The First Time the Angels Played the Indians

…was back in 1961 during the first year of Angeldom. 

The Tribe had been embroiled in a tough pennant chase with the White Sox in 1959 and ended up finishing in second place.  After a disappointing 1960 season, it looked like Cleveland was back on track to contend as they had an impressive 21-14 record when they rolled into Wrigley Field for their first ever contest with the Angels on May 23rd.  

The 1961 Indian team was stacked with hitters.  Their club finished first in the AL in batting average (.266) and third in the league in slugging (.406). 

Catcher Johnny Romano started the 1961 All-Star Game and finished the year with a .299 batting average and 21 home runs.  Left fielder Tito Francona (Terry’s dad) was a reserve for the ’61 All-Star squad and finished the year with a .363 OBP and 30 doubles.

The Tribe also had an All-Star caliber shortstop named Woodie Held who finished 1961 with a .354 OBP and 23 home runs and a terrific center fielder named Jim Piersall who hit .322 that year and won a Gold Glove. 

Their first baseman, Vic Power, was also a terrific defender won the fourth Gold Glove of his career that year.

The newly formed Angels, on the other hand, were a collection of no-names and has-beens who came into this game with a miserable 12-21 record and a consensus from the baseball world that this expansion team would be lucky to win fifty games.

All of this just served to set up a terrific David-versus-Goliath story.

The Angels were the first to score when left fielder Leon Wagner, with his split-handed grip and a waggle in his hips took Indian starting pitcher Jim Perry deep to right for an opposite field solo home run.

The Angels were also the second team to score when Wagner led off the fourth with a single, first baseman Ted Kluszewski knocked down another single, and then center fielder Ken Hunt took Perry deep to center field for a three-run bomb. 

The Halos tacked on another run in the fifth, and then the sixth batter of the inning, catcher Earl Averill, Jr., hit a three-run blast over the left field fence to make the score 8-0 Angels.  With the bases cleared, Jim Perry finished the fifth, but did not come back out for the sixth inning. 

Perry, you may know, is the older brother of Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry, although Jim got his share of baseball glory as well – he won the AL Cy Young Award in 1970 while pitching for the Twins.

The Angels added one final run in the seventh inning, and the game finished a resounding 9-0 win for the Halos.

The man responsible for denying the mighty Indian offense a single run was Ken McBride, who pitched a complete game.  He was a master of the sinker ball, and that pitch was fantastic for him that night as McBride was a groundball machine, tallying up 15 groundouts that night to go along with his five strikeouts, four pop ups, and three fly ball outs.

The win improved McBride’s record to 4-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.52.  He would make the All-Star team as the Angels’ lone representative, and he was deserving.  He had a 2.95 ERA in the first half of the 1961 season while holding opponents to a .225 batting average.

The game took two hours and eleven minutes to play.

tERA shows that there have been eleven pitchers with at least three innings pitched against the Halos who have not allowed a single Angel to score, regardless if they pitched an entire inning, left an Angel runner on base for some other pitcher to deal with, or if they inherited someone else’s runner. 

1. Sheffield SEA (6.0 IP)
2. Perez BOS (6 IP)
3. Arihara TEX (5.2 IP)
4. Kershaw LAD (5.0 IP)
5. Javier HOU (5.0 IP)
6. Lynn CHW (4.2 IP)
7. McClanahan KCR (4.0 IP)
8. Urquidy HOU (3.2 IP)
9. Milone TOR (3.0 IP)
10. Rodriguez TEX (3.0 IP)
11. Springs KCR (3.0 IP)

Here are the top ten in batting average against the Angels this year for players with at least ten at bats:

1.  Sal Perez KCR .667
2.  Yermin Mercedes CHW .643
3.  Vlad Guerrero, Jr. TOR .600
4.  Corey Seager LAD .500
5.  JP Crawford SEA .500
6.  Yandy Diaz TBR .467
7.  Nate Lowe TEX .429
8.  Mookie Betts LAD .400
9.  Chris Taylor LAD .400
10. Michael Brantley HOU .393

The Angels already had two very good first basemen when they signed Albert Pujols in Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales.  Since Pujols took over full time at first, that meant the Halos could trade their younger first basemen in an effort to improve their roster.  So in addition to the one great season and two good ones from Albert at the beginning of his contract, the Pujols signing also netted the Angels three starting pitchers as they were able to turn Morales into Jason Vargas in a 2012 trade with the Mariners and turn Trumbo into Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs in a three team trade in 2013 that sent Trumbo to the Diamondbacks.  

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GrandpaBaseball
Trusted Member
1 month ago

We held Mercedes to .643 BA. it did seem a whole lot worse.

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