Golden Baseball Magazine
Baseball's Memorable Games
The articles in this series focus on interesting games from baseball's rich history.
A game may be interesting because of its importance (for example, World Series Game 7s
or the last game of a pennant race), because of the individual achievements involved
(for example, a no-hitter or a four-homer game), or because of the wacky events that
occurred during the contest.
Notepad


NL President Bart Giammati


Davey Johnson


Tommy Lasorda

October 8, 1988 - Bizarre NLCS Game 3 Clash
This wacky game is memorable because of:
  • the wet, chilly weather that caused fielders and baserunners to slip or fall down;
  • a pitcher on one team who had called a reliever on the other team "a high school pitcher;"
  • the "high school pitcher" ejected while pitching to his first batter to give the game the name "Pine Tar 2;"
  • an eighth-inning rally by the home team to win a crucial playoff game.

The Dodgers-Mets best-of-seven for the 1988 NL crown was tied at one game apiece as the teams traveled to New York for the middle three games.

  • Rain and cold weather caused NL President Bart Giammati to postpone the Friday night game at Shea Stadium to the following afternoon.
  • That forced the two managers to realign their pitching staffs for the remain­der of the series.
  • Davey Johnson of the Mets carried over his intended starter for Friday night, Ron Darling, to the next day.
  • However, Tommy Lasorda of the Dodgers replaced lefty John Tudor with his ace, Orel Hershiser, who pitched into the ninth inning of the opener the previous Tuesday when the Mets rallied for 3 in the final frame to win 3-2. That way Orel could return for a possible Game 7 with three days rest.
    The 9th inning runs in Game 1 broke Hersheiser's record streak of 67 con­secutive shutout innings.

Both managers denied that any vendetta existed between their teams.

  • A series of beanball incidents and public exchanges began early in the sea­son and reappeared in the playoff.
  • Adding fuel to the fire was a ghost-written newspaper column that Mets righthander David Cone had started in The New York Daily News. After L.A. closer Jay Howell blew the save in Game One, Cone was quoted as saying that Howell threw so many curveballs he resembled "a high school pitcher." When controversy flared over that remark, Cone terminated the column.
  • I hope the slate is clean, said David Friday night. I haven't heard from the Dodgers yet. But I want to talk to Jay and settle it once and for all. During the rain delay, he went to the Dodgers' clubhouse and offered his apologies to Howell, who had said earlier that Cone had "no class."

Rain was also forecast for Saturday morning.

  • The drizzle stopped shortly before the 12:30 first pitch but soon came back. The temperature was 43°. A strong wind blew in from LF down the 3B line.
  • Even though the tarpaulin had been down, the infield still had some wet spots. Outfielders got cold feet standing in the damp grass.
  • Although the game was a sellout, about 11,000 chose to watch the game on TV.
Starting Lineups 1988 NLCS Game 3
Batting Averages are for the postseason through Game 2.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Steve Sax 2B .231
Mickey Hatcher 1B .286
Kirk Gibson LF .091
Mike Marshall RF .333
John Shelby CF .100
Mike Scioscia C .364
Jeff Hamilton 3B .143
Alfredo Griffin SS .100
Orel Hershiser P .000
New York Mets
Mookie Wilson CF .222
Gregg Jefferies 3B .500
Keith Hernandez 1B .444
Darryl Strawberry RF .462
Kevin McReynolds LF .000
Howard Johnson SS .000
Gary Carter C .250
Wally Backman 2B .200
Ron Darling P .000


Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling

Kirk Gibson

Orel Hershiser

Gregg Jefferies

Hernandez at bat

Darryl Strawberry

Kevin McReynolds

Mike Marshall

John Shelby

Mike Scioscia

Jeff Hamilton

Alfredo Griffin

Gary Carter

Mookie Wilson

Hershisher delivers to Wilson, who hits a liner that Gibson grabs in LF.

Howard Johnson

Wally Backman

Roger McDowell

Alejandro Pena

Jesse Orosco

David Cone

Darling, wearing a turtle neck undershirt, carried a 14-1 home record for 1988 into the game.
  • He set the Mets down quickly in the 1st.
  • The fans waved their "Strikeout Hankies" when LF Kirk Gibson came up since he struck out 19 times during the regular season against Mets pitching.
  • And strikeout he did.

Hershisher didn't have such smooth sailing in the bottom of the inning.

  • After walking just one in Dodger Stadium in 8 1/2 innings in Game 1, he gave both Gregg Jefferies and Keith Hernandez free passes.
  • But Orel retired Darryl Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds to get out of the mini-jam.

The elements had an impact on the top of the 2nd as a misty rain enveloped Shea Stadium.

  • First, Darling lost the plate and walked both Mike Marshall and John Shelby.
  • Shortly after Vin Scully told his Dodger Radio Network listeners that fielders would want to avoid any unnecessary throws, Hernandez, widely acclaimed the best fielding 1B in the game - only two errors all season, fielded Mike Scioscia's bunt and made a wild backhand feed to 2B Wally Backman cov­ering 1st. Marshall scored while Shelby raced to 3rd and Scioscia to 2nd on the single and error.
  • With the infield in, 3B Jeff Hamilton hit a hard grounder that Backman backhanded on one hop and threw to 1st as Shelby crossed the plate.
  • Darling bore down and struck out SS Alfredo Griffin.
  • A good bunter, Hershisher tried to lay one down but fouled it off. Then he hit a looper to short RF, but Strawberry was playing shallow and took it easily.
    Dodgers 2 Mets 0 after 1 1/2 innings
After Hershisher got three weak grounders in the rain and wind in the bottom of the 2nd, the Dodgers added to their lead in the top of the 3rd.
  • After the grounds crew put absorbent compound on the mound, Sax lined a single into RF. He then stole 2nd as C Gary Carter couldn't find the handle and didn't even make a throw.
  • Bare-armed Hatcher did his job by grounding out 3-1 to send the runner to 3rd.
  • Johnson chose to play his infield back. That cost him as Gibson shattered his bat on a bouncer to 2nd to put the visitors up 3-0.
    Dodgers 3 Mets 0 after 2 1/2 innings

The Mets got the run right back.

  • With one out, Mookie Wilson struck out on a pitch in the dirt that got past Scioscia. Mookie scampered to 1st.
  • Jefferies smacked a high curve into CF to put runners on 1st and 2nd.
  • Hernandez socked a liner to LCF. With the wind holding up the drive, Gibson drifted to the 371' mark to make the catch.
  • Strawberry shot one down the RF line that plunked in the mud and hopped up to Marshall instead of skipping to the wall. As a result, Jefferies held at 3rd as Wilson scored with Darryl stopping at 2nd.
  • McReynolds, hitless in the post-season, whiffed on a curve.
    Dodgers 3 Mets 1 after 3 innings

No more scoring occurred until the bottom of the 6th.

  • L.A. wasted two two-out singles in the 5th and two walks in the 6th.
  • Meanwhile, Hershisher retired seven in a row. The sixth of those outs came on a slipping, sliding catch by Gibson of Wilson's liner toward the LF line. Video of Gibson's catch ...

Kirk Gibson makes a diving catch while falling down in LF.

The Mets tied the game in the bottom of the 6th but should have had more.

  • Hernandez started the rally with a single to CF.
  • Strawberry dropped a fly that landed in front of Gibson in LF for a hit. When Kirk bobbled the ball, Keith tried to go to 3rd but slipped down sev­eral times before trying to crawl into the bag. Too late. Gibson had conce­ded the base by throwing to 2nd. But Sax took the relay and fired to Ham­ilton who put the tag on Hernandez who stretched but couldn't reach the base. Strawberry wound up on 2nd. Video of Hernandez swimming into 3rd ...
  • The comedy continued when McReynolds hit a chopper to Hamilton who threw into the dirt at 1st. Hatcher smothered the ball but umpire Dutch Rehnert ruled he didn't control the ball as Strawberry stayed at 2nd.
  • Howard Johnson, playing SS to get another left-handed bat in the lineup, bounced into a force at 2nd.
  • With men at 1st and 3rd, Carter grounded a single into RF to score Darryl and send Johnson to the hot corner.
  • Backman grounded between 1st and 2nd. Sax was in position to field the ball, but, roaming to his right, Hatcher tried to snag it but succeeded only in deflecting into RF for a single to tie the score.
  • Dave Magadan pinch hit for Darling and bounced out.
    Dodgers 3 Mets 3 after 6 innings

The 7th passed uneventfully.

  • Roger McDowell, whose wife had given birth to a son the night before, took the mound for the Mets and, throwing his sinker ball, set down the top of the Dodger order 1-2-3.
  • Hershiser walked Wilson to start the bottom of the frame. After Mookie went to 2nd on Jefferies groundout, Lasorda ordered an intentional pass for Hernandez. The strategy worked perfectly as Strawberry rapped into a 4-6-3 DP, Hatcher digging out Griffin's low throw.

The wackiness reached its zenith in the 8th.

  • The top of the 8th started innocently enough with Marshall and Shelby going down swinging.
  • Scioscia bludgeoned a sinker into the ground. The ball rolled to the left of the mound. McDowell made a backhand stab of the ball running toward the line. As he tried to turn and throw, he fell down. The ball went wild and Scioscia ended up on 2nd on the single and error. Jose Gonzalez ran for Scioscia.
  • Hamilton beat out a slow roller to 3rd, Gonzalez moving up a base. As in the 2nd, the Dodgers had a rally going without hitting a ball out of the in­field.
  • Mike Davis hit for Griffin, who had struck out three times. Before stepping in, Davis called for a towel to dry off his bat. He needn't have bothered since he walked on four pitches.
  • Then the wheels really started turning. Lasorda sent up ex-Met Danny Heep to pinch hit for Hershiser. Johnson countered by bringing in bare­armed southpaw Randy Myers. As he warmed up, Lasorda substituted rookie Mike Sharperson for Heep. Mike was 3-for-8 against the Mets during the season.
  • Sharperson worked the count full, then took ball four to force in the go-a­head run.
  • With a chance to pad the lead, Sax grounded into a forceout, erstwhile 3B Johnson snagging the ball up the middle and tossing to 2nd just in time to beat the runner.

So began the weird bottom of the 8th.

  • Dodger closer Jay Howell, the "high school pitcher" who blew Game 1, took the mound as the skies cleared. His 21 saves were the most by an L.A. pitcher in a decade.
  • Rick Dempsey took over behind the plate, Tracy Woodson replaced Hatch­er at 1B, and Sharperson stayed in the lineup at SS.
  • McReynolds, 0-for-10 in the series, took three straight balls, then swung and missed at the 3-0 delivery. Then he fouled off the fifth and sixth straight fastballs.
  • At that point, Davey Johnson came out to talk to home plate umpire Joe West. West called in crew chief Harry Wendelstedt from LF to examine Howell's glove. As Lasorda and the Dodger infield joined the conference on the mound, Wendelstedt tossed Howell from the game for having pine tar on his glove and brought the glove to NL President Giamatti in his box next to the Mets dugout.
    Howell admitted after the game that he put pine tar on the outside heel of his glove and rubbed his fingers in the substance before each of his six pitches. It was cold and wet, and I used it to get a better grip on the baseball. It doesn't change the flight of the ball, it doesn't scuff the ball. Resin doesn't work when it's cold outside.
    Davey Johnson: Give credit to [1B coach] Bill Robinson for tipping us off about the glove. I never had any reason to suspect Jay Howell of doing any­thing funny. But Bill made a motion toward the glove when he was throwing to McReynolds. It has to be a real serious charge for me to go out there. But I saw Howell doing it twice, touching his glove. So I went out and asked Joe West to check his mitt.

    Glove in hand, Harry Wendelstedt ejects Jay Howell (50).
  • Lasorda brought in another righty, Alejandro Pena, to pitch. The fans began chanting "Cheat! Cheat!" as Lasorda walked off the field.

    Video of Howell's ejection ...

  • Pena's first pitch completed the walk to McReynolds, the base on balls being charged to Howell.
  • Howard Johnson bunted a bloop that landed between Pena and 1B Woodson. Woodson threw to 2nd to easily force McReynolds, who was caught in no-man's land. That helped the Dodgers by removing a runner who had throw 32 bases in a row with Johnson.
  • But with the count 3-1 on Carter, Johnson stole 2nd, the throw hitting him as he slid.
  • Carter skied the 3-2 pitch to LF.
  • With the Dodgers an out from getting out of the inning, Backman hammer­ed the ball to deep RCF for a double that easily scored the tying run. The totals for the two teams were the same: 4-7-2
  • Lenny Dykstra pinch hit for Myers and walked on a full count.
  • Lasorda called in lefthander Jesse Orosco, one of the heroes of the Mets' 1986 World Champions, to face Wilson. That move proved disastrous.
  • Switch-hitter Wilson lined a single into RCF to score Backman and sending Dykstra to 3rd.
  • Jefferies, another switch-hitter, was hit by Orosco's first pitch to load the bases.
  • Orosco stayed in to face Hernandez. But Jesse fared no better against the left-handed swinger, walking him to force in a run.
  • As the fans chanted "L.A. Cheats," Lasorda came out and removed Orosco in favor of another lefty, Ricky Horton.
  • Strawberry blooped a single over SS to send home two runs.
  • McReynolds, the man who started the inning with a walk, ended it with a ground out.
    Mets 8 Dodgers 4 after 8 innings

Davey Johnson brought in starter David Cone to get the last three outs.

  • The Dodgers had belted Cone for 5 runs in two innings in Game 2.
  • With "L.A. Cheats!" still ringing out, David mowed down Woodson, Gibson, and Marshall to put the Mets up 2-games-to-1.
    FINAL: METS 8 DODGERS 4

Writers covering the game from all around the country all agreed it was the stran­gest game they had ever seen.

Postgame

Giamatti was non-committal when asked if he would levy any penalties against Howell. I have the glove, and I've looked at it. I have the reports from the umpires. What I am going to do now is leave and go and read the reports carefully. I'll think about it, examine the glove and then make my judgment. You'll know about the judgment from my office.

Mets Clubhouse

  • Davey Johnson was asked whether he thought Howell would be suspend­ed. The penalty is a tough call. I won't touch that, he replied. I have enough problems of my own.
  • Hernandez said he didn't think any disciplinary action should be taken against Howell because pine tar doesn't put any action on the ball but just gives the pitcher a better grip. Keith didn't even think Jay should have been ejected. Other Mets expressed the same view.
  • Backman: I can see why we're called the Amazing Mets. We don't die. We just keep fighting until we win. On his 8th-inning double: I didn't know I could hit it that far. They were playing me the way everybody does: shallow.
  • Wilson on the Mets' rally: It really shows a lot of character on this club. ... The weather conditions were as bad as I've ever played in.

Dodgers Clubhouse

  • The Dodgers clubhouse remained closed for some time after the game. The team was upset and needed a 15-minute cooling off period.
  • Lasorda was irate. What the umpires should have done was taken the glove off of him, given him a new glove, and let him continue to pitch. I watched Wendelstedt check the glove. He rubbed it (the pine tar spot) and nothing came off on his fingers. So how could something come off on Howell's fingers? I feel my pitcher was treated unfairly. If he had nothing in his mitt that was doctoring up the baseball, you can use pine tar to get a better grip on the ball. That's the only reason, and there are a lot of guys in this league who use pine tar, and it doesn't make the ball do anything. ... They use pine tar on the bat to get a better grip on it. He was asked if Howell's ejection changed his strate­gy. Did it change my strategy? You throw my best relief pitcher out of the game, and you change my strategy.
  • Howell admitted he had used pine tar before but not when it's warm. It doesn't work when it's warm. Resin is fine. He said nobody else on the club was aware of what he did. I don't think it's a good rule, he said because pine tar doesn't cause any extra action on the ball. I've seen guys cut and scuff balls, and nobody does anything about it.
  • Dempsey was angry. When we need six outs, it was ridiculous to decide a game, to give the Mets an advantage on something like that. You don't take a guy out of the bullpen (Pena) who's been sitting there in the cold that long and give him a 3-2 count. One pitch, life or death.
  • Hershiser commented on the Mets' second late-inning comeback in the series. We don't think the Mets have come back more than we have let them back. We've looked like a high school team, and we'd look like a big league team the next day. ... The conditions weren't really conducive to pitching. At times, I didn't think we should have been playing. I'm not making excuses. The Mets beat us. It's our fault we lost. There's a lot of TV money here. The field was in bad shape. You could see that the way Kirk Gibson was chasing balls. We never play that game in the regular season.
  • Gibson on Howell's ejection: Maybe it'll inspire us. If he gets suspended, you can put a J.H. on our sleeves.
  • Fred Clair, executive vice presidents of the Dodgers: I'm not angry. I'm disappointed in the turn of events.
  • As the clubhouse emptied, Steve Sax voiced his opinion. This is a beautiful city. I love it. I'll raise my kids here. They ought to blow it up.

Postscript

The next day, Giamatti suspended Howell for three days.

  • However, the loss of their closer didn't hurt the Dodgers, who took Games 4 and 5 in New York.
  • Back in L.A., the Mets won Game 6.
  • But Hershiser twirled a 6-0 shutout to complete one of the biggest upsets in post-season baseball history.
  • Then the Dodgers pulled an even bigger surprise when they upended the mighty Oakland A's in five games in the World Series.