In the 23 years since Kirk Gibson’s heroic home run led the Los Angeles Dodgers to the 1988 World Series title, Dodger fans have had precious few great moments to celebrate. That being said, every franchise not named the Pirates has some memorable experiences, and the Dodgers are no exception. Anyone under 30 probably does not remember the heroics of the ’88 World Series, but us young Dodger fans still have some great memories.
Dodger fans have always loved Shawn Green and Adrian Beltre, and I seriously considered putting Green's four home run game and Beltre's 49 home run season on the list. In the end though, they just didn't have the cultural or organizational significance that the rest of the items did.
Magic Johnson's purchase of the team was also under consideration, but there have been so many conflicting reports and doubts raised about the viability of the sale that I decided the best approach with it was to wait and see how the dust settles. The sale could very well turn out to be one of the most influential moments in Dodger history, but that remains to be seen.
On June 29th, 1990, Dodger legend Fernando Valenzuela pitched against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a normal summer game, except for the fact that Fernando entered the history books with a no-hitter. No-hitters, while uncommon, are nowhere near as rare as perfect games.
Fernando, though, represented something special to the city of Los Angeles. He was a public figure for the city’s large Chicano population, and his no-hitter brought to mind his former glory. It provided one last nostalgic look into the successes of the 1980s.
Nomo was the first big Japanese success in the major leagues. He made his debut in 1995 and won the Rookie of the Year award. He led the league in strikeouts that year and established himself as a fan favorite with his quirky delivery.
He paved the way for other Japanese stars to cross the Pacific and established the Dodgers as a welcoming place for those Asian stars, eventually helping them land other imports such as Kaz Ishii and Takashi Saito.
In 2011, Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp graduated to stardom, finally fulfilling some of the promise shown by the Dodgers' farm system in the early 2000s. The Dodgers' system had long been lauded, but almost all the talented young players failed to reach their potential.
However, in 2011, Kershaw won the Cy Young and Kemp challenged for the Triple Crown as late as the final week of the season, energizing Dodger fans who had precious little to cheer about during a season overtaken by news about Frank McCourt’s divorce.
In 2009, the Dodgers were coming off a surprise appearance in the NLCS the year before, which left fans with high hopes for the upcoming playoff run. They would face the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round and were on the verge of giving it up as they trailed 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 2.
With two outs, James Loney hit a fly ball that would send Matt Holliday into infamy, as it hit him in the midsection and allowed the tying run to get on base. Mark Loretta would follow four batters later with a bloop single to center that won the game and sent the Dodgers on their way to just their second postseason series victory since 1988.
In 2008, Manny Ramirez fell into the laps of the Dodgers. The Red Sox had gotten fed up with him and dealt him to LA minutes before the trade deadline on July 31st. His arrival immediately energized a fanbase that was following a team that had been stuck in mediocrity for several years. He hit almost .400 over the final two months of the season and dragged the team into the playoffs on his back, all while elevating himself and his dreadlocks to celebrity status in the Los Angeles area.
Eric Gagne became a sort of cult hero in Los Angeles during his streak of 84 consecutive saves. When he came in, the scoreboard would flash “game over,” and from August 28th, 2002, until July 3rd, 2004, the game truly was over.
His dominance led him to the 2003 NL Cy Young Award and a sixth-place finish in the MVP race. Meanwhile, his facial inspired look-alikes all across LA and shirts were sold with a silhouette of his beard. Nothing approached the hysteria surrounding Gagne until the arrival of Manny and his dreads.
There’s nothing Dodger and Giants fans like more than clinching a playoff spot against each other, and that’s what happened on October 2nd, 2004. The Dodgers trailed 3-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth on the second to last day of the season. If they lost, the NL West crown would have come down to the final game of the season. Fortunately, though, CF Steve Finley hit a walk-off grand slam and won the Dodgers their first division crown since 1995.
Only seven times in baseball history has a team hit four home runs in a row. Never aside from September 18, 2006, though, has that occurred against one of the most prolific relief pitchers of all time. After going behind by four runs heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers needed a miraculous comeback, and they got one.
Jeff Kent, JD Drew, Russell Martin and Marlon Anderson hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs, with the final two coming off Padres closer Trevor Hoffman. The Dodgers then gave up a run in the 10th, only to see Nomar Garciaparra win it with a two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the inning.
In 2004, the Dodgers hadn’t won a playoff game since Game 5 of the 1988 World Series. Down 2-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, no one gave the Dodgers any shot at advancing. Nobody told Jose Lima, though. He delivered a performance for the ages, tossing a five-hit shutout against the eventual National League pennant winners. While ultimately insignificant given the team’s lack of success, Lima’s gem resonates with young Dodger fans as their first taste of playoff success.
In 2008, the Dodgers swept the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the playoffs for their first playoff series victory since the 1988 World Series. Led by Manny Ramirez and a dominant pitching staff, the Dodgers rolled past the Cubs and captured the attention of Los Angeles for the first time in two decades. As flashbulbs went off around the stadium and fans around the city couldn’t stop talking about the performance, the excitement around the team continued to grow and was unmatched by anything I’ve seen.