These aren’t your 1988 Dodgers, not even close.
Justin Turner was a 3-year-old then, wondering what all the fuss was about when watching Kirk Gibson’s home run on TV at his grandmother’s home in Southern California. Clayton Kershaw wasn’t even walking yet, much less tinkering with the curve ball Vin Scully called Public Enemy No. 1 the first time he saw it.
This is not 1988 baseball either, which is the biggest reason the Los Angeles Dodgers are in the World Series for the first time in 29 years.
There’s a lot to celebrate for a franchise that hasn’t had much to celebrate over the last three decades. The Dodgers used a heavy emphasis on analytics and a cutting edge approach to how players play and how pitchers pitch to finally get over the hump.
About the only bittersweet moment is that Scully — who retired last season — will not be in the booth above home plate at Dodger Stadium calling the game Tuesday night. At least he’s not scheduled to be, though wouldn’t it be great to ask the 89-year-old to sit in for, say, an inning for old time’s sake?
In case you’ve forgotten or were too young, this was how Scully described Gibson’s iconic home run to win Game 1 in 1988.
“She is gone!” Scully said before pausing for a minute or so to let the roaring crowd tell the story. “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
Before the Dodgers came to bat in the fateful ninth that night, Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser watched Gibson get mad in the clubhouse as he heard Scully and fellow broadcaster Joe Garagiola talk about how Gibson was not in the dugout and that his legs were so bad there seemed no chance he would make an appearance in the game.
“That was the whole impetus to get him to ice his legs,” Hershiser recalled Friday. “He was really mad.”
The Dodgers of 2017 didn’t need much in the way of the dramatic to get in this World Series, though Turner provided some in Game 2 with a walk off home run. The clinching game was such a lopsided blowout that it was pretty much decided in the third inning when Enrique Hernandez hit the second of his three home runs, a grand slam that put the Dodgers up 7-0 on their way to an 11-1 win.
Yes, Enrique Hernandez, who toiled this season as a part-time outfielder, second baseman, shortstop, first baseman and dugout cheerleader for the Dodgers. He played everywhere and did a little bit of everything before shining in his biggest moment.
It wasn’t by accident. There’s been a seismic shift in how baseball is played, and the Dodgers have made sure they are in the forefront of it.
This is a team built with the postseason in mind, filled with interchangeable parts and able to match up in almost every situation. Turner — with his flowing red beard and penchant for clutch hitting — is the face of the team, but the stars seem to change with every game.
And they are unlikely stars, to say the least. Chris Taylor wasn’t even on the roster when the Dodgers broke camp in spring training, only to emerge as a feared power hitter equally comfortable in centerfield or at shortstop and the co-MVP of the league championship series.
Credit that to a building process and some astute late pickups by Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, and general manager Farhan Zaidi that re-defined what a roster should look like.
“These guys are reinventing the game,” said Hershiser, who won two games in the 1988 World Series and now works for the Dodgers as a broadcaster. “They really understand game theory and how to construct a roster and play it on a daily basis. They figured out how to give a team its best chance to win through October.”
That best chance got even better with a five-game league championship series win that upped the Dodgers’ postseason record to 7-1. The Dodgers are dominating in the postseason like they dominated much of the regular season and with home field advantage will be favored against either the Yankees or the Astros.
Surely, Vinny will be there for the first game, even if it isn’t in the booth. Tommy Lasorda, the skipper in 1988, will be, too, in his regular seat by the Dodger dugout.
Lasorda was so intent on seeing his Dodgers win again he traveled to Chicago at the age of 90 for the deciding game. Manager Dave Roberts hugged Lasorda and told him the win was for him.
“I bleed Dodger blue just like you,” Roberts said. “Thank you, Tommy.”
No, these aren’t the 1988 Dodgers. Thankfully, though, at least one thing hasn’t changed in 29 years.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg