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1988 Dodgers player profile: Tim Leary, no one expected this

Tim Leary bounced back from a lackluster 1987 season to solidify the 1988 Dodgers rotation.

Tim Leary had a sweet season for the Dodgers in 1988.
Tim Leary had a sweet season for the Dodgers in 1988.
Jon SooHoo, LA Dodgers

Tim Leary may have been over shadowed on the 1988 Dodgers by Cy Young Hershiser , and the rookie Tim Belcher, but he provided an excellent complement to those two pitchers just one year after going 3-11.

How acquired: On Dec. 10, 1986, the Dodgers traded Greg Brock to the Brewers for Leary and Tim Crews. Just like Belcher, Leary was a top draft pick, as Leary was the second overall pick of the 1979 draft by the Mets. Many older Bruins fans will remember how dominant Leary was for UCLA in the late 1970s, and was considered the best pitcher available in the draft that year. Some had even dubbed him the next Tom Seaver after he was drafted by the Mets.

Prior MLB experience: With only one year of professional experience, Leary was promoted to the major leagues as the Mets were in a hurry to see what their top pitching prospect could do. He made his major league debut on Apr. 12, 1981 but would only face seven batters before elbow problems shut him down. He would only pitch in six games over the next two years.

By 1985 the Mets had given up on their one-time top pitching prospect and traded him to the Brewers. In 1986 he finally had some major league success and made 30 starts for Milwaukee. None of his prior work could approach the season he pulled out of seemingly nowhere in 1988. His inaugural season with the Dodgers in 1987 had been a huge dud, and the idea that he would be such a key part of the 1988 rotation while striking out more hitters then Cy Young Orel didn't seem possible. For Tim it was all about Tijuana:

Then came the trade to the Dodgers--the Brewers got Greg Brock for Leary and Tim Crews--and the resumption of Leary's struggles. After not pitching during the winter of 1986, Leary had a weak arm, as well as weak statistics, in 1987.

So, in an effort to save his career yet still stay home to complete his degree at UCLA and be with his wife during her pregnancy, Leary chose to commute. He made a deal with the Potros that he would be there for his starts, once every 4 or 5 days. If it was a road game, Leary would drive to the airport in Tijuana, fly to Mazatlan or wherever the game was, then return to Tijuana the next day and drive back to Pacific Palisades.

"It was by far the best situation for me," Leary said.

Those might also have been the most important 3 months of Leary's professional life. He had a 9-0 record with a 1.24 earned-run average, honed his split-fingered pitch and got the speed back on his fastball.

His top strikeout season prior to 1988 was 110 and that was accomplished in 1986 by throwing 188⅓ innings.

1988 age: 29

1988 stats: Leary would have career bests in wins (17), winning percentage (.607), innings (228⅔), ERA (2.91), ERA+ (115), and strikeouts (180). Not known as a strikeout pitcher, Leary would have four games with double-digit Ks, nine complete games, and six shutouts. Leary was named the 1988 Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year, but I'm not sure what they thought he had come back from since he had never been very good to begin with.

Regular season game of the year: Leary had four brilliant games in 1988 but his best was probably on Aug. 21, a 9-inning shutout of the Expos with 12 strikeouts, no walks, and six hits allowed.

Leary also had a memorable game off the mound, on Aug. 13 against the Giants. The Dodgers ran out of position players and had to use Leary as a pinch hitter with two outs and the bases loaded in the 11th inning in a tie game. Leary, who pitched into the ninth inning in a win one night earlier, delivered a single up the middle for a win over the rivals. San Francisco manager Roger Craig was impressed.

"Leary is the key to that staff. He's as good a pitcher as Hershiser," Craig told Sam McManis of the Los Angeles Times. "Nobody thought Leary could pitch like this. I knew what (Kirk) Gibson could do to help them, but this guy has been a surprise."

NLCS performance: Leary started and lost Game 6 to the Mets, 5-1, as he didn't make it out of the fourth inning. He also pitched one inning of relief in Game 4, of one of the greatest postseason games in Los Angeles Dodger history.

World Series performance: Leary never got to start a game as they went with Terrible Tudor instead, but he did pitch six solid relief innings. In Game 1 he rescued Belcher and pitched three shutout innings. Without those three impeccable innings, it is possible Kirk Gibson never gets off the bench. Leary followed that up with three more innings in Game 3, a 2-1 loss. He replaced Tudor, who was only able to get four outs before leaving the game with an elbow injury.

Post-1988 playing career: For Leary, 1988 was his career year, and it was all downhill after that. The Dodgers of 1989 needed some offense so on July 19 he was traded along with Mariano Duncan for one time Reds stud Kal Daniels. It was an amazing trade that did not work out. At the time Kal Daniels was only 25, and one of the best young hitters in baseball. The problem was that, even at 25, his knees were shot. It is kind of amazing looking back, remembering that Leary was traded for Daniels and Belcher for Eric Davis. Just a few years earlier in 1987 those two young outfielders looked like future Hall of Famers for Cincinnati. Anyway, back to Leary. He was not bad in 1989 but he was bad after that, pitching for the Yankees, Mariners, and Rangers, and was awful for all of them.

Where he is now: Leary was born in Santa Monica, attended UCLA where he has been inducted into their Hall of Fame. He became a coach at UCLA during the late 1990s. As late as 2011, Leary took a job with Cal State Northridge.