Of course, you remember Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 of the World Series.
What about the other improbable moments of that championship season in 1988?
There was a pinch-hit, walk-off single in the 11th inning by pitcher Tim Leary in mid-August. There was another walk-off victory a week later, when Gibson scored from second base on a wild pitch. And there was Mike Scioscia’s ninth-inning home run off Dwight Gooden that sent Game 4 of the National League Championship Series into extra innings.
That entire season was magical. In retrospect, Gibson’s home run looks like something that was fated to happen.
Which makes you wonder about the 2016 edition of the Dodgers: Do they have a Gibson moment ahead of them? Are they destined to win it all?
“I can see that in this team,” said Tommy Lasorda, the manager who called on Gibson to take the most storied pinch-hit at-bat in Dodgers history.
Lasorda isn’t alone. Only a couple of weeks ago, similarities between the two seasons were mentioned by Orel Hershiser, star pitcher of the Dodgers’ ring-bearing predecessors.
The Dodgers have already performed the unimaginable this season. While Clayton Kershaw was sidelined for 2½ months with a back injury, they used a patchwork rotation to move past the San Francisco Giants to the top of the National League West. Unknown rookie Brock Stewart shut down the 103-win Chicago Cubs. Former supermarket employee Andrew Toles launched a ninth-inning grand slam to complete a comeback from six runs down against the Colorado Rockies.
More recently, anonymous utilityman Charlie Culberson blasted his first home run of the season, a walk-off shot to secure the franchise’s fourth consecutive division title in Vin Scully’s final game at Dodger Stadium.
“Would you believe a home run?” Scully asked his audience in a call that sounded straight out of 1988, when he made his now-immortal call of Gibson’s World Series homer: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!”
Winning the World Series for the first time in 28 years wouldrequire more moments like this.
The Dodgers won’t enter the postseason as favorites to win the World Series. They might not even be favored to beat the injury-ravaged Washington Nationals in their best-of-five division series, which starts Friday.
“The guys in ’88 wouldn’t let anybody beat us,” Lasorda said.
Lasorda senses a similar spirit on the current team, and he’s right. The idea that no game is out of reach has spread to every corner of the clubhouse.
Consider the 4-3, 10-inning victory over the Colorado Rockies on Sept. 25 that clinched the NL West championship. Before Culberson won the game, rookie Corey Seager tied the score in the bottom of the ninth inning with a two-out home run.
“We’re going to play as hard as we can, we’re going to grind it out and do everything we can until the last out,” first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said.
The mind-set is a reflection of Dave Roberts, the team’s rookie manager.
Roberts is the eighth man to manage the Dodgers since Lasorda stepped down from the position in 1996. Of the eight, Lasorda thinks Roberts is the most like himself.
“He’s always jovial,” Lasorda said, praising the newcomer for his ability to forge emotional bonds with his players.
There is one area where Lasorda thinks the current Dodgers have an advantage over his team.
I think this is a better team than we had in ’88. They have better talent.
“I think this is a better team than we had in ’88,” Lasorda said. “They have better talent.”
And they should. With a payroll of more than $250 million, the Dodgers are the most expensive team in baseball.
If they are underdogs, it’s because public expectations have been tempered by the new-age front office’s inability to construct a stable starting rotation, as well as the continued television blackout, which prevented the majority of the local market from witnessing the emergence of stars such as Seager and former Mets castoff Justin Turner.
The Dodgers are a more-than-capable offensive team, validating the front office’s decision last winter to count on returning players rather than make a big move on a trade or the free-agent market.
Seager is the likely rookie of the year and a legitimate MVP candidate. Gonzalez had a slow start, but regained his power after the All-Star break. Turner should be one of the top free-agent position players this winter. Yasmani Grandal and Joc Pederson are power threats later in the lineup.
But the gamble the front office took with the starting pitching didn’t work out as well. The strategy of acquiring injury-prone arms at discounted prices backfired for the second consecutive year, as Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir don’t look as if they will be part of the postseason rotation.
Consequently, the rotation looks suspect behind Kershaw and Aug. 1 trade acquisition Rich Hill, who themselves are dealing with physical ailments. Kershaw still has a herniated disk in his back and Hill has blister problems that limited him to six starts in his two months with the team.
Lasorda is optimistic. “I like our chances,” he said.
Question Lasorda if you want. But if anyone knows how a team can overcome its shortcomings with a dominant pitcher and the right disposition, it’s him.
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