As a result of the franchise’s current run of success, it’s easy to let certain details of past Dodger futility slip down the memory hole. One that is particularly hard to comprehend is that, following that ‘88 championship, the Dodgers not only didn’t win another playoff series for 20 years.
For 16 of those years, they didn’t win a single playoff game. Not. Even. One. Their trips to the 1995 and ‘96 playoffs ended in respective sweeps by Cincinnati and Atlanta. The heartbreaking loss of the NL West to the Giants in 1997 started an October dry spell.
After the mediocre gruel of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, however, the “Cardiac Kids” of 2004 brought a jolt of life. With 53 comeback victories, they capped of a heart-stopping season with the unforgettable Steve Finley grand slam to slay the Giants.
The only downside was that Los Angeles had to square off with the MLB-best St. Louis Cardinals in the division series. To no surprise, the Cardinals thumped the Dodgers in the first two games, both by a score of 8-3.
It was back to Chavez Ravine for game 3, the Dodgers’ playoff losing streak now at an unseemly eight straight games. However, they had their secret weapon ready for the occasion to avoid a third straight sweep: Jose Lima.
A former All-Star with the Houston Astros in 1999, the burly Dominican righty’s performance had suffered in the years since as he bounced from Houston to Detroit to Kansas City. But in 2004, he found new life in a Dodger uniform, posting a 13-5 record and his lowest ERA since his All-Star season.
Beloved for his boisterous on-field celebrations, known to fans as “Lima Time,” he was just the kind of pitcher needed to keep the Dodgers’ season alive. On a Saturday night in front of 55,992 fans, he cut down the 105-win Cardinal offense, allowing just five hits and no runs in a complete-game shutout. Shawn Green hit two solo home runs, while Finley chipped in two RBI for a 4-0 victory.
It proved to be the last signature moment of Lima’s career. After two more seasons in the majors, he drifted through Korean and independent leagues for the next few years. Unfortunately, his life suddenly came to an end on May 23, 2010, in Pasadena. The cause of death wasn’t officially determined, but the autopsy surmised it might have been cardiac arrhythmia.
Today, as the Dodgers fight for their lives in game 5 against Washington, it’s fitting it occurs 15 years to the day of Lima’s electric performance. After a sustained run of playoff success, two pennants, and championship expectations, that solitary win may seem quaint by comparison.
Yet even all this time later, it’s one still worthy of celebration. Lima brought a swagger not seen at Dodger Stadium in the playoffs in a long time. He may not be physically present with us anymore, but as you cheer on the Dodgers tonight in one of the biggest games in franchise history, keep him present in your blue-bleeding heart.