The Los Angeles Dodgers received a real shot in the arm when hard-hitting outfielder Kirk Gibson signed a free agent contract prior to the 1988 season. Gibson hit 25 homers and drove in 76 runs that summer, stats that pale in comparison to today’s sluggers, but it was Gibson’s team that went all the way. Gibson hated to lose, he played in pain, he played hard every inning of every game, and he saw to it that his teammates did, too. A look at the Dodgers’ offensive numbers begs the question, How did these guys finish in first place? The answer can be summarized in the words of the late, great Connie Mack, who once said, “pitching is 90 percent of the game.”
Dodger tradition was carried on by a corp of hard-throwing horses who gave them a lot of innings. Tim Belcher brought high heat, going 12-6 with a 2.91 e.r.a. U.C.L.A.’s Tim Leary finished 17-11, also with a 2.91 e.r.a.
With all due respect for Gibson, who won the award, the Most Valuable Player in the National League that year was pitcher Orel Hershisher. A fine pitcher over his career, explaining exactly what got into him that year is surely beyond my expertise. He had one of those “mystery seasons,” like Dean Chance in 1964, or Ron Guidry in 1978; guys with solid ability who for one year are absolutely untouchable.
That was Orel. By mid-season, he was having a good year, but Cincinnati left-hander Danny Jackson was the frontrunner for the Cy Young award. Then Hershisher started throwing shutouts. A bio-mechanics expert might point to finger pressure, release point, the muscles and tendons in his right arm, but whatever it was, you cannot bottle it. The baseball’s Hershisher threw had extraordinary spin, delivered three-quarter arm, creating a terrific sinking action so that wood bats meeting one of his natural sinkers had the effect seemingly of meeting up with a shot-put. Hershisher would throw a sinker to a right-handed hitter that would break in with the same kind force as a slider from a southpaw like Carlton. The utterly unexplainable aspect of it all was that no matter how much movement the ball had, Hershisher could throw it for pinpoint corner strikes in such way as to make pitching seem the easiest activity in the world.
For the last two months of the regular season it went on like that, and when it was over, Hershisher had thrown 59 straight scoreless innings, breaking Don Drysdale’s Major League record. If anybody had any doubt that Hershisher and his club were a team of destiny, Orel’s final start at San Diego would remove all questions. He needed 10 innings for the record, so it appeared that he would have to pitch a shutout, then wait until 1989 to break the mark. Naturally, after nine innings the score was conveniently tied at 0-0, allowing Hershisher to pitch a scoreless tenth, breaking the record en route to a 23-8 record and the Cy Young award.
The 94-67 Dodgers hosted the 102-victory Mets in the Championship Series opener, and the New Yorkers were already talking about playing the vaunted Oakland A’s in the World Series. For eight innings, Hershisher’s sinker was insane. He could knock the eyelash off a fly at 60 feet, six inches, and led 2-0. In the ninth, New York scored three times against relievers and won it. If ever a team should have been mentally beaten, it was the Dodgers, but the Blue Crew won game two. Hershisher started the third game, left leading in the seventh, but again the bullpen blew it. In a pivotal game four, Mike Scioscia belted a two-run game-tying homer off Dwight Gooden at Shea Stadium, followed by Gibson’s twelfth inning blast to win it, 5-4. Series M.V.P. Hershisher was as good as good can be in the 6-0 game seven clincher at Dodger Stadium. Few pitchers have so dominated good hitters in such important games: Koufax vs. the Twins in ’65, Gibson striking out 17 Tigers in ’68, and now Orel Hershisher.
Despite Jose Canseco’s first inning grand slam for Oakland in World Series’ game one, L.A. did not have an ounce of quit, and trailed only 4-3 in the ninth against ace closer Dennis Eckersley. With two out and none on, Mike Davis somehow drew a walk against the control expert Eck. How Eckersley managed to throw four wide ones against the non-threat Davis remains, like much of that season, a mystery.
Gibson had a bum knee, his career was effectively already over, but he was called on to pinch-hit. Why did Lasorda not use him sooner, like when Davis was up there with two outs, and it was now-or-never? For whatever reason, and that year the reasons just added up right, Tommy waited. Eckersley dominated Gibby up to a two-strike count, his moving, blazing fastball almost knocking the bat out of Kirk’s hands. The ball Gibson hit out of the park to win it was almost in the dirt. The same hand of destiny that controlled Hershisher’s 10-inning breaking of Drysdale’s record somehow lifted, golf swing-style, that baseball into the right field pavilion.
The rest, of course, was quite predictable at that point. On Sunday night, Hershisher threw a three-hit shutout. By this time, just getting a hit off the man almost seemed worthy of headlines the same size as, say “KENNEDY MURDER SOLVED.”
By the time Hershisher wrapped up a complete game, four-hit victory to give Los Angeles a 4-1 Series victory and earn himself the classic’s Most Valuable Player award, the Oakland fans were reduced to watching and admiring the guy, like the Japanese reaction to MacArthur.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism