When Milwaukee's Cecil Cooper came to the plate in the last of the seventh inning of the final game of the American League playoffs Sunday, he seemed like anything but a man of destiny. He had struck out in his two preceding at bats, leaving three runners on base. For the series, he was 2 for 19 for an embarrassing .105 average, with only two runs batted in, scarcely the contributions expected of a player who had finished among the top five in virtually every significant offensive category during the regular season. And on defense the first baseman had committed a boo-boo—tagging a runner with his glove while holding the ball in his throwing hand—that would have been comical had it not been for the seriousness of the occasion. And yet, here he was up there with the bases loaded, two outs and Milwaukee losing to the California Angels 3-2. "Coooop...Coooop...Coooop!" the faithful chanted, rattling County Stadium to its foundations.
Cooper fouled off the first pitch from Angel Reliever Luis Sanchez and then took the next, a fastball high and outside, for a ball. "Coooop! Coooop!" Sanchez threw another fastball. "I was thinking about going to leftfield," Cooper said afterward. He did. His line drive fell in front of Angel Leftfielder Brian Downing for a clean single, scoring Charlie Moore from third and Jim Gantner from second. Cooper was, suddenly, a man of destiny. There would be other clutch performances for the Brewers, notably sub Centerfielder Marshall Edwards' leaping catch of Don Baylor's drive to the wall in the eighth and Pete Ladd's stalwart relief pitching in the ninth after a leadoff single by pinch hitter Ron Jackson, but Cooper's hit was it. It won the game 4-3 for the Brewers, sent their howling fans into a nightlong celebration and made a little history. "I'm just thankful I had an opportunity to redeem myself," said the triumphant Coooop.
His hit gave the Brewers their first American League pennant. It gave the city of Milwaukee its first pennant since 1958, when the Braves, then in residence there, won in the National League. And it was the climactic blow in a comeback unprecedented in baseball history. No team had ever lost the first two games of a league championship series and then come back to win it all. Coooop!
Cooper was not the only hero for the new champions. Ladd retired all 10 batters he faced in his three playoff appearances, striking out five. Leadoff man Paul Molitor hit two homers, drove in five runs and scored four. And Ben Oglivie, who had been having an even worse series than Cooper—he finished 2 for 15 overall and committed two errors in the final game—hit the fourth-inning homer on Sunday that kept his team close. Actually, the Brewers didn't play their game in winning. The middle of their batting order was eerily silent—Cooper, Ted Simmons, Oglivie and Gorman Thomas had only nine hits among them—and Milwaukee's defense was deplorable. It committed eight errors, four in the final game.
But the Brewers were indomitable. They nearly blew the division championship by losing three games in a row to Baltimore before winning the regular-season finale, and the Angels had them, as Milwaukee Manager Harvey Kuenn inadvertently put it, "with our walls to the back." And they got into the World Series without the services of their star relief pitcher, Rollie Fingers, whose right arm was injured early last month. In the jubilant Brewer clubhouse after the game, Fingers hugged his surrogate, Ladd, and said, "You can do it. I couldn't have done it better myself."
"We were like a junkyard dog come up to bite you," said Thomas. "Last year when we made the mini-playoffs, I said it was like a flower opening," he continued, jumbling metaphors. "Well, the flower's blossomed into a bouquet now."
"Maybe we're a little lucky," added the final game's starting pitcher, Pete Vuckovich, "but we're there."
The Angels, as usual, aren't. They have yet to win a pennant in their 22-year history. And in 23 years of leading major league teams in both leagues, their manager, Gene Mauch, has still not won a league championship. The Angels got 11 hits in the final loss, and the Brewers made those four errors; still, California could manufacture only three runs. For them, it was a typical exercise in frustration that wasted superlative individual efforts by Centerfielder Fred Lynn, DH Don Baylor and Pitcher Bruce Kison. Lynn batted .611 with a major league playoff record-tying 11 hits and became the first playoff MVP in either league from a losing side. Baylor set a mark with 10 RBIs. Kison was the winning pitcher in Game 2 and left Game 5 with a 3-2 lead after five innings. But they couldn't do it alone.
"No sense rehashing," said Reggie Jackson, the former Mr. October, who hit just .111 in the five playoff games. "They beat us fair and square." And after the Angels had had them two down with three to go. It was a comeback-and-a-half.
The Brewers had pulled even with a 9-5 win on Saturday, which in itself was a historic feat of sorts because only one other team in American League playoff history, the 1972 Detroit Tigers, had ever won two after losing the first two. It was a day as climatically uncongenial to the summer game as any of the cloudbursters in the National League games in St. Louis earlier in the week. But American League President Lee MacPhail and both teams were determined to get on with it, despite bruised skies and a persistent rain that fell alternately as mist and showers. The game was to have started at 11:55 a.m.; it began an hour and 44 minutes later after MacPhail and his meteorological counselors had debated their options. Once started, the game was twice delayed—for 12 minutes with the Brewers at bat in the fifth inning and for 19 with the Angels up in the sixth.
Not surprisingly, the teams played sloppily. There were five errors between them, three by the losers. California Starter Tommy John threw three wild pitches, and the ordinarily impeccable Bob Boone had a passed ball. It was a real mess, but it seemed a masterpiece to the desperate Brewers and their drenched but undaunted fans. The dauntless heroes were righthander Moose Haas, starting his first game in nearly four weeks after being banished to the bullpen, and Mark Brouhard, a reserve outfielder who spent part of the season in Triple A ball. Haas had a no-hitter for 5‚Öî innings and, despite the two arm-deadening rain delays, lasted until Baylor's grand-slam homer, which made the score 7-5, did him in with one out in the eighth. He allowed only five hits and struck out seven. Brouhard, playing left in place of the then-ailing Oglivie, had a single, double and two-run homer, scored a league playoff-record four runs and drove in three. He hadn't started a game since Sept. 5 and hadn't even played in one since Sept. 11. "I'm just glad I got the opportunity," he said afterward, "but I hope Benji is back alive tomorrow."
John, for his part, was more dead than alive. He was pitching with only three days rest, prompting some critics to suggest that Mauch was reverting to his form of 1964 when he worked two of his Phillie starters, Jim Bunning and Chris Short, to a frazzle and, in the process, blew the National League pennant. John would have none of this cruel speculation. He actually prefers pitching with three days rest, he said after the game, and anyway, "I could've rested a month and it wouldn't have helped out there today. I was throwing the ball 60 feet, not 60 feet, six inches."
The pattern of this strangest of playoff games was established in the second inning when the Brewers scored three runs on only one hit. John walked Simmons leading off—one of five walks he would issue—and then wild-pitched him to second. Brouhard scored Simmons with a single up the middle that set off an A Night at the Opera sequence. Lynn fielded the ball in center and threw to Doug DeCinces at third, in an attempt to nab Don Money, who had also walked. But the ball bounced away from DeCinces, allowing Money to score. DeCinces retrieved Lynn's errant throw, wheeled and, in trying to nail Money at the plate, threw the ball so far over Boone's head that it bounced into the first-base box seats. Brouhard, who was coming into third by this time, was promptly waved home by Plate Umpire Steve Palermo with the third run. John wild-pitched twice more in the fourth before Mauch finally came out to get him. It was a sad comedown for the pitcher who had gotten the Angels rolling with his 8-3 win in the first playoff game.
The Brewers' comeback started in earnest the day before with a 5-3 win under sunny skies that nevertheless produced an almost equally unusual game. Rain wasn't a factor here. Shadows were. And a fan. Don Sutton, throwing a nasty slider from the sunlight of the mound to a shaded home plate until about the sixth inning, shut the Angels out on only four hits for the first seven innings. The game started just before 2:30 p.m., when the shadows from the upper deck of County Stadium begin their passage across the field. "It's tough to play when you can't see the ball," said DeCinces.
By the eighth inning, Sutton, too, was working in shadow. His 37-year-old right arm was also wearing out, and Boone, leading off the inning, hit his first pitch deep to left. Oglivie raced to the wall and leaped. The ball was caught, but not by Oglivie. As photographs and television replays would show, a young male fan reached over the fence and made a clean catch of the ball above Oglivie's glove. But Leftfield Umpire Larry Barnett, who could have ruled fan interference and declared Boone out, signaled home run instead. Oglivie leaped again, this time in rage. He would jump once more, four batters later, while reaching for Lynn's double down the line, and bang his ribs so badly against the fence that he would be unable to play on Saturday. The sure-handed fan, meanwhile, was escorted from the ball park after his catch as protection from angry bleacherites. On viewing the replays, Barnett acknowledged that the proper call would have been fan interference.
But the damage was done and the bogus homer ignited a three-run Angel rally that knocked Sutton out of the game. Unfortunately for California, his replacement was the 240-pound Ladd, an offseason sheriff's deputy, who handcuffed the Angels the rest of the way. The Brewers recently converted him from an 89-mph sinker pitcher to a 92-mph fastballer, and the new "gas," as Simmons called it, had the Angels flailing.
Still, the day belonged to Sutton, who, in little more than a month in Milwaukee, has become a local hero. Since joining the Brewers on Aug. 30, in a trade with Houston for minor-leaguers, he has won four regular-season games, including the division clincher against Baltimore on the final day, plus Milwaukee's first Championship Series win ever. "I really can't believe all of the things that have happened to me lately," said Sutton after Friday's win. "The last five or six weeks have given me more than most of the rest of my other years combined. The reception I've gotten here, the response of the fans.... I could feel my heart beating in my throat out there today."
In Anaheim, where the series began, it was Angel, not Brewer, pitching that dominated. On Tuesday, John, supported by Baylor's five RBIs, pitched a complete-game 8-3 win, and on Wednesday, Kison went the distance in a 4-2 triumph. John was a different pitcher in his first confrontation with Harvey's Wall-bangers. Expecting the sinker, they got the curve, even when John was behind in the count. "Against a ball club like the Brewers," John explained, "you have to change your M.O. You can't establish any one pattern." John did allow a second-inning, two-run homer by Thomas, but far from being rattled by it, he seemed to settle down.
Boone also played an important early role for the Angels. "He knows how to make an out," says Angel consultant and former manager Bill Rigney, meaning that Boone can sacrifice bunt, advance runners from second with no outs by grounding to the right side and hit the ball in the air for sacrifice flies. In Game 2, he drove in two runs with no hits, producing one with a sacrifice fly and the other with a suicide squeeze bunt. Boone is the ninth hitter in the Angels' order. The eighth, Tim Foli, knocked in one run with a single and set up Boone's second RBI with a sacrifice. Mauch calls the game played by his stars at the end of the order Little Ball. Long Ball was represented in the second game by Jackson's third-inning homer that caromed off the green canvas drapery behind the fence in centerfield. "It's fun hitting it into the green," said Jackson, "because the fans can see it better."
It had been a promising start for the Angels. They had won the first two easily, and their beachball-bouncing fans—128,585 of them for the first two games—cheered them on as if they were champions already. But Jackson, certainly an optimist, knew all along it wouldn't be quite that easy. "The Brewers are too good a team to be embarrassed like that," he said, pausing before Game 4 outside County Stadium under ever-darkening Milwaukee skies. He was right.