Oakland, Calif. — Imagine Julia Child putting ketchup on ice cream, Est'ee Lauder getting caught with curlers in her hair, and Woody Allen kicking sand on a gorilla! Now that you're thinking in improbabilities, read on about an unexpected turn of baseball events, namely the Los Angeles Dodgers' upset of the powerful Oakland A's, four games to one, in the 1988 World Series. Even though there were a dozen reasons that Los Angeles mothballed the A's, the edge that cut each Dodger approximately a $100,000 piece of World Series pie was the team's pitching. It was outstanding, especially the work of Orel Hershiser, who pitched and won two complete games, and was named the Series' most valuable player.
The Dodgers, who weren't supposed to win with their regulars intact, played all but one at-bat of the Series without Kirk Gibson, their best hitter. They also lost pitcher John Tudor and catcher Mike Scioscia with mid-Series injuries, and got fewer innings than expected from outfielder Mike Marshall.
So how did the Dodgers win? The same way Gene Tunney beat Jack Dempsey, by taking away the slugger's knockout punch. In five games, Los Angeles pitching held one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball to 11 runs and a meager .177 club batting average.
The best that Oakland's big woodchoppers could do was chip in two home runs and seven runs batted in. For example, the Jos'e Canseco was 1-for-19, his lone hit a first-game grand slam.
Even though Mark McGwire hit several Paul Bunyan shots against Dodger pitching, Oakland's heavy night air seemed to create an invisible barrier at the outfield warning track. The only home run McGwire hit was a rising line drive that went over the fence like a rocket to win Game 3.
While outfielder Dave Henderson appeared to hit well, his .300 average yielded just one RBI. And in a freaky performance, Dave Parker got his only three hits of the Series (all harmless singles) against Hershiser in Game 2.
The only Oakland hitter who consistently did anything against Los Angeles pitching was catcher Terry Steinbach, who hit .364 but never did drive in a run.
Although Hershiser shut out the A's in Game 2, Orel by his own admission was not as good a pitcher in the Series clincher.
Asked what he was doing late in the game in the dugout while his teammates were hitting (Orel had his eyes closed, his head back, and appeared to be napping), Hershiser replied:
``I was singing hymns that I had learned as a kid. I do that often when I'm uptight and know I have to calm myself down to be effective.''
Manager Tommy Lasorda, who may have silenced his Los Angeles-based media critics forever because of all the solid moves he made against Oakland, was relatively calm for him by the time he reached the postgame interview room.
``Not too many people believed in us coming out of spring training, even though we had made some good trades during the winter,'' Lasorda said. ``Actually, we didn't have the best talent, but we believed in ourselves anyway. I think we have become a great example for people out there who don't think they can make it in life, because we showed them how to win.''
When a reporter wanted to know whether this was Tommy's finest year as a manager, Lasorda replied: ``I have yet to make a hit, score a run, or steal a base this year. What my players did on the field during the regular season and in the playoffs against the Mets and in the World Series against the A's, they did on their own, and they should get the credit for it. All I did was get them in the right frame of mind.''
Oakland manager Tony La Russa, who all through the Series appeared at press conferences in a T-shirt advertising a ballet school, didn't try to dance away from any questions, no matter how tough they were.
Although La Russa obviously didn't like the question that suggested his team choked, after waiting a few seconds for the red to drain from his neck, Tony answered:
``I think the reason we didn't do better was because Dodger pitching shut us down. We had chances to score in every game, but I'm not sure we made the best use of our at-bats. Once we got behind, and the Dodgers scored first in several games, we may have been trying too hard.
``Hershiser didn't give us too much that we could do anything with in Games 2 or 5,'' he continued. ``We lost because the Dodgers somehow did more than we did.
``If Gibson hadn't beaten us in Game 1 with a pinch home run, things might have been different. Even though the Dodgers won Game 2, we would have been tied in victories and going home. If we had actually been in that position, who knows what might have happened?''
Two L.A. irregulars who deserve at least a quick mention are outfielders Mike Davis and Mickey Hatcher, who sometimes played first base and would have been the team's catcher in an emergency.
Mickey, whose clown image belies the seriousness with which he plays, batted .368, collecting seven hits, two home runs, and five RBIs.
Davis, who wasn't much more to the Dodgers during the regular season than a dab of polish on a pair of shoes, hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning of the final game that stunned his former Oakland teammates.
But the No. 1 story of this Series was Hershiser, the modest kid on the white horse. Orel may have done more with his actions and words to repopularize the image of the clean-cut, churchgoing American hero than all the comic books in Yogi Berra's locker!