Fact and fantasy had mingled for weeks, like a Hollywood creation slowly unfolding. But now they have somehow intertwined, and the Dodgers' improbable dream of winning the World Series is a reality.
Thursday night at the Oakland Coliseum, the final scene was played in a Dodger season of expectations not only fulfilled but surpassed.
The Dodgers used the tireless right arm of pitcher Orel Hershiser, the leading man, and the efforts of their corps of "Stuntmen" to beat the Oakland Athletics, 5-2, and win baseball's championship in a startling 5 games.
As Hershiser, the Series' most valuable player, struck out Tony Phillips in the dramatic climax of the Dodgers' championship season, he looked skyward to give thanks. But he also may have been asking, "Is it real?"
It certainly was. Reality may have hit the A's like a forearm bash to the midsection, but it cascaded over the Dodgers like champagne.
"It wasn't supposed to happen," relief pitcher Jay Howell said. "People weren't supposed to write this. I think we are as overwhelmed as anyone by this. We didn't think we'd beat the (New York) Mets in the playoffs, and we weren't sure about the A's."
There is no mistake: It is the Dodgers, not the seemingly more talented A's, who are officially crowned baseball's best. This is the Dodgers' sixth World Series title, the second in Manager Tom Lasorda's tenure. His first was in 1981.
Typical of the Dodgers' rise, contributions were made by many sources. Most notable on a night of stars was another dominating pitching effort by the indefatigable Hershiser, who pitched a 4-hitter, and another offensive windfall by Mickey Hatcher, who hit a 2-run home run and became the offensive star of the Series.
Those are the facts. Now for the fantasy. Even as late as 2 weeks ago, hardly anyone not wearing blue gave the Dodgers a chance to beat the Mets in the National League championship series. And once the Mets were dismissed, the Dodgers were said to have no chance against the all-powerful A's, who won 104 regular-season games.
Yet, it was as if Lasorda knew the script in advance and used it to his team's advantage. Every time the Dodgers were counted out, Lasorda pointed it out to his club.
"I planned it," Lasorda said. "I wanted it that way. I wanted people thinking that this club was a bunch of patsies. I kept telling our team that people gave them no chance.
"This is, without a doubt, the greatest accomplishment of a team who didn't have the greatest talent. This was greater, for me, than 1981. Because we didn't have that talent, but we had guys who wanted to play and who had that desire. I've said it all along, this is a team of destiny."
The Dodgers simply refused to believe that they were not good enough. Some might say that the 1988 Dodgers, who, in lieu of the injured Kirk Gibson and Mike Scioscia, gave us the likes of Hatcher, Danny Heep and Mike Davis, may be the weakest World Series champion since, well, the 1987 Minnesota Twins.
The Dodgers, who won 94 games en route to the National League West title, realized their lofty ambitions because they knew their limitations. But throughout the Series, they stretched themselves beyond their limits.
Who would have thought that journeyman Hatcher, who was out of a job in 1987, would hit home runs in Games 1 and 5 and be suitable as Gibson's stand-in?
Who would have thought that Hershiser, who really is mortal, could put together an amazing late-season streak in which he allowed only 5 earned runs in his last 101 innings?
Who would have thought that Gibson, who figured to use his bat only as a crutch in the Series, could hobble out of the dugout in the dramatic ninth inning of Game 1 and hit a game-winning, 2-run home run that staggered Oakland?
Who would have figured that, despite a series of debilitating injuries to Gibson, Scioscia, Mike Marshall and John Tudor, the Dodgers would receive contributions from Rick Dempsey, Davis and others?
Who would have thought it? The Dodgers, that's who.
"It's just like a dream," said Hatcher, who gave Hershiser a 2-0 lead with a home run off loser Storm Davis in the first inning Thursday night. "I never expected this, but in a way I did expect it. This team has done whatever it set its mind to do.
"We don't care what people say, what they write, whether the other team thinks we are any good. This is the kind of team we are. When the big boys went down, we were not afraid to put somebody else in and keep winning. We won the world championship because we are a team."
That concept was never more evident than in the decisive Game 5 before 49,317 at the Oakland Coliseum.
Hershiser, who shut out the A's in Game 2, was dominating once again. Pitching on 3-days' rest for the fifth time in the postseason, Hershiser re-established his dominance early, allowing a run in the third but then shutting out the A's over the next 4 innings.
Oakland, which hit a dismal .177 for the Series and totaled only 2 home runs, threatened in the eighth inning with the Dodgers nursing a 5-1 lead. Stan Javier's single scored Phillips from second base to cut the Dodger lead to 3 runs, and Dave Henderson then walked on 4 pitches.
Up came powerful Jose Canseco, representing the tying run. Lasorda said later that he had thought Hershiser had lost his effectiveness, but that there was no way he was going to take out the pitcher who had brought the Dodgers so far.
All it took was 5 pitches for Hershiser to force Canseco to pop to Franklin Stubbs at first base for the second out. Off slunk Canseco, a dismal 1 for 19 in the Series.
Dave Parker, who had Oakland's only 3 hits off Hershiser in Game 2, was the A's final chance in the eighth. But Hershiser struck him out with a curveball in the dirt. It was the 7th strikeout for Hershiser, and by the time he got Phillips to end it, he would have 9.
"I think I surprised Jose by pitching him inside with a fastball," Hershiser said. "I think it was the first time I pitched him inside during the World Series. He's so strong, you have to surprise him to get away with it.
"I threw (Parker) a 55-foot curveball and he went for it, so I came back with another one and got him again."
Hershiser recalled those intense at-bats with such equanimity that it was as if he knew all along the A's would not capitalize.
Maybe all the answers Hershiser needed were on the laminated index card, his cheat sheet, in his back pocket. Scrawled on the paper were the Dodger scouting reports on each A's hitter.
The Cliff Notes version of that would be a big seller around the American League, bcause Hershiser and his pitching cohorts stifled a team that featured the Bash Brothers (Canseco and Mark McGwire) and a diverse offensive attack.
A's hitters totaled just 11 RBIs in 5 games, and 23 of their 28 hits were singles.
The so-called experts, as Lasorda kept repeating in the chaos of the clubhouse, figured that would be the output of the Dodger offense.
But Hatcher alone had 7 hits, 2 home runs, 5 RBIs and 14 total bases.
Although Hershiser deserved the series MVP award for his sustained brilliance on the mound, Hatcher was the most visual and vibrant player.
His home run in Game 1 stripped the A's of any pretense of invincibility. And his 2-run home run off Storm Davis Thursday night began the A's swift descent into the off-season.
As Hatcher's shot cleared the left-field fence, he once again broke into a home run sprint that had even his teammates guffawing. By the time he rounded third base, he had almost passed a strolling Stubbs ahead of him. Once he reached the dugout, Hatcher greeted his teammates with a parody of the A's forearm bash celebration.
"I almost broke my arm doing that," Hatcher said. "I won't do that again."
No one expected Hatcher to do what he did in the series. In 2,557 career at-bats, he had hit only 35 home runs. But there he was in the World Series, hitting home runs in 2 Dodger victories.
"I still haven't learned how to do a home run trot," Hatcher said. "I think, of the few home runs I hit, I knew that that one was going out. I really thought it was important that we score first, so that Orel could relax and not pitch with pressure on him."
Indeed, Hershiser, who has been given a lead in every game since Aug. 30, would not have had such an easy time of it if not for the early contributions of Hatcher and other Stuntmen.
Hatcher, the ultimate Stuntman, was joined by charter member Dempsey, who doubled in the Dodgers' 5th run in the 6th inning in his role as Scioscia's replacement.
And Mike Davis, a midseason addition to the Stuntman troupe, pulled off perhaps the most unexpected feat of all. He knocked a 2-run home run off Storm Davis in the top of the 4th inning after the A's had scored a run off Hershiser in the bottom of the 3rd to cut the Dodger lead to 2-1.
On the Dodger bench, leading men such as Scioscia and Gibson marveled about the exploits of these Stuntmen.
"I think Mickey Hatcher exemplifies what this team is all about," Gibson said. "This team has always believed in itself. I got hurt, and the team accepted that I would be out. And Mickey steps in and fills my role and I filled his. We had a team approach that kept us together."
Scioscia, who played on the Dodgers' 1981 championship team, said this championship was more satisfying because this club, quite frankly, did not have the talent of the previous one.
"Hatcher, Dempsey, Mike Davis--all those guys, they were incredible," Scioscia said. "It's been a total team win. That's what it all comes down to. It's been that way the whole year. Guys have contributed when we needed it.
"In 1981, we had a much better ballclub. But in 1988, we have much more of a team. So this is much more gratifying to win it when everyone contributes."
No one has contributed more to the Dodgers than Hershiser. All he did was:
--Win 23 games this season.
--Break Don Drysdale's 20-year-old record by pitching 59 consecutive scoreless innings to end the season.
--Hold the opposition scoreless for 23 innings in postseason play before the A's run in the third inning.
"I never wanted to let down," Hershiser said. "I never tried to think of complete games. I never wanted it to be said that I pitched badly in a crucial game. The pressure was really great. I never had time to enjoy (the moment), really."
Lasorda, it seemed, enjoyed it for him.
"I can't say anything more about Orel Hershiser," said Lasorda, who proceeded once again to wax eloquent about his ace pitcher. "I saw it, but I can't believe it. I can't believe anybody can achieve his mastery for as long as he did. . . . There's no way we'd be in the fall classic without the Bulldog."
Or without the dogmatic Gibson, whose spirit and intensity from spring training to the World Series helped transform the Dodgers from a two-season loser to the best in baseball.
Gibson's attitude, and his season-long production, did not go unnoticed by his teammates, even though he was limited to just one memorable at-bat in the Series.
"We have a mix of personalities and talents that worked, and I think Kirk Gibson was a big part of it," Hershiser said.
That theme was repeated throughout the Dodgers' celebration, which spilled out of the clubhouse and onto the field long after the final out.
There was a certain symmetry to the Dodger season. When they convened in Vero Beach, Fla., and took the field for their first spring-training game, a 14-0 win over the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese league, Gibson was not in the lineup. He had stormed off the field, the victim of a practical joke in which eye black was smeared on the brim of his hat.
That scene that day had a cinematic quality, as did Thursday night's title-clinching victory, which also took place without Gibson. Only this time, slapstick comedy had been transformed to a gripping drama.