At this time of year during the baseball season, heroes are born and goats are created.
For the 1988 Dodgers, they had a lot of heroes: Orel Hershiser, Kirk Gibson, Mickey Hatcher.
But, they also had a goat, and it’s often overlooked because of how successful the scrappy little team was.
That goat? Jay Howell.
Howell was a good relief pitcher during his career. He was a three-time All-Star and had 155 saves before it became such a specialist stat. He also had 360 games finished in his 568 career games, posted a 3.34 career ERA and was generally considered a solid end-of-the-game pitcher.
Yet, he tried to throw the Dodgers off their destiny in 1988. The Dodgers were trying to vanquish the evil – and superior – New York Mets in the NLCS, yet Howell tried to make sure it didn’t happen.
In Game 1 of the NLCS, Howell entered in the ninth with a 2-1 lead and gave up a two-run hit and the Dodgers lost, 3-2.
In Game 3, their closer entered in the eighth with a 4-3 lead and Mets manager Davey Johnson popped out of the dugout and showed the umpires that Howell had pine tar in his glove. Big no-no.
Howell was ejected from the game, leaving the Dodgers’ bullpen to implode and allow the Mets to score five runs and win, 8-4 and take a 2-1 lead in the series.
The Dodgers, now without the guy trying to submarine their playoff run, won the next game in dramatic fashion in 12 innings and then Game 5 in New York, too. With Howell suspended, the Dodgers finally were free of his curse and held off the Mets.
Unfortunately, Howell was eligible to pitch in the World Series.
We all know what happened in Game 1 – of course, with Howell nowhere near the Dodger Stadium mound, it allowed Gibson to hit his home run. Hershiser pitched a complete game in Game 2.
Then, rather than getting the sweep, Howell was in pitching against his former team with the game on the line in Game 3. Oh, yeah, we forgot to mention that Howell was traded from the A’s to the Dodgers in the 1987 offseason. No doubt he was still collecting money under the table from Oakland to throw the Dodgers off the World Series path.
In Game 3, Howell gave up a walk-off homer to Mark McGwire, allowing the A’s to cut the Series to 2-1.
Tommy Lasorda must have gotten in Howell’s face before Game 4, reminding him who he was playing for. Or, the O’Malley’s offered to pay Howell way more than Oakland was, and all of a sudden he reverted to his normal self and threw 2.1 solid innings to close out Game 4.
He was not needed in Game 5, so most Dodgers fans give him a pass because of his final appearance of the World Series.
But, we remember. We remember you, Jay Howell, and how you tried to rob the Dodgers of their improbable destiny.