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It was hard to believe

Inspired by Hershiser's grit and Scioscia's unlikely homer, the Dodgers outlasted the Mets in their previous playoff matchup for the 1988 pennant

October 04, 2006|Ross Newhan | Special to The Times

Should the Dodgers and New York Mets, about to meet for only the second time in postseason history, duplicate their 1988 battle for the National League championship, they will produce a high-voltage series of suspense and surprise.

Not the least of the unexpected developments in that seven-game series of 18 years ago was the fact that the Dodgers, much more of an underdog then than now, found a way to win.

"We had lost 10 of 11 games to the Mets that season," Mike Scioscia recalled, "and the only reason we didn't lose 11 of 12 was that one game got rained out and wasn't made up."

Scioscia, the Dodgers' catcher then and now the Angels' manager, laughed and added:

"We were probably the only people on the planet who had any confidence in our ability to beat the Mets, but we were playing great at the end of the year, pitching very well, and we were confident."

Some of that confidence stemmed from the bravado rap of Manager Tom Lasorda and some from the biting clubhouse leadership of Kirk Gibson, signed as a free agent before the season and the eventual winner of the National League's most-valuable-player award.

A lot of it also stemmed from the bulldog talent and tenacity of Orel Hershiser, who had won 23 games and entered the championship series on his record roll of 59 consecutive scoreless innings.

Over the nine days against the Mets, Hershiser started Games 1, 3 and 7, saved Game 4 in relief and was warming up to enter Game 5 when Brian Holton saved it.

By the time he faced New York in Game 7, Hershiser had pitched eight shutout innings in Game 1, thrown 110 pitches in Game 3, come out of the bullpen to save Game 4 by retiring Kevin McReynolds on three pitches in the 12th inning and warmed up hurriedly for a possible relief call in Game 5.

The decisive finale? He shut out the Mets, 6-0, on a five-hitter.

"We say in baseball that you have to be available at any time to do any thing," Scioscia said. "Orel took that seriously against the Mets. He turned it into reality. He was remarkable.

"It may be that for the 100 years before and 100 years after it'll be shown that he pitched as well as anybody ever has during the final two months of that season. But I still say that he couldn't have beaten the Mets by himself. We weren't a one-man team, no matter what the odds were going into that series."

The Dodgers were basically a team of movable parts, role players. Stuntmen, said Mickey Hatcher, who was one of them.

Telecaster Bob Costas described them differently during the ensuing World Series, calling the Dodgers' lineup one of the weakest in Series history, providing Lasorda with motivational fodder.

With only two divisions in each league at that time, the Dodgers won the West at 94-67 and the Mets captured the East at 100-60. The differences went beyond those records.

Compared with Hershiser, Gibson and the Stuntmen, the Mets had an array of studs, stars.

Darryl Strawberry had produced his second consecutive season of 39 homers and 100-plus runs batted in, and he was surrounded by Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Lenny Dykstra, Wally Backman, Howard Johnson and McReynolds, among others. David Cone had gone 20-3, Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling had combined for 35 wins, and Randy Myers and Roger McDowell had contributed 42 saves.

What transpired strained nerves, tested durability and extended the clock.

"If this series [starting today] offers as much excitement as that one did," said Fred Claire, the Dodgers' general manager in 1988, "we should be in for a lot of fun."

The Mets won Games 1 and 3 in their final at-bats to set a tone, and the Dodgers won Game 4 in their final at-bat, a post-midnight home run by Gibson deciding it, 5-4, in the 12th after Scioscia had improbably turned the series around with a two-run homer against Gooden in the ninth.

New York was three outs from taking a 3-1 lead in the Series, but Manager Davey Johnson had no one warming up in the bullpen when Scioscia, who had hit only three home runs during the season, connected on a low fastball from Gooden, tying the score, 4-4, after John Shelby had walked to open the inning.

Gooden, who had not given up a run after giving up two in the first inning, "was still throwing 96, and I'm sure Davey preferred to have me hitting against him than one of our right-handers hitting against Myers," Scioscia said in self-deprecating reflection.

"The big thing in that inning was the walk by Shelby. I mean, John never walked, he swung at anything, and Gooden had him down two strikes when John took four straight pitches that were very close. The walk opened up the first-base hole, forced Gooden to work out of a stretch and set the stage."

Scioscia's home run still pulsates in Mets infamy, but a pitch of another kind also propelled the Dodgers in the '88 championship series.

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