Wednesday, October 5, 1988
Mets vs. Dodgers
NLCS Game 2
Dave Anderson didn’t make the playoff roster because of a back injury. He’d done a yeoman’s job subbing for Alfredo Griffin at shortstop for two months. In the playoffs, he’d have to find another way to contribute. Anderson arrived early for Game 2, and a Dodgers public relations member showed him an article from the New York Daily News.
“Ever heard the saying, ‘Better to be lucky than good?’ Trash it, because Hershiser was just lucky. Look what happened to luck in the ninth inning last night. It’s called justice—catching up to luck and pummeling it into the ground. Trouble was, Orel was lucky for eight innings.”
Those weren’t the words of a New York columnist stirring things up. Those words were under a first-person byline of David Cone, the starting pitcher in Game 2 of the playoffs. Cone didn’t “write” the column himself. He was interviewed by Bob Klapisch, who was responsible for putting his thoughts into print.
That wasn’t even the most controversial part of the column, either.
“I’ll tell you a secret: As soon as we got Orel out of the game, we knew we’d beat the Dodgers. Knew it even after Jay Howell had struck out HoJo. We saw Howell throwing curveball after curveball, and we were thinking, This is the Dodgers’ idea of a stopper? Our idea is Randy [Myers], a guy who can blow you away with his heat. Seeing Howell and his curveball reminded us of a high school pitcher.”
Anderson made copies of the column, underlined the key passages, and plastered the clubhouse with them. He put them in the trainer’s room, on the walls of the clubhouse, on the chairs of teammates, and a stack was on Tommy Lasorda’s desk.
“Trying to do something, you know, to motivate the boys,” Anderson recalled, laughing.
The Dodgers arrived to the clubhouse an equal combination of down and angry. Then they read the article and became a combination of pissed and aggressive.
“We didn’t have a good opinion of the Mets,” Hershiser recalled. “Then Lasorda came into the locker room yelling, ‘If this was a one-game series, I’d be depressed! But it’s not! It’s a seven-game series!’ He was doing all the Tommy stuff and yelling at us.”
The days of “bench jockeying” were mostly a lost art in 1988. There was more than what you’ll see nowadays but far less than the 1960s and 1970s. Players didn’t razz opposing players from the dugout. It’s mostly a quiet place. But things would change on this night.
The game started later than usual due to the vice presidential debate between Senator Dan Quayle, the Republican nominee of George Bush, and Senator Lloyd Bentsen, the Democratic running mate of Michael Dukakis.
When questioned about his lack of experience, Quayle said, “I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency. I will be prepared to deal with the people in the Bush administration, if that unfortunate event would ever occur.”
Bentsen replied, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.”
David Cone was no Jim Murray in the sports section. The Dodgers would ensure he would be no Orel Hershiser on the pitching mound, either.
Steamed from Cone’s words, the Dodgers’ players turned into high school or college players. They were all over Cone, giving him hell. Every player except for starting pitcher Tim Belcher was on the top step of the dugout. They heckled Cone worse than any fan in the bleachers could ever heckle.
Cone was rattled. In the first inning, he walked Mickey Hatcher, balked him to second, and Mike Marshall singled him home.
In the second inning, after getting one out, Cone dropped down sidearm, and Jeff Hamilton was hit by a pitch. Griffin struck out with a feeble swing on a splitter.
Belcher (an .091 hitter) singled up the middle to keep the inning alive. Sax singled up the middle to score a run, Hatcher doubled (just barely fair down the left-field line) to score two runs, Gibson was intentionally walked, and Marshall singled home another.
It was 5–0. Cone was done after two innings.
Tim McCarver on ABC, “I guess the moral to the story is if you’re going to write a column in the playoffs, write it like Ann Landers. I tell you, this is a different Dodgers club.”
“Everybody was geared up,” Belcher reflected. “I remember virtually everybody standing on the top step, screaming at him in the bottom of the first inning. Every- body except me, I was the starting pitcher, so I’m sitting back and relaxed. I remem- ber Rick Dempsey, top-stepping, screaming at him, all kinds of stuff. I think it really rattled David. I don’t know if he would ever admit it. He was pretty early in his career, too. He had a tremendous career. I think that rattled him. We got to him.”
Belcher started Game 2 because Tim Leary was inconsistent the last month of the season (5.13 ERA), and because John Tudor felt muscle spasms in his left hip in his final regular-season start. Tudor’s elbow wasn’t right, either. A scout clocked his fastball at 78–80 mph in his final three starts in September.
Belcher, who couldn’t throw enough strikes in the minors and had no future with the A’s and needed to win a job in spring training and was a reluctant closer in early summer and needed to shed the label of a six-inning pitcher in late summer, took a 6–2 lead into the ninth inning. The only runs he’d given up came on a two- run home run to Keith Hernandez in the fourth inning.
Lenny Dykstra doubled to start the ninth, Jefferies grounded out, and Hernandez singled home a run. Now it was 6–3. Belcher was removed, and he wasn’t happy. Belcher calmly walked to the bat rack, picked out a model of his choosing, slammed it against the dugout steps, and flung it under the bench.
“It was frustrating,” Belcher remembered. “Orel carried our club. From what I remember, it was like, ‘Jeez, we’ve come this far. We got beat with our best pitcher on the mound, and now we’re facing the prospect of going to New York down two- nothing?’ It didn’t sit well.”
Hershiser walked over, put his arm around Belcher, and tried to calm him down. Hershiser told him, “Don’t worry about the ninth, you did your job, you did what you were supposed to do.” Belcher was still pissed at himself for giving the Mets a chance. He feared Game 2 would end just like Game 1 did.
Whether the Dodgers wanted to admit it or not, the Mets were in their collective heads. That’s what happens when a team beats you 10-of-11 times in the regular season and rips your heart out against your ace and closer in the first game of the playoffs.
Now it was up to Jesse Orosco against his former teammates. Orosco would face Strawberry, lefty on lefty, the exact reason why the Dodgers acquired Orosco. On the third pitch, Strawberry singled to right field.
The tying run was coming up. Were the Mets really going to rally in the ninth? Again? The anxiety level permeated throughout Dodger Stadium and even inside the dugout. What was Lasorda going to do? Would he go back to Howell? Would he stick with Orosco?
Lasorda yanked out Orosco and called on Alejandro Pena to get the final two outs this time. Pena retired Kevin McReynolds, the hitter the Dodgers feared the most in that lineup, on a foul popup. Howard Johnson was more dangerous from the left side, and Pena knew it. He pitched him carefully and ended up walking Johnson.
Now the bases were loaded, and Gary Carter was up—again. The sinking feeling was there in the stomachs, a feeling of deja vu. Carter fell behind the night before on curveballs. He wasn’t going to fall behind again. He was going to swing early. He swung at the first pitch, hit a line drive to right field, and Marshall caught it to end the game.
After the game, the biggest story for the newspaper men was the newest member of their profession. Before the game, Cone said he was misquoted. After the game, he said it was supposed to be a joke.
“Everything I said in there was meant in a facetious manner,” Cone said. “For me to belittle a fine pitcher like Jay Howell isn’t right, and it wasn’t meant like that. The comments were made after a very emotional game. I take total responsibility. Nothing I can say will justify what was in the paper. But again, they were meant to be facetious.”
As for the impact of the column on the game, Cone said four of the hits were “seeing-eye hits...I don’t think that newspaper article made those grounders find holes.”
In the next day’s paper, Cone issued an apology. After consulting with Mets management and veteran players, Cone declared his journalism career was over.
The series was tied 1–1 and headed to New York.
To read an excerpt from Game 1 of the 1988 NLCS, click here.