October is the month for Halloween.
That makes perfect sense if you’re a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. You won’t find a scarier month on the calendar.
Major League Baseball conducts its playoffs in October — a month that the Dodgers enter like a lion and leave like a zombie.
They’re roaring right now with the best record in baseball. They’ve scored more runs than every MLB team except the Atlanta Braves and have allowed, by far, the fewest.
They clinched their sixth straight National West Division title with five games to spare and are advancing to the playoffs for the eighth-straight season — the third-longest streak of its kind in MLB history.
And yet, the Dodgers also haven’t won the World Series since 1988, and it took a miracle to jump-start that title run. They needed a badly hobbled Kirk Gibson to hit a pinch-hit, two-run, walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat Oakland 5-4 in the first game of a series they wound up winning 4-1.
Gibson trick-or-treated his home-run trot like he was Frankenstein, stumbling around the bases on a strained left hamstring and swollen right knee.
“In a year that has been so improbable,” Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully said at the time, “the impossible has happened!”
But an incomprehensible, World Series drought has befallen the Dodgers for the next 31 summers.
There is some history to these Downfalls of Fall. When they were in Brooklyn, it took them eight trips to the World Series to get it right and win one in 1955.
The Dodgers did seem to warm up to October after moving to balmy Los Angeles, winning the World Series in 1959, 1963 and 1965.
But then they met a guy nicknamed “Mr. October.”
I met Reggie Jackson, too, after he’d already foiled the Dodgers twice — first in the 1974 World Series while playing for the Athletics and then again in 1977 with the New York Yankees. I had talked my way into covering the World Series rematch of 1978 in my rookie year as a News-Press sportswriter.
In Game Two, I watched another rookie named Bob Welch — a 21-year-old pitcher who’d been in the big leagues for only four months — have his own Gibson-like moment. He came out of the bullpen in the ninth inning with the tying and winning runs on base and struck out Jackson on a full-count pitch to close out the win.
Jackson had fouled off four pitches before missing a high fastball on pitch No. 9.
“That was one of the greatest confrontations I have ever witnessed,” Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda gushed later.
But a different kind of confrontation awaited me in the locker room. I pushed my way through the mass of reporters and TV cameramen that had camped in front of Jackson’s cubicle and asked innocently, “Did that rookie surprise you?”
The cameraman next to me, aware of Mr. October’s other nickname of Mr. Obscenity, pulled back while saying, “Oh Lord, don’t get him started!”
The Curse of the Dodgers was literally back on.
A fusillade of F-Bombs soon exploded around me. And then for the next four games of the World Series, Jackson bombarded the Dodgers. He paid particular attention to pick on the other rookie, hitting a clutch single off Welch to set up the winning run in Game Four and blasting a two-run homer off him to help clinch the World Series in Game Six.
Dodger heartbreak, however, was never more severe than last year. They had set a franchise-record with 106 victories during the regular season and were on their way to winning the deciding game in the National League Divisional Series, leading Washington 3-1 in the eighth inning.
They summoned ace starter Clayton Kershaw from the bullpen to put the cherry on top… and he turned into a Halloween pumpkin. The Nationals carved him up with consecutive home runs by Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto and continued on to win the series in the 10th inning.
It was just another October horror story for Kershaw, whose postseason ERA of 4.43 is nearly twice as high as his regular-season 2.44.
“Everything people say is true right now about the postseason,” a disconsolate Kershaw said afterward. “When you don’t win the last game of the season and you’re to blame for it, it’s not fun.”
This year’s Dodgers, like their 1988 club, cleared several obstacles to get to October. They shrugged off injuries that sidelined Justin Turner for nearly a third of the season and limited Corey Seager for a while, a blister that shelved star pitcher Walker Buehler for several starts, and the prolonged hitting slumps of such sluggers as Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Joc Pederson.
Bellinger, last year’s National League MVP, was batting under. 200 for nearly half the season, although a nine-game hitting streak helped him get back to .238 by Saturday.
“He’s been smiling and laughing,” manager Dave Roberts said. “I believe when he’s like that, good things happen on the baseball field.”
The Dodgers also have a dugout that’s slap-happy with depth. Seager has led the way by batting .319 with 15 homers. Mookie Betts arrived from Boston during the offseason and is now at .292 with 16 homers. Turner hasn’t missed a beat since his return and is batting .310.
Chris Taylor, Will Smith, and A.J. Pollock have all contributed mightily, as well.
“I think our team is a tough match up,” Seager said. “In years past we’ve been dominant lefty, dominant righty, and people have kind of mixed and matched us with pitchers. This year, we can throw out every other guy if we need to… have certain guys in certain positions.
“One through nine, we’re a lot more prepared for everything going into the postseason.”
It will begin that postseason with a best-of-three series on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. If they win that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ll play the rest of the playoffs at a neutral-site bubble in Texas.
I’ve seen the Dodgers’ bubble burst before, however. The curse of 1978 is still ringing in my ears.