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Angels, Doing 90, Reach Destination in West : Downing Wins Clincher for Prophetic Mauch, 8-3

September 27, 1986|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

Gene Mauch said it would be like this.

Forget the numbers that have appeared in the newspapers daily for the past three weeks. Gene Mauch had. The only only true magic number, the only one that mattered to Mauch, was the one he had jotted down before the Angels' first pitch of 1986 was thrown.

Ninety victories.

"Give me 90 victories," Mauch kept saying. "Ninety will get the job done."

And on a cool Friday night before 46,677 at Anaheim Stadium, Mauch's Angels defeated their closest competitors in the American League West, the Texas Rangers, 8-3.

It was the Angels' 90th victory of the season.

It got the job done.

At 90-63, the Angels are division champions for the third time in their history. They have yet to reach their first World Series, but they'll get another crack at it Oct. 7, when the American League playoffs begin in Boston.

As champagne bottles popped in the Angel clubhouse, owner Gene Autry corralled Mauch and congratulated the manager not only for the task just completed, but for his prescience as well.

"He said if we could win 90 games, we would win the West," Autry said. "And he had it right on the nose."

Mauch rubbed his eyes, stinging from alcohol.

"I wasn't trying to be prophetic," Mauch said. "All this does is give us a chance to do something. We didn't go to Mesa seven months ago to win a division championship. We want to win it all."

That sentiment was seconded around the Angel locker room. The Angels, the We're So Excited bunch, don't like to party. They were pleased as they sipped their champagne, but they weren't turning cartwheels.

"We've been to the LCS before," said General Manager Mike Port, who really used the term LCS, which stands for league championship series. "We want to go beyond. I think the clubhouse will be wild when we get the ultimate job done.

"This is a nice place to be, but we've been here before."

With that, relief pitcher Terry Forster doused Port with a bottle. Twice.

As they had in 1979 and 1982, the Angels clinched the title at home against the eventual runner-up in the West. Then, it was Kansas City. This time around, it was Bobby Valentine's surprising and precocious Rangers.

Times change, but on hand to lend a sense of history to the proceedings was Brian Downing.

Downing, who batted .326 for the Angels in '79 and hit 28 home runs in '82, figured prominently in the final leg of the '86 drive. He delivered a pair of home runs--a two-run homer in the sixth inning and a three-run shot in the seventh--to help eliminate the Rangers.

Downing's first home run was one of three by the Angels in the sixth inning. Gary Pettis started the binge, followed one out later by Downing, who was followed one out later by George Hendrick.

That erased a 2-0 deficit and gave John Candelaria and Donnie Moore all the offense required. Candelaria (9-2) coaxed his tender left elbow through seven innings, allowing five hits and two runs. Moore came on in the eighth, surrendered one quick run, but shut down matters with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

At 10:11 p.m., when Steve Buechele swung and missed Moore's final offering, Angel fans ignored public-address warnings and barriers to swarm the field. Rookie Wally Joyner, a major reason this party was taking place, barely escaped with his jersey. Moore and Doug DeCinces were also engulfed.

It wasn't exactly Shea Stadium, but as Orange County gatherings go, it was pretty wild.

Inside the winners' clubhouse, the Angels celebrated in different ways.

Joyner, who abstains from alcohol because of religious beliefs, prowled the locker room, armed with a champagne bottle and looking for victims.

"I don't drink, but I'll enjoy pouring it on everybody," he said.

Downing, whose five RBIs gave him 92 for the season, a personal high, talked about his reluctant curtain call. The fans had roared after his first home run, but Downing shied away in the dugout. After the second, his 20th of the season, Downing sheepishly peeked out at the crowd from the top step.

"I've never been a hero-type person," Downing said. "I'm an everyday struggler. (But) I'm having a good time in my hometown tonight."

DeCinces, bearer of the Aging Angels banner, spoke out for the rest of the team's 35-and-older set.

"Every year they say we are too old," he said. "They fail to realize what's on paper is different than what's inside. (Bob) Boone, Downing and (Reggie) Jackson have that intangible and that's something that creates a winner."

Jackson didn't celebrate at all. While the television cameras whirred, he camped out in the trainer's room.

Much later, a reporter spotted Jackson in street clothes, entering an elevator with champagne bottle in hand. Jackson, who had struck out twice in two at-bats, explained his absence.

"I didn't feel like it," he said softly. "I wasn't into it."

And Mauch, in his 25th year and still searching for his first World Series, managed just a single sip of champagne. His mind was on another celebration, one he'd like to witness next month.

"I hope to drink a whole bunch more," Mauch said.

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