For a team that led the World Series two games to one, the Dodgers were hurting heading into Game 4 against the Athletics, 25 years ago Saturday in Oakland. But somehow the Dodgers held on for a win thanks to a much-needed comeback outing from Jay Howell, and took a commanding lead in the World Series.
The focus before Game 4 was on the Dodgers lineup, which manager Tom Lasorda used as a motivational tool, per Josh Suchon in 'Miracle Men,' his book on the 1988 Dodgers:
Lasorda needed a lengthy talk with Dr. Frank Jobe before writing his Game 4 lineup. Kirk Gibson still wasn't available. Then Bill Russell came to Lasorda and said Mike Marshall couldn't start because he had a headache. Lasorda was furious.
"How the hell can a guy not play in the World Series with a headache?" Lasorda would say, years later. "So I got really mad and very demonstrative. For some reason, then I reached up and turned on the TV. And there's Bob Costas saying, 'This may be the worst team ever put on the field in World Series history.' I took it and ran with it. I mean, Bob was a very good friend. But I had to use it. I had to use it as a stimulator, right then and there."
That lineup, with Danny Heep at designated hitter and Mike Davis in right field, hit a total of 36 home runs during the regular season, six fewer than Jose Canseco himself.
But for the second time in four games the Dodgers scored two runs in the first inning off Dave Stewart, thanks to some help. Steve Sax walked to start the game, advanced to third one out later on a single by Mickey Hatcher, and scored on a passed ball. Davis reached on an error by the normally sure-handed Glenn Hubbard at second base, allowing Hatcher to move to third base. A ground out byscored Hatcher for a quick 2-0 Dodgers lead.
But rookie Tim Belcher who lasted only two innings and threw 71 pitches in Game 1, allowed a run of his own in the first inning of Game 4. Luis Polonia singled to leadoff the frame, advanced on a passed ball, then scored on two ground outs.
The Dodgers added another run in the third inning thanks to another error, this one by shortstop Walt Weiss who couldn't catch a line drive by Davis, allowing Franklin Stubbs to score from second base for a 3-1 lead.
Belcher held Oakland in check until the sixth, when a pair of singles and a walk delivered a run. Carney Lansford's RBI single cut the Dodgers' lead to 3-2.
But the Dodgers answered right back in the top of the seventh. A walk by Alfredo Griffin and a single by Sax chased Stewart with one out. Southpaw Greg "Life is a" Cadaret (a classic Chris Berman nickname) was brought in from the bullpen, but right-handed pinch hitter Tracy Woodson singled home Griffin for a 4-2 lead.
Belcher ran into trouble in the seventh inning. A two-out double by Dave Henderson made it 4-3 Dodgers, and put the tying run in scoring position for the A's. Jay Howell was brought in to face the middle of the order - remember, this was the 1980s, and using a closer for only one inning was still in its embryonic stages - but a walk to Jose Canseco and Dave Parker reaching on an error loaded the bases.
It looked like more disaster for Howell, who was having a terrible postseason. He was more than solid during the regular season, with 21 saves, a 2.08 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 65 innings. But his three postseason appearances all resulted in Dodgers losses:
- NLCS Game 1: entered with a 2-1 lead with one out and one on in the ninth; Mets won 3-2
- NLCS Game 3: entered with a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning, walked a batter then was ejected for having pine tar in his glove. He was suspended for three games.
- World Series Game 3: entered in a 1-1 tie, allowed a walk-off home run to Mark McGwire
After his first two batters reached in Game 4, including one via error, Howell had to face McGwire again. If Oakland was going to get back in the series, this was their best shot. But this time, Howell got his man, as McGwire popped out foul to Woodson at first base on the first pitch.
Sam McManis of the Los Angeles Times talked to Howell after the game:
"It's the nature of the game," Howell said of his earlier failure. "I just thought (Wednesday night) that this was a tough situation, and I had to do what I had to do. I didn't have any negative thoughts."
Howell gave up singles in the eighth and ninth innings, but struck out Weiss to end the eighth then struck out Canseco and got Parker to pop out in foul territory to Jeff Hamilton behind third base to end the game.
The underdog Dodgers now led the World Series three games to one. At this point in the series the Dodgers held the mighty A's to nine runs in four games while Canseco was 1-for-15 and McGwire 1-for-13. The seldom-used Heep was 2-for-8 and had biting words, per McManis:
"They called us a weak team (on television) tonight, and that's fine with us," Heep said. "We just keep on winning. They can say what they want. But their big guys aren't doing anything. So, which lineup would you rather have?"
Belcher got the win for the Dodgers, his third victory of the postseason, joining Don Sutton (1974), Fernando Valenzuela (1981) and Burt Hooton (four wins, 1981) as the only Dodgers with three wins in one postseason (and with the strike, 1981 had one extra round of playoffs). Orel Hershiser, with two wins so far in the 1988 postseason, was up next in Game 5.
Game 4 particulars
Home runs: none
WP - Tim Belcher (3-0): 6⅔ IP, 7 hits, 3 runs (2 earned), 2 walks, 7 strikeouts
LP - Dave Stewart (1-1): 6⅓ IP, 6 hits, 4 runs (2 earned), 3 walks, 0 strikeouts
Sv - Jay Howell (1): 2⅓ IP, 2 hits, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts