David Voigt’s History of Baseball, Part 12

Bill James Baseball Abstract 1982

Bill James Baseball Abstract 1982

This is the twelfth and final installment of David Voigt’s history, as fine a brief telling of the tale as I know. This series commenced at: http://goo.gl/E4adJX.

Embattled Decade Campaigns: AL, 1981-1990

The long unrealized dream of an era of competitive balance now became something of a reality in the AL, as each of the first seven campaigns produced a new league champion. Moreover, eleven different teams won divisional titles in these years. However, in the West the Oakland Athletics won three divisional championships and captured consecutive league championships in 1988-1989.  And the Tigers, Royals, Red Sox, and Angels each won a pair of divisional pennants in this era.

The AL’s free-for-all pattern began with the singular campaign of 1981. When the long player strike gutted the middle of that season, a split-season format was adopted in hopes of renewing fan support for the arrested campaign.

Under this format, the first half of the season ended when the players walked out on June 11, and the second half ran from the resumption of play in mid-August to the end of the regular playing schedule. Because the June 11 strike date had the Yankees leading the Orioles by 2 games in the East, and the Athletics leading the Rangers by 1 1/2 games in the West, these teams were declared the first-half winners of their divisions. But when the split-season plan barred first-half winners from repeating as divisional champs, the Yankees dawdled to a sixth-place finish in the East’s second-half race. Thus the Milwaukee Brewers won the second-half Eastern race by 1 1/2 games over the Red Sox. In the West, the Athletics lost the second half to the Royals by 1 game.

At this point, the split-season script called for a best-of-five-games playoff series to determine the divisional championships. In the East the series went the full five games before the Yankees defeated the Brewers, but in the West the scrappy Athletics swept the Royals. Then in the ensuing League Championship Series the Yankees swept the Athletics. Although the Yankees won the 1981 AL pennant, their overall record was bettered by two other teams. The Yankee victory owed to its pitching staff, whose 2.90 ERA led the league; starters Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti combined for 19 wins, and reliever Goose Gossage saved 20 games. As for the Athletics, whose overall record was the AL’s best, they led the league in homers.  The Athletics were led by outfielder Rickey Henderson, who batted .319 and led the league in stolen bases, and pitcher Steve McCatty, whose 14 wins and 2.32 ERA led the league. As for the Yankees, their comeuppance came in the World Series.  Matched against the resilient Dodgers, the Yankees took the first two games, but then were ignominiously swept. And by losing three games in relief, Yankee pitcher George Frazier added his name to the annals of World Series goats.

Ron Guidry, by Jim Trusilo

Ron Guidry, by Jim Trusilo

In the dog-eat-dog competition of the next six AL seasons, the Yankees failed to win another divisional title. In 1982 the Brewers squeaked to a 1-game win over the Orioles in the East. In winning, the Brewers batted .279 and the team’s 216 homers topped the majors, with shortstop Robin Yount winning MVP honors for his .331-29-114 batting exploits. Outfielder Gorman Thomas led the league with 39 homers and drove in 112 runs.  And infielders Cecil Cooper (.331-32-121) and Paul Molitor (.302-19-71) complemented Yount’s stickwork. But the pitching was shaky, except for starters Pete Vuckovich and Mike Caldwell, who combined for 35 victories. Veteran reliever Rollie Fingers saved 29 games, so the late-season injury that sidelined this mustachioed ace was a crusher.  In the West, the California Angels won a close race by 3 games over the Royals. A good hitting team, the Angels finished right behind the Brewers in hitting and homers, and their pitching bettered the Brewers. Starter Geoff Zahn’s 18 wins led the staff. Offensively, a quartet of expensive recent acquisitions paced the attack, including infielders Rod Carew (.319) and Doug DeCinces (.301-30-97), and outfielders Fred Lynn (.299) and Reggie Jackson (39 homers and 102 RBIs). Jackson’s 39 homers tied Thomas for the league leadership, and the veteran drove in 101 runs. When these two well-matched teams met in LCS play, for a time it seemed likely that Angel manager Gene Mauch might win his first pennant. The Angels took the first two games at home, but were swept by the Brewers in Milwaukee. Thus the Brewers became the first major league team to win an LCS after losing the first two games.  But in World Series play it was the Cardinals who rebounded from a 3-2 deficit to defeat the Brewers.  This latest loss was the fourth in a row by an AL entry.

But over the next three seasons, three different AL teams ended the NL streak by winning world titles. In 1983 the Orioles drove to a 6-game victory over the runner-up Tigers in the Eastern Division. Pitchers Scott McGregor (187), Mike Boddicker (168), Storm Davis (137), and reliever Tippy Martinez (with 21 saves) headed the league’s second-best pitching staff. At bat the Orioles hit .269, and the team’s 168 homers led the majors. Shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr.’s .318-27-102 batting won him MVP honors, while first baseman Eddie Murray weighed in with .306-33-111 clouting. Meanwhile, in the West the long-dormant Chicago White Sox stormed to a 20-game victory over the Royals. In landing their first divisional title, the White Sox drew 2 million fans, who saw young Ron Kittle win Rookie of the Year honors with his 35 homers and 100 RBIs. Although lacking a .300 hitter, the White Sox got plentiful power from outfielder Harold Baines (20-99), catcher Carlton Fisk (26-86), and DH Greg Luzinski (32-95).  What’s more, the White Sox boasted a pair of 20-game winners in Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt (24-10) and Rich Dotson (22-7). Behind Hoyt, the White Sox won the first LCS game, but the Orioles swept the next three games to win the pennant. The Orioles then dropped the opening game of the 1983 World Series at home, but then swept the Phillies to end the AL’s humiliating losing streak.

Cal Ripken, 1995

Cal Ripken, 1995

The following year another new champion surfaced in the AL East, which was now being touted as the strongest division in the majors. Riding the momentum of a 355 breakaway gait, the Detroit Tigers went on to win 104 games, enough to lap the Toronto Blue Jays by 15 games. It was indeed a vintage year for manager Sparky Anderson’s all-conquering Tigers. Offensively the Tigers led the league in hitting (.271) and homers (187). Shortstop Alan Trammell batted .314, and outfielder Kirk Gibson and catcher Lance Parrish combined to produce 60 homers and 189 RBIs. To top it off, the Tigers also fielded the league’s best pitching staff. Starters Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Milt Wilcox turned in 54 victories and reliever Willie Hernandez, a recent acquisition from the Phillies, saved 32 games.  In 32 of his 33 game-saving situations, Hernandez met the test–an achievement that won him both the Cy Young and MVP awards. Meanwhile, in the weaker Western Division the Royals eked a 3-game win over the Angels and Twins, but the Royals won only six more games than they lost. The Royals batted .268, with outfielder Willie Wilson and DH Hal McRae topping the .300 mark. But the pitching was mediocre and the staff depended heavily on reliever Dan Quisenberry, who saved 44 games. When the Tigers and Royals faced off in LCS play, the Tigers won the 1984 AL pennant by dispatching the Royals in three games. And in World Series action, the Tigers easily defeated the San Diego Padres in five games.  By skippering the Tigers to victory, Sparky Anderson became the first manager to win World Series titles in both the American and National leagues.

But the Tigers’ view from the top was a brief one. In 1985 they fell 15 games off the pace, leaving the Eastern field to the Blue Jays and Yankees. And at the close of the season, the Blue Jays topped the Yankees by 2 games, to win their first divisional title since joining the AL in the mini-expansion of 1977. The rise of the Blue Jays owed much to general manager Pat Gillick, who, by dint of shrewd trades and canny selections in annual surplus-player drafts, swiftly assembled a pennant contender. In 1985 the Blue Jays’ pitching staff led the league, and outfielder Jesse Barfield (.289-27-84) powered an offense that produced a .269 team batting average and 158 homers. Pitcher Dave Stieb’s 2.48 ERA led the league’s pitchers, although his 14-13 record was disappointing.  Starters Doyle Alexander and Jimmy Key combined for 31 victories, and Dennis Lamp posted an 11-0 record in relief.  In the lightly regarded Western Division, meanwhile, the Royals became the only AL team of this brief era to repeat as divisional champs. In winning by a single game over the Angels, the Royals batted only .252, but powered 154 homers. Third baseman George Brett’s .335-30-112 led the hitters, and first baseman Steve Balboni drove in 88 runs and hit 36 homers. The pitching was good. Young Bret Saberhagen’s 206, 2.87 ERA won him the Cy Young Award, Charlie Leibrandt’s 17 wins came on the league’s second-best ERA, and reliever Dan Quisenberry saved 37 games. When the Blue Jays and Royals squared off in the newly extended seven-game LCS, the Blue Jays took a 31 lead, but the gritty Royals came on to win in seven games, beating the Blue Jays in their home roost the last two games. In the World Series, the resilient Royals staged yet another memorable comeback against the favored Cardinals.  After losing the first two games at home, the Royals fell behind 31, but rallied to win the next three games.  This latest World Series victory extended the AL’s winning streak to three.

In another topsy-turvy campaign, the 1986 Red Sox dethroned the Blue Jays in the East. The Red Sox took the lead in June and hung on to win the division pennant by 5 1/2 games over the Yankees. A .271 team batting assault was fronted by batting champ Wade Boggs (.357-8-71) and outfielder Jim Rice (.324-20-110).  Boston’s overall pitching was mediocre, but starter Roger Clemens led all pitchers with a 244, 2.48 effort that won the big righthander both the MVP and Cy Young awards.  While the Red Sox were winning in the East, the Royals faded in the West as arm miseries tolled on young Saberhagen. Thus the Angels won the division by 5 games over the Texas Rangers. Rookie first baseman Wally Joyner, who replaced the great Carew, batted .299-22-100 to head the Angels’ weak .255 batting. But Angel pitching ranked second in the AL, with Mike Witt winning 18 on a sparkling 2.84 ERA, Kirk McCaskill and veteran Don Sutton combining for 32 wins, and reliever Donnie Moore saving 21 games.

When the Angels took a 3-1 lead over the Red Sox in LCS play, it now appeared as if manager Gene Mauch might win his first pennant in twenty-five years at the helm of major league teams. Indeed, in the fifth game Mauch’s Angels were one pitch away from a league title, but the Red Sox rallied to win the game on heroics by Dave Henderson.  The Red Sox then took the next two games at home to land the 1986 AL pennant.  In the World Series the Red Sox jumped to a 3-2 lead over the Mets and appeared on the verge of winning their first world title since 1918, but the Mets crushed the dream by winning the last two games at Shea Stadium.

1986 ALCS and WS

1986 ALCS and WS

As a climax to the eighty-six-year history of the AL, the 1987 season provided a storied campaign. In a frenetic season which saw AL sluggers set yet another homer mark and attendance climb to new heights, both divisional races were fiercely contested. In the East waged an epic struggle that ended in a 2-game victory by the Tigers.  With seven games to play, the Blue Jays led by 3 1/2 games, but incredibly they lost all seven, including three vital games to the Tigers in Detroit. Hefty .272 batting and a major-league-leading 225 homer barrage powered the Tigers, whose shaky pitching staff was bolstered by the September acquisition of veteran Doyle Alexander from the Braves. By posting a 5-0 record with the Tigers, Alexander was named Pitcher of the Month by The Sporting News. Among the offensive standouts, shortstop Alan Trammell batted .343-28-105, young catcher Matt Nokes, who replaced the departed Parrish, batted .289-32-87, and forty-year-old first baseman Darrell Evans hit 34 homers and drove in 99 runs. With Anderson’s Tigers posting the best record in the majors, scant hope was afforded the Western-winning Minnesota Twins, who defeated the Royals by 2 games to win their first divisional title. Indeed, the Twins surrendered more runs (806) than they scored (786). But the Twins batted .261 and poled 196 homers; outfielder Kirby Puckett (.332-28-99) led the hitters, with outfielder Tom Brunansky and infielders Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti combining for 97 homers and 284 RBIs. On the other hand, Twins’ pitchers allowed a horrendous 4.63 ERA. But the staff’s most respectable member, Frank Viola, stood out as the winningest left-handed pitcher in the majors over the past four seasons. In 1986 Viola posted a 17-10, 2.90 ERA, and veteran Bert Blyleven recorded a 15-12 mark.

Matched against the Tigers in LCS play, the Twins were scorned as hometown dependents whose outstanding home record owed to the vagaries of their much-maligned domed stadium.  But the Twins thrashed the Tigers in five games to win their first AL pennant in twenty-two years. Moreover, they went on to beat the crippled Cardinals in a seven-game World Series struggle by scoring all of their victories in their cozy “homer dome’ before capacity crowds of screaming, hankie-waving fans. Thus the 1987 World Series stood out as the first where all victories were won on home fields. And the Twins were indeed fortunate to have hosted four of the games in their favorite bailiwick.

In 1988 a timely rule change which redefined the strike zone helped to quell the raging homer epidemic. In an anticlimactic season that saw batting and power hitting tail off, the well-balanced Oakland Athletics dominated the AL West from the start. The A’s 104 victories topped the majors and lapped the runner-up Minnesota Twins by 13 games. League-leading pitching, paced by Dave Stewart’s 21 wins and reliever Dennis Eckersley’s 45 saves, carried the A’s, who were powered by young outfielder Jose Canseco’s .307-42-124 batting. Canseco also stole 40 bases to become the first player to notch at least 40 homers and as many stolen bases. Meanwhile the AL East saw the only hotly contested divisional race in the majors, as the Boston Red Sox edged the Detroit Tigers by a single game; only 3 1/2 games separated the Red Sox from the sixth place Yankees. Barely playing .500 ball at the All-Star break, the Red Sox changed managers–from John McNamara to Joe Morgan–and staged an extended winning streak that carried them to the top. Despite a late-season slump, they hung on to win. Leading the Boston attack, perennial batting champ Wade Boggs batted .366 to lead the majors and outfielder Mike Greenwell weighed in with a .325-22-119 performance.  Ace pitchers Roger Clemens and Bruce Hurst each won 18 games and newly acquired reliever Lee Smith saved 29; still, the Red Sox needed the timely pitching of Mike Boddicker, who joined the staff from the Orioles late in the season and won seven games for Boston. However, the Red Sox were mismatched against the A’s, who stormed to a sweeping victory in LCS play on the strength of Canseco’s three homers and Eckersley’s four saves in relief of the starters.  In the World Series the A’s were held in check by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitchers, notably Orel Hershiser–whose three hits in Game 2 exceeded the Series total of Canseco and Mark McGwire combined.

Rickey Henderson

Rickey Henderson

But the resilient A’s came back with a vengeance in 1989. Newcomers included outfielder Rickey Henderson, re-acquired from the Yankees, and veteran pitcher Mike Moore, picked up in the re-entry draft. Moore signed for $1.9 million, which he repaid by winning 19 games with a nifty 2.61 ERA. Moore buttressed a pitching staff headed by Dave Stewart, whose 21 victories marked the third consecutive year he matched or topped 20 wins. Bob Welch added 17 victories and reliever Dennis Eckersley saved 33 games. Offensively, Henderson led the league in stolen bases (72) and tied for the lead in runs scored (113). Henderson’s production offset the loss of slugger Canseco, who missed 88 games because of an injury. Returning to action, Canseco hit 17 homers to augment the 33 hit by McGwire, who drove in 95 runs. Manager Tony LaRussa’s team batted .261 with 127 homers. Meanwhile in the AL East, Manager Frank Robinson took over the helm of the hapless Orioles, who won but 54 games in 1988, and drove them to within two games of the divisional championship. For this achievement Robinson was voted AL Manager of the Year, thus becoming the first black manager to win the award in both major leagues. But the AL East championship went to the Toronto Blue Jays, who were skippered by Cito Gaston. In 1989 Gaston took over a 12-24 team and drove them to a 2-game victory over the Orioles, thus becoming the first black manager to land a divisional title. Toronto’s pitching staff was the best in the East, but ranked only fourth in the AL. Dave Stieb’s 17-8 pitching led the hurlers, while six Blue Jay sluggers, led by AL homer champ Fred McGriff’s 36 blows, reached double figures in homer production. But when the Blue Jays faced the A’s in LCS play, the A’s crushed them in five games. And matched against the NL Giants in the earthquake-ravaged Bay Area World Series, the A’s swept to victory. For pitching two of the four victories, Stewart was named the Series MVP.

Embattled Decade Campaigns: NL, 1981-1990

Although less competitively balanced than the AL, the NL campaigns of this era were hotly contested. Each one of the twelve teams won a divisional title in these years. But the Dodgers won four Western titles and captured two league pennants and two world titles, and in the East the Cardinals won three divisional races and three league championships, yet won only one World Series. Dual divisional titles were won by the Mets, Giants, and Cubs, and singletons were won by the Expos, Padres, Phillies, Braves, Astros, Pirates, and Reds.

When the long players’ strike of 1981 gutted team playing schedules by an average of 55 games, the split-season format was unveiled upon resumption of play in August in hopes of salvaging the campaign. By dint of their 1.5-game lead over the Cardinals on the June 11 strike day, the Phillies were declared first-half winners in the East; and by virtue of a mere half-game lead over the Reds on that fatal date, the Dodgers became the first-half winners in the West. These were close calls to be sure, but no closer than the results of the second-half races. In the NL East, the Montreal Expos finished a half-game up on the luckless Cardinals, while the Houston Astros edged the snakebit Reds by 1.5 games in the West.

As frustrated runners-up in two close calls, the Cardinals and Reds with the best overall record in the NL received no recognition. However, the defiant Reds later raised their own homemade pennant as a symbol of protest. In the playoffs for the divisional titles, the Expos beat the Phillies in five games to win in the East, and the Dodgers rallied from a 2-1 deficit in games to beat the Astros in the West.

The division-winning Expos and Dodgers then met in the usual League Championship Series, which the Dodgers won. Once again rallying from a 2-1 deficit, manager Lasorda’s men edged the Expos. In winning the NL’s forlorn 1981 championship, the Dodgers batted .262, led the league in homers with 82, and fielded the league’s second-ranked pitching staff. Rookie pitcher Fernando Valenzuela won his first eight games and finished with a 13-7 mark to pace the staff, while outfielders Pedro Guerrero (.300-12-48) and Dusty Baker (.320-9-49) led the batting attack.

In World Series play, the Dodgers once again dug themselves a hole by losing the first two games. But once again they rebounded, this time sweeping their old Yankee tormentors to win the 1981 world title.

With the game’s image blighted by the “dishonest season” of 1981, the NL sorely needed a dramatic flourish to regain its credibility. Mercifully this was supplied by the extremely close divisional races of 1982. In the NL East a four-team struggle ended with the Cardinals topping the Phillies by 3 games. At bat the Cardinals hit .264, but with scant power (67 homers). Outfielder Lonnie Smith was the only regular to top the .300 mark, but first baseman Keith Hernandez batted .299 and drove in 94 runs, and outfielder George Hendrick powered the team with his .282-19-104 hitting. By way of compensation, the Cardinals led the league in fielding and stolen bases, and owned the league’s second-best mound corps. Starters Joaquin Andujar and Bob Forsch each won 15 games, and ace reliever Bruce Sutter won 9 and saved a league-leading 36 games.

Bruce Sutter

Bruce Sutter

 

In the West, meanwhile, the Braves won their first 13 games and hung on for dear life thereafter to edge the Dodgers by a game. Offensively, the Braves batted only .256, but led the league in homers with 146. Outfielder Dale Murphy’s 36 homers generated a league-leading 109 RBI, and third baseman Bob Horner hit 32 homers and drove in 97 runs. Veteran knuckleball hurler Phil Niekro’s 17-4 effort headed the pitching staff, which needed every one of reliever Gene Garber’s 30 saves. In LCS play the Braves’ mediocre pitching tolled as the Cardinals swept to victory. In ensuing World Series play, the Cardinals fell behind the heavy-hitting Brewers 3-2, but rallied to win the final two games at home. This latest World Series victory was the fourth straight for NL contenders.

When the Cardinals succumbed to poor pitching in 1983, the Phillies snatched the Eastern title by 6 games over the Pirates. The Phillies did it with a brilliant stretch drive, winning twenty-one of their last twenty-five games. Offensively, the aging Phillies batted only .249, but third baseman Mike Schmidt’s 40 homers led the league, and his 109 RBI led the team. A sound pitching staff, fronted by John Denny’s Cy Young Award-winning 19-6 effort and reliever Al Holland’s 25 saves was a decisive factor in the victory.

Meanwhile, in the West the Dodgers also mounted a September stretch drive to topple the Braves by 3 games. Like the Phillies, the Dodgers’ .250 hitting was lackluster, but the team led the league in homers (146); outfielder Guerrero’s 32 homers and 103 RBI headed the assault. A major factor was the team’s pitching staff, whose 3.10 ERA was the league’s best. Valenzuela and Bob Welch combined for 30 victories, and reliever Steve Howe saved 18. In LCS play, veteran hurler Steve Carlton’s two victories paced the Phillies to victory in four games. However, the Philadelphia “Wheeze Kids” fell to the Orioles in five games in the 1983 World Series.

As the Phillies sank to fourth place in 1984, the long-suffering Chicago Cubs notched their first pennant of any sort since 1945. In downing the Mets by 6.5 games in the East, the Cubs staged a second-half rally, fronted by ex-Phillie infielder Ryne Sandberg’s MVP-winning .314 batting. Dodger castoff Ron Cey contributed 25 homers and 97 RBI, and young first baseman Leon “Bull” Durham weighed in with 23 homers and 96 RBI. And the pitching staff was bolstered by yet another recent acquisition, Rick Sutcliffe, whose 16-1 record won him the Cy Young Award. Starter Steve Trout chipped in with 13 victories, and reliever Lee Smith won 9 games and saved 33.

While the Cubs were winning in the East, another newcomer, the San Diego Padres, easily won the Western title by 12 games over the runner-up Braves. The Padres batted .259, with young outfielder Tony Gwynn leading the league with his .351 batting. The team’s modest total of 109 homers was augmented by third baseman Graig Nettles and outfielder Kevin McReynolds, each of whom poled 20. More distinguished was the pitching staff, whose 3.48 ERA ranked third in the league. Able starters Eric Show, Ed Whitson, and Mark Thurmond combined for 43 victories, and veteran reliever Goose Gossage won 10 and saved 25 games.

In LCS play the Cubs pounded out a pair of early victories at Wrigley Field, but the surprising Padres swept the next three games at home to become the first NL team ever to win an LCS after losing the first two games. Sad to say, however, the Padres’ world title hopes went aglimmering as the Tigers trounced them in five games in the 1984 World Series.

The following year the Cardinals won another NL pennant. In fending off the rising New York Mets by 3 games in the East, the Cardinals relied on league-leading batting and base stealing. Outfielder Willie McGee’s league-leading .353 batting won him the MVP Award, and outfielder Vince Coleman won Rookie of the Year honors by stealing 110 bases-a new record for a rookie. Among other stalwarts, second baseman Tom Herr batted .302; first baseman Jack Clark, recently acquired from the Giants, hit 22 homers and drove in 87 runs; and shortstop Ozzie Smith, who won the league’s Gold Glove Award for a sixth straight year, batted .276. What’s more, Cardinal pitching ranked second in the league, with ex-Pirate John Tudor leading the hurlers with a 21-8, 1.93 ERA performance. Starters Andujar (21 wins) and Danny Cox (18 wins) lent sturdy support, as did relievers Jeff Lahti and Ken Dayley. The pair’s 30 saves compensated for the loss of free agent Sutter.

As the Cardinals were winning in the East, the Dodgers went on to win the Western title by 5.5 games over the Reds. Offensively, the Dodgers’ .261 hitting was led by outfielder Guerrero’s .320-33-87 hitting. Better still, the Dodger pitching corps led the majors with a 2.96 ERA. The starting quartet of Orel Hershiser, Bob Welch, Jerry Reuss, and Fernando Valenzuela produced 64 wins, and the bullpen saved 31 games.

Orel Hershiser

Orel Hershiser

In LCS play, the well-armed Dodgers took the first two games of the newly established seven-game format, but the Cardinals swept the next four to win the NL pennant. Pitted against the underdog Royals in the 1985 World Series, the Cardinals won three of the first four games, including the first two in the Royals’ home lair. But the Royals won the fifth game at St. Louis and the final two games back home. The sixth game was marred by a disputed call at first base that gave the Royals a life of which they took full advantage. The Royals then won the final game in an 11-0 laugher, and their victory extended the recent AL World Series winning streak to three years.

The following year the New York Mets ended the AL’s victory flurry with a dramatic win. In dominating the NL East, the 1986 Mets won 108 games to lap the runner-up Phillies by 21.5 games. Offensively, the versatile Mets led the league in hitting (.263), poled 148 homers, and stole 118 bases. First baseman Keith Hernandez (.310-13-83) headed the charge, with outfielder Darryl Strawberry and catcher Gary Carter powering a combined 51 homers and 198 RBI. As icing on their victory cake, the Mets fielded the best pitching staff in the majors. Starters Bob Ojeda (18-5), Dwight Gooden (17-6), Sid Fernandez (16-6) and Ron Darling (15-6) were formidable, as was the bullpen duo of Roger McDowell (14 wins, 22 saves) and Jesse Orosco (8 wins, 21 saves).

While the Mets were compiling the best record in the majors, the Houston Astros were winning the Western Division by 10 games over the Reds. Offensively, the Astros batted .255 with 125 homers. Outfielder Kevin Bass batted .311-20-79 to head the hitters, while first baseman Glenn Davis powered 31 homers and drove in 101 runs. Backing the Hitters was the league’s second-best pitching staff, fronted by Mike Scott’s 18-10 hurling, which was accompanied by a league-leading 2.22 ERA.

While the outcome of the LCS appeared to be a foregone conclusion, the Astros hung tough before losing in six games to the Mets. The Red Sox also fell to the Mets in World Series play, but not before throwing a scare into manager Davey Johnson’s crew. Indeed, the Red Sox took a 3-2 lead in games before the Mets rallied to win the final two games at Shea Stadium.

The following year most observers picked the swaggering Mets to repeat, but the resilient Cardinals took the 1987 Eastern title by 3 games. Although outhit by the league-leading Met batters, the Cardinals mustered .263 hitting, which they backed by stout relief pitching to pull off their victory. Offensively, the Cardinals’ 94 homers were the fewest by any major league team this season, but first baseman Jack Clark bashed 35 and drove in 106 runs. Third baseman Terry Pendleton drove in 96 runs, while shortstop Ozzie Smith drove home 75 runs with nary a homer to his credit. But the Cardinals atoned with a sprightly running game led by outfielder Vince Coleman, who topped 100 seasonal steals for the third straight season. Likewise the shaky pitching staff that completed only ten games was backed by a redoubtable relief crew whose ace, Todd Worrell, saved 33 games.

Meanwhile in the NL West, the Giants won over the bridesmaid Reds by 6 games. The Giant victory was a dramatic turnabout for a team that in 1985 had finished last in their division with 100 losses. A fine balance of hitting and pitching made the difference in 1987. At the plate the Giants batted .260 with 205 homers and were led by first baseman Will Clark’s .308-35-91 pyrotechnics. Moreover, the pitching staff boasted the league’s best ERA, even if the Giant starters completed only 28 games. What mattered was that relievers Scott Garrelts and Jeff Robinson combined for 22 wins and 31 saves.

When the Giants met the Cardinals in LCS play, injuries to Jack Clark and Pendleton cast the Cardinals as underdogs. But the Cardinals won their third NL title of the era by overcoming a 3-2 deficit in games with a pair of home-field victories. In World Series play, it was the crippled Cardinals who were favored over the unheralded Twins, but the American Leaguers won four games, all of them in their cozy domed stadium, to edge the Cardinals in seven games.

Dwight Gooden, Tidewater

Dwight Gooden, Tidewater

The pitching rule modification that stemmed the homer tide in 1988 wreaked havoc with NL batters in 1988 as only five regulars attained the .300 mark. Although no New York Met batter joined this circle, Darryl Strawberry boomed a league-leading 39 homers and drove in 101 runs and outfield mate Kevin McReynolds produced a .288-27-99; they powered the Mets to 100 victories and an easy 15-game victory over the Pirates in the NL East. With a 2.91 ERA, the Mets also boasted the best pitching staff in the majors. David Cone led the starters at 20-3 and Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling combined for 35 wins. Relievers Randy Myers and Roger McDowell saved 42 games.

In the West, meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers took the lead in July and hung on to win by 7 games over the Cincinnati Reds who along the way got a rare perfect-game pitching performance from Tom Browning. But the Dodgers held claim to the best individual pitching performance of the year when their ace, Orel Hershiser, finished the regular season with a new record of 59 scoreless innings. In addition to a 23-8 record Hershiser led all NL pitchers in innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts. Offensively the modest Dodger attack was powered by newly acquired free agent Kirk Gibson (.290-25-76) and veteran outfielder Mike Marshall (.277-20-82).

The lightly regarded Dodgers were afforded little chance against the Mets in LCS play. But the Dodgers prevailed in seven games with Hershiser starting three games and relieving in another. And then they upset the Oakland Athletics in the World Series, despite crippling injuries to Gibson, pitcher John Tudor, and catcher Mike Scioscia.

But there was no encore to such heroics, and the 1989 Dodgers fell to fourth place in the NL West. An impotent .240 batting average that included only 89 homers sabotaged the pitching staffs major league-leading 2.95 ERA. Hershiser again led the league in innings pitched and finished second in ERA, but was held to a 15-15 performance. And the workload took its toll on the Dodger ace, who was sidelined by a crippling shoulder injury at the outset of the 1990 season.

As the struggling Dodgers fell from grace, the Giants and the Padres battled for the 1989 Western title. The talent-laden Reds straggled in fifth, as the investigation of their manager, Pete Rose, culminated in his expulsion from the game. San Diego’s reliever Mark Davis saved a league-leading 44 games for the Padres. Offensively, Tony Gwynn’s league-leading .336 batting and 203 hits and Jack Clark’s 26 homers, 94 RBI, and a major-league-leading 132 walks fronted a Padre attack that fell three games short of their goal. The victory went to manager Roger Craig’s Giants, whose pitching staff, headed by Scott Garrelts’ league-leading 14-5 winning percentage and 2.28 ERA, ranked third in the league. At bat, out-fielder-third baseman Kevin Mitchell won MVP honors by blasting a matchless 47 homers and 125 RBI. First baseman Will Clark weighed in with a .333 batting mark and scored 104 runs to lead the league. That the Giants’ .250 team batting average ranked fourth in the league underscored the NL’s impotent batting, which averaged .246 and produced only five .300-plus batters.

While the Giants eked out a narrow victory in the West, manager Don Zimmer’s Chicago Cubs coasted to a six-game victory over the much-touted, but underachieving Mets in the East. A league-leading .261 batting attack, paced by first baseman Mark Grace’s .314 hitting and second baseman Ryne Sandberg’s .290 batting, compensated for the pitching staff’s sixth-place ranking in the league.

In LCS play the Giants downed the Chicagoans in five games, but then were victimized by the Oakland A’s, who swept to victory in the World Series of 1989.

Barry Bonds, 1987

Barry Bonds, 1987

If the status quo was the rule in the AL in 1990, it was otherwise in the NL as the teams resumed play after the lockout-delayed start of the season. When the smoke of battle lifted, the reigning divisional winners of 1989 were dethroned by a pair of fifth-place finishers of the previous year. In gaining the heights in the NL East, the Pittsburgh Pirates won by 4 games over the underachieving New York Mets. Outfielder Barry Bonds batted .301-33-114 and stole 52 bases, and first baseman Bobby Bonilla added 32 homers and 120 RBI to propel the Pirates. A 22-game winner, Doug Drabek, led the staff, which received a 6-2 boost from Zane Smith, acquired from the Montreal Expos in August.

In the NL West the Cincinnati Reds won four fewer games than did the Pirates, but the team’s 91-70 log topped the Los Angeles Dodgers by 5 games. In winning the Western title, the Reds took over on day one and after winning their first seven games, they clung to the top all the way to become the first NL team to accomplish this feat since the inauguration of the 162-game schedule in 1962.

Starters Jose Rijo and Tom Browning combined for 29 wins, but the Reds’ bullpen crew, the self-styled “nasty boys” Ron Dibble and Randy Myers, saved 42 games. Among the hitters, rookie Hal Morris played in 107 games and batted .340 and regulars Barry Larkin and Mariano Duncan batted .300. Chris Sabo and Eric Davis combined for 49 homers. Manager Lou Piniella, one of many Steinbrenner managerial castoffs, replaced Pete Rose, who watched the Reds’ fall exploits from his prison vantage point.

When the Pirates and Reds clashed in LCS play, the Pirates won the opener but fell to the Reds in six games. Given little chance against the Oakland A’s, the NL champion Reds opened the World Series by shutting out their rivals 7-0 behind Jose Rijo. Then with Rijo adding another victory and Hatcher smacking 9 hits in 12 at bats for a new World Series batting mark, the Reds swept the A’s! This unexpected victory, reminiscent of the 1914 sweep of the Philadelphia A’s by the lowly Boston Braves, brightened a season that appeared to be ill-starred at its outset by the bitter labor struggle.

 

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