Playoff Reflection: The 1986 Season

As Angels fans, we have more time on our hands than usual with no baseball for the foreseeable future. Why not take a trip down memory lane and reflect on all of the postseason appearances in Angels franchise history?

Today marks the third part in a 10-part series documenting every Angels playoff appearance. I’ll go chronologically, going from the first playoff appearance all the way to their most recent appearance. Next up on the list is the 1986 team that was one painful strike away from making it to the World Series.

PART 1: The 1979 Season

PART 2: The 1982 Season

1986 haunted Angels fans for the rest of the century. Even all these years later, it’s hard to comprehend just how close the Angels were to their first World Series.

Prior to the ending of the ALCS against Boston, you couldn’t have scripted up a better season. From the beginning of the season all the way through the first 4 games on the ALCS, the ball rolled in the Angels favor. Other than their subpar month of May, the club was superb throughout the year. The Angels rode a scorching-hot finish (36-20 record in August/September), winning their third division title in Game 153. This roster was pretty much loaded across the board, offering strengths in pretty much every way imaginable.

Position Players

Via Halo Magazine

The ’86 position players impacted the game in numerous ways. By wRC+ (103) and runs (786), the offense was a top-6 group. They hit the 7th-most home runs (167) and had the fourth-best OBP (.338). They were a bottom-10 group in stolen bases (109) but were only thrown out 42 times (third-best). Defensively, they were baseball’s second-best unit by Total Zone Runs (68). As a whole, they posted the fourth-best WAR total in baseball (29.5).

Eight Angels position players finished with at least 2 WAR, including four players above 3 WAR. Gary Pettis, the game’s premier defensive center fielder in 1986, led the group with 4.1 WAR. Brian Downing churned up another quality season with 3.9 WAR and a 133 wRC+. Bobby Grich, in his final year of his great career, produced 2.1 WAR. The most memorable player, however, was Wally Joyner. The 24-year-old rookie was an All-Star, finished second in ROY voting and finished 8th in MVP voting. “Wally’s World” became a phenomenon all across Orange County.


Via Mike Powell (Getty Images)

The ’86 team tied with the eventual champion Mets with 20.8 WAR. That total was the third-best in franchise history behind the 2005 and 2006 pitching staffs. By both run prevention (93 ERA-) and peripherals (92 FIP-), the club was among the top 7 staffs in baseball. The rotation, headed by Mike Witt (6.7 WAR), finished fourth in both WAR (18.1) and ERA- (94) and fifth in FIP- (91). Witt was supplemented by Kirk McCaskill (5.6 WAR), John Candelaria (3 WAR) and future Hall of Famer Don Sutton (2.2 WAR). The bullpen wasn’t quite as strong as the rotation, finishing in the middle of the pack in WAR (2.7), ERA- (93) and FIP- (92). Gary Lucas (1.5 WAR), Donnie Moore (0.5 WAR) and rookie Chuck Finley (0.5 WAR) led the way in the bullpen.

ALCS vs Boston

If you want to skip this part and avoid the PTSD that stems from this series, I don’t blame you. The first two games in Boston weren’t particularly close. The Angels took Game 1 thanks to a masterful performance from Mike Witt (9 innings, 1 run) and an offensive explosion against ’86 Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens (7.1 innings, 8 runs). The results flipped in Game 2, with Boston pounding out 13 hits and 9 runs.

Back in Anaheim, the Angels would be without their star rookie Wally Joyner for the rest of the series due to an injury. The club responded well, winning Game 3 by a score of 5-3. The Angels took the lead in the 7th inning thanks to home runs from Gary Pettis and Dick Schofield. Game 4 was Boston’s for the taking, with Roger Clemens carrying a shutout into the 9th inning. The Angels thought better of it, scoring three runs to tie the game and winning it in extras on a Bobby Grich walk-off single.

The Angels were set up perfectly in Game 5. On the verge of putting the ’82 heartbreak behind them and making their first World Series appearance, the Angels were in a prime position. Heading into the 9th inning, the Angels held a 5-2 lead and were three outs away from the World Series. With two strikes and two outs, Dave Henderson (in)famously hit a go-ahead home run off Donnie Moore, completely altering the Angels fortunes. The Angels would go on to lose Game 5 and get blown out in Game 6 (10-4) and Game 7 (8-1) in Boston.

Other Notes

  • Returning much of the same roster in ’87, the club regressed to a 75-win season. You probably don’t need a reminder but the club wouldn’t make the playoffs again until the magical 2002 season.
  • In that 1987-2001 timeframe, the Angels underwent drastic changes. 10 managers suited up for the Angels, Disney bought the team in ’97 and Angel Stadium underwent another drastic renovation.
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4 years ago

Two primary memories of that season – one amazing, the other not so much.

First, I was one of probably 1,500 fans left In attendance to watch Dick Schofield’s grandslam to beat the Tigers after being down 12-5 in the 9th. One of my great moments in Angels history. I can still see that swing and the ball clearing the left field fence. For those of us who had suffered as Angels fans for so long, it was a great moment.

Of course that leads to the other memorable moment that would put an emphasis on suffering as an Angel fan and that was the Henderson HR followed by the failure in the bottom of the 9th. I was in New England at college, surrounded by RedSox fans which made the moment even more painful. A complete ass kicking without ever being hit. The switch from ‘one strike away’ to Holy S! is something I will never forget. It became part of life’s lessons for me – never celebrate til it’s actually been accomplished.

1986 was a great and painful season for so many reasons. Thanks for the memories.

Super Member
4 years ago
Reply to  Fansince1971

i remember exactly where i was when Schofield hit that slam – i heard it on the radio (about to head into a drinking establishment at the Palm Desert mall so it likely was either a Friday or Saturday night)

if you’re an older Angel fan, Game 5 of ALCS was absolutely crushing. i will never get over it, but the World Series in 2002 obviously went a long way to healing it, and it was a joyous thing when we finally beat Boston in the playoffs in 2009.

The Henderson HR was crushing but so was the bottom of the 9th when DeCinces came up with a chance for the win still for just one. little. fucking. sacrifice. fly.


Mauch absolutely should have left Witt finish that game.

4 years ago

There are two or three points where you can watch Game 5 up to.

You can watch the start of the top of the 9th and see Witt get the first out. That’s a good place to stop. We’re up 5-2.

Or you can see Baylor’s HR and then the 2nd out. 2 outs and we’re still up 5-4.

Or you can watch us tie it up in the bottom half, get the bases loaded as DeCinces comes up. Definitely turn it off there.

4 years ago

To this day, 34 years later, I refuse to watch any of the ‘86 postseason games. I’m still haunted to this day.
Fuck Boston.

Super Member
4 years ago

Gene Mauch’s over-managing cost the Angels game 5.