No team had ever lost the first two games of a League Championship Series and then rallied to win what was then a best-of-five round. The Milwaukee Brewers dug just such a hole against the California Angels in the 1982 ALCS. The Brewers made history, with three consecutive wins at home.
You can read more about the regular season paths the Brewers and Angels took to the playoffs and about the years enjoyed by their key players, at the links below. This article focuses squarely on the games of the 1982 ALCS.
California hosted the first two games and the ALCS began with both teams sending a pair of veteran lefties to the mound. The Angels sent out the accomplished sinkerball pitcher Tommy John, while the Brewers answered with gritty Mike Caldwell. It didn’t look for California to get after Caldwell—Brian Downing led off the first with a single, and after an error and wild pitch, Don Baylor picked up the game’s first run with a sac fly.
Milwaukee was loaded with power and showed it in the second. After a leadoff single from Ted Simmons, the big centerfielder, Gorman Thomas, went deep. The Brewers added another run in the third when Paul Molitor and Robin Yount each singled with one out and Cecil Cooper produced a productive ground ball for a 3-1 lead.
Caldwell couldn’t hold the lead, with Downing again leading off the inning and getting it started. He singled, then Doug DeCinces and Bobby Grich each did the same. Baylor then cleared the bases with a triple to make it 4-3, and came in to score on a groundball out by Reggie Jackson.
The Angels kept coming in the fourth. A leadoff single from Bob Boone chased Caldwell. A Molitor error was followed by a walk, and a two-run single from Baylor. It might have been worse, if not for a line drive double play off the bat of Jackson. The score was 7-3 and though California didn’t score again, John settled in and locked down the Brewers the rest of the way, with a complete-game seven-hitter.
Milwaukee turned to their 18-game winner Pete Vuckovich, who would win the Cy Young Award a month later. He faced Bruce Kison, a veteran of the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates championship team. Vuckovich was not sharp. In the second inning, he gave up a single to Fred Lynn, a double to Doug DeCinces and a two-run single to Tim Foli, another veteran of that ’79 Pirate team. One inning later, Jackson took Vuckovich deep. In the fourth, DeCinces walked, Grich singled and a Foli bunt set up a sac fly.
Meanwhile, Kison was containing the potent Milwaukee lineup. The Brewers broke through in the fifth when, with a man aboard, Molitor hit one to the wall in center, kept running and wound up with an inside-the-park home run. Both pitchers settled in though, and the Angels kept their 4-2 margin and seemed to have an ironclad grip on this ALCS.
After a day off, the teams flew to the Midwest and on a beautiful Friday afternoon in Milwaukee (at age 12, living in the city’s west suburbs, I was at this game), the Brewers sent veteran Don Sutton to the mound. Sutton had won a winner-take-all game for the AL East title in Baltimore the previous Sunday and now again held his team’s fate in his hands.
Sutton was ready, and so was California’s 18-game winner Geoff Zahn. The game was scoreless into the bottom of the fourth, when the Brewers broke through. Yount drew a walk to start the inning and Cooper doubled him home. Simmons singled and runners were on the corners. Thomas picked up another run with a sac fly. Ben Ogilvie singled to right and reset the bases with men on each corner. Don Money came up with a sac fly. The Brewers were renowned for their power, but good situational hitting in this inning gave Sutton a 3-0 lead.
Sutton got some insurance in the seventh when Money walked and Molitor hit a two-out home run. The insurance was needed, because the Angels rallied in the eighth. Boone started it with a solo blast. Rod Carew singled with one out. Consecutive doubles from Lynn and Baylor suddenly made it a 5-3 game and the tying run was at the plate.
Milwaukee manager Harvey Kuenn summoned Pete Ladd, the young arm thrust into the closer’s job after a September injury to Rollie Fingers, a future Hall of Fame reliever. Ladd was up to the moment, closing down the eighth, and retiring the side in order in the ninth. The Brewers were still alive.
I was back out at old County Stadium on Saturday, although the weather wasn’t as nice. It was a dank and cloudy afternoon, and the quality of play wasn’t nearly as good on the field. California put John back out on short rest.
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Manager Gene Mauch had a good 21-year-old righthander in Mike Witt, but decided to take his chances with John and Kison—both battle-tested playoff veterans—on short rest. It was a logical decision, but John didn’t have it, and his team did not play well behind him.
In the second inning, after a walk to Simmons and a one-out walk to Money, the California defense came undone. Mark Brouhard, a righthanded-hitting platoon hitter in to face John, singled to center. That scored one run, but Lynn came up throwing to third and threw it away. The scored another run. Brouhard kept running. One more throwing error brought him all the way around. For the second day in a row, the Brewers were up 3-0.
John continued to struggle in the fourth. With runners on first and second and one out, a wild pitch moved the runners up. After an intentional walk, another wild pitch brought in a run and put runners on second and third. A base hit from Jim Gantner made it 5-0 and John was pulled. A ground ball out by Molitor tacked on one more run before it was over.
Milwaukee’s #4 starter, the inconsistent Moose Haas, was on his game and not until the sixth did the Angels rally. A walk to Downing set up a two-out double from Lynn and California’s first run. But the Brewers immediately answered, with Brouhard doubling and then scoring on another RBI single from Gantner.
The Brewers were cruising, but just as had been the case on Friday, the eighth inning made it interesting. Base hits from Downing and Carew, then a walk to Lynn loaded the bases. Baylor came to the plate and hit a grand slam. In the blink of an eye, it was 7-5 and Slaton was summoned to preserve the lead.
Brouhard came up in the bottom of the eighth. A workmanlike reserve, he was already having the game of his life, and with a man aboard he sealed with a two-run blast that opened the lead back up. Slaton closed the door on the 9-5 win—the last out appropriately coming on a fly ball to Brouhard.
Sunday afternoon was another beautiful October day in Wisconsin (though I would be in front of the TV set rather than out at County for this one). The pitching matchup was another Kison-Vuckovich battle, as the Brewers brought out their own ace on short rest for Game 5.
For the second straight start though, Vuckovich was slow getting started. Downing greeted him with a double to start the game, and scored on a two-out hit from Lynn. Milwaukee also looked sloppy—prior to scoring, Downing had gotten to third base because Molitor threw errantly to second base after a line drive out, seeking a double play. And after Lynn’s single, he was able to take second on a throwing error from Ogilvie.
However sloppy, the game was still just 1-0 and Molitor started the Brewers’ own first inning with a double. He moved up on a grounder by Yount and scored on a sac fly from Simmons. Tie game.
Lynn was insanely hot during this ALCS and hit .611 for the series. In the third inning, he drilled another two-out RBI single, bringing in Boone. In the fourth, the Angels added another run. DeCinces doubled to start the inning and then Cooper booted a sac bunt attempt. A single by Boone made it 3-1, but Vuckovich got out of it with a double play ball off the bat of Grich.
Ogilvie was the everday leftfielder and back in the lineup today for Brouhard because a righthanded pitcher was on the mound. Ogilvie was also a terrific power hitter and he took Kison deep in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to 3-2.
It was there the score stayed through the middle innings. A California threat in the fifth was cut off when Jackson tried to go first-to-third on yet another single from Lynn, and Milwaukee rightfielder Charlie Moore threw Reggie out at third. Kison came out of the game after five innings, a curious decision in light of California’s lack of bullpen depth.
Luis Sanchez was still one of Mauch’s better relievers and he was on the mound in the seventh. With one out, Moore legged out an infield hit and Gantner singled to center. With two outs, Yount worked a walk. It brought Cooper to the plate.
The lefthanded-hitting Cooper slapped a line drive into left field. It seemed to hang in the air briefly, as though it might be playable for Downing. The TV cameras caught Cooper using his hands to try and will the ball down, in the same way Carlton Fisk had tried to wave his memorable 1975 World Series home run fair. It worked as well for Cooper as it had for Fisk. The ball dropped. Two runs scored and Milwaukee was ahead 4-3.
Bob McClure, the Brewers’ lefthanded option out of the pen got through the eighth and started the ninth. He quickly gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Ron Jackson. Each manager made moves. Mauch inserted pinch-runner Rob Wilfong and Kuenn went to Ladd.
A sacrifice bunt gave the top of the order two chances to tie the game. Downing grounded out to Molitor. Up next was Carew, the best pure contact hitter of his era. He slapped a hard ground ball to the left side. It went right at Yount, who made the play and the celebration was on in Milwaukee.
The Brewers came close to another celebration—they reached Game 7 of the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals. But after winner-take-all games to win the division and the ALCS, this one was a bridge too far and the Cards won the title.
It proved to be the last hurrah for Milwaukee. They faded down the stretch in 1983 and collapsed in 1984. California didn’t return to contention until 1985 or to the postseason until 1986, a year when they built upon a legacy of heartbreak that began in 1982, again losing three straight games where they had a chance to clinch.
The 1982 ALCS is an underappreciated gem in the treasure chest of MLB history. I don’t just say that because I had the good fortune to attend two games. It marked the first time a team won three straight must-win games to take a pennant, it produced an outstanding Game 5 and provided a memorable visual of Cooper willing his decisive hit to the ground. Let’s give this series its proper place in the history books.