Back in 1988, the outside world thought the Mets would crush the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. That’s how the season series had gone, after all, and those Mets still had all those megawatt stars and all their ’80s swagger.
The Dodgers didn’t buy it. Sure, they’d lost 10-of-11 to the Mets and been outscored, 49-18. But aside from seeing the newspaper and television hot takes of the era, the close-knit players did not dwell on summer futility, only on an October chance, says former Dodgers reliever Jesse Orosco.
And that’s sage advice for the present-day Yankees, who are facing a similar situation against the Rays in the best-of-five AL Division Series. Tampa Bay owned the season series between the clubs, winning 8-of-10. But those are just numbers on a stat sheet now, Orosco says, not evidence of some future truth.
“You can’t go in there and say, ‘Oh, man, we’re playing the Rays,’” Orosco says. "If you even have those thoughts in your mind, it’ll be a long road. You’ve got to think, ‘Yeah, they dominated us, but it’s a new game. It’s zero-zero right now.’
“You can’t overplay it,” Orosco adds. “You better go out with your horses, every situation. Tampa’s going to be a tough to beat. But New York is tough, too.”
Orosco, who’s now 63, was new to the Dodgers in 1988, coming over from the Mets after a Dec. 11, 1987 trade. He recalls being “very sad” after the deal, but realized he still had an opportunity to win with a strong Dodgers club that featured Orel Hershiser, who would win the NL Cy Young Award, and NL MVP Kirk Gibson.
Orosco, who appeared in an MLB-record 1,252 games and pitched for 24 years, got his second ring with those Dodgers, who stunned the powerful A’s in the World Series, two years after winning it all with the Mets.
The ’88 Dodgers went 94-67 to win the NL West, but they couldn’t solve the Mets, who even beat Hershiser in the ace’s only start against them. Gibson, an inspirational leader as well as a helluva player, was overwhelmed by Met pitching. He batted .222 with a .577 OPS and struck out 19 times in 37 plate appearances.
Still, Orosco says, “We knew what we were capable of doing against New York.”
The Yankees probably feel the same way. Orosco says the Dodgers got help from manager Tommy Lasorda, who was masterful at setting a clubhouse tone.
“Lasorda was always kind of figuring out things to do, especially to be a motivator,” Orosco says. “He had meetings with us and he’d tell us, ‘The Mets are tough, but we’ve got the edge on them.’ He was a good motivator.”
That may be key for the Yankees, too, Orosco says. And he believes they’ve got the right guy for the job: Aaron Boone.
“The Yankees have a very smart manager,” Orosco says. “He’ll be right on top them. They’ll have good meetings and say, ‘Who cares what happened before? Don’t let it get in your heads.’ They’ve got a powerful team.”
Still, the Yankees were streaky during the season. They batted just .218 against the Rays and were outscored, 47-34. The Bronx Bombers even got out-homered by the Rays, 16-13.
But there are plenty of possibilities for a grand series. It’d be something if the Yanks and Rays combined for one as compelling as the seven-game drama-fest the Dodgers and Mets waged.
It featured late-game heroics by both teams, Jay Howell’s pine tar suspension and David Cone’s ill-fated debut as a sportswriter in the Daily News. Cone penned a column that fired up the Dodgers, who pounded him in Game 2. He got a slice of redemption by winning Game 6.
Orosco had a moment, too, getting Darryl Strawberry to pop up in the 12th inning of the Dodgers' Game 4 victory, his own bit of redemption after a poor outing in Game 3.
Another memory stands out for him: After the Dodgers won Game 7 behind Hershiser’s masterful five-hit shutout, Orosco went to the Mets clubhouse to see his old teammates and tell them “my feelings about them,” he says.
“Everyone gave me a hug and wished us the best. I battled with that team for a long time. It hit me hard inside, being with the Mets all those years. People thought we were a little crazy, but we battled every day.”
There might not be any fuzzy moments between the Yankees and Rays after their series — the two teams sniped at each other all season and hard feelings were still simmering entering the playoffs.
Just one more thing for the Yankees to grind through, Orosco says. He’ll be watching, in between giving lessons at Frozen Ropes, a baseball facility in San Diego County where he teaches kids to pitch.
“Take it onto the field now,” Orosco says of the Yankees. “It just comes down to who plays the best and who stays healthy.”
And not what happened before.
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