Phil Womble’s screeching voice echoed through the corridor in the bowels of Angel Stadium.
“Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!”
His wheelchair rolled to a stop outside the clubhouse door. A few minutes later, Mike Scioscia emerged. The robust Angels manager wore a bright smile and a bright red shirt-the color no longer seeming incongruous on the former Dodger catcher.
“Mike, Mike, you are the best manager in baseball,” Womble said. “The Dodgers never should have let you get away.”
Scioscia thanked his visitor and pulled a baseball out of his pocket. “This ball is from a game in May when we set the record for the most wins by an Angel coaching staff,” he said. “I want you to have it.” Scioscia signed the ball and wrote: “626 WINS!”
Womble reminded Scioscia of the last time they met, about 20 years ago. Scioscia was part of a goodwill troupe known as the Dodgers Caravan that visited Santa Barbara’s Hillside House, where Womble then resided. He later moved out of the care facility to live on his own with cerebral palsy. As a present for his 71st birthday, several of Womble’s friends escorted him to an Angels’ game last week. We took the early train out of Santa Barbara and arrived at the Anaheim depot, which borders the parking lot of the stadium, after a trip of three-and-a-half hours.
When we reached the gate, we received the green light to take Womble downstairs for his surprise meeting with Scioscia. After that warm and genuine reception, Womble was so giddy he almost floated upstairs to the wheelchair seating area on the terrace level.
It was not the most compelling game of the season. The Angels were up against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a team with the worst record in baseball. But inasmuch as the Angels were vying for the best record-and a home-field advantage in the playoffs-it was as significant as any game down the stretch for Scioscia and crew.
The manager was on his toes throughout the afternoon. He lumbered onto the field four times-twice to dispute close calls with the umpires, and twice to make pitching changes. He replaced starter Ervin Santana with Darren Oliver in the seventh inning, and then summoned Justin Speier in the eighth. Speier, a son of former UCSB and San Francisco Giants shortstop Chris Speier, turned the ball over to Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth.
If it’s true that the bullpen is the most crucial factor in postseason success, this game was very promising for the Angels. The relief pitchers shut out Tampa Bay to secure a 2-1 victory, Scioscia’s 699th as manager of the club. The visitors were the Devil Ks. They struck out 15 times in the game.
It was a quiet day for Womble’s favorite player, the free-swinging Vladimir Guerrero, but he would be banging out hits later in the week when the Angels clinched the division title. As we left the stadium to catch the last Santa Barbara-bound train, the shadows were deepening and the air was crisp, manifesting the arrival of autumn and baseball at its most suspenseful. With a week to go in the regular season, the Red Sox were trying to hold off the Yankees, the Cubs were hanging on for dear life, and the Dodgers had collapsed.
The Los Angeles Angels-there, I’ve said it-have a nice makeup and a very ardent fan. “I hope they go all the way,” Womble said.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: Santa Barbara High continued its football renaissance with a 34-29 victory over Righetti last week. The Dons (3-0), the only undefeated team on the Santa Barbara coast, travel to San Luis Obispo on Friday night, September 28. San Marcos, which hosts Oxnard, is the only South Coast prep team playing a home game. The SBCC Vaqueros, battered by Canyons and Hancock in two punishing road games, return home to face L.A. Southwest at 4 p.m. on Saturday at La Playa Stadium.