Dodgers in six
Both teams have great pitching and good offensive chemistry, but the Dodgers have the home-field advantage and the Astros appeared to be a lot more home-road sensitive during the earlier rounds of the playoffs.
That might not mean anything if Justin Verlander remains unhittable and José Altuve remains unstoppable, but the Dodgers have been the most dominant team in the postseason and they showed no signs of letting up during the National League Championship Series.
The last time the Dodgers and Astros met in a playoff series, they were both in the NL West and it was in the one-off best-of-five series in 1981 that pitted the winner of the first half and the winner of the second half during a season that was interrupted by a long players strike.
That was during the eventful season that also included the emergence of Mexican pitching phenom Fernando Valenzuela, who started the season with eight straight victories and five shutouts to cause a dynamic shift in the demographic makeup of the Dodgers’ fan following. It was also my first year as a very young beat writer covering the Dodgers, but I’m probably the only one who remembers that.
The Dodgers lost the first two games at the cavernous Astrodome and came back to win three straight at Dodger Stadium to advance to the NLCS against the Montreal Expos. They would win that series on a dramatic home run by Rick Monday.
History lesson, Part II
Since this has turned into a stream of consciousness, I’ll take a quick historical detour and remind everyone during this strange political time in the sports world that Rick Monday was famous for his part in a flag controversy a few years before his playoff-winning homer. He was playing center field for the Chicago Cubs in a game at Dodger Stadium and saved the American flag when protesters ran onto the field and attempted to set it afire.
His quick action and display of patriotism made him an instant favorite among Dodgers fans and the team would soon acquire him in a trade from the Cubs.
The Dodgers had another rookie pitcher on the playoff roster for the Astros series and he would suffer the loss in each of the first two games at the Astrodome, which had to make for a miserable flight back to Los Angeles.
But there was a happy ending: The young reliever’s name was Dave Stewart and, of course, he would eventually become a four-time 20-game winner and frequent playoff hero with the Oakland Athletics.
>> In one of baseball’s great coincidences, Valenzuela and Stewart would each go on to pitch a no-hitter and did so on the very same night — June 29, 1990. Valenzuela watched on television as Stewart completed his no-no for the A’s at Toronto’s SkyDome and then went out and pitched his against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.
>> The Astros are the only team to win both the National League and American League pennants, thanks to the league realignment that moved them into the American League starting in 2013. They have been to the postseason 11 times in their 56 year history (including three nonplayoff seasons when they were known as the Colt .45s), but they have yet to win it all.
>> The Dodgers went on to win the World Series in 1981 and have not won another since 1988, the year they beat Stewart’s A’s and Kirk Gibson limped around the bases after hitting one of the most dramatic home runs in baseball history.