Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Against the Wall

Down 3-1 in their best-of-seven championship series with the Philadelphia Philies, the Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves against the wall when the series resumes with Game 5 on Wednesday.

Game 5 is the last game scheduled to be played in Los Angeles. If the Dodgers win, they still have to take the last two games in Philadelphia to advance to the World Series.

It's a tall order, one that has seldom been achieved in postseason baseball.

Based on his column for CBS Sportsline, Gregg Doyel doesn't think the Dodgers can do it. Doyel believes that, in spite of Joe Torre's record of managerial success with the New York Yankees, he's blowing the series with the Phillies.

"You can argue that [Torre] has been unlucky in this series, but you can't argue this: He has been unsuccessful," writes Doyel, who contends (legitimately, I might add) that L.A. pitcher Derek Lowe "came out too early" last night.

"And isn't that what it comes down to? Success and failure? Wins ... and losses?"

I don't know if the Dodgers can win the last two in Philadelphia, especially after failing to win either of the first two games that were played there.

But I do know this. The karma isn't good for a Dodger opponent on Wednesday.


Let me answer that question with a question. Do you remember where you were 20 years ago tomorrow?

I remember where I was. Let me refresh your memory.

It was Saturday, Oct. 15, 1988. The first game of the World Series, between the heavily favored Oakland A's and the raggedy Dodgers, was being played at Dodger Stadium (which, coincidentally, is where Wednesday night's playoff game will be played).

Everyone believed the A's — with their potent offense, led by the "Bash Brothers" (Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco), and a stellar pitching staff, led by 20-game winner Dave Stewart and reliever Dennis Eckersley, who recorded 45 saves that year — would manhandle the Dodgers.

Of course, the experts thought the Dodgers wouldn't make it to the World Series in 1988. The experts thought they would lose the National League championship to Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry and the New York Mets. Nevertheless, the Dodgers prevailed.

(In much the same way, I might add, a majority of the experts in 2008 believed the Chicago Cubs would dismantle the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs.)

The first game of the 1988 World Series appeared to be living up to expectations. The A's fell behind, 2-0, in the bottom of the first inning, but Canseco hit a grand slam in the second to give Oakland a 4-2 lead. The Dodgers added a run in the sixth but trailed, 4-3, in the ninth inning.

And that set the stage for perhaps the most memorable World Series at-bat ever.

Twenty years ago, I was working on the sports desk of the Denton (Texas) Record-Chronicle. I had been there for two months, having moved to the city in August to enroll in graduate school.

On weekdays, the newspaper was an afternoon paper, which meant the copy desk had to be at work very early in the morning to meet the late-morning deadline.

But the paper published a Sunday morning edition, which required the copy desk editors to work on Saturday nights.

There was a TV in the newsroom (which, up to that time, had been a rarity in the newsrooms where I had worked) and it was on, showing the World Series.

Nearly all the copy editors were in the back shop, assisting with pasteup. I was virtually alone in the newsroom, monitoring the sports wire for late football scores and waiting for the World Series game to end.

The process was governed by the clock. During the lag time between the end of the game and the appearance of game articles on the Associated Press sports wire, I could write a headline and send it through our computer system so the folks in the back shop could paste it on the front page of the sports section.

Then, when the game story appeared on the wire, I could send it through to the back shop as well. It could be pasted on to the page beneath the headline I wrote earlier.

I knew the dimensions of the space that had been left for the headline in the page layout so I was working on a few ideas while keeping an eye on the game — in case something dramatic happened.

Something dramatic did happen.

Eckersley retired the first two batters, then intentionally walked the next batter to bring up the pitcher. The Dodgers chose to pinch hit for him.

The pinch hitter was Kirk Gibson, who had been sitting out the game because of two injured ankles and a stomach virus. But he came to the plate and crushed a slider into the outfield bleachers for a two-run home run — like Roy Hobbs in "The Natural."

Few, if any, memorable baseball moments have been replayed for TV viewers as often in the last 20 years as Gibson's walk-off home run. (And, if you witnessed Gibson's painful yet exultant trip around the bases, you know the word "walk" is woefully misused in this context. Perhaps hobble-off would be more appropriate.)

Gibson made no more appearances in that World Series. But the Dodgers seemed to be inspired by his home run and went on to defeat the A's in five games.

Is something similar going to happen tomorrow night?

I don't know.

But if the Dodgers are going to come back and win the series, Wednesday is an appropriate time to start their rally.

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