Saturday, October 25, 2014

Almost a Dynasty: 1970's Dodgers

What actually makes a sports dynasty?  Obviously a team needs to be successful for a continuous amount of time.  Every sport has that one iconic dynasty that fits the Dynasty category.  The NBA had the Boston Celtics who won nine out of ten championships.  The Montreal Canadiens won 7 of nine Stanley Cups (including six straight).  The NFL had several dynasties including the 49'ers, the Steelers, the Cowboys and, most recently, the Patriots.  Baseball itself has had the Yankees dynasties in several incarnations including the 1930's, 1950's and 2000's.

So what actually makes a team a dynasty?  There can of course be several definitions since there are varying levels of success.  A team can dominate their division for a decade but be bounced out in the first round of the playoffs year after year.  We could of course consider that to be a divisional dynasty but you wouldn't call it an overall baseball dynasty.  So let us set the parameters for this series of articles.  A dynasty, for our purposes here, is a team that wins multiple World Series championships (above two as back to back is nice but not a dynasty) within a 5-10 year period.  That being defined, this series will explore those teams that may have been a divisional or league dynasty but for whatever reason could not get over the hump to that World Series dynasty.

This series will show an array of near dynasties.  Some are teams that made the World Series year after year but fell short.  Others will be teams that competed right down to the end of the regular season year after year just to be beaten out.  It will be a series of near misses and what could have beens.

Don't miss the other almost dynasty articles: The Detroit Tigers of the 1900's, The Chicago White Sox of the 1910's and the Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1920's, the Boston Red Sox of the 1940s and the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s and the Milwaukee Braves of the 1950s.  Now let's get started with this weeks "almost dynasty": The Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1970's.

East Coast-West Coast:
The Dodgers transition from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, with the exception of the first season, was almost seamless.  Some of the names were gone by the time the team won their first title in 1959.  They built a new dynasty in Los Angeles on the arms of Drysdale, Koufax and Osteen.  They won the World Series in 1959, came within a game of their second Los Angeles NL pennant in 1962, won a World Series 1963 and 1965 and lost another in 1966.  The Dodgers were on top.  But the fall from the top was quick and painful.  Koufax retired after 1966.  Jim Gilliam was released but stayed on to coach.  Tommy Davis and Maury Wills were traded. The changes led to a dramatic fall to last place, 28 1/2 games out.  The team needed a quick rebirth.  This west coast baseball thing was still new and a failure to succeed could mean a vagabond existence.

By 1970 they were back into second place but the Reds were in first piecing together the Big Red Machine.  The Dodgers finished second to the Reds but were not even close, ending up 14 1/2 games back.  The Dodgers were more competitive in 1971 but the Giants won the division on the final day.  With four games left the Dodgers were one game behind but the Giants won three of the last four of the season.  The Dodgers won 6 of their final 7.  Unfortunately the Giants kept the same pace so the Dodgers finished one game out.

Two more second place finishes in 1972 and 1973 and the Dodgers were sitting on the outside looking in.

The momentum was building and, as with the other almost dynasties, there was a core group that led to the success:

Steve Garvey:   The Dodgers had a tradition at first base starting with Gil Hodges and followed by Wally Moon.  In 1968 they would find another gem in the draft.  Steve Garvey became the face of the franchise.  A 10 time All Star, four time Gold Glove winner and an MVP Garvey would lead the almost dynasty, although his cheerleader attitude rubbed his team mates the wrong way at times.

Ron Cey:  Known as the Penguin for his distinct way of running, Cey would hold down third base through the almost dynasty.  A six time All Star, he had a knack for the big hit.  Cey would play briefly with the Dodgers in 1971 and 1972 but would take over full time in 1973.

Bill Russell:  The quiet leader, Russell was the key to the infield defense. He hit just above .260 for his career but hit near .300 career in the post season.  He would be a three time All Star.

Davey Lopes: Four time All Star and one time Gold Glove winner broke in with the Dodgers in 1974 along with the Penguin. Lopes would be the speed in the lineup.  He led the league in steals twice and was usually well above 40 steals in a season.

Dusty Baker:  Dusty began with the Braves in Atlanta and would be a late addition to the almost dynasty but a key piece.  He finished fourth in MVP voting in 1980.  He also was a two time All Star, a Gold Glove winner and a two time Silver Slugger winner.

Don Sutton:  Sutton broke in near the end of the Don Drysdale era.  With Drysdale known as the big Double D.  Sutton became known as little D.  A four time All Star, he would finish in the top 5 of Cy Young voting five times.  Although he only won 20 games once he won 324 career games and made the Hall of Fame.

Tommy John:  Known now for the surgery that bares his name, Tommy John was a dominant pitcher before and after the procedure.  From 1963 through 1974 with the Indians, White Sox and Dodgers John was 124-106 with a sub 3.00 ERA. After missing the 1975 season John returned to pitch until 1989 and would finish with 288 wins and a 3.34 ERA.

Bob Welch:  Welch would play a much larger part in another almost dynasty but he was a key piece of this team as well.  Along with Baker, Welch was a late comer to the almost dynasty but would win 115 games for the Dodgers while making one All Star Game.

Getting their feet wet:
By 1973 the four infielders who would define the Dodgers almost dynasty (Garvey, Lopes, Cey and Russell) were all in place.  The team would be built around these four players and as the years went on the four remained teammates even as free agency began to enter the picture.  The 1973 Dodgers would finish second, 3 1/2 behind the Reds.  The frustrating part is that the Dodgers' 95 wins was significantly better than the NL East winning Mets' 82 wins.  Despite that, the Mets beat the Reds while the Dodgers watched October baseball at home.

With Garvey now full time at first base, the sometime first baseman Bill Buckner moved to the outfield and the offense was nearly unstoppable.  The pitching staff was led by 20 game winner Andy Messersmith and 19 game winner Don Sutton. They led the division by ten games in earl July and although the lead shrank to four and a half games they were never truly in danger.  Playing in the franchise's first ever NLCS they had little trouble.  Sutton won Game 1 in spectacular 4 hit fashion.  Messersmith won Game 2 easily with a 5-2 victory to put the Dodgers one win away from their first World Series since 1966.  The Pirates attacked the Dodgers pitchers in Game 3 as Doug Rau and three others were smacked around 7-0.  Why had Rau pitched Game 3?  Tommy John couldn't pitch.  He had started the year at 13-3 but in his last start before the All Star break he felt a pop in his arm and lost feeling.  He tried to loosen the arm up a bit but his next pitch was the same.  He did not pitch again that year. Sutton started Game 4.  He pitched 8 innings, allowed three hits and only one run.  While little D was shutting down the Pirate offense, the Dodgers bats were savaging Pirate pitching.  Garvey went 4-5 including two Home Runs, drove in 4 and scored 4.  Lopes  went 2-4 with a triple and a stolen base and the Dodgers won 12-1.  They would face an Oakland A's team seeking their third straight World Series win.

The man who started the scoring in the series would be a long lasting thorn in the Dodgers' side during the almost dynasty.  Reggie Jackson launched a second inning Home Run to give the A's the lead.  The Dodgers lost Game 1 although they made it close.  With two out in the 9th Jimmy Wynn, known as the Toy Cannon,  hit a Home Run.  It was followed by a Garvey single but it ended there.  The Dodger bats had not kept pace with the A's to this point although Garvey and Russell were hot hitters  The two, with help from a Joe Ferguson two run Home Run, tied the series in Game 2.  The Dodgers would not get any closer.  Although the games were all close (four of the five games ended with a 3-2 score) the A's dynasty was too strong.  Dodgers pitching had held the A's bats to a .211 series average.  The A's, as they had done in the previous two World Series wins, did exactly enough to win.  The Dodgers would have to start again in the spring.

Rage Against the Machine:
The Dodgers had Joe Ferguson and Steve Yeager but Johnny Bench was better.  The Dodgers had Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey but if you take Tony Perez, Joe Morgan and Dave Concepcion and add Pete Rose they become the top.  The Dodgers had Walter Alston but Sparky Anderson was better.

The Dodgers won 88 games in 1975.  The Reds won 108.  The Dodgers improved to 92 wins in 1976.  The Reds won 102. Cincinnati was at the height of the Big Red Machine.  The Dodgers were in transition.

Tommy John had a crazy new surgery hoping that he could persevere through the biggest fear of every pitcher.  He returned in 1976.  His record would be important as the Dodgers chased the Reds but his stamina, his recovery and his ability to last a full season were more important.  John, after missing a year and a half, went 10-10. Just the fact that he was able to throw a pitch basically secured him the comeback player of the year award.  The fact that he pitched well was just icing on the cake.  It was a good sign for 1977.

There would be a question heading into 1977.  Who the hell was that fat, loud Italian? Walter Alston had been the Dodgers manager since the team was in Brooklyn.  After seven post season appearances and four World Series titles (1955, 1959, 1963 and 1965) Walter Alston was no longer at the head of the Dodgers.  His replacement was Tommy Lasorda. He had pitched briefly for the Dodgers in Brooklyn but lost his roster spot when Koufax came to town.  To this day Lasorda will tell you that he should have made the team instead of Koufax.  (To be truthful,with Koufax's lack of control during his early days, Lasorda likely was correct.)

The Dodgers had a good feeling about the 1977 season.  The infield was still intact. Tommy John appeared to be back at full strength and a young Rick Rhoden appeared ready to step up in the rotation.  The team started off the year with two wins and a loss keeping them tied for first.  A second loss dropped them one game back.  They would stay in second place, one game out of first for three games.  They went 15-1 over the next 16 games and by April 30 they had a 7 1/2 game lead.  And the machine?  They were sputtering at 9-10 in second place.  At the end of the first month  the Penguin had hit 9  Home Runs and was hitting .425. Rhoden was 4-0.  The Dodgers were a beautiful mix of power and speed. Garvey would hit 33 Home Runs.  Reggie Smith hit 30 while Baker and the Penguin hit 30 each.  Lopes would steal 47 bases.  Russell 16 and reserve outfielder Glenn Burke would steal 13.  Rhodes would end up 16-10, struggling slightly after starting 8-2.  Sutton was 14-8 but the real star of the Dodgers pitching staff was Tommy John at 20-7 with a 2.78 ERA.

In the NLCS the Dodgers faced a Philadelphia team playing in the post season for only the fourth time in franchise history.  They were a great team stocked with young talent, like the Dodgers.  The first game was a match up of 20 game winners.  Tommy John vs Steve Carlton.  The Phillies got to John early and he was gone by the 5th.  Carlton was cruising through seven with a 5-1 lead.  Two walks and a single loaded the bases and up stepped the Penguin.  A grand slam tied the game and sent Carlton to the showers but the Phillies recovered to take Game 1.  Game 2 looked like the Phillies might just win this series easily when Bake McBride hit a solo Home Run to give the Phillies the early 1-0 lead but the Dodgers tied it up next inning with an RBI single by Lopes.  It remained tied until the bottom of the 4th.  Russell and Reggie Smith singled.  Cey bunted them up a base. Garvey was walked intentionally.  On a 1-2 count Baker connected and sent a Jim Lonborg pitch deep for the second Grand Slam for the Dodgers in the series.  The Dodgers would add on and win 7-1.

Game 3 has become one of those legendary games in baseball history.  Baker continued his hot hitting going 2-4, scoring one and driving in 2 with a double but the game was tied as they moved to the bottom of the 8th.  The Phillies' Richie Hebner started the inning with a double.  Garry Maddox singled scoring Hebner but when Reggie Smith threw wild, Maddox reached third.  A throwing error by Cey on Bob Boone's ground ball scored Maddox and the Phillies took a two run lead. Needing just three outs to take a 2 games to 1 lead the inning started well for the Phillies with Baker and Rick Monday each grounding out.  Desperate, Lasorda sent up pinch hitter Vic Davalillo, who surprised the Phillies when he bunted for a single.  Manny Mota pinch hit for the pitcher and swung through the first two pitches.  He looked completely inept when he missed the second pitch, spinning completely around in the process.  The crowd was loud.  Ironically, Harry Kalas told the Philadelphia audience that the crowd was chanting "defense, defense".  Mota connected on the next pitch.  He drove a ball to the wall in the Vet.  Greg Luzinski went back to the wall and leapt.  The ball was trapped against the wall as Davalillo tore around the bases.  Luzinski recovered.  Mota was headed for second. Luzinski turned, threw as hard as he could towards second. It bounced once.  Ted Sizemore, covering second, turned to take a look at Mota.  When he did the ball hit one of those damned Astroturf cut outs and bounced away.  Mota tore for third and made it easily as Sizemore chased the ball down.  Lopes stepped in and didn't wait for a perfect pitch.  He worked with what he was given.  He shot the first pitch toward Mike Schmidt at 3rd.  The ball took another weird Astroturf bounce and bounced off of Schmidt but directly to Bowa.  With Lopes tearing down the line at first and Mota  moving down the line at third.  Bowa got the ball quickly and released it even quicker.  Kalas screamed out "a throw! Yes! No! Not in time."  The Phillies went crazy while Mota scored the tying run.  As we have so often said it doesn't matter what causes the chaos, it is how you react to the chaos that counts. The Phillies compounded their problems when a pick off throw to first got loose sending Lopes to second with Bill Russell at the plate.Where Lopes was aggressive, going after the first pitch, Russell worked the count.  On the sixth pitch of the at bat Russell sent a shot straight back at Garber.  It rolled straight up the mound like a ramp and into center.  Lopes scored easily and the Dodgers had the lead.  The Phillies put Luzinski on base with a hit batter in the 9th but he did not advance. The Dodgers took the series lead in heartbreaking fashion.

Game 4 was Tommy John versus Steve Carlton again.  Dusty Baker made it clear that the momentum the Dodgers took in Game 3 was staying with them.  In the second inning Baker hit a two run Home Run giving the Dodgers the lead.  They scored two more in the top of the 5th and advanced to the World Series.  Their opponent was, of course, the Yankees.

The first game went extra innings but it wasn't the Dodgers magical day.  The hero was light hitting, defensive specialist Willie Randolph who hit a solo Home Run and doubled in the 12th before scoring the winning run.  The Dodgers hit four Home Runs in Game 2 to tie the series at one with a 6-1 win.  The Yankees took the series back the next night. New York got to John in the first with three.  Baker tied it up with a three run Home Run in the third but the Yankees jumped back ahead in the top of the 4th.  From there Mike Torrez shut the Dodgers down.  The Yankees took Game 4 thanks to a Reggie Jackson Home Run and the Dodgers were down 3 games to 1. Sutton pitched a complete game in Game 5 and Baker went 3-4 with 2 runs and 2 RBI.  Reggie Smith hit a Home Run and the Dodgers lived one more day.  Sutton pitched a complete game but he did not throw a shut out.  Reggie Jackson hit a Home Run in his second consecutive game.  Jackson had already hurt the "almost dynasty" while playing for the A's.  He now would bury them as a Yankee.  In his first three at bats in Game 6 Jackson would hit three more Home Runs giving the Yankees their first World Series win since 1962.

Call it a World Series hang over or whatever you want but the Dodgers struggled out of the gate in 1978.  It was a three team race with the Reds and Giants and the Dodgers trailed until August 11th.  By Mid September a red hot Dodger team led by 9  games but they cooled off allowing the lead to dwindle to 2 1/2 by the end of the season.  When they reached the pinnacle of the 9 game lead on 9/16, the lead was pretty much secure.  The fear at the end of the year was the slump they seemed to be in  heading into the playoffs.  They went 4-9 in the last two weeks of the season, the worst record in the NL during that stretch.  Dodgers fans knew they had to be playing at their best if they had a chance against their opponent.

The Phillies were in their third straight NLCS and it was a run of success that Phillies fans had never seen before.  The Phillies were a legitimate contender with Schmidt, Luzinski, Bowa and Carlton.  This would be no walk through the park and with the Dodges having struggled over the last two weeks of the season fans were nervous.  The Phillies, however, had also lost 4 of their final 6 so Phillies fans had the same fear.

Burt Hooton started game 1 for Los Angeles.  He was perfect in the first but allowed a run to the Phillies in the second.  The Dodgers started the top of the third trailing 1-0 and when Hooton made the first out quickly Phillies fans felt confident.  Lopes followed with a double and a Schmidt error allowed Russell to reach first.  Now the Dodgers were dealing with the heart of the order due up.  Reggie Smith singled to score Lopes and Steve Garvey followed with a three run Home Run making it 4-1 Dodgers.  In the Top of the 4th they added 2 on a Lopes 2 run Home Run for a 6-1 lead and added another in 5th.  Hooton got himself into trouble in the 5th and allowed three runs. With a  lead now at 7-4 and two runners on base Mike Schmidt stepped up to the plate.  It was the kind of situation Phillies fans wanted to see.  It was not what Tommy Lasorda wanted to see.  Lasorda removed Hooton and inserted Bob Welch.  On two pitches Welch got Schmidt to fly out to center field and the threat was over.  The Dodgers went on to win Game 1.  Tommy John started Game 2 and held the Phillies scoreless through three.  His opponent Dick Ruthven did the same to the Dodgers.  In the Top of the 4th it was Davey Lopes who got the scoring started.  The Dodgers added three more.  Tommy John was almost untouchable allowing only 4 hits and walking only two for a complete game shutout and a 2 games to none lead.  The Dodgers looked to sweep with Sutton on the mound but they had to face Steve Carlton to do so.  What was expected to be a low scoring pitcher's duel turned into a 9-4 slugfest with Carlton hitting a Home Run himself. The Phillies lived on one more day with a win.  They looked to tie the series in Game 4.  The Dodgers scored first but the Phils took a 2-1 lead which the Dodgers quickly erased.  Los Angeles went ahead 3-2 but just as quickly Philadelphia tied it.  It was 3-3 going into the bottom of the 9th and with the top of the lineup due up the Dodgers thought they would win it.  They didn't.  They went down 1-2-3.  Larry Bowa reached first in the Phillies' 10th but was stranded there.  Reggie Smith and Steve Garvey made two quick outs to start the bottom of the inning and now it was any one's guess who would come out on top.  Cey walked and when Dusty Baker lifted a fly ball to Centerfield it looked like this game would continue.  Baker was hitting .500 for the series (7-14) and had been 4-4 to this point on the day but it looked like he had failed when the team needed it. It was just a little fly ball with Garry Maddox charging in.  It was a play similar to the one Matt Holliday would make in 2009 against the Dodgers in an NLDS game.  Maddox was there.  Maddox should have had it but Maddox dropped it.  On the second pitch of his at bat Bill Russell smacked a single to center.  Cey raced around third and the Dodgers moved on to the World Series and again they would face the Yankees.

The Dodgers looked to continue the wave of winning against the Yankees.  Unfortunately just as he had the year before and way back in 1974, Reggie Jackson stole the show.  In Game 1 Jackson picked up where he had left off going 3-4 with a Home Run. Fortunately for L.A. Davey Lopes connected twice and Dusty Baker connected for a Home Run and with with Tommy John pitching better than ever the Dodgers took Game 1, 11-5.  Jackson slowed down slightly in Game 2.  He had only 1 hit, a 2 run double, and a sac fly.  No other Yankee was able to drive in a run.  The Dodgers were a one man team themselves with Ron Cey getting an RBI single and a three run Home Run.  The Dodgers won Game 2 and took a 2 games to 0 lead.

Throughout the 1978 season the Yankees had a one man slump buster and his name was Ron "Gator" Guidry.  Gator used his Louisiana Lightning in Game 3 to shut down the Dodger bats and got support from Mickey Rivers and Roy White at the top of the lineup to cut the Dodgers lead in half.

"He's gotta get out of the way!"
Game 4 looked like the Dodgers would take command of the series.  With Tommy John on the mound and a scoreless game through four, Reggie Smith hit a three run Home Run.  The Yankees looked to be in trouble.  Standing in the way, literally, was Reggie Jackson.

Roy White singled with one out.  Thurman Munson followed with a walk.  Reggie singled and White scored from second.  Lou Pinella followed with a line drive that turned out to be one of the most controversial moments in baseball history.  The ball shot towards Russell at Short like a bullet.  A smart ball player Russell realized that if he caught the line drive the chance at a double play was gone because the runners had clung to the bag.  Appearing to drop the line drive Russell slapped the ball to the ground, forcing Munson and Jackson to run. Russell immediately picked up the ball and stepped on second.  Jackson was now out on the force.  Jackson took three steps off the bag, saw he was out and stopped.  Russell fired the ball to first and Jackson, in line with the throw, stood there.  Replays show he probably shifted his path slightly into the path of the ball. The ball hit his hip and ricocheted away from the fielders.  Munson scored from second and Pinella was on second.  Lasorda, already with a reputation for his fiery temper, erupted.  "He's gotta get out of the way!"  With the umpires saying clearly "He didn't do it intentionally"  Lasorda just kept repeating "He's gotta get out of the way."  Regardless, the call stood and the Yankees had made a cut into the Dodger lead.  The Dodger bats showed little life outside of Smith's Home Run and when Munson hit an RBI double in the 8th the game was tied.  Bob Welch had already thrown 1 2/3 perfect innings.  He opened the bottom of the 10th by getting Mickey Rivers to pop out to Catcher.  His streak ended when he walked Roy White.  Thurman Munson popped out to Russell (he caught this one)and it looked like Welch would get out of it.  A Reggie Jackson single sent White to second and a Lou Pinella single sent White home.  It was a devastating loss.  What if Russell had caught the line drive?  What if he had tagged Munson (who was right by him) before stepping on the bag?

The result, after the controversy, was what typical of the Dodgers-Yankees rivalry to this point.  The Dodgers  scored  in the first and another in the third to take a 2-0 lead.  Then the deluge started.  Reggie Jackson only went 1-3 in the game but the Yankees knocked 18 hits around Yankee Stadium (amazingly none left the park) and they scored 12 runs.  The Yankees now led the series three games to two.  The Dodgers fans hoped a return home would change their fortunes.  With Don Sutton on the mound the hopes were high. His opponent, Catfish Hunter, was no push over.    The two future Hall of Famers had different seasons. Hunter (12-6) struggled, dealing with complications of diabetes and what would eventually be diagnosed as ALS.  Sutton (15-11) was the Dodgers clear #2 behind Tommy John so it was expected, in true Dodger-Yankee fashion, that this would go to a seventh game and when they took a 1-0 lead the place got loud.  The Yankees quieted everyone quickly. Sutton threw 5 2/3 and gave up five runs.  Welch threw 1 1/3 and gave up 2.  It was a disappointing 7-2 loss.

The team that could have easily won three World Series in the 1970's had none.

One Last Push:
The dawn of free agency changed the game.  After the 1978 season Tommy John left to join the Yankees of all teams.  He was replaced by rookie Rick Sutcliffe who went 17-10.  Sutton fell to 10-15.  Welch fell to 5-6, and out of the rotation.  The Dodgers fell to third in the NL West.  Their big win came in the June draft, although it would be quite some time before it paid off.  They drafted Steve Howe in the first round and a young pitcher named Orel Hershiser in the 17th round.

Fans in the NL West had gotten used to the constant battle of the Reds and Dodgers.  With the birth of free agency the Reds had also taken a hit.  Pete Rose was now in Philadelphia. Joe Morgan was in Houston.  Tony Perez was in  Boston.  The Dodgers were still strong with Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey, Baker and Smith and Sutton, Sutcliffe and Welch. But there was a new enemy in town.   The Astros had a young 1-2 punch of J.R. Richards and Nolan Ryan.  Their offense was young and talented with Jose Cruz, Alan Ashby, Art Howe and Bruce Bochy.  The two teams went back and forth all year. Neither could get more than a few games ahead.

The 1980 season went down the last weekend.  The Astros had a three game lead with three games left to play and the two teams closed out the season against each other.  The Astros had to win one game.  The Dodgers could not lose one.  The Astros scored first but the Dodgers tied it.  The Astros went ahead again but with two outs in the bottom of the 9th,  LA came back to tie it one more time.  A young September call up named Fernando Valenzuela had relieved Sutton and with the season on the line, he shut down the Astros in the top of the 10th.  The Dodgers led off the bottom of the 10th with Joe Ferguson, their catcher.  Ferguson kept the Dodgers alive with a solo shot.  The season wasn't over yet.

The second game of the series saw Nolan Ryan, the big free agent signing by Houston, face off against Jerry Reuss.  Ryan was spectacular.  In 7 innings he allowed only 2 runs on 6 hits and struck out 9.  Reuss was better allowing only 1 run in a full game effort, improving his record to 18-6.  It all came down to the final day.  If the Dodgers won the three game series would turn into a four game series.  Lose and the Astros moved on to face the Phillies in the NLCS.  The Astros scored 2 in the second and 1 in the 4th.  Things looked bleak for the Dodgers.  They scored one in the 5th on a Davey Lopes RBI single.  They scored a second in the 7th on a Manny Mota RBI single.  With the season on the line and possibly down to their last 6 outs, Steve Garvey opened the 8th with a ground ball and when he reached first on an error the Dodgers still had life.  Hoping for something to cheer about the Dodgers fans stood up with the Penguin waddling to the plate.  With one swing he waddled all the way around the bases with a season saving Home Run.  The Dodgers needed to win one more game to pull off the impossible.  It was not to be.  The Astros defeated the Dodgers for a 7-1 win.

The league had experienced a strike back in 1972.  It was the first real league wide, union organized strike that impacted the league.  It had delayed a few games, the season started late, but no real damage was done.  The 1981 strike was different. On June 11 the Dodgers lost to the Cardinals.  It cut their lead to just a half a game ahead of the Reds.  One less rain out here or there for either team.  One less blown lead.  One less come from behind early season win for either might have made the difference in the standings to that point. Instead the league closed up the next day and the Dodgers, with a 1/2 game lead over the Reds, were in first place.  When the player strike was resumed and the league started back up it was decided that the team in first place at the end of the "first half" would play a final playoff round.  Their opponent would be the team that won the most games between the league's restart on August 10th and the end of the regular season.  The Dodgers would play .500 ball the second half.  The Reds would play .610 (going 31-20).  The Astros would go 32-20, 1/2 game better than the Reds and winner of the second half.  The poor Reds would sit home and watch the playoffs despite being so close in both halves.

The first ever NLDS was a nail biter through and through.  Fernandomania had swept LA but Houston had no use for it.  Fernando threw 8 innings and allowed only one run, an RBI single in the 7th.  Garvey tied it in the 8th with a solo Home Run.  It was tied at 1 entering the ninth with the pitcher due up.  Jay Johnstone pinch hit for Fernando but nothing came of it.  It was a 1-2-3 inning. He was replaced by Dave Stewart.  It was a pressure packed situation for a wild kid pitcher but he had the stuff to pull through, or he would in the future.  This is where he would learn how to deal with the pressure.  He struck out Cesar Cedeno.  He got Art Howe to fly out.  The Astros sent up pinch hitter Craig Reynolds.  He singled.  Stewart stared down Alan Ashby.  Ashby swung and connected and for now Stewart would be known as the pitcher who lost game 1 of the first ever NLDS.  (Don't worry.  He came out ok. Check back next week to see what he accomplished.  Keep reading now to see what the Dodgers accomplished this year.)

Jerry Reuss started Game 2 for the Dodgers and pitched 9 scoreless innings.  Unfortunately for Reuss and the Dodgers Joe Niekro pitched 8 scoreless inning and Dave Smith added 2 more.  The game entered the bottom of the 11th still scoreless.  Dave Stewart took the mound to work the 11th.  Phil Garner opened the inning with a single.  Tony Scott singled right behind him.  Stewart was removed.  Terry Forster got Jose Cruz to pop up and he was replaced.  Tom Niedenfeuer walked Cesar Cedeno intentionally to load the bases.  He then got Art Howe swinging.  One out away.  Denny Walling singled scoring Phil Garner, on base thanks to Stewart, and Dave was now 0-2 (and so were the Dodgers).

The Dodgers wasted no time getting to Bob Knepper in Game 3.  Lopes walked and scored on a Baker double.  Garvey followed with a two run Home Run and the Dodgers took a 3-0 lead.  They would win 6-1.  The Dodgers took a 2-0 lead behind Fernandomania in Game 3.  Fernando took the mound for the 9th and had allowed only 2 hits and one walk to that point.  After a lead off fly ball Terry Puhl doubled. Phil Garner grounded out, advancing Puhl to third. Tony Scott singled scoring Puhl and the dangerous Jose Cruz stepped to the plate.  Valenzuela was up to the challenge and Cruz popped out to the Catcher.  For the second year in a row Nolan Ryan took the mound in a deciding playoff game with the season on the line.  Ryan, for the second year in a row, did not dominate as the Astros had hoped. The Dodgers won 4-0 and advanced to face the Montreal Expos in their only playoff appearance.

The Montreal Expos had a great team. They were led by Steve Rogers, their pitching ace, although the names recognized today would be Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Larry Parrish and Tim Wallach.  Thanks to Home Runs from Mike Scioscia and Pedro Guerrero the Dodgers won the first game  5-1.  The Dodgers lost 3-0 in Game 2 despite having  Fernando on the hill. Despite all the big names in the lineup it was Jerry White's three run Home Run that led to the Expos  4-1 win.  L.A. now needed to win two straight to advance.  They took care of it early with a 2-0 lead and poured it on late with a 2 run 8th and a 5 run 9th for a 7-1 lead.  In the deciding game Andre Dawson hit into a double play in the first but it scored Tim Raines for a 1-0 lead.  Rick Monday tied the game, scoring on a ground ball out by Fernando in the  5th.  The final deciding game entered the 9th inning tied at 1.  Garvey popped out and the Penguin flew out to left field.  With two out Rick Monday made the difference.  He launched a Home Run that won the pennant.  Fernando allowed two base runners in the bottom of the 9th and was replaced by Welch who got a 1 out save to send the Dodgers to the World Series.

The Dodgers opponent would be, again, the Yankees.  Like the Expos, the Yankees had names that would be recognizable today.  Graig Nettles.  Lou Piniella.  Willie Randolph.  Dave Winfield.  Ron Guidry.  Goose Gossage. Reggie Jackson. The Yankees won the first two games.  Guidry beat Tom Niedenfeuer 5-3 in Game 1 and Tommy John beat his old teammate Burt Hooton 3-0 in Game 2.  It seemed that the Yankees would win it all.  The problem was the Yankees bats went silent.  Rookie Dave Righetti started against rookie Fernando Valenzuela in the third game and the Dodgers won thanks to veteran Ron Cey's three run first inning Home Run.  The Yankees started Rick Reuschel in Game 4 against Welch (there will be a rematch in next week's article).  Neither fared well.  Welch exited before retiring a batter and the Yankees jumped out to a 4-0 lead but the Dodgers fought back.  What was expected as a pitcher's duel ended up as a series tying 8-7 Dodger victory.  The Dodgers had only four hits but they led to two runs.  In the bottom of the 7th, trailing 1-0, Steve Yeager and Pedro Guerrero hit back to back Home Runs to give the Dodgers their winning margin.  George Steinbrenner was not happy that his team was on the brink of elimination. He had paid big money for Dave Winfield.  His quote has resonated through the decades.  "I paid for Mr.October and I got Mr. May."  Winfield ended the series with a .045 (1-22) average.  Pedro Guerrero hit his 4th Home Run of the series.  He would share World Series MVP honors with the Penguin and Catcher Steve Yeager.   The "almost dynasty" finally had their crown.

The bane of the Dodgers' almost dynasty was Reggie Jackson and the Big Red Machine. It seemed that every time they got close one of these two would get in their way.  There were always the what if's...
What if Dodger pitching in 1977 had found a way around Reggie?  What if Russell had caught Reggie's line drive?  What if they had resigned Tommy John?  What if John hadn't hurt his arm to begin with?

The Dodgers key group of Garvey, Cey, Lopes, Russell, Baker, John, Sutton and Welch ended with four World Series appearances but only one World Series title.

Walter Alston managed the Dodgers from 1954-1975.  He was replaced by Tommy Lasorda in 1976 and lasted through part of the 1996 season. Who replaced Tommy Lasorda as the Dodgers' manager.

Answer to  Last Week's Question:
Congratulations to TJD for answering last week's question correctly.
The 1998 Rangers won the American League West.  It was just their second appearance in  the post season.  They had two star pitchers: Rick Helling (20-7) and Aaron Sele (19-11, 4.23).  The team used 5 other pitchers as starters in 10 or more appearances: John Burkett (32 sarts 9-13,5.68), Darren Oliver (19 starts, 6-7, 6.53) , Esteban Loaiza (14 starts, 3-6, 5.90) , Bobby Witt (13 Starts, 5-4, 7.66) and Todd Stottlemeyer (10 starts, 5-4, 4.33).  Sele and Helling had a high ERA but were clearly the best starters on the staff.  In the tradition of "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain", the Texas press had their own saying.  There are different variations of the phrase but the most often used was "Sele and Helling then expect a shelling."

1 comment:

  1. Great article. It is a shame that the Dodgers ran into 2 of the great dynasty's of all time. The A's and Cincinnati's big red machine.
    When i think of the Dodgers of the 70's I think of that infield. seemed like they played together for forty years.
    Two things that I remember about the playoffs with the Phils; I think Frank Luchese was their manager. He was criticized for not putting a defensive replacement in for greg Lucinski. Even though the Phils had the lead, the manager did not make the defensive switch because Lucinski was due up fourth in the bottom of the inning.
    The second thing I remember about the Phils -Dodgers playoff series is the game that I think it was Burt Hooten lost his control at the Vet in Philly and the Phils fans kept saying HOOOten, HOOOten and it really rattled Burt Hooten. I think he walked a gazillion runners in a row. The game was on a Friday afternoon. I remember as if it was yesterday.
    I think it was the 1982 WS. I picked the Dodgers in 6 games. Didn't look too good because the Yankees won the first two games but the Dodgers prevailed.
    my guess on the trivia is Grady Hatton.



Have questions about something in this or a former post? Have a suggestion for a future post? Want more information on a specific team, player, season or game? I welcome the feedback, so feel free to leave a comment in the box or email me at baseballeras (at) gmail (dot) com.