CHICAGO — About time, Kirk Gibson thought, as he watched the ball sail through Wrigley Field's late-afternoon shadows and eventually land among the remaining Bleacher Bums in right field.
About time that somebody finally made a decisive play in Tuesday's extra-inning game between the Dodgers and Chicago Cubs.
About time that Gibson made up for a ninth-inning misplay in left field that had helped the Cubs tie and prolong the game that eventually ended as a 6-5 Dodger victory in 14 innings.
About time, too, that Gibson could eat.
"When I came in the dugout after the 13th, I was tired and hungry," he said. "I hadn't eaten since 9 a.m. We were out there a long time. I was waiting for this thing to be over. I crushed that ball. I really wanted it."
Gibson's solo homer in the 14th gave the Dodgers their 6-5 lead and a chance to win what turned out to be a 4-hour 27-minute exercise, and Orel Hershiser, in a rare relief appearance, retired the Cubs in the bottom of the 14th.
Hershiser had been scheduled to start tonight in Pittsburgh but the Dodgers had a chance to finally win this one, so Manager Tom Lasorda called on him, instead of Brad Havens, the last available Dodger reliever.
Hershiser threw only four pitches in saving the win for Brian Holton, who had pitched three scoreless innings. Hershiser now will pitch Thursday in Pittsburgh.
"Win them today, and you don't have to win them next time," said Lasorda, explaining Hershiser's appearance.
The Dodgers, leading the National League West, are winning games regularly these days but Tuesday's victory was a testimony to endurance and perseverance.
The Dodgers took an early 5-1 lead against Cub starter Rick Sutcliffe, who nearly came to blows with Pedro Guerrero after a brush-back pitch in the third inning. The lead was slashed to 5-4 in the sixth, when the Cubs rallied against Dodger starter Tim Belcher.
But in the ninth, Dodger reliever Jesse Orosco blew his first save opportunity in four chances, with assistance from Gibson in left field.
With two out and Vance Law on first after an infield single, Cub shortstop Shawon Dunston drilled a line drive to left field. Gibson, playing shallow, had a late start and ran into the wall trying to make the catch.
The ball hit the wall, about a foot from the top, and rolled into left field. Law scored on Dunston's double, tying the game. But Dunston was stranded at second when Jay Howell, who replaced Orosco, struck out pinch-hitter Jerry Mumphrey.
From that point, the teams traded modest rallies, the Cubs stranding a runner at third against Howell in the 10th. After Holton had logged his third scoreless inning, retiring the Cubs in the 13th, Lasorda called the bullpen and told Hershiser to warm up.
"We only were going to use Hershiser if we scored," said Lasorda.
Gibson took care of that with two out in the 14th. Cub right-hander Les Lancaster, in his fourth inning of relief work, hung a curveball to the hungry Gibson.
Even with the wind blowing in at 14 m.p.h., Gibson hit the ball five rows up into the right-field seats.
"I saw (Cub right fielder Andre) Dawson go back for it and I said to myself, 'No way, Andre. Don't even bother.' "
After a slow start, Gibson has started to hit. e went 3 for 7 Tuesday and improved his average to .282, and has hit 5 of his 6 home runs in the last 10 games.
"Early on, every pitch I swung at was a ball and every pitch I didn't was a strike," Gibson said. "I had too many strikeouts. Now, I'm sharper mentally. I'm visualizing every pitch coming in, visualizing it hitting the bat and visualizing it going out. I'm relaxing up there, too."
Guerrero, meanwhile, had visions of last season in his confrontation with Sutcliffe. Last summer, the two, former roommates with the Dodgers' triple-A club in Albuquerque a decade ago, exchanged words on the field. Guerrero had homered off Sutcliffe, who followed Guerrero around the bases, taunting him.
Tuesday, Sutcliffe brushed Guerrero back on a 3-0 pitch. Guerrero threw his bat toward the Dodger dugout and walked slowly to first base.
Then Sutcliffe stepped off the mound and said something to Guerrero and they were within 10 feet of one another when they were restrained by teammates and coaches.
"I didn't do anything to show him up," Guerrero said. "I told him, 'Who do you think you are?' If that's the way he wants to be, fine. From now on, I won't really care for him."
Said Sutcliffe: "I ain't got nothing to say about that. I take care of these things myself. . . . It's the same old thing with him."
For the Dodger bullpen, it was the first time they blown a save opportunity in eight chances.
Orosco was one out away from his fourth save when Dunston hit the shot that almost landed in the left-field seats. Gibson said he had a chance to make the catch, but he could not reach the ball in time.
"The Cardinal rule is you don't let anything go over your head in the ninth," Gibson said. "I felt it was my fault. . . . I blew the play. I couldn't have missed the ball by much, maybe 6 inches.