The Dodgers’ Ten Greatest Games
October 15, 1988: Roy Hobbs Lives
The Dodgers entered the 1988 World Series as a true David against the Goliath that were the power-laden, powerhouse Oakland A’s. Nobody gave them a chance. Worse, untouchable ace Orel Hershiser couldn’t get a Game One starting assignment because he just pitched a shutout to end the NLCS two days earlier, and star hitter Kirk Gibson was essentially ruled out for the entire series because he could barely stand on his knees—one sprained, the other with a recently re-aggravated torn hamstring.
For eight and two-thirds innings in Game One, the A’s showed off all their strengths and appeared ready to clinch a made-to-order victory. Bash Brother Jose Canseco (40 homers, 40 steals in 1988) smashed a grand slam. Oakland ace Dave Stewart pitched eight solid innings. Dennis Eckersley, who had about as perfect a regular season as a closer could have, retired the first two batters in the ninth with ease—then walked Mike Davis, which to him was no big deal since light-hitting Dave Anderson was on deck.
That’s when Anderson got pulled—and up came Gibson. Throughout the game, the battered Dodger had been worked on in the clubhouse, receiving ice, rubdowns, cortisone shots—anything to possibly get him ready. He took a few swings in the batting cage, grunting in pain, and somehow convinced his coaches that he was ready if needed.
Gibson initially looked to be no match against the slick, smooth Eckersley, hobbling about home plate like a newborn dear on wobbly knees with every swing he attempted. But he persevered, drawing the count full and fouling off four pitches to stay alive. Eckersley then dared Gibson to reach painfully down to go after a dipping breaking ball. Somehow, someway, Gibson connected—and pulled the ball deep into the right-field bleachers. It was, arguably, the greatest home run ever hit; Dodger Stadium exploded into pandemonium as Gibson struggled just to circle the bases on his knees with his only at-bat in the series—sending the A’s into shock from which they would not recover, as the mentally energized Dodgers went on to stun Oakland in five games.
October 4, 1955: Next Year at Last
The Brooklyn Dodgers had become baseball’s bridesmaids. Seven World Series appearances—including five against the New York Yankees between 1941-53—and no championships. In 1955, the Dodgers came across the Yankees yet again at the Fall Classic and dreadfully felt that sense of “déjà vu all over again,” as rival Yankee catcher Yogi Berra famously once quipped.
After losing the first two games and rebounding to win the next three at Ebbets Field, the Dodgers lost Game Six to set up a decisive seventh game in enemy territory at Yankee Stadium. Both teams were battered; the Dodgers were without Jackie Robinson while the Yankees could not field Mickey Mantle, out with a torn leg muscle.
Both starting pitchers were on. The Yankees’ Tommy Byrne was cooling off the Dodgers’ formidable offense, while Brooklyn’s Johnny Podres—who had won just two games over the regular season’s final three months—was keeping the Yankees off the scoreboard, but just barely; in three of the first five innings, the Yankees were retired leaving runners in scoring position. But things really got hairy for Podres in the sixth; he walked Billy Martin to start the frame and then allowed a bunt hit to Gil McDougald. Berra next drilled a line drive down the left field line, and speedy but seldom-used Sandy Amoros—positioned toward left-center to help cover the Stadium’s expansive power alleys—made what many believed would be a futile dash to catch the ball. But Amoros caught up, reaching out with full arm extension toward the seats to make the catch; he then put on the brakes, turned and fired back to first, doubling up a disbelieving McDougald—who had run past second on the fly, convinced the ball would drop uncaught.
Podres retired the Yankees with ease over the final three innings, while Gil Hodges supplied the Dodger offense with a run-scoring single and sacrifice fly. When Elston Howard grounded out in the ninth to finish the 2-0 Brooklyn win, what had seemed so stubbornly and tantalizingly out of reach for eons in the Borough had finally come true: The Brooklyn Dodgers were champions of the world, for the first—and only—time in 74 years before moving onto Los Angeles.
April 15, 1947: Emancipation
The Dodgers took the field for their season opener at Ebbets Field against the Boston Braves with a sight not seen in the majors for 63 years: An African-American was on the roster. After a year of prepping at Montreal, Jackie Robinson had been officially promoted to the parent club five days earlier, and a crowd of 26,623—half of them said to be black—showed up to see history made. Oddly, Robinson’s debut was not the big story in Brooklyn; Dodger manager Leo Durocher had just been suspended for the entire season after a public flap he had in spring training with his former general manager (and current Yankee GM) Larry MacPhail. The replacement at the Dodger helm that day was Clyde Sukeforth—the man who scouted Robinson in the Negro Leagues for Brooklyn president Branch Rickey.
Robinson’s wife Rachel recalled sending Jackie off to the ballpark that morning as if it was his first day of school. Enthusiastically greeted by the crowd, Robinson recorded the season’s first putout on Dick Culler’s ground ball. He flied out in his first at-bat and finished the day hitless—grounding into a double play. But his sacrifice bunt in the seventh is one of the key moments of the game, showcasing his explosive talent that would rattle opponents for the next ten years; Boston’s Earl Torgeson, seeing Robinson fly down the line on the bunt, panicked and threw wildly to first, the ball glancing off Robinson’s shoulder. With runners in scoring position, Pete Reiser next delivered with a double to give Brooklyn a lead they would not relinquish, winning 5-3.
September 28, 1988: Orel History 101
As the 1988 season was coming to a close, Orel Hershiser was a man possessed on the mound, firing eight straight complete games—the last five by shutout—to build up a streak of 49 consecutive scoreless innings, threatening to break the major league mark of 58.2 set 20 years earlier by former Dodger Don Drysdale. But even if he had thrown one more shutout in his last start of the year, at San Diego, it was assumed he would finished the year two outs shy of Drysdale—and would have to wait until 1989 to continue the pursuit.
Thank goodness for a 0-0 tie and extra innings.
Hershiser continued his march toward the record, never allowing a rally and stifling the Padres on three hits through nine innings; even the great Tony Gwynn came up dry, grounding out all four times he faced Hershiser. But San Diego starter Andy Hawkins was equally brilliant, keeping the Dodgers silent throughout as well. Serendipitously, Hershiser now had an unexpected opportunity; he could take the ball for the tenth inning and go after Drysdale’s mark.
It wouldn’t be easy. He struck out Marvell Wynne to start the extra frame, but the ball went wild past catcher Mike Scioscia and Wynne reached first. Wynne was bunted over to second and pushed to third on a grounder to the right side; after intentionally walking Gary Templeton, Hershiser clinched the mark with an out to spare when he got Keith Moreland to fly out to right field. Hershiser was done for the evening and the Padres went on to win in 16 innings, 2-1, but the real victor on the night was the newest entrant in the record book.
May 7, 1959: For Roy
The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, but Roy Campanella would not join them on the field. On a cold, icy night on Long Island the winter before, the burly Dodger catcher and three-time NL MVP skidded his car off the road and smashed into a tree, paralyzing him from the shoulders down; though he would regain feeling in his arms and hands, he would never walk again. Campanella’s role with the Dodgers was reduced to that of a scout.
A year later, one of baseball’s most memorable tributes to a fallen player would take place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the temporary home of the Dodgers. An exhibition was set up between the Dodgers and World Series rival Yankees, who beat Los Angeles, 6-2. The game was not top billing; that was reserved for a pregame ceremony to honor and benefit Campanella, who had become financially troubled from the medical expenses that followed his accident. A boisterous crowd of 93,103, the largest in major league history, turned out to see a man most of them had never seen play 3,000 miles away in Brooklyn. Emotionally overwhelmed by the reception, Campanella tearfully told the crowd that the tribute and their enormous enthusiasm was “a wonderful thing.”
The Dodgers would later break the attendance record in 2008 when, on the 50th anniversary of their move to California, they returned to the Coliseum and packed 115,300 fans to watch an exhibition with the Boston Red Sox.
October 14, 1965: Sandy at the Summit
Sandy Koufax had begun the 1965 World Series as an absentee, choosing to observe Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year rather than except a Game One starting assignment for the Dodgers. But Los Angeles was determined to get Koufax, at the height of his unmatched dominance, as many shots on the mound as possible. So he started Game Two, allowing two runs in six innings but failing to help give the Dodgers victory over Minnesota; he threw a four-hit shutout in Game Five, on three days rest; and, with the series on the line with the teams tied at three games apiece, Koufax was given the ball once more for Game Seven—on two days’ rest and with 350 innings behind him for the season.
Rising to the occasion, the 29-year-old southpaw delivered with, very possibly, the greatest performance of his career. He showed some early possible signs of exhaustion; he walked two in the first inning and got out of a modest jam in the fifth to sit Don Drysdale—who had started to warm up in the bullpen, just in case. Meanwhile, the Dodgers notched two quick runs in the fourth off Minnesota starter Jim Kaat, initiated by a leadoff blast from Lou Johnson (who would pace the Dodgers in regular season home runs—with 12).
After the Twins’ failure to knock out Koufax, the Dodger ace settled in; he retired 12 straight batters, a run that ended with one out in the ninth when Harmon Killebrew singled; but Killer’s knock was much ado about nothing, as Koufax struck out the final two batters to give him ten K’s on the day, his second shutout in four days and his fourth—and last—World Series ring for the Dodgers.
September 17, 1996: Taming the Mile-High Wild
In 1995, Hideo Nomo had become the Dodgers’ second international sensation (after Fernando Valenzuela), breaking the Trans-Pacific barrier and showing that baseball players from the Orient could not only play but thrive in America. Using a unique tornadic windup with a pause in the middle, Nomo brought positive attention to a game that badly needed it in the wake of the crippling 1994-95 players’ strike.
Nomo’s finest moment on the mound came a year later in a place few felt would be susceptible to great pitching feats: Denver’s Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. Although spacious in the outfield, the ballpark’s thin, mile-high air made the ball absolutely come alive, leading to numerous double-digit scores, sometimes by both teams in the same game. In their previous trip to Coors in late June, the Dodgers allowed ten or more runs in each of four games—and still won one by a 13-10 count, before losing the series finale, 16-15. Nomo himself had two previous career starts at Coors—and in 9.2 innings, allowed 16 runs (12 earned) for an 11.17 ERA.
Early on, Nomo developed a bad habit of walking Colorado hitters—a dangerous thing to do at Coors—but after giving three passes in the first four innings, he settled down. The sellout throng of 50,000, expecting an offensive explosion from the Rockies at any instant, never even saw a spark. The Dodger offense got in their hits, amassing nine runs on 14 hits off starter Bill Swift and three relievers. But Nomo continued sailing; after allowing his fourth walk of the night to leadoff batter Eric Young in the sixth, he retired the final 12 batters he faced, striking out Ellis Burks to complete one of the most unlikely no-hitters ever thrown.
October 5, 1941: Passed Up
In their first World Series appearance in 21 years—and their first of 11 over the next 26—the Dodgers trailed the Yankees two games to one but appeared ready to even the series in Game Four, taking a 4-3 lead into the ninth inning at Ebbets Field. Hugh Casey, throwing shutout relief since entering the game in the fifth, retired the first two batters and was a strike away from victory when he threw a nasty curve (some say it was a spitball) that Henrich missed at. Unfortunately for Casey, so did his catcher, Mickey Owen; the ball went to the backstop, the play was still alive and Henrich was able to run to first without a throw.
It all collapsed from there. The next five Yankees reached—four of them scoring—and the Dodgers’ opportunity to respond in the bottom of the ninth fell completely flat as the Yankees prevailed, 7-4, and took command of a series they would win one game later. That the box score showed Casey earning a strikeout on Henrich and being charged with no earned runs in the ninth were empty gestures, drowned in the first of many World Series frustrations to come in Brooklyn.
October 19, 1981: Thank God It’s Monday
Rick Monday became a fan favorite in Los Angeles even before he wore a Dodger jersey; playing for the Cubs in 1976, he came to the rescue of an American flag about to be lit afire by protestors in the outfield during a game at Dodger Stadium. Five years later, Monday’s biggest contribution to the Dodgers secured them a NL pennant and helped continue their march to a world title.
In the decisive Game Five of the NLCS at Montreal, Monday was making only his second start of the series but would make it worth the Dodgers’ while. With Los Angeles trailing 1-0, Monday led off the fifth with a single, was moved to third on a Pedro Guerrero single and a wild pitch by Expo starter Ray Burris, then came home on a grounder to the right side poked into play by Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela. The game stayed 1-1 into the ninth, with Expo ace Steve Rogers—making only his third relief appearance in nine years—taking over for a spent Burris. Rogers retired the first two Dodgers, but couldn’t retire the third; Monday launched a deep shot to right-center, bringing out the entire Dodger bench to greet him between the dugout and home plate as a stunned Montreal crowd of 36,000 (18,000 short of capacity) looked on in disbelief.
Valenzuela, the astounding Mexican rookie, got the first two Expos out in the bottom of the ninth but then walked the next two, sending warning that he, too, was beginning to tire. Fellow rotation member Bob Welch, seeing only his second relief duty of the year, earned the save and secured the NL pennant by inducing a ground out to Jerry White to wrap up the 2-1 win.
October 3, 1916: Mastering the Master
For years, Wilbert Robinson had been John McGraw’s right-hand man, the big affable lieutenant to the tense diminutive general in the New York Giants’ dugout. But after a falling out, Robinson escaped and landed across town in Brooklyn, where the Dodgers became so beholden to him that they renamed the team the Robins. Robinson’s results on the field justified the vanity; within three years of taking the helm, he turned the team from second-division roadkill to pennant contenders.
To clinch Brooklyn’s first pennant since 1900, Robinson would have to get past the archrival Giants in the season’s final series at Ebbets Field. The Robins started the four-game set and brought the magic number down to one with a 2-0 victory served up by rejuvenated former 30-game winner Jack Coombs. In a wild second game, the two teams punched each other around with their bats, but the Robins began pulling away by scoring early and often, making minced meat on the mound out of Giant pitchers Rube Benton and Pol Perritt. Steaming in the visiting dugout, McGraw grew infuriated at the scene and, midway through, stormed out—never to come back. He later claimed to the media that his team had quit on him, and even intimated that some of his players were giving signs to the Robins’ hitters.
Robinson reveled in the aftermath of Brooklyn’s 9-6 win that iced the pennant with two games to play, but fumed over McGraw’s assertions, famously stating at one point, “Tell McGraw to stop pissing on my pennant!”
Los Angeles Dodgers Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Dodgers, decade by decade.
The Dodgers' Ten Greatest Hitters: A list of the ten greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Dodgers' Ten Greatest Pitchers: A list of the ten greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
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