October 20, 2019

The Ultimate Seven-Game Fall Classic: Game One

November 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

With all due respect to the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers, the 2010 World Series wasn’t exactly one for the ages, although I’m happy for the city of San Francisco, the Giants and their fans.

Don’t get me wrong, I commend both teams for their efforts, but the 2010 Fall Classic had me scouring my copy of Total Baseball and navigating through baseball-reference.com for the most competitive, intriguing, historic games in World Series history in an effort to come up with something more intriguing or exciting than what I just watched.

I had no predetermined criteria going into this; I simply looked at the line scores, box scores, pitching match-ups, and play-by-play accounts, then read brief descriptions of each game, looking for anything of interest.  This list includes late or extra-inning come-from-behind victories, pitchers’ duels, back-and-forth slugfests with multiple lead changes, and historic moments.  And it’s not composed of the seven most interesting or exciting games in World Series history, it’s composed of the most interesting and exciting Game Ones, Game Twos, Game Threes, and so on and so forth.  There are no right or wrong answers here, only my own personal preferences.

Each article will focus on one game at a time, from Game One to Game Seven, and will feature my favorite one from each.

Here is my favorite Game One:

October 15, 1988—Oakland A’s at Los Angeles Dodgers: The A’s, led by Bash Brothers Jose Canseco (.307/42/124 and 40 steals) and Mark McGwire (32 HR and 99 RBIs), 21-game winner Dave Stewart, and closer Dennis Eckersley, who led the league with 45 saves, cruised to a 104-58 record and made a mockery of the A.L. West, finishing 13 games ahead of the second-place Minnesota Twins.  Then they pounded the Red Sox in the ALCS to earn their first World Series berth since 1974.

The Dodgers were a less dominating, albeit still impressive, 94-67 and they needed seven games to dispatch the heavily favored N.L. East champion New York Mets in the NLCS to earn their second World Series berth of the decade.  Offensively, the Dodgers weren’t nearly the equal of the A’s, boasting no .300 hitters or 100-RBI men, and only three players with 10 or more homers—Kirk Gibson, who led the team with 25, Mike Marshall, who belted 20, and John Shelby, who smacked 10.  Like the A’s, the Dodgers boasted only one 20-game winner, Orel Hershiser, who went 23-8 with a 2.26 ERA, but had two other starters, Tim Leary and Tim Belcher, who sported ERAs under 3.00, both coming in at 2.91.  And the Dodgers’ bullpen featured a closing tandem of Jay Howell and Alejandro Pena, who combined for 33 saves and a 1.98 ERA in almost 160 innings.

As a team, the Dodgers scored 628 runs and averaged 3.9 per game; the A’s scored 798 runs and averaged almost five runs a game, giving them a clear advantage on offense.  The entire Dodgers team hit only 99 four-baggers; Canseco, McGwire, and center fielder Dave Henderson (24) hit 98 by themselves, and the A’s belted 156 as a team.

The pitching seemed to favor the Dodgers, who ranked second in the N.L. in ERA at 2.96 and runs allowed per game at 3.4, while the A’s, who also finished second in ERA and runs per game, weren’t as impressive at 3.44 and 3.8, respectively.  But a closer look shows the A’s had a slight advantage in pitching as well, allowing .53 runs/game less than league average vs. the Dodgers’ mark of .52, and posting an ERA that was .54 runs better than average vs. the Dodgers’ mark of .49.

The A’s were heavy favorites going into the Series and few thought the Dodgers could win.  Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog insisted the Dodgers weren’t even the best team in the National League; Twins manager Tom Kelly predicted an A’s victory; and the A’s themselves, especially Canseco, were confident that they could dispatch L.A. in five games.  “We’re on a roll; we’re enthused; and we’ve got lots of confidence,” the slugger told reporter Michael Martinez.  Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post agreed.  “They’re better.  They’re hotter.  They’re more rested.  Their aim—a world title—has always been higher than the Dodgers’, who’ve been playing for respect, more than rings, all season.”  Boswell predicted the A’s would win in five.

Writer Phil Elderkin called the matchup a battle of the “resourceful Dodgers” vs. “Oakland’s power company” and wondered if the old adage about good pitching beating good hitting would apply.  “Canseco, who hit three homers in the playoffs, is so strong that often he doesn’t even have to make good contact to ride the ball out of the park.  Jose’s forearms are so massive that one could probably tattoo all of the Los Angeles freeway system on them.”

Then Elderkin wrote something that proved prescient: “Barring the unexpected, this is a series that pits Oakland’s power, pitching, and defense against the Dodgers’ pitching, timely hitting, and hard-to-explain ability to overcome seemingly impossible odds.”

The odds became even more “seemingly impossible” when Kirk Gibson, the beat up and battered star of the Dodgers, was unable to take batting practice the day before Game 1 due to a sore left hamstring and a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.  Gibson was the statistical and spiritual leader of the club, setting the tone early in the season when he went ballistic on the first day of spring training when pitcher Jesse Orosco smeared eye black on Gibson’s cap as a practical joke.  It was mostly because of his leadership that Gibson was eventually named N.L. MVP despite posting numbers that were inferior to players like Daryl Strawberry of the Mets and Will Clark of the Giants.

Gibson and Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda insisted that if there was any way Gibson could play, he would.  “If he’s breathing, I think he’ll be playing,” said Lasorda.  But the day of the game, Lasorda couldn’t pencil Gibson’s name into the starting lineup, breathing or not.  “He can’t do it; he just can’t do it,” Lasorda told reporters.  “I was hoping in the next two hours he would get well.  It’s tough to lose him right now.”

Instead of Gibson in left field, Lasorda went with his star’s polar opposite, the affable and fun-loving Mickey Hatcher, a 10-year veteran with a .282 career batting average, but only 36 homers in more than 3,000 career at-bats.  Hatcher hit .293 in 1988 with only one home run in 191 at-bats, but Lasorda penciled Hatcher into the three hole, the same spot occupied by Canseco, the first 40-40 man in baseball history and that year’s runaway winner of the A.L. MVP award.

Lasorda was also hamstrung in the pitching department after going with Hershiser in Game 7 of the NLCS.  Not wanting to run his ace out there on only two days rest, Lasorda went with rookie Tim Belcher, who went 12-6 in 27 regular season starts, then beat the Mets twice in the playoffs.  A’s manager Tony LaRussa had no such problem, as his ace, Dave Stewart, last threw in Game 4 of the ALCS on October 9 and was well rested.

Belcher struggled early, loading the bases in the top of the first when he surrendered a single to Dave Henderson, hit Canseco with a pitch, and walked McGwire, but he coaxed catcher Terry Steinbach to fly out to Shelby in center field to end the inning without allowing a run.  Stewart wasn’t sharp either; he hit Steve Sax in the middle of the back with his first pitch of the game, prompting home plate umpire Doug Harvey to issue warnings to both benches, then with Hatcher at the plate and one out, he balked Sax to second.

Hatcher made Lasorda look like a genius when he deposited a Stewart offering into the left field seats for a two-run homer and gave the home crowd a show by running around the bases like his hair was on fire.  In fact, he almost caught up to Sax, who couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Hatcher cross the plate right behind him.  “Talk about surprise,” Sax said after the game.  “I crossed the plate, turned around and there he was.  I thought, ‘Where did he come from?””

“It was as if he thought they would suddenly change their minds and take it back,” said Dodgers third base coach Joey Amalfitano.  “I should have slowed down and enjoyed it,” Hatcher admitted later.  “But I don’t have a home run trot.  I don’t have any experience at it.”

Stewart got out of the inning without further damage and looked to his powerful teammates to come to his rescue.  They didn’t disappoint.  Glenn Hubbard singled, Walt Weiss struck out, and Stewart and Carney Lansford walked to load the bases.  It clearly wasn’t Belcher’s day; he’d faced 10 batters and six had reached base via hit, walk, or hit by pitch.  Pitching coach Ron Perranoski made a trip to the mound after the free pass to Stewart, then Lasorda had Tim Leary start warming up in the bullpen when Belcher fell behind Lansford.  When Belcher fell behind Dave Henderson, southpaw Ricky Horton began warming up as well.

The rookie recovered briefly and fanned Henderson, but he still had to face Canseco with the bases juiced and two outs.  Belcher fell behind again, throwing a ball to Canseco on his first pitch.  Then he threw one more to Canseco’s liking and the behemoth slugger lined a 400-foot shot over the center field fence for a grand slam to give Oakland a 4-2 lead.  “There was no hang time,” wrote Larry Whiteside of the Boston Globe.  “This was a rocket that only a man of amazing strength could hit.”

“I still can’t believe how fast the ball got out of the park,” Lasorda said after the game.  “He’s got an awesome swing.  He just hit a line drive, and it was gone.  After seeing him tonight, I can see how he hit 40 home runs.”  Awesome swing or not, the homer proved to be Canseco’s only hit of the Series in 22 plate appearances.

Belcher walked Dave Parker, drawing the ire of the home town faithful, then retired McGwire on a fielder’s choice grounder to short to end the inning, but Lasorda had seen enough and yanked the rookie from the game, pinch hitting Danny Heep in the bottom of the second.  Stewart had little trouble with the Dodgers in the last of the second, surrendering a two-out single to Alfredo Griffin, before retiring Heep on a grounder to short.

Tim Leary entered the game for the Dodgers in the top of the third and ran into immediate trouble when Steinbach hit a smash that third baseman Jeff Hamilton knocked down but couldn’t handle, then advanced to second on a basehit to left by Glenn Hubbard.  But Leary worked out of the jam by retiring Walt Weiss on a fly ball to left, striking out Stewart, and coaxing Carney Lansford to ground out to short.  Except for a two-out walk to Hatcher, Stewart handled the Dodgers again in the third and led 4-2 going into the fourth.

Dave Henderson led off the fourth with a ground rule double into the right field corner, but thwarted the rally with poor baserunning when he got caught off second base on a Canseco grounder to Griffin at short.  Henderson was tagged out during a brief rundown and the A’s had a man on first with one down and Parker at the plate.  Keeping with the bad baserunning theme, Parker plunked a short grounder to the right side that was fielded by Leary, who drilled Parker in the right shoulder with his throw to first.  Canseco advanced all the way to third and Parker went to second on the errant throw, but Harvey called Parker out for running out of the baseline, which brought Tony LaRussa out of the dugout for a futile argument.

Canseco was sent back to first but wasn’t there long, stealing second base with McGwire at the plate.  The move backfired when Lasorda ordered an intentional walk to McGwire and Leary fanned Steinbach to end the inning.  Stewart and Leary traded three-up/three-downs in the bottom of the fourth and top of the fifth, respectively, but when Griffin walked to lead off the bottom of the fifth, Lasorda yanked Leary in favor of pinch hitter Tracy Woodson.  But Stewart sandwiched two groundouts and a flyout around a wild pitch and the Dodgers stranded yet another runner on base.

Lasorda went to his pen again in the sixth and brought righty Brian Holton into the game.  The 28-year-old was in his fourth season, including a cup of coffee in 1985, and enjoyed a career year, going 7-3 with a save and a microscopic 1.70 ERA in 45 appearances.  Holton was murder on right-handed batters, holding them to a .204 average and surrendering only eight extra-base hits in 159 plate appearances, and only Reds closer John Franco had a lower ERA among National League relievers.  Holton wasted no time neutralizing Oakland’s power, retiring Lansford, Canseco, and Henderson on a lineout to center and two groundouts to the left side.

The Dodgers finally parlayed runners into a run in the bottom of the sixth courtesy of consecutive singles by Mike Marshall, John Shelby, and Mike Scioscia, which cut the score to 4-3 in favor of the A’s, but Stewart survived without further damage when Jeff Hamilton grounded into an inning-ending 5-3 double play.  Both teams reached base again in the seventh, but both stranded runners at second and the A’s clung to their slim 4-3 lead.

Lasorda summoned Alejandro Pena into the game to start the eighth.  Pena was in his eighth year in the league, all with the Dodgers, and bounced around between the bullpen and the rotation, before enjoying two successful years as a starter in 1983, when he finished fifth in the N.L. with a 2.75 ERA, and 1984, when he led the league with a mark of 2.48.  He underwent rotator cuff surgery in 1985, pitched mostly out of the bullpen in ’86-’87, and became a full-time reliever in 1988, posting a 1.91 ERA in 60 appearances and recording a then career-high 12 saves.

Pena had no trouble with the A’s, retiring Weiss, Stewart, and Lansford in order; Stewart returned the favor in the bottom of the frame, striking out Hatcher, popping up Marshall, and getting Shelby to fly out to Canseco in right.  Pena accepted the challenge and fanned Henderson and Canseco to start off the top of the ninth, surrendered a single to Stan Javier, who had pinch run for Parker earlier in the game, then retired McGwire on a foul fly to right, setting up one of the most exciting finishes in baseball history.

With the A’s clinging to a one-run lead, LaRussa went to his bullpen and summoned closer Dennis Eckersley into the game.  Stewart was in command and had thrown only 98 pitches, but Eckersley had established himself as the best closer in the junior circuit, pacing all A.L. relievers in saves, baserunners/9 IP, hits/9 IP, and K/BB ratio, and finished among the top four in K/9 IP and ERA.  He had 45 saves on the year, a 2.35 ERA, and 70 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings, but what was most impressive is that he walked only 11 batters all year, and two of those were intentional.  He was also equally effective against righties and lefties, holding the former to a .197 average and two homers in 148 plate appearances, and the latter to a .198 average and three homers in 131 plate appearances.

“…most of the crowd had watched their beloved Dodgers looking feeble against the Athletics for eight innings,” wrote Whiteside.  “Dave Stewart had scattered six hits, and with The Eck on deck, this was like money in the bank.”

Eckersley was coming off a masterful performance, in which he saved all four A’s victories over the Red Sox in the ALCS, allowing only one hit in six innings, while fanning five, and was named MVP of the series. He showed the Dodgers how valuable he was to the A’s when he retired Scioscia and Hamilton on five pitches, popping Scioscia up to Weiss and whiffing Hamilton on three straight offerings.  With Griffin due up and Los Angeles down to their last out, Lasorda called on lefty swinger Mike Davis to pinch hit.

Davis had been drafted by the A’s out of San Diego’s Hoover High School in the third round of the 1977 amateur draft and reached the majors in 1980 at only 21 years old.  He played sparingly until 1983 when he became the A’s starting right fielder and backed up Dwayne Murphy on occasion in center.  He blossomed in 1985, hitting .287 with 24 home runs, 82 RBIs, and 24 steals, and averaged 22 homers, 70 RBIs, and 23 steals from ’85-’87 before signing with the Dodgers as a free agent prior to the ’88 season.  Davis struggled mightily in his first season in L.A., batting only .196 with two homers and 17 RBIs in 108 games, and he wasn’t much better against righties, hitting only .203, although with both homers and 10 of his 17 ribbies.

With the quick-working Eckersley on the mound, Lasorda told Davis to disrupt his timing by stepping out of the box.  Then Lasorda deked the A’s by having right-handed hitting utility infielder Dave Anderson swing a bat in the on-deck circle.  Anderson was a .232 career hitter with 12 home runs in almost 1,500 career at-bats, and Lasorda figured that when Eckersley saw Anderson getting ready to hit, he’d pitch around Davis to get to the light-hitting righty.

Davis fouled off Eckersley’s first offering, then did as instructed, frequently stepping out of the box and throwing off Eckersley’s timing.  “The guy’s hitting a buck ninety—what the hell’s he doing calling time?” the closer asked later.  Then Eck threw four straight balls and walked him.  “I wasn’t pitching around him,” Eckersley insisted.  “Not at all.  I was going right at him.  Everything was away.  It just went ball-ball-ball.”

He had faced 302 batters in the regular season, ALCS, and World Series to that point and had walked only 11 of them.  Davis was the 12th and it would come back to haunt Eckersley and the A’s.  “[Davis] kept stepping out,” Eckersley said after the game.  “It upset my concentration.  I like to work quickly.”

Meanwhile, unbeknown to most, Kirk Gibson had sent word to Lasorda that he wanted to play and began limbering up in the clubhouse at the start of the inning.  With two strikes on Hamilton, Jack Buck announced “Gibson is in the dugout fondling a bat; we might see him before this game is over.”  But when Davis came on to pinch hit for Griffin and Anderson took his spot in the on-deck circle, it looked like Gibson would remain firmly planted on the Dodgers’ bench.  Once Davis reached base, though, Anderson gave way to Gibson, who received a thunderous ovation from the crowd as he limped his way to the plate.

“It was a cheer of hope, but not one born of reality,” wrote the Houston Chronicle’s Fran Blinebury.  “Not if you looked at the cold hard facts and didn’t believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.”

No one in the stadium was more shocked than Buck, who insisted it would be impossible for Gibson to hit.  But the slugger had been pacing back and forth between the clubhouse and the trainer’s room, icing his knee, which had already been injected with cortisone, and taking swings in the batting cage, and he was ready.

Eckersley came right after Gibson with a fastball, which the slugger fouled off, then hobbled out of the box.  The closer would later explain that due to Gibson’s condition, he wanted to go with nothing but fastballs away to try to coax him to hit a weak fly ball to left.  With the crowd on its feet imploring their hero to perform a miracle, Gibson stepped back into the box and awaited Eck’s next offering.  The pitcher alternated between throwing to first to keep Davis close and throwing to the plate, and when he came home, Gibson fouled that off too and the count went to 0-2.  “When I got two strikes against me, I tried to buckle down, even though my knee was hurting,” Gibson would later explain.  “I just wanted to make contact.”

A couple more tosses to first preceded Eckersley’s next pitch, which Gibson hit weakly down the first base line, then feebly limped towards first before the ball rolled foul.  “Gibson can hardly run at all,” Buck announced.  “They were such bad swings, you could feel Gibson’s pain from the upper deck,” wrote Jayson Stark of the Philadelphia Inquirer.  “You watched him limp around between pitches, flexing his sore knee.  You wondered what he was even doing out there.”

Eckersley’s next pitch was a ball, but the game almost ended when catcher Ron Hassey, who’d entered the game in the bottom of the ninth for defensive purposes, threw a bullet to first that almost caught Davis before he scrambled back safely to the bag.

On Eckersley’s next pitch, Davis took off for second, but Gibson fouled it away.  Then Eck came back with a high fastball that Gibson took for ball two.  Eckersley threw over to first one more time, then came to the plate.  Gibson took the pitch for ball three and Davis took second base without a throw.  Now, with a runner in scoring position, Gibson slightly adjusted his approach.  “Mike’s stolen base was huge because all I had to think about was shortening my swing and trying to get a hit to score him,” Gibson explained.

With first base open, LaRussa chose to pitch to Gibson rather than have Eckersley walk him and face the on-deck batter, Steve Sax.  “I knew they had a tough hitter in the on-deck circle,” LaRussa said.  “And I figured the best thing to do was have Dennis go right at [Gibson].”  Whether LaRussa knew it or not, Sax had been money with runners in scoring position that year, batting .350, and was especially dangerous with two outs, batting .419 with a .520 on-base percentage.  Besides, the A’s skipper wasn’t about to put the winning run on base.

After feeding Gibson a steady diet of fastballs, Hassey called for a slider.  “We had been throwing him all those fastballs, and I felt like we could freeze him with the breaking ball,” the catcher later explained.  Eckersley wanted to keep throwing smoke, but didn’t shake off his catcher and decided to throw the nastiest slider he could.  But it got too much of the plate.

Here’s Jack Buck’s call:

“But, we have a big 3-2 pitch coming here from Eckersley. Gibson swings, and a fly ball to deep right field! This is gonna be a home run! Unbelievable! A home run for Gibson! And the Dodgers have won the game, 5 to 4; I don’t believe what I just saw! I don’t believe what I just saw! Is this really happening, Bill? One of the most remarkable finishes to any World Series Game…a one-handed home run by Kirk Gibson! And the Dodgers have won it…five to four; and I’m stunned, Bill. I have seen a lot of dramatic finishes in a lot of sports, but this one might top almost every other one.”

“Gibson, with one blow, restored the magic usually reserved for such things as Disneyland and Alice in Wonderland,” wrote Whiteside.  “Who would have thought that a man, hobbled by injuries and unable to run, would be able to come through in the clutch against Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley.”

“It was a great moment,” Gibson said after the game.  “And I felt fortunate to be there and be a part of it.  This was a classic.”

Indeed it was.

On Deck—The Ultimate Seven-Game Fall Classic: Game Two

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