The 1988 season was perhaps the most memorable in franchise history for the Los Angeles Dodgers as it ended with an improbable World Series championship.
Expectations around the league for the Dodgers that year were not high, but they still managed to win the National League West division with a 94-67 record under the guidance of manager Tommy Lasorda.
They remained an underdog going into the postseason though, where they upset the New York Mets and Oakland Athletics on their way to the organization’s sixth World Series trophy.
The Dodgers began the season by hosting the San Francisco Giants. Everything looked to be going well as the team’s big offseason acquisition, Kirk Gibson, was playing left field and batting third, Fernando Valenzuela was on the mound and Steve Sax hit a leadoff home run.
Things went south from there though as the Giants finished the game with five unanswered runs to take home a 5-1 victory.
L.A. followed Opening Day with five straight wins though and finished the month of April with a 13-7 record. The Dodgers had a record above .500 in every month of the 1988 season.
Despite a 48-36 record at the All-Star break and maintaining first place for much of the first half, the Dodgers only had two players invited to the Midsummer Classic in Gibson and Orel Hershiser. Gibson declined the invitation however, so Hershiser was the only player to represent the organization in Cincinnati.
Gibson and Hershiser were both outstanding for the entire 1988 season, winning NL MVP and Cy Young Awards, respectively.
In 150 games, Gibson hit .290/.377/.483 with 28 doubles, 25 home runs, 106 runs scored, 76 RBI and 31 stolen bases.
Hershiser pitched in 35 games (34 starts) and went 23-8 with a 2.26 ERA, 3.18 FIP and 1.05 WHIP with 178 strikeouts and 73 walks in 267 innings. During the season, Hershiser also set an MLB record that still stands to this day by tossing 59 consecutive scoreless innings.
The streak spanned from the sixth inning of the Aug. 30 game against the Montreal Expos to the 10th inning of a Sept. 28 game against the San Diego Padres.
The previous record of 58.2 innings was set by former Dodger pitcher Don Drysdale in 1968, who was on the radio call when Hershiser broke his mark. Included in Hershiser’s streak was five consecutive complete-game shutouts.
With 94 regular-season wins, the Dodgers finished seven games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds for first place in the NL West. That earned them the opportunity to face the Mets in the NL Championship Series.
The Mets dominated the regular-season series, defeating the Dodgers in 10 of 11 matchups. The Dodgers got the better of the Mets when it mattered most though, outlasting them in seven games to advance to the World Series.
Game 1 featured a pitchers’ duel between aces Dwight Gooden and Hershiser. The Dodgers carried a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning, but the Mets finally got to Hershiser and closer Jay Howell to pull out a 3-2 victory.
The team’s exchanged winning games for the first four games of the series until Game 5, when the Dodgers won in New York behind a three-run home run from Gibson. The Mets responded with a win in Game 6, resulting in a winner-take-all Game 7 at Dodger Stadium.
Hershiser put the team on his back in Game 7, pitching in his fourth game of the series (third start) and tossing a complete-game shutout. The Dodgers scored a run in the first and five more in the second, which was more than enough for Hershiser to lead them into their first World Series since 1981. Hershiser was named MVP of the NLCS.
The Dodgers were again the underdogs in the World Series against an Athletics team that featured Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Additionally, Gibson was dealing with injuries that he suffered in the NLCS that rendered him to barely able to walk.
But that didn’t stop him from making a pinch-hit appearance in Game 1 at Dodger Stadium, setting up the most memorable moment in Dodgers history, and perhaps World Series history.
Athletics All-Star closer Dennis Eckersley entered the game in the ninth inning with a 4-3 lead and quickly got two outs. Mike Davis worked a two-out walk, and that was when Lasorda decided to send up a hobbled Gibson as a pinch-hitter.
Gibson worked a 3-2 count against Eckersley and then got a hittable backdoor slider. Gibson did what he does best, sending it into the seats in right field for a two-run, walk-off home run to give the Dodgers a 1-0 series lead.
As Gibson trotted around the bases, he famously pumped his fist and Dodgers legendary broadcaster Vin Scully said: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!”
The Dodgers then went on to take Games 2, 3 and 5, winning the World Series in five games. Hershiser was again named MVP of the series after tossing a complete-game shutout in Game 2 and a complete-game win, allowing two runs in Game 5.