Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Before Hershiser and Gibson in ’88, Tim Leary nearly stole the show


Tim Leary is congratulated by Manny Mota after his walkoff hit.

By Jon Weisman

Chances are, if you remember Tim Leary’s days as a pitcher for the Dodgers, you remember his hit.

On this day in 1988, Leary came off the bench for the Dodgers and delivered an 11th-inning walkoff single up the middle for a 2-1 victory over the Giants.

And chances are that if you’ve forgotten anything about Tim Leary, it’s that on this day in 1988, Leary was a better bet for the National League Cy Young Award than Orel Hershiser.

The day before his pinch-hit, Leary had gone 8 1/3 innings in a 7-3 victory over San Francisco that left his ERA at 2.37.  The day after Leary’s pinch-hit, Hershiser was knocked out after only two innings, allowing eight runs (five earned). Hershiser’s ERA went all the way up to 3.06.

And so, in what was shaping up to be a wonderful season for Leary, his trip to the plate on August 13, 1988 was magical — even if the circumstances leading up to it were a bit bizarre.

The game began as the big-league pitching debut of 20-year-old Ramon Martinez, who pitched 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball before walking Brett Butler and allowing singles to Robby Thompson and Will Clark to tie the game at 1. (Mike Marshall had singled home Pedro Guerrero in the bottom of the sixth for the Dodgers’ run.)

The score remained that way into the bottom of the 11th inning, when Guerrero led off with a single … and things got weird.

First, Guerrero and Tommy Lasorda were ejected apparently for arguing that Giants reliever Joe Price had balked, even though Guerrero had been able to reach second base on a passed ball anyway.

Then, after Marshall walked, John Shelby bunted down the third-base line. “Just as the ball was rolling foul, it looked as if Price touched it, but plate umpire Paul Runge ruled otherwise,” wrote Sam McManis of the Times. Mike Davis, the last position player available to the Dodgers off the bench, was ejected for arguing from the dugout.

The next day, Mike Downey of the Times would find out more details about the ejections.

Three Dodger principals had just been bounced out of the game by the umpires. One was the lead baserunner, Pedro Guerrero. Why? Because he called one of the umpires a vulgar name, supposedly in jest, after advancing to second base on a passed ball. Lasorda claimed Guerrero and the umpire had been joking with one another all night.

Ejected next was Lasorda. Why? Because he thought up some new vulgar names to call the same umpire.

Third and last to go was Mike Davis, standing by himself in a warmup jacket in the Dodger dugout. Why? Because Davis supposedly was making faces at the umpire from the bench.

“He never said a word!” Kirk Gibson shouted later.

Joe Amalfitano, coaching third base and running the club with Lasorda gona, said the umpire spotted Davis gesturing and warned Amalfitano: “Tell him to stop waving his arms!” Amalfitano in turn asked the umpire not to do anything drastic, because Davis was the Dodgers’ last available non-pitcher. “Don’t take away our last guy!” Amalfitano pleaded.

Too late. Davis got thumbed.

By the time Marshall and Franklin Stubbs (running for Guerrero) advanced to second and third on a fly ball by Tracy Woodson, there were two out, with Alfredo Griffin due up and reliever Alejandro Pena on deck. So even though Griffin was batting .168 at the time, San Francisco manager Roger Craig walked him intentionally to get to the pitcher’s spot.

Meanwhile, Leary was batting .306 after going 1-for-2 with a sacrifice fly the night before. Recently, I talked at length to Leary about that season, and that night in particular.

“I mean, I had always been a good hitter,” Leary said. “(But) I was up there more as a guy who tried to hit the ball up the middle, because I didn’t want to get embarrassed.

“If you can really hit (at ages) 10-11-12 through 18, you’re not going to forget how to do that. You’re not going to practice on the road, but you get enough practice at home to have some timing. What’s actually more important is to get the bunts down, because you have more opportunity to sac bunt than to really make an impact as a hitter. You may get at-bats with two out and nobody on and get a hit that doesn’t amount to much, but when you’re up there with second and third and a base open, they’re not gonna give you a fastball down the middle.”

When Leary saw what was happening with all the ejections, he went inside the clubhouse to put on his cleats and get his batting gear together, knowing that he his time could soon come.

“It got to a 3-2 count, so I knew (Price) had to throw a fastball,” Leary said. “So I fouled one back, and then hit it up the middle. He was a lefty, which didn’t necessarily make it easier, but he wasn’t a closer — he didn’t throw 97-98. He was more of a low-90s guy, so it gave me a chance, and I just hit it up the middle.

“I was on Cloud 9, because the night before I had gotten a game-winning ribbie off Rick Reuschel on a sac fly. So I had three game-winning ribbies that season, one against (Rick) Sutcliffe, first game after the All-Star Break, and then those two in the middle of August, which was a key time because we had really taken off after the All-Star Break in a good way, and then we hit a bit of a slump, and we were down to about close to even with the Giants, and then around August 12-13 … we started back up again.”

The next day, Lasorda was still talking about the game in amazement. Lasorda told Downey that it was lucky Leary hadn’t been scheduled to pitch on August 14, because he wouldn’t have even stayed that late in the ballpark the night before.  On the other hand, Lasorda second-guessed his own decision not to use a pitcher to pinch-run for Guerrero, so that Stubbs would have been available to pinch-hit.

But, to say the least, it all worked out.

For more on Tim Leary and his 1988 season, read about it in his own words below, in this excerpt from Dodger Insider magazine (click each portion to enlarge) …

Tim Leary 33

Tim Leary 34


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  1. Had a nice chat with Tim last night before the game. We talked about the Dodgers’ pitching woes.

  2. jpavko

    Leary holds the record for most game winning hits by a pitcher, with 3. He only gets credit for 2 yhough, because in ’88 one came as a pinch hitter. Rick Rhoden of the Pirates and Rick Mahler of the Braves also had 2 game winning hits

  3. oldbrooklynfan

    During the days that this story took place, I was getting most of my Dodger news through the eye of the New York press. This was a nice account of these Dodgers, which I knew mostly in name only. But somehow I feel that I knew them well.

  4. 3 days later on the 16th, Guerrero would be traded to the Cards for John Tudor. Dodgers had to make that trade as Fernando hurt his shoulder.

  5. Without Tim Leary the Dodgers wouldn’t have won it all in 1988. He was a strong starting pitcher & he pitched well in relief in the Series. The Dodgers used NL style pitching against the A’s. In the DH league starters tended to stay in games longer even while losing, thus hitters had more cracks against them. Other than Hershiser’s 2 complete games the A’s never saw the same pitcher twice. The Dodger staff just stuffed them. Oakland was lucky to win 1 game & could’ve been swept. Cincinnati did the same thing to the A’s in sweeping them in 1990. The only World Series win for “The Bash Brothers” came in the earthquake series of 1989. Circumstances allowed La Russa to pitch Stewart & Mike Morgan in 4 games. Those Oakland teams were vastly overrated.

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