Tim Leary saw first-hand how quickly a World Series can change with one swing of the bat. He threw three scoreless innings in relief of struggling starter Tim Belcher in the 1988 series opener for the Dodgers, a game that ended with Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit, two-out, two-run, walk-off homer against Dennis Eckersley.
That iconic shot lifted the Dodgers to a 5-4 win over the Oakland Athletics and catapulted them toward their last championship.
Wednesday night’s game overflowed with such series-altering moments — Marwin Gonzalez’s score-tying homer for the Astros in the ninth, solo shots by Houston’s Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa in the 10th, Yasiel Puig’s homer and Enrique Hernandez’s run-scoring single to tie it in the 10th and, finally, George Springer’s two-run shot to win it for the Astros in the 11th.
It was about as crazy and compelling of a postseason game as baseball can muster. Leary, now 58 and a World Series guest analyst, breaks it down with an assist from Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna.
DiGiovanna: What’s it like playing in a game with so many twists and turns, so many momentum swings?
Leary: Well, it’s the biggest stage there is in baseball. Every play, every pitch is dissected, every hit, every home run, every walk and error is amplified. People are gonna second guess this, that and every other thing.
It’s a boxing match, back and forth, back and forth, last man standing wins. That’s what a World Series is supposed to be, a knock-em-out, drag-em-out affair. That was a tough loss for the Dodgers, but they’re resilient. They’ll bounce back. They have an ace-caliber pitcher (Yu Darvish) starting in Game 3.
There were so many turning points in the game. What was the biggest one?
To me, the whole game turned on that 0-and-2 middle-of-the-strike-zone fastball that Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen threw to Gonzalez for the game-tying homer in the ninth. As Don Sutton told me in 1988, “You have four chances to be perfect.” And he threw a straight fastball down the middle, belt high. That changed the complexion of the whole series.
Jansen has been almost untouchable all season. How stunned were you by that pitch?
I wasn’t really stunned because I’ve seen him throw balls right down the middle and hitters miss them for years. It was more just a great swing, an on-time swing. Most guys tend to swing under his pitches because his ball doesn’t sink as most other pitchers.
It was just a great at-bat, down 0-2 and he put a good swing on that pitch, hit it out to left-center. When you hit the ball where it’s pitched, in the year of the home run, with warm air and low humidity, I mean … there were eight homers combined. Any ball that was up, mid-thigh and above, it had a chance to go out.
How impressive was Springer’s at-bat in the 11th? Runner on second, no outs, looked as if he was trying to advance the runner with a grounder to the right side and he hits a two-run homer to right-center.
Astros center fielder George Springer celebrates his two-run home run against the Dodgers in the 11th inning of Game 2.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times )
Fans at Dodger Stadium react as Houston wins a Game 2 thriller, 7-6, in 11 innings.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
George Springer exults after his 11th-inning home run.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Disappointed Dodgers fans.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig strikes out to end the game.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A happy Houston Astros fan at Dodger Stadium.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
George Springer and Cameron Maybin celebrate after a two-run homer by Springer off Dodgers reliever Brandon McCarthy in the 11th inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers fan Ethan Czypinski, 7, of San Dimas wears his baseball glove under his World Series hat while watching a tense Game 2 at Dodger Stadium.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Kenley Jansen turns toward the outfield after giving up a game-tying homer to Astros left fielder Marwin Gonzalez in the ninth inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
The throw to Astros catcher Brian McCann is too late as Dodgers second baseman Logan Forsythe scores in the 10th inning on a single by Enrique Hernandez to tie the Game 2 score at 5-5.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Yasiel Puig sits with his head in his hands after not being able to catch what turned into a ground-rule double off the bat of Astros third baseman Alex Bregman during the seventh inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig throws his glove in anger after not being able to catch a ground-rule double by Astros third baseman Alex Bregman.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
A fan watches Houston take a 7-6 victory in 11 innings on Wednesday night.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers reliever Brandon McCarthy paces behind the mound as Astros center fielder George Springer circles the bases after hitting a two-run home run during the 11th inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers left fielder Charlie Culberson celebrates as he circles the bases after hitting a home run in the 11th inning to cut the Dodgers’ deficit to 7-6.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers fans wave souvenir towels as they cheer on the Dodgers from the top deck section during Game 2 of the 2017 World Series.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers second baseman Logan Forsythe scores the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning after a hit by Enrique Hernandez.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chris Taylor can’t get to a home run by Houston’s Marwin Gonzalez during the ninth inning of Game 2.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Fan Angel Rodriguez of East Los Angeles wears his Dodgers pride on his face while watching Houston win 7-6 in the 11th inning to even the series.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Astros shortstop Carlos Correa greets teammate Marwin Gonzalez after he hit a solo home run off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning to tie the score, 3-3, and force extra innings.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Corey Seager reacts after hitting a two-run home run during the sixth inning against Astros pitcher Justin Verlander.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Andrew Vialpando, center, cheers with other Dodgers fans while watching the World Series at The Short Stop in Echo Park.(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)
Corey Seager lets out a yell as he hits a two-run home run against Houston starting pitcher Justin Verlander in the sixth inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers left fielder Joc Pederson celebrates after hitting a solo home run, which broke up Justin Verlander’s no-hit bid and tied the score, 1-1.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers left fielder Joc Pederson connects for a solo home run against Houston’s Justin Verlander.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Chris Taylor is tagged out by Astros shortstop Carlos Correa in the fourth inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodger starter Rich Hill watches as Justin Turner throws to first base after fielding Justin Verlander’s sacrifice bunt in the third inning.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rich Hill delivers a pitch during the first inning of Game 2. Hill would work four innings, giving up one run on three hits, all in the third inning, while striking out seven.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes catches a foul ball hit by Astros third baseman Alex Bregman during the first inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig catches a fly ball hit by Astros shortstop Carlos Correa with his tongue out during the first inning of Game 2.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes falls the ground after catching a foul ball hit by Astros third baseman Alex Bregman during the first inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Actor Jason Bateman yells at Astros shortstop Carlos Correa during the first inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Fernando Valenzuela, Vin Scully and Steve Yeager walk off the field after the ceremonial first pitch before Game 2.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The crowd cheers after honoring Vietnam veterans while country music star Brad Paisley sang the national anthem before Game 2.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers legends Vin Scully, left, and Fernando Valenzuela throw out the first pitch before the start of Game 2.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig sports a new dye job before the start of Game 2.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers ace Clayotn Kershaw meets with country singer Brad Paisley before the start of Game 2.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, share a light moment before the start of Game 2.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers outfielder Enrique Hernandez, right, shares a light moment with hitting coach Turner Ward before the start of Game 2.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers fan Wendy Perez, of Los Angeles, holds up 7-month-old son Ezra Perez, her “lucky charm,” in the upper level before watching the Dodgers play the Astros in Game 2.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
A Corey Seager fan watches an Astros pitcher work out in the bullpen before Game 2.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Mike Eliason, dressed in a Justin Turner wig, high-fives Dodgers fans before Game 2.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers fan Robbie Tabares, 6, of Whittier takes in the view of his first World Series from the upper deck.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers fans take photos before watching the Dodgers play the Astros in Game 2.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers season-ticket holder Gilbert Romero sports his Dodgers sombrero and beads in upper deck before the start of Game 2.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
I saw him interviewed after the game, and he said he tried to slow the game down. He wasn’t swinging within himself in Game 1, when he struck out four times. The pressure and nerves of your first World Series game will do that. He’s a strong guy with a great swing, a great athlete, clearly a clutch player and a superstar. It was a fantastic game, it really was.
Dodgers relievers had thrown 28 scoreless innings in the postseason before Houston scored against setup man Brandon Morrow in the eighth and Jansen in the ninth. How important was it for the Astros to put a dent in the Dodgers bullpen?
What Houston did against Morrow and Jansen basically gave them the chance to get to the last reliever the Dodgers had, Brandon McCarthy, and they got to him right away in the 11th.
There’s definitely a psychological edge for the Astros. You just can’t let the other team’s top two relievers dominate you every time, or you’ll win zero games. Morrow and Jansen are great pitchers with great stuff, but trying to get six outs from your closer isn’t the same as coming in to get three outs.
(Dodgers manager) Dave Roberts was very aggressive tonight. I’m guessing they had preplanned it for (starter Rich) Hill to go through the lineup twice, see what the score is, and with five right-handed hitters up in the fifth, it made sense to bring in Kenta Maeda. This is not the regular season.
I was thinking the pitcher had some extra nerves and he just hooked that throw. They got a huge break there with the umpire. The center fielder was shaded toward the gap in right-center. Hernandez might have scored on that play.
Didn’t the Dodgers get a pretty big break in the fourth, too?
They did. Two on, one out, Alex Bregman hits a sinking liner that Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor dives for and can’t catch. The ball caroms off the bill of his cap and right to Joc Pederson in left. If that ball doesn’t hit Taylor’s hat, it would have been a double or triple, for sure. A run scores, but it’s only a single. The runners have to hold at first and second. Altuve and Correa strike out. Inning over.
The Dodgers had a 3-1 lead in the sixth after Corey Seager’s two-run homer, and it looked as if they might rout the Astros. How has the series changed with the teams tied 1-1 and Houston returning home, where they won four American League Championship Series games against the New York Yankees?
You want to create momentum going back home, and they have Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton going in Games 3 and 4. The Astros’ confidence is way up. This win tonight gets them feeling like they did when they were so awesome during the season.
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna