MLB History: The 1988 Dodgers

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In MLB History, The 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers are one of those teams that came alive at the right time and got hot heading into the playoffs. The Dodgers won the World Series in five games in dramatic fashion thanks in part to Kirk Gibson’s game-winning Home Run in Game One. That moment stands out as one of the most iconic in recent baseball history.

For Dodger fans, it may be bigger than Cody Bellinger’s catch in the 2020 Playoffs against the San Diego Padres, however, only time will tell.

MLB History The 1988 Dodgers

The New York Mets led the National League in 1988. The Mets won 100 games and lost 60, while the Dodgers were 94-67. 

Kirk Gibson’s 25 home runs led the Dodgers, but that was only good enough for seventh in the National League. The Dodgers were sixth in the NL in runs scored.

The Dodgers were second in the NL in team ERA and runs allowed, and led the league in complete games and shutouts. Cy Young Award-winner Orel Hershiser led the league in wins, won-loss percentage (23–8, .864), complete games (15), shutouts (8), and sacrifice hits (19). 

He looked to be channeling the Dodgers of days gone by with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale coming to mind. Hershiser threw shutouts in five of his last six regular-season starts en route to a record 59 consecutive scoreless innings pitched, breaking the mark held by Drysdale. 

Tim Leary (17–11, 2.91) and rookie Tim Belcher (12–6, 2.91), backed up Hershiser while the bullpen of Jay Howell (21 saves, 2.08) and Alejandro Peña (12 saves, 1.91) helped the Dodgers lead the league in saves with 49.

The Dodgers upset the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series four games to three. 

The 1988 Oakland Athletics

In fairness to the Dodgers and baseball historians, we should also mention that this Dodgers team is seen as a great one because of who they beat in the World Series, The Oakland Athletics. They deserve their place in MLB History.

The 1988 season saw the powerhouse Oakland Athletics leading the America League with a 104-58 record. They won the American League West by 13 games over the Minnesota Twins, the team that won the World Series in 1987.

The Athletics were entering their period where they would be one of the most dominant teams in baseball representing the American League in the World Series 1988-1990, winning in 1989 against the San Francisco Giants. 

The “Bash Brothers” duo of Mark McGwire (32 home runs, 99 RBI, .260 batting average) and José Canseco (42 home runs, 124 RBI, .307 batting average) led the A’s. Canseco became the first player to hit 40 or more home runs and steal 40 or more bases in Major League history.

Oakland’s pitching staff led in ERA (3.44), wins (104), saves (64), and were second in strikeouts (983) and second in fewest runs allowed and home runs allowed. Dave Stewart won 20 games for the second straight season and Bob Welch was 17–9, 3.64. He had been traded to the A’s by the Dodgers before the season began. 

Dennis Eckersley would lead the American League in saves in 1988 with 45. Another longtime starter (and another ex-Dodger), Rick Honeycutt was Eckersley’s setup man with three wins and seven saves.

World Series Game One: Dave Stewart vs Tim Belcher

Both Belcher and Stewart would struggle in the first inning of the game with Belcher loading the bases before getting out of the inning and Stewart hitting Steve Sax, balking Sax to second, and allowing Mickey Hatcher to hit a two-run homer. 

The Dodgers had struck first but Jose Canseco hit a grand slam in the 2nd that dented a camera in centrefield and gave the A’s the lead 4-2. The Dodgers would get another run after three consecutive hits off Stewart in the 6th to make it 4-3.  

After injuries sustained in the NLCS, Kirk Gibson did not dress for the game initially and was rehabbing in the clubhouse. After a few swings and approval from Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda started Gibson working his bat. He then entered the game as a hobbling pinch hitter with two out in the 9th. 

Dave Stewart had gone the distance and it was as though Eckersley could easily close it out to end Game One. The lengthy at-bat between Eckersley and Gibson was legendary in itself as Gibson fouled off several pitches and could not stand at the plate. Then the rest is MLB history.

Until the 1988 World Series, a team had never won a game with a come-from-behind home run. What’s more ironic is Gibson never batted again that series despite his success. His injuries had gotten the better of him. 

Canseco too only got the grand slam in Game One and did not get a hit again that series. That moment of drama for the A’s did not propel them forward as many thought it would.  

How the 1988 Dodgers Team Measures Up

The 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers were a good team that had a strong end to their regular season and got hot down the stretch. They rode the coattails of Hershiser’s pitching while he fashioned the record-setting 59 scoreless innings. They also had a strong pitching staff that we alluded to that could hold hitters in check.

They upset a strong Mets team as well in the NLCS which no one expected them to do. They also stymied an Oakland team that had some of the most powerful hitters in the game in McGwire and Canseco during the World Series.

Hershiser was the true hero of the 1988 World Series as he shut out the A’s in Game 2, and pitched a two-run, complete game in the decisive Game 5 victory.

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Ben has been closely following sports since the late 1980s and began writing about them in the 90s. Armed with a BA, an associate certificate, and a diploma, he brings a highly educated perspective to sports betting. Specializing in hockey, baseball, and tech, Ben has contributed many outlets and is a frequent contributor to the CKNW radio station.