The Dodgers had won their fourth NL West title of the 1980s, posting a 94–67 record (.580) during the 1988 regular season and beating out the Cincinnati Reds by seven games. The Mets cruised to the best record in the National League in 1988, with a 100–60 record (.625), easily winning the NL East crown by a full fifteen games over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The NLCS itself was a see-saw affair, with the two teams splitting the first two games at Dodger Stadium. The Series then shifted to Shea Stadium in New York for Games 3, 4, and 5; the Mets took Game 3 before the Dodgers pulled out close wins in both Game 4 (5–4 in twelve innings) and Game 5 (7–4). Dodgers outfielder Kirk Gibson hit home runs in both games, including the game-winning dinger in the twelfth inning of Game 4. The NLCS then went back to Los Angeles, where the Mets took the sixth game 5–1; however, they went on to be blanked by the Dodgers 6–0 in the deciding seventh game, sending L.A. to the World Series for the first time since 1981.
Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser was named the NLCS MVP. He made four outstanding appearances in the Series, garnering the save in Game 4 and hurling a complete game shutout against the Mets in Game 7.
Los Angeles won the series, 4–3.
Tuesday, October 4, 1988, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California
The series opened with a classic pitching matchup, pitting the Dodgers' Orel Hershiser, who had won 23 games during the regular season and carried a Major League record 59 consecutive scoreless innings into the game, against Mets ace Dwight Gooden, who himself had won eighteen games during the regular season. A pitchers' duel was expected, and neither pitcher disappointed.
The Dodgers pushed across an early run on a two-out RBI single from Mike Marshall in the first inning, but following that, both teams' offenses were held in check. The Dodgers were held hitless until the seventh inning, where they scored their second run off Gooden on an RBI single from Alfredo Griffin.
With Hershiser rolling, it appeared the Dodgers would knock off the Mets and take the lead in the series. But in the ninth, Mets rookie Gregg Jefferies led off with a single. He advanced to second on a ground out, and the Mets broke through against Hershiser when Darryl Strawberry lined a double into the gap in right-center field to score Jefferies. Hershiser was then lifted in favor of ace closer Jay Howell. Kevin McReynolds drew a walk, and following a Howard Johnson strikeout, Gary Carter hit a two-strike pitch in front of a diving John Shelby. Strawberry scored as the ball bounced in front of Shelby, and McReynolds followed close behind. Shelby's throw to the plate was a little off target, and McReynolds scored the winning run by bowling over catcher Mike Scioscia as the ball sailed past him.
The Dodgers went down in order in the last of the ninth, and the Mets came away with a comeback win to draw first blood in the series.
Wednesday, October 5, 1988, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California
David Cone, the Mets' starting pitcher for Game 2, wrote the above in an article for the New York Daily News. The article appeared in the paper the morning of Game 2, and the Dodgers were not pleased upon reading it. They took out their anger on the field that night—against Cone.
Mike Marshall drove in a first inning run for the second night in a row. But in the second, the Dodgers exploded for four more runs to take a 5–0 lead and knock Cone from the game. Mickey Hatcher struck the key blow with a two-run double.
Although the Mets would draw within three runs on a fourth inning two-run home run from Keith Hernandez, they could not overcome the Dodgers' pitching. Dodgers starting pitcher Tim Belcher struck out ten over 8 1⁄3 innings, and the Dodgers tied the series with a 6–3 victory.
Saturday, October 8, 1988, at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York
Fantastic plays and controversy would mark the afternoon, as the Mets rebounded from deficits twice to earn an 8–4 victory in Game 3.
Following a rainout, Game 3 was played in horrible football weather. The rain that had delayed the game a day turned the field into a muddy mess.
The rainout of the previous night allowed the Dodgers to bring back Orel Hershiser to start on three days' rest, while the Mets countered with Ron Darling, who got off to a rocky start. The Dodgers scored their first run in the second inning on a throwing error by Keith Hernandez on a bunt attempt by Mike Scioscia. The Dodgers got another run on an RBI ground out by Jeff Hamilton, and a third run in the third inning on an RBI ground out by Kirk Gibson.
But the Mets would not lie down against Hershiser. Darryl Strawberry drove home Mookie Wilson with a double in the bottom of the third inning, and in the sixth inning, the Mets tied the game thanks to some clutch hitting and sloppy Dodgers fielding.
With Hernandez on first and none out, Strawberry singled to left. When Gibson bobbled the ball in the outfield, Hernandez tried to go to third. However, Hernandez slipped twice on the muddy infield, and Gibson was able to recover and throw Hernandez out as he attempted to crawl into third base. Kevin McReynolds reached on an error by third baseman Jeff Hamilton. One out later, back to back singles by Gary Carter and Wally Backman scored the two tying runs, and the Mets had come back once again against Hershiser. But the game was far from over.
With two outs and the bases empty in the top of the eighth inning, Scioscia hit a one-hop comebacker back to Mets pitcher Roger McDowell. McDowell lined up to make a throw, and slipped to the ground on the wet mound. His throw to first was wild, and Scioscia advanced to second base on the error. Following a single, a walk and a pitching change, Randy Myers walked Mike Sharperson to force home a run and give the Dodgers a 4–3 lead.
The Dodgers turned to closer Jay Howell in the bottom of the eighth. Howell ran a three ball, two strike count to McReynolds leading off the inning. Suddenly, Mets Manager Davey Johnson came out of the dugout, and asked Umpire Harry Wendelstedt to inspect Howell's glove for an illegal substance. Sure enough, Howell was found to have pine tar on his glove, and he was immediately ejected from the game, and would later be suspended for the remainder of the series. The ejection seemed to undo the Dodgers. Three subsequent relievers failed to hold down the Mets, as they rallied for five runs in the inning after two men were out. Backman doubled home the tying run, Wilson singled home Backman with the lead run and Darryl Strawberry iced the inning with a two-run single.
David Cone would shake off his rocky outing from Game 2, and pitched a scoreless ninth inning to close out the Dodgers and give the Mets a two to one Series lead.
Sunday, October 9, 1988, at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York
It was the Dodgers who did the coming back in Game 4, and they did so in stunning fashion against the Mets ace.
Dwight Gooden started for the Mets, and the Dodgers scored early, just as they had in Game 1. A two-run single from John Shelby with two outs would give the Dodgers the lead. But once again, the Mets rebounded from the early deficit, this time against Dodgers starter John Tudor.
With no outs and Keith Hernandez on first base in the fourth inning, Darryl Strawberry launched a long home run to right off Tudor to tie the score. One batter later, Kevin McReynolds hit a home run of his own, over the bleachers in left field to put the Mets ahead. The Mets expanded their lead on an RBI triple from Gary Carter in the sixth inning.
With a 4–2 lead going into the ninth inning, and Gooden cruising, the Mets looked to be a lock to take a commanding three games to one lead in the series. Since the first inning, Gooden had allowed one hit, and only four baserunners. But uncharacteristically, Gooden walked John Shelby to lead off the ninth, after having a two-strike count. Catcher Mike Scioscia then drilled a shocking two-run home run into the Mets bullpen in right field to tie the game.
The game continued tied into the twelfth inning, where Kirk Gibson hit a two-out solo home run off Roger McDowell.
Although the Mets loaded the bases in their half of the twelfth inning, Orel Hershiser came in from the bullpen, the day after starting, and got McReynolds to fly out to shallow center, Shelby racing in for the game-ending catch. Hershiser got the save, and the Dodger win tied the series at two games apiece.
Monday, October 10, 1988, at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York
Less than twelve hours after tying the series at two wins apiece, the Dodgers took a three games to two lead with a 7–4 win over Sid Fernandez and the Mets.
The Dodgers jumped on Mets starting pitcher Sid Fernandez in the fourth and fifth innings, to run out to a 6–0 lead. Catcher Rick Dempsey hit a two-run double in the fourth, and Kirk Gibson delivered the crushing blow with a three-run home run in the fifth.
Tim Belcher was the winning pitcher.
Tuesday, October 11, 1988, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California
Pitching in the face of adversity, and pitching to keep his team's season alive, David Cone rebounded from his poor outing in Game 2 to post a sterling complete game victory in Game 6.
For the first time in the entire series, the Mets scored first as a sacrifice fly by Kevin McReynolds scored Lenny Dykstra in the first inning to put the Mets ahead. McReynolds later hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning to put the game out of reach.
Cone scattered five hits and allowed one run in his effort, which knotted the series once again, forcing a decisive Game 7.
Wednesday, October 12, 1988, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California
Before the game, Mets manager Davey Johnson remarked that the excessive use of Orel Hershiser might undo the Dodgers. Hershiser had pitched eight-plus innings in Game 1, six in Game 3, and earned a save in Game 4. Missing from his log was a victory, but Hershiser got it with a complete game shutout to pitch the Dodgers into the World Series for the first time since 1981. Hershiser's performance earned him Most Valuable Player honors.
The Dodgers capitalized on two Mets errors in the second inning to put the game out of reach early. Steve Sax hit a two-run single to knock out Mets starter Ron Darling, and a Wally Backman error led to two more runs in a five-run Dodgers rally. With Darling out of the game, Dwight Gooden entered the game to pitch 3 innings of scoreless relief.
With Hershiser on the mound, and a big lead, the game was all but over. Hershiser allowed only five hits over his complete game effort, and his strikeout of Howard Johnson ended the game and capped off a memorable series.
1988 NLCS (4–3): Los Angeles Dodgers over New York Mets