Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Eckersley’

25 Years On

October 16, 2013
Dodgers first baseman Franklin Stubbs

Dodgers first baseman Franklin Stubbs

Normally I do a post about this time each year dealing with what happened 25 years ago. I’ve held off this year because the post would involve the Dodgers and they happen to be still playing (although for how much longer is a question). But it’s time to remind you what happened a quarter century back.

It was supposed to be a matchup between the “Bash Brothers” of Oakland and the Mets. Everyone agreed that the World Series would be between the two best teams in baseball and those were the Athletics and the Mets. The A’s were dominant in the American League. Led by MVP Jose Conseco who became the first player with both 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases, “Bash Brother” Mark McGwire only one year removed from his Rookie of the Year performance, a fine pitching staff, and Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley Oakland rolled over Boston to keep up its end of the bargain.

In the National League the Mets, two years removed from their World Series win, rolled to the NL East title and had only to dispatch the Dodgers, a team they held an 11-1 record against, to meet the A’s in what was a hugely anticipated World Series. On the way to that Series showdown, the Dodgers pulled off one of the greatest upsets since David took out Goliath in the first round.

It was a fairly nondescript Dodgers team. Most were players no one had heard of prior to 1988. The infield was, first around to third, Franklin Stubbs, Steve Sax, Alfredo Griffin, and Jeff Hamilton. Sax was a former Rookie of the Year (1982), Griffin was a Toronto cast-off who’d failed to cross the Mendoza line with his bat, and Stubbs and Hamilton were, at least to most fans, unknown. The outfield had Mike Marshall (not to be confused with the 1970s relief man) who had some power, John Shelby (another cast-off, this time from Baltimore), and Kirk Gibson. Gibson was new to the team, a free agent from Detroit. He’d become the heart and soul of the team and was destined to pick up the NL MVP award at the end of the season. Mike Scioscia was the catcher. The staff consisted of Orel Hershiser, having his career year and destined to win the NL Cy Young Award, and a pair of Tims, Leary and Belcher. Fernando Valenzuela was hurt, Don Sutton had just retired. John Tudor was over from St. Louis, but had pitched only nine games for LA> Although Jay Howell had emerged as the primary closer, Alejandro Pena (not yet a closer for the Braves), and Jesse Orosco (a Mets cast-off) had, together, as many saves as Howell. Other than Hershiser, it was a less-than-stellar staff.

But then they beat the Mets. It took seven games, but they did it. Scioscia and Gibson had big hits, Hershiser picked up a win, and of all things, a save (only his second relief appearance of the year) and the Dodgers won the playoff. Along the way, Gibson’s injuries mounted and it was considered unlikely that he’d play in the Series.

Of course you know the result. Conseco smashed a grand slam in game one putting Oakland ahead 4-0 and confirming people’s belief that the Series would be short and one-sided. Then Gibson’s sub, Mickey Hatcher hit the first of his two home runs (he’d had one all season) and the Dodgers clawed back to 4-3 before Gibson pinch hit one of the two most famous home runs in Dodgers history (Bobby Thomson hit the other) and win game one. Hershiser was magic in game two throwing a three-hit shutout . The A;s managed a win in game three on McGwire’s walk off home run.

The key game was game four. Using what Bob Costas described as the weakest lineup in World Series history, the Dodgers pulled off a surprise. With backups Hatcher, Mike Davis, and Rick Dempsey (Scioscia got hurt during the game) playing and Danny Heep as the designated hitter, they beat Cy Young candidate Dave Stewart 4-3. Then Hershiser came back to win game five, the Series, and the Series MVP the next evening.

For the Dodgers it was a great one year run. they dropped to fourth in 1989 and didn’t get back to playoff baseball until 1995. They have not been to the World Series since. Oakland, on the other hand, won two more AL titles, and the 1989 World Series. They won one more division title in 1992, then slid back.

It was a fascinating Series, dominated today by Gibson’s magical home run. But each game was individually interesting with three games being decided by one run. It’s kind of a shame that has become known for one play.

A Bad Century: Revival

May 15, 2012

Bob Dernier

After losing the 1945 World Series the Chicago Cubs went into a prolonged slump, a wander in the wilderness. It lasted 39 years (one less than Moses). For all that time, the Cubs were a team that produced really good players like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams, but continuously failed to advance to any kind of postseason. They were in contention a couple of times, most notably 1969, but failed, as usual, to pull off a victory. That finally changed in 1984.

The Cubs of 1984 were sometimes called the “Phillies West” because of a  major trade with Philadelphia that gave them just over half their starting lineup. They picked up all three outfielders from Philadelphia: Bob Dernier, Gary Mathews, and Keith Moreland (both Mathews and Moreland were part of the 1980 World Championship team) as well as the middle infield combination of shortstop Larry Bowa and second baseman and MVP Ryne Sandberg. Third baseman Ron Cey had also arrived from another team, this time the Dodgers, as did former Cardinal Leon Durham who held down first base. Only catcher Jody Davis had spent his entire big league career in Chicago. The pitching staff was put together the same way. Rick Sutcliffe came over early in the year from Cleveland (much the same way Hank Borowy had done in 1945, except Borowy came from New York) and won the National League Cy Young Award that season. Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, still a starter, was out of Boston, and Steve Trout had been across town with the White Sox. Warren Brusstar was part of the Phillies contingent and Scott Sanderson had been at Montreal. Even reliever Lee Smith was from St. Louis. But manager Jim Frey (also someone who’d come from another team, Kansas City) wielded all the trades and free agents and pick ups together so that they worked. The Cubs won 96 games, the NL East title and a had a date with the San Diego Padres for the NL crown. Even the first two games were in Wrigley Field. Things were so giddy that there was talk of activating Ernie Banks at the end of the season so he could sit in the dugout during the playoffs (they didn’t activate him, but he was allowed to sit in the dugout).

After two games it looked like the drought might be over. Chicago took game one 13-0 with Sutcliffe both pitching and contributing with one of five Cubs home runs. Game two ended 4-2 for Chicago, but the Cubs were in control from the beginning. All they had to do now was win one game in San Diego and the thirty-nine year World Series-less run would be over.

They lost game three 7-1, a game they’d led 1-0. Well, they still had two more chances. Then they made a major mistake; they decided to pitch to Steve Garvey. In a pivotal game four Garvey went 4 for 5 with five RBIs and a walk off home run as the Padres won 7-5. Which meant it all came down to game five.

Chicago got off to a three run lead when Durham popped a two-run home run in the first and Davis hit a solo shot in the second. San Diego got two of them back in the sixth on two singles, a walk to Garvey, and consecutive sacrifice flies. Then came the bottom of the seventh (the same inning as the later infamous “Bartman” game). With one out, Durham committed an error that tied up the game and from that point the pitching staff simply melted down (same as with the “Bartman” game). A single, a double, and an RBI hit by Garvey plated a total of four runs. The Cubs got two men on in the eighth and one in the ninth, but failed to score any of them. San Diego won 6-3 to secure a date with Detroit in the World Series, where the Tigers proceeded to dismantle them four games to one.

For Chicago it was a disappointment, but it was a critical turn around. After 39 years in the wilderness the Cubs had gotten to postseason. It’s now become a sporadic habit. After 39 non-playoff seasons, the Cubs have made the postseason with some frequency in the last 25 years. With the advent of a two-tier playoff system, they’ve even won a playoff series. It’s true they’ve never been back to the World Series and the Bad Century continues, but they’ve managed to move out of perpetual doldrums into occasional postseason play. For Chicago that’s a celebratory step up. And it’s the closest there is to a happy note on which to end this series.

2011 AL MVP

October 5, 2011

If you haven’t already done so, take a second and head over to the On Deck Circle blog (listed at right). Bill Miller has a fine, well reasoned article looking at the 2011 candidates for the MVP in the American League. He concludes it should be Miguel Cabrera.

Now here’s the thing. I agree with him on who should win. But I have this feeling that Cabrera won’t win. I look for him to come in third or lower. I think, in this post-steroids (I hope) era, Cabrera’s off field problems will weigh against him.  I also don’t think the writers will simply overlook Curtis Granderson of the Yankees. He plays for the most famous and important team in the AL and this season he was their best player. I think that will get him votes and I look for him to come in second. But I believe the winner will be Justin Verlander of Detroit. The last time a pitcher won the AL MVP was Dennis Eckersley in 1992. The last starter to win it was way back in 1986 when Roger Clemens won, and before that go back to 1971 when Vida Blue won. And the National League is even worse with Bob Gibson being the last winner in 1968. There have been worthy candidates in other years (Steve Carlton in 1972 comes to mind–he finished fifth), but the general comment has been “but they’ve got a Cy Young Award for pitchers”, as if a pitcher cannot be “most valuable” to his team. I think this year Verlander’s season has been so outstanding the writers will take the opportunity to rectify this.

With any kind of luck I’ll be wrong, but I won’t hold my breath.

Best Possible Game 1

December 9, 2009

The Los Angeles Dodgers were big underdogs to start the 1988 World Series. The Oakland A’s had the “Bash Brothers” in Mark McGwire and soon to be crowned MVP Jose Canseco, stalwart pitching ace Dave Stewart on the mound, and future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley in the bullpen. To answer the Dodgers had Cy Young winner-in-waiting Orel Hershiser, but he was to pitch game two. Future MVP Kirk Gibson was out of the lineup with bad legs. It was supposed to be a walkover.

Somebody forgot to tell the Dodgers. They struck in the bottom of the first when Steve Sax was hit by a pitch, balked to second, then came home on Mickey Hatcher’s two-run homer. Hatcher was in the lineup as Gibson’s replacement and with that home run equalled his regular season total of one.

Not to worry if you’re the A’s. They struck back (literally) in the 2nd with a single, two walks, and Canseco’s grand slam that banged off a television camera (He later autographed the camera). The game remained 4-2 until the 6th when the Dodgers pushed across a run on three singles.

That set up the bottom of the ninth. With Eckersley on the mound, the A’s got 2 quick outs then their relief ace walked Mike Davis. The Dodgers sent up Gibson, gimpy legs and all to pinch hit for the pitcher. With two strikes he slugged a backdoor slider into the right field stands to win the game and send the Dodgers on their way to a 5 game victory. According to the story, a Dodgers scout had watched Eckersley enough to predict a backdoor slider in that situation and Gibson was waiting for it. Lost in the hoopla of Gibson’s home run was the significance of the Davis walk. Eckersley gets him out and Gibson never comes to bat. As an interesting aside, new Hall of Famer Doug Harvey was the home plate umpire for this game.

Honorable mention game 1’s:

1903-not just the first World Series game, but a heck of a game as the Pirates won 7-3.

1905-the first of Christy Mathewson’s 3 consecutive complete game shutouts in the series. He game up 4 hits in a 3-0 victory.

1929-geezer Howard Ehmke strikes out 13 Cubs to lead the A”s to a 3-1 victory.

1954-famous for Willie Mays’ great center field catch. The Giants won in 10 on Dusty Rhodes 3-run homer.

1966-Moe Drabowsky shuts down the Dodgers early to start a four game sweep for the Orioles.

1968-Gibson sets the strikeout record against Detroit.

2004-for those who like offense, the Red Sox and Cardinals beat up on each other in an 11-9 slugfest.