LOS ANGELES — Dodgers players have seen the iconic October highlight on the two big video boards here once, 10, hundreds of times.
It’s not that they’re tired of watching a fist-pumping Kirk Gibson stagger around the bases after his walk-off homer won Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against the A’s. It’s just that they’d like this edition of the Dodgers to make their way onto the highlight reel.
“Yeah, 1988, we’ve heard that a lot,” said Clayton Kershaw, who will start against Houston’s Dallas Keuchel in Game 1 of the 113th World Series, which begins Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium. “Igot drafted by the Dodgers. I didn’t know a ton of Dodger history at the time, but coming up, it kind of gets ingrained in you, which is a good thing. It’s not a lot of organizations that have the type of history that the Dodgers do. It’s been a special thing, and I hope after this week is over, they can talk about 2017 a little more and 1988 a lot less.”
Of course, Kershaw and his teammates know there’s only one way to accomplish that — by doing something the franchise hasn’t done since pinch hitter Gibson (who was thought to be unavailable because of knee and hamstring injuries) homered off Dennis Eckersley to send the Dodgers to a five-game Series victory.
“We’ve got four more games to win,” said Kershaw, who went 18-4 with a 2.31 ERA this season and pitched the Game 5 clincher against the defending champion Cubs in the NLCS.
All-world closer Kenley Jansen, who posted a 1.32 ERA and totaled 41 saves, smiled when talking about Gibson.
“People want to stop talking about, no offense, Kirk Gibson and all of those guys,” said Jansen, who modeled his devastating cutter after none other than Mariano Rivera’s. “They’ve been waiting for a long time.”
With the exception of a September slide, the Dodgers were the best team pillar to post, going an MLB-best 104-58. They also had an MLB-high payroll of just over $256 million, contributing to a win-the-World-Series-or-bust feeling around the team. That’s something some players, though not all, talked about from the first day of spring training.
“We felt like we’re the best team in the league all year,” Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor said. “We said it from Day 1 in spring training, we’re going to be in the World Series. We understand there’s still some unfinished business.”
Unfinished business from recent Octobers, most recently 2016, when the Dodgers fell to the Cubs in the NLCS. But there were disappointments before that, such as a Division Series loss to the Mets in 2015, an NLDS loss to the Cardinals in 2014 and an NLCS loss to the Cardinals in 2013.
But don’t bring that win-or-bust line Jansen’s way.
“I don’t know who created that World Series or bust. That’s so stupid, to be honest,” the affable reliever said. “Because it’s the two best teams in baseball trying to win a World Series. You have to give credit to the Houston Astros. You kidding me? You’ve got Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel. You’ve got Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve. The way we have Kershaw, Rich Hill and Yu Darvish. The two best teams are going to face each other, so it cannot be a bust.”
One sidebar to the game will be the weather. The first-pitch temperature is expected to be just shy of 100 degrees, which will make it one of the hottest — if not the hottest — starting temperatures in Series history.
“Me personally, I’m from Puerto Rico, so I’m extremely excited it’s going to be hot,” said Enrique Hernandez, who hit three homers in Game 5 of the NLCS. “The fact it’s going to be hot is great, and I think it’s going to benefit the hitters. The hotter it is here, the better the ball carries.”