Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Miracle Men excerpt: Game 4, 1988 NLCS -- Dodgers at Mets

This is an excerpt from my recent book: "Miracle Men: Hershiser, Gibson & the Improbable 1988 Dodgers." You can order a copy here, here, or at most major bookstores.

Sunday, October 9, 1988
New York
Dodgers vs. Mets
NLCS Game 4

This was why the Dodgers acquired John Tudor. This was why they traded Pedro Guerrero. They acquired John Tudor to face the big, bad New York Mets—who were more vulnerable against lefties—in playoff games like this.
In the regular season, Tudor did what he was supposed to do. In nine starts, he posted a 2.41 ERA down the stretch. He went 4–3, and the team went 6–3. Tudor didn’t join his new teammates in the champagne celebration that night in San Diego. He’d only been there a little over a month. He thought it was their celebration, not his, because they were going to win the division no matter what he did.
The playoffs were different. Tudor knew that’s why he was acquired—to take the place of Fernando Valenzuela in the rotation. If he did his job and there was another celebration, Tudor would partake.
Tudor was starting Game 4 on eight days of rest. His last outing was September 30, and he lasted 11/3 innings until the spasms in his hip ended his night. The start before that, he pitched just four innings. He had no idea how his arm and hip would respond until he was out there.
But now the Dodgers needed Tudor more than ever. On their 24-man playoff roster, they carried nine pitchers. Jay Howell was suspended for three games, so now they were down to eight pitchers.

Howell talked to reporters in street clothes flanked by Lasorda, Perranoski, and Hershiser for moral support. Howell felt the suspension was too severe, again maintained that he wasn’t trying to cheat, and then headed back to the team hotel to watch the game on TV.
Kirk Gibson, Tudor, and a few others wrote the initials “JH” on their jerseys. The Dodgers felt the suspension was too severe. National League president Bart Giamatti weighed the pros and cons and wanted to make sure Howell was available for a possible Game 7.
Lasorda gave one of his trademark fire-and-brimstone pregame speeches. Lasorda said they were a team of character, of strength. Their backs were against the wall, but they would bounce back just like they did all year. He told them they were going to play with heart, with determination.
“We’re gonna win this ballgame,” Lasorda exclaimed, his voice rising with each word, “with or without Jay Howell.”
As the meeting ended, Hershiser went up to Lasorda and told him, “I’ll be your Jay Howell tonight.” Lasorda was so emotional, he was already on the verge of tears. Lasorda didn’t know if he should hug Hershiser, or tell him to fuhgetaboutit.
Game 4 started at 8:20 pm in New York. The field had a full 24 hours to dry out. The rain was gone, but it was still cold.
In the first inning, Steve Sax went back to the script on how to beat the Mets and Dwight Gooden. His slow roller to third base took a bad hop on Gregg Jefferies, and Sax was safe on an infield single.
Runners were safe 56-of-67 times stealing bases off the Gooden-Carter combo. Gooden threw over to first repeatedly. Gooden tried a slidestep and missed for a ball. Gooden went back to his high leg kick, and Sax stole second base. After spending so much attention on Sax, Gooden walked Mickey Hatcher on four pitches.
Gibson hit a chopper to the right side. Both runners advanced 90'. Marshall struck out on three fastballs, chasing a couple out of the strike zone.
John Shelby was 1-for-10 in the series. Gooden threw a fastball that jammed him on the hands. Shelby fought it off just enough, dropping a soft looper into right field. It was another classic Shelby hit—one of those that was important but not so important that he’d get bombarded by reporters afterward. The Dodgers led 2–0.
Tudor looked good for three innings, even with a fastball in the 80–82 mph range. He allowed just two hits, both singles, and two over the minimum.
Photo courtesy of LA Daily News
It all changed in the fourth inning. Hernandez sent a lazy curveball off the end of his bat into right field for a single. Tudor challenged Strawberry with an inside fastball. Strawberry extended his hands and hit a line shot over the right-field fence. Strawberry was given a curtain call by the fans at Shea Stadium. The sound of the ball leaving the bat was impressive. After the next pitch, ABC would have replayed the home run with the sound off the bat, but the network didn’t have time.
On that next pitch, Tudor threw an inside fastball to McReynolds, who promptly hit a solo home run into the left-field pavilion. Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On” blared from the stadium jukebox. It was 3–2 Mets.
Tudor survived the rest of that inning and the fifth inning. McReynolds opened the sixth with a double down the left-field line, a ball that took an awkward hop over the glove of Jeff Hamilton. Carter was up next, and he hit a drive over Shelby’s head in center. Shelby took an awkward route to the ball, turning the wrong way. The ball sliced back to his left. Carter slid head-first into third base.
It was 4–2 Mets, and that was it for Tudor. Brian Holton was super nervous before his first playoff appearance. He sang, “You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road” to calm himself down. It worked. Holton cleaned up the sixth without allowing a run.
Ricky Horton, who had otherwise been a disappointment since his trade from the Cardinals and who kept the popular Tim Crews off the playoff roster, pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth.
Meanwhile, Gooden was masterful. Entering the ninth, he’d allowed just one hit after the first inning and struck out eight. He was three outs from his first postseason victory, which would give the Mets a commanding 3–1 lead in the series.
The crowd restarted the “Beat L.A.” chant. John Shelby fell behind the count 0–2. That’s never a comfortable position against anybody, especially Doc Gooden. Shelby felt remarkably calm and relaxed. He thought Gooden would try to make him a chase a pitch out of the strike zone. He just wanted to make contact, do anything to get on base.
Shelby kept fouling pitches off to stay alive. On the eighth pitch, Gooden missed high, and Shelby was on base with a walk. Shelby walked 44 times that year, and that was a career-high. Lasorda once said, “You couldn’t walk Shelby intentionally. I used to tell him they could throw a paper plate from the stands and he’d swing at it.”
Gooden turned his head backward in dismay after issuing the walk to Shelby. Dodgers coach Joe Amalfitano looked at Gooden’s face after the walk and will never forget what he saw. Gooden realized that he’d walked Shelby, that he’d put the tying run at the plate, and he was out of sorts for a few moments. Next up was Mike Scioscia.
“Doc is throwing hard,” Scioscia remembered. “It’s like he found that extra gear, much like [Justin] Verlander does now. He’s really bringing it. I look and Keith Hernandez is holding John on. Wally Backman always shaded up the middle when Doc was pitching. I looked and said, ‘Oh my God, look at that hole.’ I know he’s going to throw a fastball. I don’t want to be late on it. I want to get the bat out. If I miss-hit it, that’s got to be a base hit. I just looked fastball, got the head out, made sure I was trying to hit it through that hole, and got a little bit of extension on it.”
Indeed, the first pitch—Gooden’s 127th of the night—was a fastball. Scioscia took a mighty rip and hit a low line drive to right field. It had just enough backspin to keep rising and give it a chance. Off the bat, all Scioscia thought was, If this hits the wall and I don’t make it to second base, Tommy is going to chew my ass out. “I was running as hard as I could.”
Strawberry could only watch. The ball cleared the wall, just barely, and the game was tied.
“There were 50-plus-thousand people there; they were going crazy, screaming the whole inning,” Scioscia said, on the 10-year anniversary. “And as the ball went out of the park, it got so quiet that I could hear my spikes digging through the dirt when I was running. That’s how quiet it got. It was eerie—to just have 50,000 people get so quiet. That’s something I’ll never forget.”
Photo courtesy of LA Daily News
It was pandemonium in the Dodgers’ dugout. Scioscia had three home runs that year, one since June 27, and 36 total over his nine-year career. But the game was only tied. Fitting for his personality and his future as a manager, Scioscia said, “It felt great. But now we need to play defense. We had to keep going.”
The Dodgers would put two more runners on base, with one out, but Randy Myers retired Sax and Hatcher to end the threat.
Alejandro Pena pitched a scoreless ninth, 10th, and 11th inning without a hit. Pena walked Mookie Wilson in the 10th, but Scioscia threw him out trying to steal second base. Pena walked two more in the 11th, but he retired Howard Johnson to end that threat.
In the 12th, Franklin Stubbs was in the on-deck circle to pinch hit for Pena. Only two pitchers—Tim Leary and Jesse Orosco—remained because Game 5 starter Tim Belcher was back at the team hotel, getting ready for a noon start the next day.
Hershiser went to Perranoski and volunteered to pitch in relief.
“Are you kidding?” Perranoski said. “After seven innings in the cold yesterday?”
Hershiser reminded his pitching coach that his arm didn’t get stiff until the second day after a start. He was used to starting and relieving, after all those years of doing both in the minors. He’d done it earlier in the year, at Chicago, when the team was also short on arms.
Perranoski didn’t answer. He didn’t want to think about hurting Hershiser, about asking him to do something like that. Hershiser said he was going to the bullpen. He’d be available if needed. Perranoski still didn’t answer him.
Hershiser was wearing only a T-shirt and windbreaker. He went into the clubhouse and put on a uniform and a cup.
Orel III was in the visitor’s clubhouse. He was so cold, he’d bought a Mets sweatshirt to stay warmer, which he concealed under his raincoat. When he saw his son entering the clubhouse, father asked the son, “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to the bullpen,” Orel IV told Orel III.
“You’re going where?!”
Dad wasn’t happy. His younger son, Gordie, a Dodgers minor leaguer, had
already undergone two elbow operations. He would give the minor leagues one more year before retiring. Dad was always worried about the number of innings his sons were throwing.
“Someone is going to hit a homer, and I might have to pitch,” Orel said.
Sax grounded to third on the first pitch. Stubbs struck out looking. Gibson stepped in the batter’s box, mired in a 1-for-16 slump in the series. He hadn’t hit the ball out of the infield. Gibson knew he’d been terrible in the series. He was disappointed. His legs were killing him. His confidence was shaken. But it was another test, another opportunity to defeat The Beast.
Photo courtesy of LA Daily News
Gibson swung and missed at a first-pitch sinker. The second pitch was another sinker, but this one was flat and over the plate. Gibson pounced on it, blasting the ball 430' to that giant scoreboard in right field. It clanked off a potato-chip sign with the tagline, “Simply Delicious.”
At the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, Belcher and his wife screamed so loud in celebration, hotel security called and requested they keep the noise down. Other guests on the floor had complained about the cheering.
Hatcher pumped his fist, going crazy in the dugout. Lasorda greeted Gibson with a big hug. It was the first home run Roger McDowell had given up since April 29—a stretch of 99 innings.
“Nice prediction,” somebody said to Hershiser in the clubhouse. Hershiser barely reacted. He didn’t watch the replay. The uniform was on. He hustled to the bullpen and went into Bulldog mode.
Bullpen coach Mark Cresse asked, “What are you doing here?” Hershiser told him he was getting ready. Cresse called to the dugout, asking Perranoski for permission. Hershiser started to loosen up his body, just to see how his arm felt, so he could give them a legitimate answer.
Tim Leary, a starter most of the year, was the first pitcher Lasorda would have used if Tudor broke down physically early in the game. Now, Leary was trying to close out the game in the 12th inning. Mackey Sasser started the inning with a single to right after a tense eight-pitch duel. Orosco was the only pitcher in the bullpen getting loose.
Lasorda paced the dugout. Ron Darling pinch ran for Sasser. Lee Mazzilli pinch hit for Roger McDowell, and he was asked to lay down a bunt. Maz hadn’t laid down a successful sac bunt in three years. Mazzilli fouled two pitches off and then singled up the middle. Here come the Mets; it was déjà vu all over again.
And here came Gregg Jefferies again. Lasorda paced the dugout more. Inexplicably, Davey Johnson asked Jefferies to bunt again. He’d asked Jefferies to bunt in the 10th, and he popped out. Johnson asked the kid again, and Jefferies fouled it off. Johnson then came to his senses. When you bat .360 in the minors, nobody asks you to bunt. Johnson took off the bunt sign, and Jefferies flied out to Gibson in left field.
Two lefties were due up, Hernandez and Strawberry. Lasorda knew he needed to bring in Orosco to face the two lefties. This is why they acquired Orosco. This was his job. Perranoski reminded Lasorda that nobody was left after Orosco. Lasorda went to Orosco anyway.
It was 10 minutes before 1:00 am.
Orosco entered the game, and the fans at Shea Stadium were all over him. They loved him in 1986, hated him in 1987, and now were ready for Orosco to implode. All of the Dodgers’ infielders said something to Orosco after his eight warm-up pitches.
The first pitch was a slider that crossed up Dempsey and nearly went to the backstop. Ball one.
“Is that Hershiser in the bullpen?” a stunned Al Michaels said on ABC.
Dempsey went to the mound to make sure they were clear on the signs. During the delay, Hershiser threw a couple pitches, adjusted his cap, and gave a reassuring nod of his head.
Hernandez swung and missed at a fastball, evening the count at 1–1. Another fastball was fouled back. Then a fastball missed inside, and the count was even again at 2–2. Mickey Hatcher paced in the dugout, too nervous to sit. Lasorda was remarkably still, hands in his jacket.
Orosco missed with a curveball. The count was 3–2. With each ball that Orosco threw to Hernandez, the crowd screamed a little louder. Orosco went to another curveball and missed again. Ball four. The bases were loaded.
Now it was Strawberry. Ball one. Lasorda sprinted out of the dugout. Lasorda rarely visited the mound. Perranoski made almost all the pitching changes. This wasn’t a pitching change. This was Lasorda delivering a message to Orosco—equal parts encouragement and four-letter threats. Lip readers noted the message began with, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Lasorda returned to the dugout and told Perranoski, “Do you think the Lord will make it possible for this guy to strike out or pop up? Because if he does, I’m bringin’ in the Bulldog.”
Orosco went back to his fastball, and Strawberry fouled it off. He dropped in a beauty of a curveball for a 1–2 count. Another curveball was popped up to Sax on the infield. Two outs.
Still though, the bases were loaded. McReynolds was at the plate. The hitter the Dodgers feared most entering the series. The hitter who was slumping until his home run and double earlier in the game.
“Go get the Bulldog,” Lasorda said to Perranoski.
“Tommy!” Perranoski said. “The guy pitched seven innings last night! What if they tie the game? How long can he go? He’s all we’ve got!”
“They’re not gonna tie this game,” Lasorda said. “I’m puttin’ the pot of gold on the Bulldog. Go get him!”
Perranoski left the dugout, and Hershiser saw him walking toward the mound. This was what he’d volunteered to do. The adrenaline shot through his body. Hershiser threw two final warm-up pitches and came into the game. It was just like Wrigley Field back in May when Hershiser entered the game in extra innings after Gibson had homered for the lead.
For a brief moment, Hershiser thought to himself, What have I gotten myself into? Then he snapped out of it, telling himself, Don’t think like that. You have one job, and only one job, and that’s the next pitch.
From the ABC booth, Al Michaels noted the Dodgers’ predicament. “This is the seventh man on what’s now an eight-man pitching staff,” Michaels said. “The eighth is back at the hotel.” Tim McCarver declared, “This is truly all or nothing at all.”
Sax, of course, was pumped. “I thought it was fantastic,” Sax reflected. “This is exactly what our team needed. Our team needed to keep Orel on the field as much as we could. When you have a starting pitcher who comes out of the bullpen, you just love that. Not a lot of guys will do that. You love that kind of attitude. Our team was a fighting type of team. What a fucking team, you know? That’s what we were about. Orel comes into a game like that. It picks people up.”
Belcher watched from the hotel room, as stunned as anybody. He received a call earlier in the night from the traveling secretary and was told that he might be summoned from his hotel room to the ballpark if they were short on pitchers.
“I think at some point,” Belcher recalled, “they said, ‘Forget the idea of bringing him back to the stadium. We’ll figure it out as we go. If we have to use a position player, we will.’ I don’t think there’s any question in my mind that Orel would have pitched another 3–4–5 innings if he had to.”
A fan held up a sign that said “Orel Who?” It sounded like the entire Shea Stadium crowd was chanting, “O-O-O-O-O-rel, O-O-O-O-O-rel.” Hershiser loved it. He used the chant to get worked up. Hershiser looked into the Mets dugout. He wanted to see their faces as he entered the game on zero days rest. He rearranged the dirt for his landing foot. He paced on the grass a little, feeling the moment, thinking of the dangers, working himself into a frenzy.
“This is a scenario that you could not imagine,” Al Michaels told ABC’s audience. “You sorta had a feeling the Howell suspension would come into play, if the game was close. But never did you imagine in your wildest dreams that Hershiser would come in and pitch.”
Michaels mentioned that McReynolds was 7-for-41—a .171 career average— against Hershiser. Jim Palmer quickly added, “Those numbers don’t reflect Hershiser threw 110 pitches yesterday.” Over the loudspeaker, U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was played.
Lasorda paced the dugout like crazy. He was a nervous wreck and scared to death. He was putting the entire game on this one at-bat. But it wasn’t just this game. The series was at risk. Hell, Hershiser’s career was at risk.
Lasorda prayed. Lord, I’ll tell ya somethin’. Let Bulldog get this guy out, and I’ll never ask ya for anything again.
In the clubhouse, Mike Scioscia couldn’t watch. He’d been replaced in the 11th inning, and he was now watching on television. Sure, he was nervous about the game’s outcome. But he was more concerned about Hershiser and didn’t want to watch a teammate wreck his career.
If you thought Dad was concerned, just imagine how Mom felt. Back in Los Angeles, Mildred Hershiser watched the game on TV. When she saw her son entering the game, she could no longer contain her emotions.
“It’s not fair!” she cried out, tears running down her face. “It’s not fair! His arm is going to fall off!”
In the outfield, Gibson, Shelby, and Marshall talked to one another as Hershiser made his final eight warm-up pitches. They all agreed to move a few steps toward home plate. They’d rather have McReynolds hit one over their head than get beat by another blooper.
“Lasorda’s worst nightmare is for this game to end up tied,” Michaels said. “Well, that’s his second worst nightmare. You know what I mean.”
Hershiser knew his plan against McReynolds. He wouldn’t throw a curveball. He wouldn’t risk the wild pitch. He wouldn’t throw a sinker. He was going back to schoolyard ball. He was going to throw every pitch as hard as he possibly could. He was going to be, as Howell liked to say, a “brain-dead heaver.”
The first brain-dead fastball was fouled straight back. Hershiser rubbed up a new baseball then asked for another one.
“He worked seven innings yesterday on a brutally cold afternoon,” Michaels said.
Photo courtesy of LA Daily News
The second pitch was a brain-dead fastball that missed outside for a ball. Hershiser’s adrenaline was flowing so hard, the ABC radar gun had his fastballs at 94 and 95 mph. Normally, he’s between 90–92 mph. The crowd chanted, “Let’s go Mets,” over and over.
The third brain-dead fastball tailed inside on McReynolds’ hands. McReynolds broke his bat. It was a little looper, shallow center field. It was just like Game 1.
Shelby charged as fast as he could. This time, the ball held up. Shelby didn’t need to dive. He reached down, made a catch at his knees, and reached the glove back into the air for dramatic effect. Sax jumped into the air in celebration.
“I knew I had to come in, and I had a good bead on it,” Shelby recalled. “I just had to catch the ball.”
“When you write the story of this game, where in the world do you begin?” Michaels asked the TV audience.
Hershiser had done it. The series was tied 2–2. The Dodgers reacted like they’d just won the series. Hershiser thrust his fist in dramatic fashion. Lasorda hugged Hershiser. Lasorda ran out to the outfielders and hugged Gibson. Let’s face it, everybody was hugging everybody.
On the way up the ramp from the dugout to the clubhouse, Lasorda pumped both arms over his head. He yelled as loud he could, for everyone to hear.
“What a fucking team! What a fucking team! What a fucking team! What a fucking team! What a fucking team!”
Game 5 would start in less than 11 hours.
* * *
To order your copy of Miracle Men, click here.
To read the excerpt from Game 1 of the 1988 NLCS, click here.
To read the excerpt from Game 2 of the 1988 NLCS, click here.
To read the excerpt from Game 3 of the 1988 NLCS, click here.

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