The true Dodgers fan has these words committed to memory: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
Those were the words Vin Scully used to describe Kirk Gibson’s home run in the 1988 World Series. Gibson was hobbled, Orel Hershiser was blessed, and the Dodgers were champions.
The Dodgers might not have remained at the top of their game, but Scully has. Oh, he might miss a name now and then, but keep listening and you’re bound to hear one of those impromptu lines that only Scully can deliver.
And so it was on Tuesday, when the Dodgers erased a five-run deficit in the seventh inning, and when Ivan De Jesus doubled his career total of runs batted in as he doubled home the tying and winning runs in the ninth.
“This wonder team has now won six in a row, and we’re using unusual names,” Scully said.
Fans rushed to share that line on Twitter. The Dodgers’ public relations staff used “Wonder Team” to headline its media notes Wednesday.
When emergency minor league fill-ins — De Jesus, Elian Herrera, Scott Van Slyke — emerge as sudden stars, why not?
The Dodgers boast the best record in baseball, even with a crowded disabled list that starts with Matt Kemp, perhaps the best player in baseball. It all seems so, well, improbable.
When we caught up with Scully the next day, he still was marveling over that De Jesus double. In 36 previous major league at-bats, De Jesus had zero extra-base hits. Chris Young, the center fielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks, was well aware of the scouting report.
“I could see where Chris Young was,” Scully said. “He was playing for De Jesus to get a base hit, so he could make a play at the plate. Nobody expects De Jesus to hit it over his head, not that far.
“And you say, ‘Well, there you go again.’”
This is improbable, right? Shades of ’88, no?
“Yes, Gibson with the bad leg, but he was a veteran,” Scully said. “He had hit 25 home runs that year. So, yes, it was improbable because he was on one leg and couldn’t play, but that’s not some kid from Albuquerque like Scott Van Slyke — and they let him swing 3-and-0.
“All of that is really fun.”
That would be Van Slyke getting a green light and hitting his first major league home run — a game-winning, pinch-hit home three-run shot. That would be like Mike Scioscia hitting a ninth-inning home run off Dwight Gooden in the 1988 National League championship series, right?
Try the “improbable” story line again, and Scully still isn’t buying.
“If these were veteran players, proven major leaguers who were suddenly given a chance to play, then, yeah,” Scully said. “I can think of Mickey Hatcher doing something in ’88, or Scoiscia hitting the home run against Dwight Gooden. There were rather remarkable moments. But they were players who played.
“Here, I’m sitting there looking at a 10-year minor league player like Elian Herrera, and a kid like De Jesus — I never knew if he would ever make it when he broke his leg.
“It’s a lot of fun to see. I think that’s the biggest thing. Now, sure, they might somehow stop. But, right now, it’s just golden.”
Scully has been the beloved voice of the Dodgers since 1950. Truth be told, he isn’t sure 1988 is the most improbable of all those years.
He was there in 1958, the first season after the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn.
“When they came out to California, they had to make a decision,” Scully said. “The decision was, do we bring the older players with the famous names, or the kids?
“They opted to go for the older players with the famous names, which helped them draw a lot of people. But it was a seventh-place team. So ‘highly improbable’ was 1959, when they went from seventh to world champions.
“That was the height of improbability.”
That happened three times in baseball history — the New York Giants in 1932-33, the Dodgers in 1958-59, and the Minnesota Twins in 1990-91. No longer can a team finish as low as seventh place.
These Dodgers are playing so well that we shuddered at one thought. If the Dodgers somehow got back to the World Series for the first time since 1988, would that influence Scully’s decision on whether to retire?
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Scully said. “I don’t think the outcome will.”
He remains year-to-year. He will sit down with his wife later in the season, see how he feels, see how she feels.
“Right now, like everybody else, I’m just enjoying the fun,” Scully said. “I don’t expect them to keep playing like this. Realistically, I don’t.
“They’re in first place, everything is going well, and all that without Kemp and [Juan] Rivera. But, when everybody comes back, it would be fun to compare: how are they doing against the Albuquerque Isotopes?”