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Gibson's Shot in the Dark Stuns A's : His Pinch Homer Wins Game 1 for Dodgers, 5-4

October 16, 1988|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

If Kirk Gibson really is the embodiment of these incredibly resilient Dodgers, then this had to be the ultimate example of the unbridled spirit and resolve of this team.

There were the Dodgers, one out away from a 4-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics in the opening game of the World Series Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, when Gibson came lurching out of the dugout with a bat and the Dodgers' hopes in his hands.

With Mike Davis on base after a two-out walk, Gibson, who did not start because of a sprained ligament in his right knee and lingering soreness from a strained left hamstring, gingerly stepped to the plate to face A's ace Dennis Eckersley, who led the major leagues in saves this season.

Burrowing his feet into the batter's box, Gibson somehow managed to work Eckersley to a full count, with Davis taking second on a stolen base.

Then, with a quick turn of his hips and a snap of his wrists, Gibson, using virtually one hand, sent Eckersley's pitch over the right-field wall to complete an exhilarating 5-4 comeback victory by the Dodgers before a crowd of 55,983 that simply would not stop cheering, even after the players had left the field.

"It was a great moment," Gibson said. "I felt fortunate to be in there and be a part of it. It was a classic, good for the fans to see and people around in all the nations."

In the wake of his global embarrassment, Eckersley could only shake his head and recall what had gone wrong when his 3-and-2 slider slid directly onto Gibson's bat.

"It was a terrible pitch," Eckersley said. "I've got to live with it."

As dramatic and unexpected as Gibson's home run was, the consummate moment of what probably will be remembered as a World Series classic was the sight of Gibson lugging that battered body around the bases for his home run trot.

Dragging his right leg, with the injured knee, and favoring his left leg, with the strained hamstring, the gimpy Gibson seemed to take forever to round the bases. It had to be painful for the A's, who held the lead for 6 innings, to watch. But for the Dodgers, it was an excruciating wait to begin a home-plate celebration.

"I tell you what," Gibson said, "I think if somebody told me that if you hit a home run, you better make it around the bases, I could make it. But I have to watch the way I walk and run. I really couldn't do it too well before tonight."

When Gibson finally touched down, he was swarmed by euphoric Dodger players and Manager Tom Lasorda, who administered a bear hug.

The least the Dodgers could have done, it seemed, was carry Gibson off the field. Actually, they should have done it out of necessity. This man was hurting. He had received an injection of cortisone into the connective tissues above a ligament in his right knee an hour before game time and did not figure to play.

But as was proven again Saturday night, it is unwise to count out Gibson or the Dodgers.

Still, after the first two outs of the ninth inning, a Dodger loss appeared inevitable.

The offense managed a 2-run home run by Mickey Hatcher in the first inning and another run in the sixth off Oakland starter Dave Stewart. And the A's appeared to have all the runs they would need from Jose Canseco's grand slam off Dodger starter Tim Belcher in a disastrous second inning.

Also, the Dodgers had to face Eckersley, who had saved all 4 A's victories in the American League championship series and had 45 saves during the regular season.

But . . .

The Dodgers turned Hollywood with a script that was heavy on melodrama and probably would leave any audience in disbelief.

While his teammates were on the field in the top of the ninth inning, Gibson quietly slipped back into the trainer's room, had an ice bag strapped onto his right knee and put on his spikes. Once the ice had sufficiently numbed the knee, Gibson told hitting coach Ben Hines that he wanted to take some swings in a batting cage near the clubhouse.

Batboy Mitch Poole put balls onto a tee, and Gibson pounded a few into the net.

He was ready.

"I could hear Vin Scully saying, 'Well, Gibson's not in there.' I said, 'Bull, I'll be in there.' . . . I was aware of what the order was. I said to Tommy, if you want to hit Mike (Davis) for Alfredo (Griffin), I'll be next in line," Gibson said.

As a precaution and ruse, Lasorda sent Dave Anderson to the on-deck circle while Davis hit. Davis, who was 5 for 30 as a pinch-hitter this season, battled Eckersley to a full count before drawing a walk.

Anderson looked back to the dugout as Davis headed to first base. Gibson had emerged from the shadows of the corridor and grabbed a bat. Anderson headed back to the dugout, and the Dodger players stood agape.

Hatcher said, "I'm standing in the dugout and (Tracy) Woodson said, 'Watch what happens if Davis gets walked.' I said, 'Why, does Dave Anderson own Eckersley or something? Am I missing something?' He said, 'No, Gibby's going to bat.' I said, 'Gibson, where's he coming from? Is he in someone's else's uniform?' "

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