The 85th World Series, baseball's annual tribal rite that comes complete with instant replays, gold neck chains, second guessers, and umpires who like to strut, opens tomorrow in Los Angeles between the Dodgers and the Oakland A's. Oakland hit so many home runs and sundry long balls while winning 104 regular-season games and sweeping Boston in the American League playoffs that many people are expecting another such display in the Series. But because of a pitching staff that often seems deeper than some oil wells, the Dodgers have a chance of spoiling or at least slowing down this fireworks display.
Orel Hershiser and his supporting cast combined for 23 regular-season shutouts, and kept the New York Mets in check during most of the National League Championship Series. Whether they can come back so soon and do the same thing against another hard-hitting array, of course, remains to be seen.
The chief Oakland power hitters are major league home run leader Jos'e Canseco (42), Mark McGwire (32), Dave Henderson (24), and Dave Parker, who probably would have had more than 12 if not hampered by injuries.
Also to be reckoned with, even though he now swings mostly from memory is designated hitter Don Baylor, who hit 31 for Boston as recently as 1986.
Canseco (especially Canseco!), McGwire, and Henderson have destroyed enough pitchers to suggest they cannot be handled. The old adage that good pitching stops great hitting may not apply here.
Canseco, who hit three homers in the playoffs, is so strong that often he doesn't even have to make good contact to ride the ball out of the park. Jos'e's forearms are so massive that one could probably tattoo all of the Los Angeles freeway system on them.
Canseco is fast emerging as baseball's premier power hitter. And if an opposing pitcher does stop Jos'e, he's still got McGwire, Henderson, and the rest of that solid batting order to work through.
On the other hand, the Dodgers have baseball's hottest pitcher in Hershiser, who won 23 games in the regular season and was immense in the seven-game playoff victory over the Mets, tossing a five-hit shutout in Wednesday night's finale.
Although Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda insists on calling Hershiser ``Bulldog'' (a tribute to his tenacity and not his looks), sneaky might be a better description. Because all of Orel's pitches start out looking the same, hitters don't know whether to swing or ask the plate umpire to check the ball for a hidden gyroscope.
Lasorda's pitching arsenal also includes Tim Belcher, Tim Leary and John Tudor. Belcher, a rookie 12-game winner, beat the Mets twice in the playoffs. Leary, a 17-game winner in the regular season, was out of sync against the Mets, but has been watching videotapes of himself in the hope of getting his rhythm back. And Tudor, despite questions about his arm, knows how to pitch and won four big games down the stretch.
The Dodger bullpen, which led the National League in saves this year with 45, picked up two more in the playoffs. This is a little misleading, however, because Hershiser, who hadn't worked out of the bullpen all year, saved one of those games in relief.
But with Jay Howell, Alejandro Pena, and Jesse Orosco available for short duty, and Brian Holton and Ricky Horton geared for the middle innings, Lasorda has a deep and consistent bullpen.
In the playoffs, the Dodgers also proved capable of producing timely hits, with Kirk Gibson, Mike Marshall, Mike Scioscia, Steve Sax, Mickey Hatcher, and Alfredo Griffin all coming through at key moments.
As for Oakland, although everybody talks about the A's in terms of power, they can also whip you with their pitching and defense. Dave Stewart, who beat Boston twice in the playoffs, was a 21-game winner during the regular season. Joining him in the starting rotation are ex-Dodger Bob Welch, a 17-game winner, and Storm Davis, who won 16 in the regular season and another in the playoffs.
Except for Stewart, Oakland pitchers almost never finish what they start. But with the kind of bullpen manager Tony La Russa has, they don't have to.
Dennis Eckersley led the major leagues (and, incidentally, matched the entire Dodger staff) with 45 rescue missions during the regular season, and saved all four Oakland victories against the Red Sox in gaining playoff MVP honors. Other bullpen stoppers are Rick Honeycutt, Gene Nelson, Eric Plunk, and Curt Young.
Another key to Oakland's success - somewhat overlooked by casual fans during the season but getting a recognition boost on TV now - is the superb rookie shortstop-second base combination of Walt Weiss and Mike Gallego. Every grounder hit between the first and third baseman seems to have one of their names on it.
Barring the unexpected, this is a series that pits Oakland's power, pitching, and defense against the Dodgers' pitching, timely hitting, and hard-to-explain ability to overcome seemingly impossible odds.
The A's, who finished off Boston last Sunday, go into the Series well-rested and with their starting rotation all set up, headed by Stewart in Game One tomorrow night.
The Dodgers' gruelling battle with the Mets, meanwhile, had to take a toll on the pitching staff, especially Hershiser, who hurled 24 2/3 innings in nine days. Orel threw 130 pitches Wednesday night and is not expected to pitch until at least Game 2 here Sunday night - a situation that could have repercussions all through the best-of-seven series, which moves to Oakland for the midweek games and returns here if necessary next weekend.
All things considered, most observers think the Dodgers will do well to give the A's a tough series - but then that's what everybody thought about their matchup with the Mets, too. If they find a way to win this one as well, the only thing left will be to slip Lasorda through the eye of a needle!
For those who still cannot understand how the Dodgers upset the heavily-favored Mets in the playoffs, after losing 10 of their 11 regular-season meetings, consider this:
The Dodgers got yeoman work from Hershiser, who started and pitched well in Games 1 and 3 without being involved in the decisions, came in from the bullpen to save Game 4, and then won Game 7 to earn playoff MVP honors.
A rookie pitcher (Belcher) came through with two big victories.
Los Angeles won twice in Shea Stadium, where during the regular season New York had the best home record in baseball.
A subpar Gibson, while batting only .154 overall in the playoffs, came through twice in dramatic fashion - hitting the 12th-inning home run that lifted L.A. to its Game 4 victory, then blasting a three-run homer to ice the Game 5 win.
And Lasorda's invisible leprechauns were out several times in the series to turn hard hit New York line drives into putouts. In fact, they really outdid themselves in Game No. 5 when a ground ball hit by New York's Kevin McReynolds suddenly took an unexplainable jump and struck baserunner Gregg Jefferies on the foot for an automatic out that helped kill a Mets rally.
(NBC, Eastern Standard Time) Sat., Oct. 15 at Los Angeles, 8 p.m. Sun., Oct. 16 at Los Angeles, 8 p.m. Tues., Oct. 18 at Oakland, 8 p.m. Wed., Oct. 19 at Oakland, 8 p.m.
(if necessary) Thurs., Oct. 20 at Oakland, 8:30 p.m. Sat., Oct. 22 at Los Angeles, 5 p.m. Sun., Oct. 23 at Los Angeles, 8 p.m.