The 1988 Dodgers were second in the National League in both ERA (2.96) and ERA+ (114). But it wasn't just Orel Hershiser who provided the mound work that season. Rookie pitcher Tim Belcher emerged as a key member of the Dodgers' rotation, in his first full season in the major leagues.
Over his final 21 appearances of the season, including 17 starts, the rookie Belcher was 9-2 with three saves, a 2.26 ERA, 94 strikeouts, and 28 walks in 115⅔ innings, including a sparkling 1.06 ERA in September.
How acquired: The Dodgers traded pitcher (and current pitching coach) Rick Honeycutt to the Athletics on Aug. 29, 1987, and five days later received Belcher as the player to be named later.
Prior MLB experience: Belcher's first tast of major league action came in 1987 when he pitched in 34 innings in September. Belcher was the first pick of the 1983 draft by the Twins, but did not sign. He was taken first overall again in the January secondary draft in 1984 by the Yankees, then sent to the A's three weeks later as a free agent compensatory pick. He spent four years in the minor leagues before getting his first big league chance in Los Angeles.
"I think [the '88 season] made my career. ... I was becoming, in a lot of people's eyes, more of a suspect than a prospect. And to be a key member of a world's championship team in '88, rookie pitcher of the year and everything," Belcher in 1998 told Tim Kawakami of the Los Angeles Times. "Had that move never happened or had we never won or had I never been an integral part of the winning, I think my career would've been quite a bit different."
1988 age: 26
1988 stats: Belcher was 12-6 with a 2.91 ERA in his rookie campaign, with 152 strikeouts and 51 walks in 179⅔ innings. Belcher started 27 times during the regular season and made nine relief appearances, including four saves. He finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting behind Chris Sabo of the Reds and Mark Grace of the Cubs.
Regular season game of the year: This one is a close call, between a pair of starts four days apart. Belcher pitched his first major league shutout to beat the Astros in Houston on Sept. 20, but the choice here is his start on Sept. 16 in Cincinnati. Belcher allowed just three hits and a walk, with seven strikeouts, and allowed just one unearned run in his eight innings. But unfortunately for Belcher and the Dodgers, his mound opponent was even better, as Tom Browning threw a perfect game for the Reds.
NLCS performance: Belcher won both of his starts, Game 2 and Game 5. He had a high ERA of 4.11, but struck out 16 in his 15⅓ innings, and pitched deep into both games, and was staked to leads of 5-0 and 6-0, respectively.
World Series performance: Belcher became just the ninth rookie to start Game 1 of the World Series, but his Fall Classic debut didn't last very long. He threw 71 pitches, including 33 balls, in just two innings in Game 1, and gave up a laser grand slam in the second inning for a 4-2 Dodger deficit ("I was trying to throw 900 miles an hour," Belcher told Sam McManis of the Times). Belcher rebounded with a solid effort in Game 4, as he pitched into the seventh inning and allowed three runs while striking out seven. He picked up the win in Game 4, a 4-3 triumph by the Dodgers that gave them a 3-1 series advantage.
Post-1988 playing career: Belcher followed up his rookie campaign with a 15-12 year in 1989, with a 2.82 ERA in 230 innings, a major league leading eight shutouts and an NL-best 10 complete games. On Nov. 27, 1991, the Dodgers traded Belcher and a young John Wetteland to the Reds for Eric Davis and pitcher Kip Gross. Belcher pitched until 2000, and won 146 games for the Dodgers, Reds, White Sox, Tigers, Mariners, Royals, and Angels.
Where he is now: Belcher has a role in baseball operations with the Indians, and 2013 will be his 12th season with the organization in his hometown state. He served the last three years as pitching coach with Cleveland before resigning at the end of the season.