It wasn't exactly Game 5 of the 1986 playoffs revisited, but when the Angels and the Boston Red Sox proceeded into the ninth inning Saturday night at Anaheim Stadium, there were some similarities.
A home run over the center-field fence had given the Angels a three-run lead. Mike Witt, trying to finish what he started, began to labor as the Red Sox mounted a threat. Donnie Moore warmed up in the bullpen.
And, for old time's sake, Dave Henderson, whose ninth-inning, two-out homer off Moore tied Game 5 last fall, entered the game, but this time as a pinch-runner.
It was a flashback, only with a twist at the end.
This time, catastrophe failed to strike down the Angels.
Although Witt wavered, loading the bases and walking home a run, Manager Gene Mauch stayed with him. And Witt, while failing to purge the dark memories of last October, did at least pitch the Angels to victory, finishing a 4-2 complete-game triumph in front of 43,726.
For that, Mauch was appreciative enough. Before Witt's rematch with the Red Sox, the Angels had lost three straight, and Mauch's pitchers had allowed 24 runs in the previous two games.
"That's what we needed," said Mauch, searching for a cure for his team's pitching woes. "That's one of the things that can do it. Another one like that tomorrow (by today's starter, John Candelaria) would be nice."
Witt (3-2) threw a four-hitter and gave the Angel bullpen a night off for the first time since his last complete game, a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins April 17. It was a two-hitter, however, until the ninth.
Witt took a 4-1 lead into the final inning, thanks to Dick Schofield's two-run home run in the sixth. Witt quickly gave up singles to Wade Boggs and Marty Barrett. One out later, he walked Don Baylor, loading the bases.
Behind him, Moore loosened up in the Angel bullpen. And in the Angel dugout, Mauch tried not to think about Oct. 12, 1986, the last time the Angels had the Red Sox in this predicament.
"I'm as human as anybody else," Mauch said. He pointed to his heart. "This thing here is not made out of stone," he said. "It may seem like it at times, but it ain't."
Witt came back to strike out Dwight Evans for the second out, another eerie coincidence. Last fall, Evans was the same hitter Witt retired for the second out of the ninth inning before the walls, and an entire season, came crashing down on the Angels.
Before Witt could get the final out Saturday night, he walked Mike Greenwell on full count, bringing home Boggs with Boston's second run. And who did Red Sox Manager John McNamara send in to pinch-run for Greenwell? Yes, Henderson, the man who hit the home run Anaheim will never forget.
Glenn Hoffman strode to the plate, needing a single to tie the score. He hit one up the middle but right at Witt, who knocked the ball down, bent over the scoop it up and lobbed to Wally Joyner at first for the out.
Afterward, Mauch was asked if he ever considered replacing Witt.
"No," he replied. "History will tell you the California Angels haven't had a lot of luck relieving Mike Witt."
That response drew a laugh from those assembled in Mauch's office. Sensing that Mauch was in the proper mood, another reporter made another reference to Game 5: "The last time Witt pitched against this team . . . "
Mauch cut off the question. "Wait a minute," he said. "Ease up. I don't know what you were starting to say, but I've got a pretty good idea."
Witt, too, did not want to hear about Game 5 and his removal with two outs and the Boston comeback that followed. He didn't want to talk about how Mauch played in differently in May than in October.
"That was last year," he said. "Every game is different. The team's been struggling a little bit. . . . I knew it'd be nice to go out and pitch a complete game tonight. But I think that every game."
In between complete games, Witt had struggled--lasting just three innings in a 7-6 loss to the Oakland A's and allowing six runs in a 10-7 defeat to the Milwaukee Brewers. The difference Saturday?
A 1-2-3 first inning.
"If you look back on it, every game I've thrown well, I've gotten through the first inning (without giving up a run)," Witt said. "The ones I've lost, I had trouble at the start. Basically, that was because I was rushing myself. Before a game, the adrenalin starts flowing too much and I get pumped up. Once I get through the first inning, I sort of settle down."
An interesting theory.
"That's not to say that if I slow down, I'm gonna throw a perfect game," Witt added.
He didn't throw one Saturday night. But to Mauch's eyes, which had seen only frightening things on the Angel mound the past two nights, it was close enough.
Even if it didn't rewrite history.