Brian Holton had his rapid climb through the Dodgers' minor league system delayed by the depth chart and injuries, and after persevering for years in Triple-A Albuquerque eventually played an important part in the Dodgers bullpen.
Holton was 16-6 with a 3.44 ERA as a 21-year old in Triple-A Albuquerque in 1981, but wasn't quite ready to crack the big league staff. He endured elbow problems that eventually required Tommy John surgery in 1983, but that didn't stop Holton from eventually making the Dodgers, which he did in 1985.
"This was all I wanted to do," the Buena Vista, Pennsylvania native told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1987. "I thought I was putting the numbers up, but nothing happened. Then the doctor said I might never pitch again. I just said I'd have to work hard, and thank God, I was able to pitch again."
After six years in Albuquerque with the Dukes, Holton finally got his shot at age 27 in 1987. One year later, Holton made the team as the 10th and final pitcher on the staff, and put up the best ERA on the World Series champions.
How acquired: The Dodgers drafted Holton in the first round of the 1978 draft, January phase
Prior MLB experience: Holton saw cups of coffee in 1985 then at the end of 1986, but didn't get pitch his first full major league season until 1987. From 1985-87 Holton was 6-6 with a 4.19 ERA, with 83 strikeouts and 39 walks (including 13 intentional walks) in 111⅔ innings.
1988 age: 28
1988 stats: Everything came together for Holton in 1988. He pitched in roughly the same number of innings (84⅔) as in 1987 (83⅓), and despite a decrease in strikeouts (58 to 49) saw his ERA drop over two full runs from 3.89 to 1.70. Much of that improvement could be seen in Holton's drop in home runs allowed from 11 in 1987 to a mere one in 1988. Holton allowed just three runs in 30 innings over the final two months of the season, including a scoreless 16⅔ innings over his final nine appearances of the season.
Regular season game of the year: In the second game of a doubleheaer at Candlestick Park on Jul. 26, the Dodgers and Giants were tied in the bottom of the ninth inning. When Holton entered the game there were two outs and the bases were loaded, but he got out of that jam. Holton pitched 2⅓ scoreless innings to earn the win in a 6-5, 11-inning victory by the Dodgers, who swept the doubleheader.
NLCS performance: Holton pitched allowed just one run in four innings against the Mets, as he pitched in Games 4, 5, and 6. With closer Jay Howell suspended for having pine tar in his glove during Game 3, the Dodgers turned to Holton to record the final five outs to save Game 5.
World Series performance: Though he only pitched in one game against the Athletics, Holton's role was important. He pitched the sixth and seventh innings of Game 1 and kept the A's at bay by retiring six of the seven batters he faced. The Dodgers were down two runs when he entered the game and down one when he left, keeping the game close enough for Kirk Gibson's heroics two innings later.
When Holton entered Game 1, Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola had a fun exchange on the NBC television broadcast.
"Brian Holton was telling us that in the League Championship Series in all the pressure, the first time he came in, in New York, he really was overcome with nerves. You know what he did? Out of nowhere he heard the old song, 'You take the high road, I'll take the low road,' and he began signing it while warming up, and it worked. It loosened him up. The next time he was brought in, he was singing it, and chances are as he came in from the bullpen, nobody knows about it, but he was probably singing, 'You take the high road' again," Scully said between pitches. "You wonder sometimes, under great pressure, under great emotional strain how wonderful it would be if you had some reliable device to loosen up."
"You know what I used to hope for in a big game?" Garagiola asked in reply. "First pitch would hit a foul tip and hit me. Not to hurt me, but just give me enough pain to take my mind off it."
Post-1988 playing career: Holton was traded on Dec. 4, 1988 with Juan Bell and Ken Howell to the Orioles for first baseman Eddie Murray. Holton was 7-10 with a 4.18 ERA in two years in Baltimore, then returned to the Dodgers as a free agent.
However, Holton never pitched in the majors after 1990, and retired after the 1992 season. His two more seasons with the Dukes gave Holton some amazing career numbers in Triple-A Albuquerque. Holton was 63-49 with a 4.28 in his eight seasons in Albuquerque, with 992 innings, 202 games pitched, and 141 starts. In case you were wondering, Dennis Lewallyn (1975-80) holds the Albuquerque record with 232 games and 74 wins.