Today’s Postseason Series From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is the 1988 National League Championship Series. The New York Mets were in the midst of their most impressive run in franchise history. They had just completed their fifth straight 90-win season, going 100-60 while winning the NL East by 15 games. They had both the best hitting and pitching in the league. The lineup featured sluggers Darryl Strawberry, Howard Johnson, and Kevin McReynolds with leadoff man and business extraordinaire Lenny Dykstra and veterans Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez. The rotation was anchored by 23-year old Dwight Gooden and 25-year old David Cone along with veteran Ron Darling and the bullpen was handled by future “Nasty Boy” Randy Myers and noted clown Roger McDowell. The staff led the league in ERA, strikeouts, and walks allowed.
The Dodgers on the other hand were a mishmash of misplaced toys. The lineup had a 90 OPS+ and really only had one good hitter in the everyday lineup in Kirk Gibson (148 OPS+), who would win the MVP at season’s end. As for the rotation, Orel Hershiser was on a tear. He had not given up a run in the whole month of September, setting a major league record for most consecutive scoreless innings going back to Don Drysdale in 1968. They also had rookiTim Belcher and Tim Leary, who both posted ERA’s better than the league average. But the back of the rotation featured 43-year old Don Sutton, former Cardinal John Tudor, and a burned out Fernando Valenzuela. This series was supposed to be a mismatch, just a formality before the 100 win teams from each league squared off in the World Series (Oakland won 104), especially since the Mets were 11-1 against the Dodgers in the regular season.
Game 1 was in Los Angeles and featured Gooden and Hershiser on the hill. The Dodgers scored right away when Steve Sax led off the first with a single, stole second, went to third on a ground out, and scored on a Mike Marshall single. They scored a second run in the seventh when Alfredo Griffin drove in Mike Scioscia. Hershiser cruised all the way to the ninth, but ran into trouble. Gregg Jefferies led off with a single and then with one out Strawberry doubled in Jefferies. Tommy Lasorda then brought in closer Jay Howell to attempt to close it out. Immediately he walked McReynolds and after he struck out Johnson Gary Carter blooped a ball into center. Centerfielder John Shelby dove but could not hold onto the ball and as it got away Strawberry scored to tie it and after a collision at home (which today would rightly be called safe regardless) McReynolds scored to give the Mets the lead and eventually the win as Myers slammed the door.
In Game 2 the Dodgers again took an early lead in the first. But in the second Cone had two out but could not put the inning away. Sax had an RBI single, Mickey Hatcher had a 2-run double, and after he intentionally walked Gibson Marshall had another RBI. The Dodgers took it handily, 6-3 to even the series.
Game 3 was another Dodgers early lead, plating two in the second and one more in the third. The Mets came back and tied it with one in the third and two more in the sixth. Roger McDowell tried to keep it tied in the eighth and looked like it might happen when he struck out the first two, but then a Scioscia single followed by a Jeff Hamilton single started to change things. McDowell then walked pinch hitter Mike Davis to load the bases and was pulled for Myers. Myers promptly walked Mike Sharperson to give the Dodgers a 4-3 lead. But the Dodgers’ pen couldn’t hold on, either. Jay Howell walked Kevin McReynolds and was pulled. Alejandro Pena then came in and after a botched bunt attempt by Johnson, he stole second. Then Carter flied out. Just as it looked like Pena might get out of it, Wally Backman doubled to left-center to tie the game, followed by a walk to the pinch hitting Dykstra Pena was pulled in favor of former Met Jesse Orosco. That became a disaster as Mookie Wilson singled in a run, Jefferies was hit by a pitch, then Hernandez walked to bring in another run and Orosco’s night was done. Ricky Horton came in, gave up a single to Strawberry, scoring two more, then finally got McReynolds to get end the inning. David Cone came in to close the game out and give the Mets a 2-1 series lead.
Game 4 started much like the previous three. Sax and Hatcher reached to lead off the game, then after a groundout and a strikeout, John Shelby singled to score two. It remained 2-0 until the fourth when Hernandez led off with a single off of John Tudor. Two pitches later the score was tied as Strawberry homered to right. Two pitches after that it was 3-2 as Kevin McReynolds homered to left-center. Then in the bottom of the sixth McReynolds led off with a ground rule double and then Carter hit a triple to center, making it a two run game. It remained that way until the top of the ninth. Dwight Gooden started the ninth by walking John Shelby – he of the 182 career walks and .281 OBP – then on Gooden’s 127th pitch of the night (and the very first of the at-bat) Mike Scioscia – he of the career 35 homers to that point – homered to right, tying the game. The game remained tied until the 12th. Roger McDowell got Steve Sax and Franklin Stubbs without any problem. Then on an 0-1 pitch Kirk Gibson launched one over the wall in right-center. The Mets did not go quietly, though, as Mackey Sasser singled off of Tim Leary to lead off the bottom of the inning. Then Lee Mazzilli pinch hit and singled, moving pinch runner Ron Darling to second. Leary then got Jefferies to fly out and was pulled for Orosco. The lefty promptly walked Keith Hernandez, but got Strawberry to pop out to second. Then with two out and the bases loaded, Lasorda went to his pen – for Orel Hershiser. McReynolds blooped one out to shallow center bu this time Shelby caught itand the Dodgers tied the series at 2-2.
Game 5 featured Tim Belcher and Sid Fernandez on the mound in an afternoon tilt. The game was scoreless until the fourth. After getting a lineout Mike Marshall singled and John Shelby walked. Then Rick Dempsey (seriously, how the hell did this team score any runs?) doubled to score a pair. After a strikeout Alfredo Griffin doubled to make it 3-0. The Dodgers were right back at it in the fifth, when Sax and Hatcher both singled and were followed by a Kirk Gibson homered to right, making the score 6-0 and chasing Fernandez from the game. The Mets got those three back in the bottom half when with two on and two out, Lenny Dykstra homered. The Mets got another one back in the eighth when Dykstra led off with a double and Jefferies singled him home. Then in the ninth with two out Gibson singled. Then on an 0-1 pitch Gibson attempted to steal second. He slid in safely, but had to leave the game because he reinjured his knee. The Dodgers took the game, though, and sent the series back to Southern California with LA up 3-2.
Game 6 got started when Dykstra reached on an error, then a Backman single and Strawberry walk one out later led to a run as McReynolds flied out to right, giving the Mets a rare early lead in the series. They added another run in the third on a Kevin Elster RBI double. In the fifth McReynolds added a 2-run homer to double the lead to 4-0. The Dodgers could only muster a single run as David threw a complete game 5-hitter and the Mets evened the series with a 5-1 win.
Game 7 became anti-climactic very quickly. In the bottom of the first Sax singled and Hatcher doubled. A hobbled Kirk Gibson hit a sac fly to make the score 1-0. Then in the bottom of the second Scioscia and Hamilton singled to start off the inning, then Alfredo Griffin blooped a bunt into nomansland to load the bases. Then the flood gates opened. Hershiser reached when Gregg Jefferies muffed a routine grounder to third. Sax then singled up the box to drive in Hamilton and Griffin. Starter Ron Darling was pulled for Dwight Gooden. After getting a groundout moved the runners up, Gibson was intentionally walked, then Mike Marshall hit a grounder to second. On what should have been a double play, Backman tossed the ball high and pulled shortstop Kevin Elster off the bag, getting nobody out. John Shelby then hit a sac fly to left. Gooden finally got out of the inning, but the damage was done. 6-0. Ballgame. Hershiser was in complete control. Five base runners reached scoring position. None of them scored. Hershiser’s complete game shutout helped earn NLCS MVP honors and the Dodgers won an improbable pennant.
We all know what happened after that. The Dodgers continued to defy all odds and logic in winning the 1988 World Series in five games. The Mets eventually imploded due to aging and other factors. And Orel Hershiser would take the World Series MVP honors as well. And in 1995 Hershiser became the only player to win LCS MVP honors in both leagues, allowing three runs in 14 innings for the Indians.