The 1988 World Series was supposed to be a coronation for the 104-win Oakland Athletics. It ended up being a stunning upset for the Los Angeles Dodgers, as an iconic baseball moment started the series and the dominance of LA ace Orel Hershiser took over from there.
You can read more about the paths each team took to its division title during the regular season, and then to their LCS triumph in October, at the links below. This article focuses exclusively on the 1988 World Series.
The Dodgers entered the series with one big disadvantage—aside from already being seen as the decisively inferior team—their MVP rightfielder Kirk Gibson was hurt and available for pinch-hit duty at most. They still had homefield advantage though, thanks to the rotation system that existed prior to 2003, so for the second straight series, LA opened at home against a team that won 100 or more games.
Hershiser had pitched Game 7 of the NLCS win over the New York Mets, so rookie Tim Belcher would pitch the opener against Oakland’s 21-game winner, Dave Stewart. The Dodgers staked the kid to an early lead, when Steve Sax was hit by a pitch and Mickey Hatcher homered in the first inning.
Belcher couldn’t hold the lead though. Throughout their ALCS sweep of the Boston Red Sox, the A’s had immediately responded to scoring by the opponent, and that pattern continued here. In the top of the second, Glenn Hubbard singled. Belcher walked Stewart, who hadn’t batted all season.
Carney Lansford also worked a walk and it brought up Jose Canseco, the MVP of the American League, with two outs. Canseco unloaded a grand slam and it was 4-2.
Los Angeles chipped away for a run in the sixth, on consecutive singles by Mike Marshall, John Shelby and Mike Scioscia, but Stewart kept the lead at 4-3, and that’s where it stood in the ninth inning when the A’s ace turned the game over to Dennis Eckersley, baseball’s best closer and the MVP of the ALCS.
Eckersley got two outs, when Mike Davis walked and then stole second. Gibson was summoned to pinch hit. The physical ailment in his lower body was obvious when he got to the plate. If he reached base as the winning run, he would without question need a pinch-runner.
It turned out not to be necessary. Eckersley threw a backdoor slider. Gibson was ready and he pulled a line drive into the rightfield stands. He hobbled around the bases, his arm thrust of celebration now an indispensable part of baseball highlight montages. So is the voice of national radio announcer of Jack Buck, who exclaimed “I don’t believe what I just saw…I don’t believe what I just saw!”
The Dodgers not only had an improbable win and some momentum, they had Hershiser on the mound for Game 2. And the momentum rolled right into this game. With one out in the bottom of the second, Hershiser singled off Storm Davis. It was followed by singles from Sax, Franklin Stubbs and Mickey Hatcher. The score was 2-0, two men were aboard and then Mike Marshall blasted a home run.
A 5-0 lead for Hershiser in 1988 was piling on and he threw a complete-game three-hitter. The final was six-zip and the Dodgers were in command.
The Dodgers saw an old friend on the mound for Game 3 in Oakland. They had traded Bob Welch to the A’s in the offseason and he would be the starter for Tuesday night’s must-win game. John Tudor was on the mound for Los Angeles, but he had to be removed in the second inning. Tim Leary came on.
Oakland got a run in the third when Hubbard singled, stole second and scored when catcher Ron Hassey went the other way for an RBI single. Los Angeles tied it in the fifth, with a leadoff single from Hamilton, who moved up on a bunt and scored on a two-out hit from Stubbs.
LA missed a chance to take the lead in the sixth when they loaded the bases with none out. Greg Cadaret, part of a deep A’s bullpen, came on with his team’s hopes hanging in the balance. He got a pop out, a ground ball force play at home and pulled a Houdini-like escape to keep the game tied 1-1.
The A’s made it pay off in the ninth, when Mark McGwire hit a line drive home run to left off Dodger closer Jay Howell and Oakland was back in the series.
With Stewart on the mound for Game 4 and available for a potential Game 7, there was every reason for Oakland fans to still feel like this World Series was theirs for the taking. But early mistakes hurt them. Sax had worked a leadoff walk and Hatcher singled. With one out, a passed ball, an error on Hubbard and productive groundball out gave the Dodgers two quick runs.
Belcher was back on the mound, and Oakland again immediately responded against the rookie. Luis Polonia singled, took second on a passed ball and two ground ball outs brought the run around.
Los Angeles added a run when Oakland shortstop Walt Weiss committed an error off a line drive with a man on second and two outs. The A’s then missed a big chance with two on and none out in the fourth, when Belcher struck out Dave Parker and retired McGwire.
The A’s did add a run in the sixth on a two-out single by Dave Henderson, a walk to McGwire and a base hit from Lansford. But the Dodgers got it right back in the seventh, on a walk to Griffin, a base hit from Sax and a groundball out to bring the run in.
Oakland had nine outs left or they were going to be facing Hershiser on Thursday night with all margin for error gone. And they rallied. Weiss singled with one out and scored on Henderson’s two-out double. Howell came on with a chance to redeem himself. He walked Canseco. Parker hit a line drive at Griffin, but once again a shortstop failed to snare the ball, and the bases were loaded.
McGwire was at the plate with a chance to be a hero again, or at least tie the game. But he popped out and the inning ended. Howell took over and nailed down the final six outs to close out a huge save. Everything was pointing the Dodgers’ way with the 4-3 win.
The last thing Oakland wanted against Hershiser was to fall behind early, but that’s what happened. Stubbs singled in the first inning and Hatcher homered. The A’s got a run back in the third, but Davis gave up a two-run blast to Mike Davis in the fourth. Rick Dempsey drove in another Dodger run in the sixth with a double.
Hershiser kept the 5-1 lead into the eighth when Oakland made its last-gasp rally. Stan Javier hit a one-out RBI single, and Henderson worked a walk. The tying run was up in the person of Canseco. Hershiser got the MVP to pop out, and then struck out Parker. The game was all but over and the ace completed his four-hitter and the celebration was on in Hollywood.
The Series MVP award went to Hershiser, for his 18 innings of work and allowing only two earned runs to the most feared lineup in baseball. He was also 3-for-3 at the plate with an RBI. An honorable mention goes to Hatcher, who was 7-for-9 and had two big home runs. But the ultimate memory of the 1988 World Series goes to Gibson, who turned the tide with a scene that appropriately happened in Hollywood.