Lucky number seven in this momentous tome to Dodger baseball.
If you want to review the previous entries:
9. Lima Time
Advertisers believe that you develop your buying habits early in life, which is why those audiences are so prized in television. I think the same goes for sports and their fans. While certainly, tastes change and geography can influence them too, my fandom was definitely influenced by the teams I followed when I was growing up in Los Angeles in 60s and 70s.
While I wasn't old enough to appreciate the Koufax, Drysdale and Wills Dodger teams, I was 12 when the Dodgers won the pennant in 1974 and I watched all of the Big Blue battles with the Big Red Machine. My favorite players were Dusty Baker, Reggie Smith and Ron Cey. I really wanted them to play the Red Sox in 1978, how fun to see my team play in Fenway Park. But instead, they lost to the Yankees again robbed by Graig Nettles and bad umpiring.
After failing to capture the 1980 NL West title despite a great weekend sweep, 1981 did not seem to be all that promising, as the great infield was getting older, and two outfielders who had been hurt in 1980, Smith and Monday were probably going to need some help again.
But then, something that doesn't happen often, happened in LA, perhaps something that only happens in sports, a community got energized and a player to be known by only his first name, stepped into the spotlight and made Dodger Stadium is own.
It's hard to explain what kind of impact Fernando Valenzuela had on Los Angeles, the Herald Examiner ran a contest for his nickname, the Dodgers drew more people in his starts then they would for the other games and on the road, he drew double the crowds in prior games in Montreal and New York.
But he set the tone and the Dodgers got off to great start. It would take something bigger then them to stop their run for another chance at a World Series. That something happened, a mid-season strike. Fortunately, unlike what would happen 13 years later, they came back to play in August. But Fernando and the Dodgers did not play as well but they were playing with house money, since when they started up again, MLB had decided to add another round of playoffs, a series between the winners of the divisions in the first and second half.
The Dodgers matched up with the Astros and were behind 2-0 before they played a game in Dodger Stadium. But like the year before, they swept the Astros and headed to the NLCS to face the Expos. The Dodgers won Game 1, then had Fernando going up against Ray Burris, a pitcher who didn't walk many, strike out many or give up home runs. In Game 2, Burris pitched a shut out and in the last playoff game I attended until 2006, the Dodgers lost 2-0.
Montreal would win Game 3 and the Dodgers were one game away from losing, but then post-season pitching star Burt Hooton won again and the Dodgers were in a winner take all game with Fernando again facing Ray Burris.
Game 5 was rained out on Sunday so they instead played in a 2/3 full Olympic Stadium on Monday afternoon. After wasting a one-out triple by Bill Russell, Tim Raines scored in the bottom of the first to give the Expos a 1-0 lead. It remained that way until the top of the 5th when Rick Monday scored on a Valenzuela ground out.
Both pitchers remained effective for the next 3 innings, bringing the game still tied at 1 going into the top of 9th. Tim Wallach had pinch hit for Burris in the bottom of the 8th so 5-time All-Star Steve Rogers came into to pitch. Rogers quickly got two out and then faced Rick Monday. Monday only had 156 PA in 1981 but he made them memorable for at age 35, he put up an 194 OPS+ .
Monday, famous for when he saved the American Flag (then a Cub) at Dodger Stadium, had been a part-time player for the last several years but still had a little pop in his bat, swung and hit a fly ball to center. Andre Dawson raced back to the wall but to no avail, for it was a home run and the Dodgers took a 2-1 lead.
Valenzuela, going for a complete game, got two out but then walked the next two batters. In came Bobby Welch, who got a ground ball to Lopes, he threw to Garvey and the Dodgers were the NL Champions.
A nice link with video of the highlights can be found here.
I was happy for this group of players, for they were team that formed a 35+ year relationship with this fan, I hoped they would get a chance to win a World Series, I knew time was running out. That story remained to be told, some of it might be told a little later in this series.