On This Date: 25 Years Ago, the Dodgers Blew a Huge Lead to the Phillies

In the summer of 1990, I was 13 years old. My grandparents owned a used appliance store in downtown Lake Elsinore, California, and they also ran a 24-hour telephone answering service out of the store. They had a murphy bed in the front office, and while they still owned a house a couple miles away, for all intents and purposes they lived at the store. They had a lot of grandkids living in town, and we used to love to go spend the night at “Grandpa’s store.” We would eat their candy bars and drink their sodas — they also ran the local Greyhound bus stop out of their store, so they had junk to sell to travelers — and explore the dark caverns of their huge, crowded store. It wasn’t just used appliances — Grandpa had a little bit of everything, although I don’t remember ever seeing him actually sell anything other than junk food and Greyhound tickets. We would race the used wheelchairs that Grandpa had for theoretical sale, we’d play with the helium tanks that had been on the showroom floor my entire life, and we would generally just have a blast hanging out with each other and our grandparents.

We would also occasionally watch baseball. My grandparents weren’t huge baseball fans, but they were proud Southern Californians and they knew we liked baseball, so the television in the front office/bedroom was often tuned to channel 11, KTTV, to watch the Los Angeles Dodgers play.

While I remember watching games at Grandpa’s store quite often, there are only two specific games that I remember in detail, and both happened to be against the Philadelphia Phillies. One of them happened on July 7, 1993, when the Phillies beat the Dodgers 7-6 in 20 innings and Kevin Stocker, in his Major League debut, went 0-for-6 with two walks and a sacrifice bunt while playing all 20 innings at shortstop.

The other game happened on Tuesday, August 21, 1990, with the Dodgers taking on the Phillies at Dodger Stadium. The game wasn’t actually on KTTV, because back then teams rarely televised their home games. But it was on ESPN’s Tuesday Night Baseball, with Chris Berman and Tommy Hutton on the mic instead of Vin Scully, Don Drysdale, and Ross Porter. (One of the coolest things about Grandpa’s store was that King Videocable, the local cable company, was one of their answering service clients, so they got all the cable channels for free so they could properly tell customers “It’s working fine for me” when they called in to complain).

I remember watching the game off and on throughout the evening, and it was a close game until the bottom of the fifth inning, when the Dodgers scored eight runs to turn a 3-1 game into an 11-1 “laugher,” as Berman described it. According to Baseball Reference, when Mike Sharperson‘s grounder scored Hubie Brooks from third to make it 7-1 with no outs in the fifth, the Phillies’ win probability hit zero percent.

That probability stayed at zero percent for a long time, not even budging in the top of the eighth when Von Hayes hit a two-run double to score Dave Hollins and Lenny Dykstra. By that point, Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda had long since pulled all his starters except Sharperson, including replacing starting shortstop Alfredo Griffin with rookie Jose Offerman, playing in the third game of his career.

The Phillies came into the top of the ninth down 11-3, and the Dodgers brought in 29-year-old rookie Dave Walsh to close things out. Then the wheels came off. Walsh walked light-hitting second baseman Rod Booker to start the inning, but he induced a potential double-play grounder from slow-footed first baseman Carmelo Martinez. Unfortunately for Walsh, Offerman booted the grounder for an error, so instead of two outs and nobody on base, the Phillies had runners on first and third with no outs.

Consecutive singles by Dickie Thon and Hollins scored Booker and Martinez, and Sil Campusano hit a short flyout to right-fielder Chris Gwynn for the first out. A walk to Tom Nieto loaded the bases, and Offerman’s second chance at a double play — a grounder by Hayes — turned into his second error, and Walsh’s night was done.

Reliever Tim Crews came in to shut things down, but instead he threw gas on the fire. A two-run double by Dale Murphy made it 11-8, and John Kruk came to the plate with runners on second and third and one out. According to Jayson Stark, Kruk’s thought process was that since they were already going to get back to the hotel too late to order room service — the game started at 7:35 p.m. local time, and by this point it was getting close to 11:00 — the Phillies might as well just win the game. So, shortly after Berman declared that “John ‘I Am Not A’ Kruk doesn’t have the longball power,” Kruk deposited a Crews fastball “back, back, back, back” into the right-field bleachers, and the game was suddenly tied. After a single by Booker, Crews’s night was done.

Jay Howell came in and allowed a go-ahead double to Martinez before finally getting Thon on a flyout and Campusano on a groundout for what should have been the sixth and seventh outs of the inning. The Phillies led 12-11, and their win probability, which had been zero percent to start the inning, now sat at 82 percent.

Interesting interlude: The box score for this game shows a relatively rare scoring quirk, where the sum of each pitcher’s earned runs does not equal the team’s total earned runs:

box-score-earned-runs

As you can see, the Dodgers’ pitchers allowed a total of seven earned runs, but the team totals shows only four earned runs. This is because of rule 9.16(i) of the official rules, which states:

When pitchers are changed during an inning, the relief pitcher shall not have the benefit of previous chances for outs not accepted in determining earned runs.

An explanatory note adds:

Rule 9.16(i) Comment: It is the intent of Rule 9.16(i) (Rule 10.16(i)) to charge a relief pitcher with earned runs for which such relief pitcher is solely responsible. In some instances, runs charged as earned against the relief pitcher can be charged as unearned against the team.

By the time Crews came in, the game would have been over if not for Offerman’s two errors. From that point on, any runs scored are unearned runs as far as the team is concerned, because the at-bats never should have even happened. But from an individual standpoint, Crew came in and allowed a double, a home run, and a single to the only batters he faced, and all three batters scored. Because of rule 9.16(i), those runs are earned for him individually, but unearned for the team.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers had their 2-3-4 hitters coming up, so reliever Don Carman would have to get the heart of the order out to finish things off. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Lasorda had pulled all the starters when the game was a rout, so instead of the power-hitting gauntlet of Kirk Gibson, Kal Daniels, and Eddie Murray, Carman got to face Jose Gonzalez, Stan Javier, and Mickey Hatcher. Javier managed a single, but it was sandwiched between popups from Gonzalez and Hatcher. Gwynn hit a grounder to Thon at shortstop, who flipped it to Booker for the out at second, and the game was over.

The Phillies were down by ten runs in the eighth inning and eight runs in the ninth inning, and they came back and won. This game remains tied for the record for largest ninth-inning deficit overcome in a victory, and it remains etched in my mind as I watched it play out in the office at Grandpa’s store. It was heartbreaking for a 13-year-old Dodger fan to watch, but because it was ultimately meaningless, I can watch the highlight video below and just enjoy its absurdity.

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