The World Series returns on Tuesday night to one of the important and essential capitals of the game, and that means Dodger Stadium. It is not just a capital of the game, and now the third-oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball after Fenway and Wrigley, it is the most beautiful baseball setting in this world. And now the Series comes back to it, Game 1, Dodgers vs. Astros, for the first time since Orel Hershiser shut out the A's after Kirk Gibson's home run in the bottom of the ninth the night before.
So we do not just get the two best teams playing this Series, in what feels like a real heavyweight championship. We get Dodger Stadium back in the World Series, with so much history as backdrop, in addition to the San Gabriel Mountains. The Dodgers matter and the place matters. And outside of LA, it too often seems that the place in particular does not get its due, especially after people get finished talking about the romance of Fenway and Wrigley.
"Heck," the great Jim Kaat was saying on Monday morning, "Fenway and Wrigley and Dodger Stadium are the only three ballparks I've pitched in that haven't been torn down."
Kaat knows plenty about Dodger Stadium. He went up against Sandy Koufax there in the 1965 World Series, and the memory of that instantly got a laugh out of him on Monday.
"They had that mound sloped like a ski slope for Koufax," he said. "I'd get ready to try to throw my curve ball for a strike and worry about getting a nose bleed."
He also pitched the first shutout in the history of the place on April 22, 1962, when the Angels also played there, and later came back as a reliever with the Phillies and Cardinals. But after all he has seen there across his extraordinary baseball life -- he was in the photo well when Gibson hit his home run off Dennis Eckersley, waiting to interview Tony La Russa for ESPN when it looked as if the A's would still win that game -- Kaat is still struck by the wonder of Dodger Stadium, and its prime downtown LA real estate, once handed over to Walter O'Malley for the price of one dollar because O'Malley was bringing the big leagues to that city from Brooklyn. It is sometimes hard to process, by the way, that the Dodgers have been at Dodger Stadium longer than they were at Ebbets Field.
"It is a great setting that has stood the test of time," Kaat said. "When you look at how old it is and how immaculate and fan friendly it remains, it's actually kind of incredible."
In the 1960s at Dodger Stadium, it was Koufax and Don Drysdale in the World Series, coming for the Twins and Yankees and Orioles the way Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, righty and lefty, will come for the 2017 Dodgers. And then it was Steve Garvey and Ron Cey and them in the '70s. Finally, in 1988, it was Tommy Lasorda's guys making one of the most magical runs in October history, first against the Mets in the National League Championship Series and then against the A's, when it was the A's who looked like the heavyweight champs.
It is Gibson who is remembered best from that World Series, for making one of the most famous swings in all of baseball history. But as much of a star as he was for that Dodgers team before he got hurt -- he also had a huge three-run home run in Game 5 of that NLCS -- the real star of everything in that baseball October was Hershiser, who was as much a pitching star as any baseball postseason has ever seen.
Hershiser started three games for the Dodgers against the Mets, and got the last out of Game 4, in the bottom of the 12th, out of the bullpen after having started Game 3 the day before. He shut out the Mets, 6-0, in Game 7. It was the same score as Game 2 of the World Series. Then Hershiser closed out that World Series with one more complete game against the A's, in Game 5. That made it three complete games for him that October. He had a 1.09 ERA in the Mets series. He allowed two runs in the World Series, for a 1.00 ERA. MVP of the NLCS. MVP of the Series. Just that.
"We're always going to remember Gibson's home run," Kaat said. "But, man, nobody should ever forget what Hershiser was like that year."
The Dodgers were such huge underdogs, even after beating the Mets, on their way to knocking off two 100-win teams to win it all. There is no underdog in the 2017 World Series. Just heavyweights. Maybe Verlander can have the kind of Series Hershiser did. Maybe Clayton Kershaw, who makes it to the World Series at last, can do for his Dodgers team what Hershiser did for his, even though you know Kershaw will likely never get a chance to go the distance, not the way Dave Roberts likes to get him out of there and go to his bullpen.
There will be all the young talent on the field, for both teams, when the Series goes back to Los Angeles on Tuesday night. Corey Seager, if he is indeed healthy enough to go back to shortstop, is 23. Cody Bellinger is 22. Carlos Correa is 23. And Jose Altuve, the best baseball player in this world, feels like the grand old man of this group, at the advanced age of 27. Of course Altuve has gotten another crack at October, after what he considered a personal failure against the Royals in 2015. It was when that series ended that Altuve went into the office of his manager, A.J. Hinch, and blamed himself.
"I'm the reason we lost," he said.
"No," Hinch said, "you're the reason why we were here."
And, Hinch added, the reason why the Astros would be back. And when they were backed up as far as they could go against the Yankees, down three games to two going back to Houston, Altuve hit a home run in Game 6 and another one in Game 7. It was as if the team's 5-foot-6 second baseman, who got carried around the field after Game 7, had put everybody on his back.
The Astros won their division by 21 games. The Dodgers, even after losing 16 of 17 at one point, still won their division by 11 games. Two-hundred and five regular-season wins between them. Now seven more in the postseason, as they try to do the hardest thing in their game, win what Reggie Jackson has always called "those 11 games in October."
Beautiful matchup this time, one that starts, fittingly, in the most beautiful baseball setting in this world. First pitch a little after 8 Eastern time on Tuesday on FOX. A classic ballpark welcomes back the Fall Classic.