The New York Mets’ domination of the Dodgers, which has been evident in many forms this season, was pressed to its limit Tuesday night in Game 1 of the National League championship series.
One out away from beating the Mets, behind effective pitching from starter Orel Hershiser and reliever Jay Howell, the Dodgers instead fell hard in a dramatic ninth-inning collapse that turned an impending victory into a 3-2 loss in front of 55,582 fans at Dodger Stadium.
Dodger hopes hinged on Dodger outfielder John Shelby, who was charging Gary Carter’s blooper as it was descending in shallow center field and as two Met baserunners were charging toward home plate.
If Shelby had caught the ball, the tying and winning runs would not have scored, a Dodger victory would have been secured, and the Mets’ 10-1 record over the Dodgers would have been just so much trivia.
Instead, Shelby was sprawled on the center-field grass, the ball hitting his glove and bouncing behind him. And, after Shelby retrieved the ball and hesitated before throwing to home plate, Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia became a hit-and-run victim when Kevin McReynolds flattened him to score the go-ahead run.
So, another Dodger pratfall against the Mets had been completed, courtesy of Carter’s broken-bat, 2-run double.
Fittingly, the Dodgers’ fall was literal and figurative. Shelby and Scioscia were down on the decisive play, and so were the rest of the Dodgers in the wake of the loss. They vowed to be back up tonight, when rookie Tim Belcher faces the Mets’ David Cone, in Game 2.
Discouraging for the Dodgers was the knowledge that they had lost even though Hershiser had shut out the Mets for 8 innings to unofficially run his scoreless-inning streak to 67.
And, they had come up short, even though their offense was able to manufacture 2 runs off Met starter Dwight Gooden.
“We know, as a team, we could beat Orel Hershiser,” Met first baseman Keith Hernandez said. “I know we beat Howell, but we really beat their ace (Hershiser). Obviously, that’s a big win for us and a tough loss for them.
“Obviously, that puts us in a position of putting the hammer on them. If we win (tonight), it’s in our hands. We could go for the throat.”
You could say the Dodgers, after doing everything possible to beat the Mets through 8 innings, felt some tightness in the vicinity of the throat in the ninth inning.
Hershiser, who had dispatched the Mets in an economical 89 pitches after 8 innings, gave up a leadoff single to Met rookie Gregg Jefferies in the ninth. It was the third hit in 4 at-bats for Jefferies, who had not faced Hershiser before.
After Hernandez’s hard-hit grounder to first base moved Jefferies to second, Hershiser dueled with Met right fielder Darryl Strawberry, that Dodger wanna-be. Strawberry worked the count to 2-and-2, before fouling off 4 pitches. Then, he connected with Hershiser’s hanging curveball and sent it into the right-center gap to score Jefferies, cutting the Dodgers’ lead to 2-1.
Summer had turned to fall, and another Olympic Games had come and gone since Hershiser last gave up a run. But when Jefferies set foot on home plate--one small step for the Mets, a giant leap for Hershiser’ earned-run average--it was the first time in 67 innings Hershiser had allowed an opponent to score.
Deciding that Hershiser had tired, Manager Tom Lasorda summoned Howell, who had ended the season having not allowed a run in his last 18 innings.
Howell walked McReynolds, the potential go-ahead run, on 5 pitches. Throwing almost exclusively curveballs, Howell then struck out Howard Johnson and went ahead of Carter, 0-2.
With the sellout crowd on its feet and roaring in anticipation, Howell threw Carter another curveball, low and away. Carter reached out and sent a blooper into shallow center field.
“My first reaction was that I was surprised he swung,” Howell said. “Then, I was surprised he hit it. I just turned around and looked to see what type of jump John got on the ball. It would have taken a great play for John (Shelby) to catch the ball. And I’ve seen John make plays like that before.”
This, however, was not one of those times. Shelby appeared to get an adequate jump on the ball and, diving headfirst, he appeared to have reached the ball in time. The ball, upon Shelby’s impact with the grass, bounced in and out of his glove and trickled behind him.
“I had a good feeling I could get the ball,” Shelby said. “That’s why I dove.”
Had Shelby not dived for the ball, the tying run, Strawberry, would have scored and McReynolds would have been held at third base. But McReynolds, observing Shelby’s stab at the ball, did not hesitate, rounding third and heading for home plate.
Shelby, however, did hesitate--and the Dodgers lost.
After gathering the ball, Shelby looked at second base before seeming to realize McReynolds was racing home. With Scioscia anchored at home plate awaiting a collision, Shelby eventually threw home. But, with the ball was still about 5 feet from its destination, McReynolds crashed into Scioscia and then put his right hand on the plate for a 3-2 Met lead.
“I didn’t know if the ball got to him or not,” McReynolds said of his collision with Scioscia. “I was pretty much zeroed in on him. I could tell he was in the baseline, not in front of the plate.
“There was no chance. He made the choice for me. If I had slid, I would have never gotten to the plate.”
On this night, it was the Dodgers who did a swift and complete slide.
Randy Myers, Met left-handed reliever, made sure no Dodger comeback would be forthcoming by retiring the Dodgers in order in the bottom of the ninth. Myers, the Met ace, got the win, and Howell, the Dodger ace, the loss.
“It hurts, any way you look at it,” Howell said. “I just wish (Carter) had hit it harder. If he hits it harder, (Shelby) catches the ball and it’s over.”
After it was over, a protracted cooling-off period was observed by the Dodgers, during which Manager Tom Lasorda could be overhead loudly venting frustration from behind closed doors.
Perhaps Lasorda was trying to purge the frustrations from a Dodger performance that was superb for 8 innings and then unraveled like a pair of cheap socks in the ninth.
The Dodgers could not have asked for a better start. They once again relied upon ingenuity to score a run off Gooden in the first inning. It was a typical Dodger rally. Steve Sax opened the game with a single to right field, stole second base, went to third on Kirk Gibson’s groundout and scored when Mike Marshall reached out and lofted a single to right.
It remained, 1-0, Dodgers, for the next 5 innings, as Gooden and Hershiser provided the expected extraordinary pitching matchup.
Hershiser, who last gave up a run on Aug. 30 in Montreal, worked out of several jams by making quality pitches.
The Mets were hitting Hershiser hard--there were several line-drive outs--but not scoring. Gooden, on the other hand, was dominating after struggling in the first inning.
In the next 5 innings, Gooden did not allow a hit and registered 9 of his 10 strikeouts. He struck out Gibson, Marshall and Shelby in the sixth, mostly using curveballs.
Those who figured that the Dodgers had bagged their run limit in the first inning had to be surprised when Scioscia opened the seventh with a double down the right-field line. Scioscia went to third on Jeff Hamilton’s groundout and scored on Alfredo Griffin’s broken-bat single to right field.
Muscling the inside pitch into right field had to be some sort of redemption for Griffin, who suffered a broken bone in his right hand May 20 when Gooden hit him with a fastball.
Two runs appeared to be a luxury for Hershiser, who had received only a total of 13 runs during his previous 59 consecutive scoreless innings.
Then came the ninth inning, and the Mets’ latest dose of renewed domination over the Dodgers.
This time, the Dodger fall came at home, as the roar became an awkward silence after Shelby’s fall in center field and Scioscia’s crash and burn at home plate.
“It’s only one game,” Hershiser said. “I don’t know where the team will focus now. It’s a tough defeat, yes. But it’s just a loss.”
Marshall and other Dodgers were encouraged by the way they handled the Mets quite easily . . . until the ninth.
“What can you say?” Marshall asked. “We really didn’t do much wrong today. We just couldn’t finish it. We got that second run for Orel, and I thought that would be enough.
“That’s just the way it happens with the Mets and us. They seem to do no wrong, come up with the big hit. But as far as we’re concerned, it’s 0-1. We can’t worry about those other 10 (losses) during the season. They just took it away from us.”
Judging by his expression, Lasorda looked like a man who had just had his wallet lifted.
Told that Met Manager Davey Johnson called his club’s Game 1 win “pivotal,” Lasorda mustered as much enthusiasm as he could and said: “If it was sudden death, yes. But they still need three more wins.”
Added Howell: “This loss really hurt. But you won’t see us hanging our heads or crawling around the stadium after this.”
No, selected Dodgers spent enough time on the ground in the ninth inning alone Tuesday night.