NEW YORK -- There's nothing like a deciding game in a playoff series and the Dodgers have a dandy coming up on Thursday against the Mets with Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium (8 p.m. ET on TBS).
It'll be Game 1 winner Jacob deGrom going for the Mets against Game 2 winner Zack Greinke for the Dodgers. The victor will host the Cubs in the National League Championship Series for the first two games on Saturday and Sunday.
The two teams are no strangers to postseason deciders. This is the ninth for the Dodgers and sixth for the Mets. The last time the Dodgers played one was against the Mets, winning Game 7 of the 1988 NLCS behind Orel Hershiser at Dodger Stadium. Later that month, the Boys in Blue went on to win the World Series, defeating the A's in five games.
The Mets last lost a postseason decider in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS to the Cardinals. That was the game at Shea Stadium when Carlos Beltran took a called third strike on a full-count pitch from Adam Wainwright to end the series. The Cardinals went on to beat the Tigers in a five-game World Series.
Some memories never die. New ones will be created on Thursday night. There will be a winner and a loser as surely as the sun will rise to the east of Dodger Stadium on Friday. Neither team has played a Game 5 in the NLDS since the Wild Card era began in 1995.
"We're really confident. We're going home for Game 5 with Zack Greinke on the the mound," said 24-year-old Dodgers outfielder Enrique Hernandez, who was three years away from being born when the Dodgers beat the Mets in 1988. "I think we're feeling good about ourselves. It's loser go home. Their guy against our guy."
In 1988, their guy was Ron Darling, 17-9 with a 3.25 ERA in 34 starts for the Mets that season, against Hershiser, who, like Greinke now, was having an epic year. Darling didn't have a chance.
Hershiser was 23-8 with a 2.26 ERA in 34 starts that season. He led the NL in wins, complete games (15), shutouts (eight) and innings pitched (267), ending the season on a 59-inning scoreless streak that broke Don Drysdale's record. In the NLCS, Hershiser pitched seven innings in Game 3 at Shea Stadium -- a game the Mets rallied to win -- and the next day, in Game 4, he pitched to one batter in the bottom of the 12th inning, retiring Kevin McReynolds on a popup to short center, and earned the save.
Three days later, Hershiser threw a five-hitter in Game 7 back in Los Angeles, striking out five and walking two. Darling, now a TV analyst for the Mets on SNY and covering this playoff series for TBS, lasted an inning, allowing six hits and six runs (four earned) before being replaced by Doc Gooden.
"It's possibly the worst moment in sports for me, personally," Darling said recently in story published by The Sports Xchange. "Yeah, [Hershiser] was on top of the planet, but at some point I had to learn how to match zeros with him. I didn't do it that night and that's where the haunting comes from. To me, that was the last time a pitcher took over a postseason and kind of willed it to happen."
Hershiser, an incisive analyst now in his own right on Dodgers telecasts for SportsNet LA, had a different take.
"I sympathize with Ron and the different guys on that team," he said. "But sometimes the roulette wheel comes up black or red. Sometimes the dealer hits 16 and gets a 5."
The Dodgers' one-two punch behind Hershiser in 1988 was supplied by Tim Leary, originally a first-round pick (second overall) by the Mets in the 1979 Draft. He won 17 games and made 34 starts.
The Mets, who defeated the Red Sox in an epic seven-game 1986 World Series, were still at the peak of their prominence, winning 100 regular-season games in 1988 to take the NL East. The Dodgers won 94 games to capture the West.
The Mets' starting rotation that year behind Gooden and Darling included David Cone, Bobby Ojeda and Sid Fernandez. Cone, then 25, was 20-3 with a 2.22 ERA. Cone, Darling and Gooden combined for 55 wins, 25 complete games and 11 shutouts.
Cone created controversy that postseason by penning a first-person column for the New York Daily News. His negative comments about Hershiser and Dodgers reliever Jay Howell inflamed tensions and Cone, under pressure from his teammates, relinquished the column.
"This is my first -- and I'm announcing today -- my last attempt at tabloid journalism," Cone, now an analyst on Yankees telecasts for YES Network, said at the time. "I apologize to my family for embarrassing them. And I apologize to my teammates."
It's certainly not the only time in the history of either franchise that the season came down to a deciding game in a postseason series.
The Dodgers of Brooklyn and L.A. have played it to the max in the World Series five times, losing to the Yankees in 1947, '52 and '56, beating the Yanks in '55 and the Twins in '65. In '65, Sandy Koufax came back on two days' rest to win Game 7, 2-0, with 10 strikeouts on the way to a three-hitter at Minnesota's old Metropolitan Stadium.
Strangely enough, in 1981, the year the season was split in half by a strike, the Dodgers came back to beat the Astros in a five-game makeshift NLDS, with Jerry Reuss pitching a five-hitter in Game 5 at Dodger Stadium.
The NLCS was a best-of-five series from 1969-84 and in '81, the Dodgers beat the Expos in five games when Rick Monday homered off Steve Rogers to win Game 5 at Olympic Stadium, 2-1. The Dodgers went on to beat the Yankees that year in a six-game World Series.
The Mets lost to the A's in a seven-game 1973 World Series after taking a 3-2 lead back to Oakland. Tom Seaver lost to Catfish Hunter in Game 6 and Ken Holtzman outdueled Jon Matlack to win Game 7. As noted, the Mets came back from a 3-2 deficit to beat Boston in '86, winning Game 6 in the 10th inning at Shea Stadium when Mookie Wilson's grounder went through the legs of Bill Buckner in what is undoubtedly the most famous game in franchise history.
In 1973, the Mets also won a five-game NLCS over the Reds to get to the World Series. As previously mentioned, the Mets lost the NLCS in seven games to the Dodgers in '88, and the Cardinals in 2006.
On Thursday night, the Mets will be pinning their hopes on deGrom, 14-8 with a 2.54 ERA in 30 starts and an All-Star this year, against Greinke, 19-3 and the Major League leader with a 1.66 ERA and an .864 winning percentage.
"We'll have a whole host of guys in the bullpen behind [deGrom]," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "But you know, he's had regular rest, so that's a good sign. That's good for him. And you feel real confident that he's pitched well and that he's going to go out and do it again. This is a time when you need your guys to step up and you certainly think he'll do that."