ranking the Greatest Pitching Performances in Los Angeles Angels History
Sometimes when the present is bleak and the future is cloudy—with a chance of meatballs in the form of your favorite sports team's over-priced busts—looking to the past really is the best medicine.
It’s the cure for the present-day “what the hell is happening” unlike any other out there. And based on the current circumstances for Mike Scioscia, Jerry Dipoto, Arte Moreno or any fan of the Los Angeles Angels, it wouldn't hurt to take trip down memory lane.
Remember the good times, Halo faithful?
After all, we learn from the past. Like an elderly group hanging outside the barbershop on a Sunday (or is it Wednesday?) some of us live in the past—especially when it comes to the heroic escapades achieved in sports.
Well, pull up a chair.
No question, there was once a time—not too long ago by MLB industry standards—when the Los Angeles Angels franchise was filled with balance, defense and timely offense.
And the pitching...oh man, the pitching.
There were solid arms in the bullpen, like a Troy Percival (300-save closer) and Francisco Rodriguez (58 saves in 2008). There were solid arms in the rotation, like Jarrod Washburn (winner of 12 straight back in 2002), Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon and some guy named Nolan Ryan (h/t MLB.com).
There is 50-plus years worth of stats and inning-by-inning breakdowns, proving that there have been meaningful, great performances on the mound for the Angels throughout history. And since you are not currently able to witness any such feats by the 2013 club, I did my best to sort through the statistical log-jam on the Internet in order to find the best of the best.
Here is my top five.
(Note: all statistical data was provided courtesy of baseball-refernce.com. A special thanks to such a history-packed baseball site.)
No. 5: Nolan Ryan—May 15, 1973 and July 15, 1973
Because of a career that stretches over four decades, some of Nolan Ryan's greatest moments can get lost among the countless others.
But "The Express" got his start of no-hit domination with the California Angels.
On May 15, 1973, Ryan stepped on the mound to face a decent Kansas City Royals team—who were led by then-young Jack McKeon. The Royals were 20-14, one game ahead of the Angels in the AL West and had a solid lineup, bolstered by Amos Otis and John Mayberry.
They were good, but the 26-year-old right-hander was better.
Ryan needed only a little over two hours to no-hit the Royals, striking out 12 and going only three batters over the minimum (30). It was the first no-hitter for Ryan. It was the Angels fist no-hitter by a right-handed pitcher in Angels' history.
It was a showcase for what Nolan Ryan could do with a baseball. Amazing.
Then, he did it again...
Only two months later, on July 15, 1973, Ryan stepped back onto the mound—this time against Billy Martin's Detroit Tigers. Though the Tigers were not as strong as the Royals offensively that year, they were still a good club. (In fact, they ended up finishing third that year in the AL West, in front of the Angels.)
However, this day was all about Nolan Ryan.
He struck out 17 batters, only walking four, on his way to a second no-hit bid in as many months. The real dramatics, as only the great Ernie Harwell could call it, was Ryan needed to strike out the side in the ninth to break the record of 20 K's in a game.
He did not; but to listen to the play-by-play of that final inning is really something special in MLB history.
(That season, Nolan Ryan finished with a career-high 383 strikeouts in 326 innings.)
No. 4: Bo Belinsky—May 5, 1962
There were few pitchers, if any, that did it like Bo Belinsky—mostly off of the field.
His list of admires (ladies he dated, wed, etc.) were as follows:
- Dinah Shore
- Queen Sorya (the ex-wife of the Shah of Iran)
- Mamie Van Doren
He lived it up—the Los Angeles lifestyle to say the least—but he could also pitch.
And on May 5, 1962, against the Baltimore Orioles, the 25-year-old left-handed rookie took to the mound; unknowingly about to become a trivia question that would forever stump baseball enthusiasts.
Belinsky was up against a tough Orioles lineup, led by future Hall-of-Famer Brooks Robinson. It was a tall task for the rookie, no question, but this was Belinsky's day.
He struck out nine batters, facing seven batters over the minimum (four walks and three HBP), on the way to the first no-hitter in Angels' history.
Buck Rogers, who was the Angels catcher at the time, summed up Belinsky's performance (h/t Eric Aron of throughthefencebaseball.com):
Belinsky had a live, riding fastball, a hard curve and baffling screwball. He could challenge anybody with that fastball. He got the screwball over early, but the fastball set up everything.
It would be the first of three no-hitters thrown by left-handers for the Angels throughout history—Clyde Wright (1970), Mark Langston (1990).
And Belinsky's no-hitter, most impressively, was actually the first ever thrown in Chavez Ravine (now known better as Los Angels Dodgers country). Even though his career on the field never amounted to much—he only won 27 more games total after the no-hitter—Belinsky will always be the answer to that question.
No. 3: Jered Weaver—May 2, 2012
Like a movie script straight from a Hollywood studio, Weaver allowed countless numbers of sports fans—not just Southern California- based or Angels fans—to feel something other than the sadness over the loss of Junior Seau during that same day.
It was one of those moments you don't see too often, and you are lucky when you do.
As I watched the game from my home, cheering every out like a little kid, I found myself calling the game like a Vin Scully, Harry Kalas or John Miller.
It was that powerful of a moment.
It was that powerful of a game.
Weaver was on; never mind the across-the-body throwing motion, he was in command of every inning, every hitter. Yes, it was Minnesota. But that doesn’t take away from the amazing emotion I saw around that stadium once the final out was caught—not to mention Weaver's parents were in attendance, which only solidified the whole Oscar-winning scene.
That day, Jered Weaver did more than just pitch in a ball game; he provided a childhood joy to a bunch of people that had none. It may sound cheesy—and you may have read that last sentence in your own announcer/narrator voice—but Weaver’s performance was epic—truly historical.
No. 2: Mike Witt—September 30, 1984
It would take something like complete perfection to trump the performance Jered Weaver had in 2012, but, on September 30, 1984, that is exactly what Mike Witt accomplished for the Angels.
The most difficult feat for a MLB pitcher —the perfect game.
What makes Witt's gem so interesting and different from the rest, however, is the timing of the whole thing: Game 162.
And while most teams strolling into the final game of the year, two games back from first, (mathematically out of it) would probably not be on the radar to do anything overly impressive, Witt and the boys had a different idea against the Texas Rangers.
The young right-hander (14-11 at the time) went up against the ageless wonder, Charlie Hough, in a duel of pitching mastery—one with the knuckle ball (Hough), the other with superior height, power and a good curveball (Witt).
In the end it would be Witt that got the edge, striking out 10 batters while only facing the minimum batters (27). It was a shock, something even Witt could not believe.
Following the game, he had this to say (h/t ESPNLA's Mark Saxon):
It probably won’t be until tomorrow and the next day and every day this winter that I’ll be saying to myself, ‘Hey, I did that.’ I mean, to get 27 straight batters out is unbelievable. For me to be able to say it is unbelievable.
And it truly was. The first and only perfect game in Angels' history belonged to Mike Witt—who would later combine with Mark Langston on another no-hitter in 1990.
No. 1: Jim Abbott—April to September, 1989
Sometimes what ends up in the box score for the battery doesn't always determine if a hurler's performance is the greatest in a franchise's history. There is way more to the mental game and stamina that is pitching than simple stats.
That's why, for the Los Angeles/California/Anaheim Angels, Jim Abbott will always be the most incredible, awe-inspiring and simply astonishing pitching spectacle to ever wear the halo on his hat and pitch in a game.
Especially on April 8, 1989, against the Seattle Mariners and Mark Langston.
There is a simple truth to Angels baseball in the late '80s: with the exception of perhaps the movie Naked Gun and a Chili Davis or Wally Joyner Topps baseball card, the Halos were not that well-known outside of Southern California.
Growing up on the East Coast that was about the extent of my knowledge towards the team. (Some of you may still think it is.)
It was in 1989, however, that I saw a story about a pitcher making it to the big leagues with only one hand.
His name was Jim Abbott.
Immediately, I began to follow the Angels. It was an amazing story. Forget rags-to-riches or the undersized athlete making his way, this guy was doing an impossible feat with only one hand.
He made his debut on April 8, 1989 with the Angels—without playing any games in the minor leagues. Though he lost that game, the historical impact that it had on not only the franchise but also the entire MLB made it simply the greatest performance.
Forget World Series saves, or difficult holds.
What Jim Abbott did was incomparable.
And he didn't let down after that loss, either. He ended up going 12-12 on the year with a 3.92 ERA.
Wouldn't be a bad thing to have this year, would it?