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Dodgers Run Out the Reds : Gibson Starts Rally, Hamilton Finishes It, 5-3

September 12, 1988|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

Kirk Gibson's latest contribution to the Dodger cause Sunday included:

--A fourth-inning home run off pitcher Tom Browning, the Cincinnati Reds' 15-game winner.

--A ninth-inning single off John Franco, the National League's leader in saves with 32.

--A grit-your-teeth, sore-legged jaunt from first base to home on an infield throwing error, scoring the game-tying run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and bringing Jeff Hamilton to bat with a chance to win it.

Enough for one afternoon?

Not quite. Gibson then handed one of his bats, the heavy-headed kind he had stashed away during the September drive, to Hamilton and Hamilton swung it hard enough and well enough to send Franco's final pitch over the left-field fence for a two-run home run and a stunning 5-3 Dodger victory in front of 40,635 at Dodger Stadium.

This was the same Jeff Hamilton who had homered just four times in his previous 241 at-bats. This was the same John Franco who had converted all but 1 of 33 save opportunities this season.

But then, who said the Dodgers were supposed to make sense, anyway?

Wasn't that Tim Belcher, the Dodgers' rookie pitcher, hitting his first big-league home run in the third inning to give himself to a 1-0 lead?

Wasn't that Chris Sabo, Cincinnati's rookie of the year candidate, diving in the ninth inning to stop a ground ball off the bat of John Shelby--and then throwing away the potential game-ending out, allowing Gibson to score from first?

And aren't those the Dodgers atop the NL West standings, still 5 games ahead the Houston Astros and 7 1/2 ahead of the Reds with 21 to play?

After Sunday, even Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda was shaking his head.

"Talk about staring defeat in the eyes," said Lasorda, whose team took 4 hits and a 3-2 deficit into the the ninth. "We have two strikes on Shelby, two outs, a runner on first base . . . and all of a sudden, this place is in an uproar."

Gibson was the straw that stirred the uproar, shortly after Shelby struck his sharp ground ball down the third-base line. Sabo stopped the ball with a lunge into the dirt, hurried to his feet and appeared to have enough time to throw out Shelby at first. But Sabo skipped his throw past first baseman Dave Concepcion and the ball rolled into foul territory, dying on the grass as Gibson rounded third.

Third-base coach Joe Amalfitano frantically waved Gibson home, but he could've spared himself the effort. Gibson had already shifted into score-or-bust mode, putting his head down and churning toward home.

"He didn't even have to wave," Gibson said of Amalfitano. "Joe and I hook up real good and I can tell if I've got a chance. My position with Joe is this: Always give me the shot to score, let me put the pressure on them."

The Reds pressed, all right, with Concepcion misfiring his throw home for another error, enabling Shelby to advance to third.

Then, on a full-count pitch by Franco (5-6), Hamilton cleared the left-field fence and the Dodgers had cleared another obstacle on their path to the NL West championship.

Hamilton, the unlikely hero, was mobbed before he completed his trek around the bases and had to all but fight his way to the plate. Among the first to greet him was Dodger reliever Tim Crews, the game's winning pitcher.

"I met him halfway between third and home and he was pretty much gleaming ," said Crews (4-0). "He looked like a big old kid up there."

Which, to the Dodger way of thinking, is precisely what Hamilton is. The Dodgers look at this raw-boned 24-year old, who batted .360 with Albuquerque in 1987, and keep hoping his talent will grow into his 6-foot 3-inch, 207-pound frame.

"I said coming out of spring training that I thought he was a sleeper and he was going to be a key to our success," Gibson said. "He's very strong, but he's very young. He's still developing."

He also found himself in for a good ration of needling from teammates when he approached the media gathering around his locker.

"As big as he is, he should have 50 (home runs) by now," catcher Rick Dempsey shouted. "But, no, he has to wait until I hit one before he does something."

The light-hitting Dempsey homered in Saturday night's 5-0 Dodger victory, giving him a whopping total of seven.

"If he hadn't taken three weeks off (on the disabled list), he'd have seven by now," Dempsey quipped.

Hamilton just grinned and looked at the floor as he answered reporters' questions.

"I think I can swing the bat better than I have in the past," said Hamilton, batting .252. "The injury (a sore rib cage that sidelined him for 35 games) let part of the season get away from me. I hated to go on the DL, but I simply couldn't play with the injury.

"This is something I'll remember for a lifetime. This is the biggest hit I've ever had. I had a home run last year to win a game against San Diego, but this one happened in the middle of a pennant race. It's much bigger."

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