Mondays With Murray: Here’s a Team Not to Be Taken Lightly




Here’s a Team Not to Be Taken Lightly

  Wow! Look who’s in the World Series!

  That funny little team that couldn’t, did. The over-achievers beat the under-achievers.

  Give my regards to Broadway. But tell them I won’t soon be there. Tell all the gang at 42nd Street to eat your heart out. The boys from Hollywood are the new boys of summer.

  How’d they do it? You tell me. I mean, we’re not talking the 1927 Yankees here. mondaysmurray2This was a team that had more holes than a Chinese checkerboard. They lost their most charismatic pitcher, they traded away their key slugger. They lost 89 games last year. They had to rely on a pitcher who was that baseball staple, the player to be named, a throw-in. All Tim Belcher did was become a live candidate for rookie of the year.

  They weren’t supposed to be in the playoffs. When they got into them, they drew a team that had beaten them 10 out of 11 times during the season.

  They hung off more cliffs than Pearl White. They kept getting tied to the track and escaping in the nick of time. It wasn’t a series, it was a serial. They got their best relief pitcher suspended. And they won. They got their big hitter lamed. And he won for them.

  God must love the Dodgers. The gamblers sure didn’t. Whenever the Dodgers needed a break, they got it. The Mets were rallying? A ground ball jumps up and hits a baserunner. They’re down to their last out against one of the great pitchers of all time? A lead-footed catcher who hits a home run only every other eclipse of the moon jacks one out of the lot.

  Someone asks the broadcaster if outfielder Kirk Gibson should be the team’s most valuable player. No, says Vin Scully, it should be Tinker Bell. This team has a fairy godmother. The manager suggests it is a team from Lourdes. It is enough to make you believe in flying saucers. Or Santa Claus.

  But, in the final analysis, it wins because the enemy underestimates it.

  Consider this: Dwight Gooden of the Mets is a pitcher for the ages. He can hang up some pitches that not even Lourdes can take care of.

  And what he was doing sitting in the dugout as this winner-take-all seventh game began is something for his manager to explain, not me.

  Dr. K had two days of rest. If they were saving him for Game 1 of the World Series, you would have to wonder which one.

  As a matter of plain fact, he did pitch. Too late. Mets manager Davey Johnson apparently thought his second-best pitcher was enough for this ragtag lineup of Dodger non-hitters. Gooden got the role of mop-up pitcher in this contest.

  It was a serious miscalculation. Ron Darling is a fine pitcher. But he’s no Doc Gooden. Very few pitchers are. Ron Darling doesn’t scare you. Doc Gooden does. Doc Gooden could scare Babe Ruth.

  You don’t put Doc Gooden in a game that’s already 4-0 with the bases loaded. Not unless you want to throw away the 1988 pennant. The Mets might have lost the tournament in the dugout.

  The Dodgers knocked them out in the second round. It wasn’t a Mike Tyson knockout. The Dodgers got five runs on only four hits, all singles. One of them was a popped bunt that might even have been catchable. The Mets contributed two errors and an uncounted fielding lapse. That’s the Dodger way to play baseball in this year of our Lord, 1988. In the immortal words of the golfer Lloyd Mangrum, the Dodgers can say sweetly, “Are we playing how? Or how many?”

  But, golly gee, aw shucks! The Dodgers won because they have this character who looks as if they found him on his way to a fishing hole with a pocket full of hooks and worms. You see Orel Hershiser and you look around for the dog. He looks more like a scoutmaster — or a scout — than a ballplayer. The rest of the club is squirting and swigging champagne, Orel is looking around for a cookie and a glass of milk. His idea of dissipation is a chocolate malt.

  But what a pitcher! Orel Hershiser threw his ninth 1988 shutout Wednesday. As Gooden would have been, he was pitching on two days of rest.

  Hershiser has been more important to the Dodgers than luck this season. When Fernando Valenzuela left the lists with an over-used arm, Hershiser turned into a combination of Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson. They not only couldn’t beat him, they couldn’t score on him. It got so, if someone got to third, he wanted to stop the game and take the bag home with him. He was baseball’s Big O. Another pitcher might be Goose, Hershiser was Goose Egg.

  Superstars usually walk around before a game with a faintly aloof, even disdainful air about them, as if they were above it all. Hershiser was walking around Wednesday like a kid collecting autographs. He stopped to chat with writers, he waved a bat, compared golf swings with a broadcaster and, in general, acted as if he were about to pitch a softball game at a family picnic. He managed to convey the impression of a kid looking into a candy store window. Lucky to be there.

  You get the feeling Orel Hershiser thinks pitching to Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds is more fun than a day at the zoo. He probably can’t wait to see what Jose Canseco does with a sinker. You get the feeling he’d like to pitch again tomorrow.

  He’s the reason the Dodgers, the funny little team that was supposed to finish fourth, is in the fall classic. They may not last much longer than Michael Spinks, but they’re playing with house money.

  They don’t leave everything to chance. Their manager didn’t leave Orel Hershiser in the dugout, didn’t trust the ball to his second or third best pitcher, however rested. He led with his ace. Mr. O (for Out) Hershiser. That’s H as in Happy. The best piece of luck the lucky Dodgers had.


Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation P.O. Box 661532, Arcadia, CA 91066



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