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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

No, it was No. 23, the guy with the spiked hair and unmistakable Walter Brennan limp.

At that point, the Dodger dugout was buzzing and the stadium erupting in an ovation. That was a lull compared to the roar that followed Gibson's home run, his third of the postseason but first with the handicap of two bad legs.

"That was the most dramatic home run I have ever seen," second baseman Steve Sax said. "The man was hobbling around here all day, looking like a one-legged steer, and he hits it out. He's so strong that he hit that with one hand."

Even Gibson seemed amazed that he could play--and produce--in his current condition.

"I tried to do a little jog in my living room today, and it hurt like . . . " Gibson said. "It was obvious I couldn't play. I took some swings in my living room, and oh, my Lord."

But Gibson did not have nearly 56,000 screaming fans in his living room to take his mind off his pain and immobility.

"The fans really pumped me up," Gibson said. "I didn't even think about the pain. I was just trying to visualize hitting like I had, since I hadn't faced live pitching since Game 7 (of the playoffs) on Wednesday."

Eckersley said that because of Gibson's injuries, he tried to feed him fastballs. He did that for the first six pitches. Then he threw Gibson a breaking ball that missed the plate, making it a full count. Then he threw the fateful slider and wished he could slide under a door.

"Let's get on with Game 2," Eckersley said. "I want to put this behind me."

This, however, is a game the Dodgers do not want to put behind them.

After Hatcher's unexpected first-inning home run--he had only one this season--the Dodgers made it through Belcher's unraveling in the second inning.

Canseco, who had 3 home runs in 4 playoff games, sent a pitch by Belcher over the center-field fence for a grand slam and a 4-2 Oakland lead. Had the ball not hit a television camera mounted behind the fence, it might have continued on to Pasadena.

But the Dodgers, again, refused to fold.

They received excellent relief pitching from Tim Leary (3 innings, 3 hits), Brian Holton (2 innings, 0 hits) and Alejandro Pena (2 innings, 1 hit). After the fourth inning, in fact, the A's did not advance a runner past second base.

It was a sharp contrast to the shaky stint of Belcher, who may have thought some cruel trick had been played on him in the first two innings. He had problems with wildness, which was one of the reasons the A's gave up on him and traded him to the Dodgers last season.

"I was trying to throw 900 miles an hour," Belcher said. "When you do that, bad things happen. I should have stepped back off the mound, taken a deep breath and relaxed."

When was the last time Belcher had such serious control problems?

"In Tacoma," he said, referring to the A's triple-A affiliate.

Belcher's wildness, which resulted in his hitting Canseco on the arm in the first inning, was remembered by Stewart in the bottom of the first. Sax, the leadoff batter, was hit in the left shoulder in what obviously was retaliation for Canseco being hit. Home-plate umpire Doug Harvey walked to the mound and warned Stewart and both benches that any further throwing at hitters would result in ejections.

The Dodgers' two-run rally in the bottom of the first may have been a warning to the A's not to take the Dodgers lightly, if they had that notion at all.

After taking first, Sax went to second on Stewart's balk. Then Hatcher unleashed his unexpected home run over the 370-foot sign in left field as a stunned Stewart whipped around to watch the ball clear the wall.

Hatcher, it seems, hits home runs only in high-profile games. His other home run this season was on Sept. 23 in San Francisco. That night, Orel Hershiser's scoreless-inning streak was in jeopardy during a tie before Hatcher hit a three-run home run off Atlee Hammaker.

Hatcher's home run trot--sprint, actually--made Gibson's seem to be in slow motion by comparison.

"I ran fast because, with my luck, I thought it would hit the top of the fence and bounce back, and I wanted to at least get a double," Hatcher said.

So, as they had in all four National League championship series victories over the New York Mets, the Dodgers scored first.

The lead didn't last long. Belcher's wildness intensified in a nightmarish second inning that culminated in Canseco's grand slam.

Glenn Hubbard opened the inning with a single to left. After Walt Weiss struck out, Belcher committed his greatest pitching crime of the game. He walked Stewart, who hadn't had an at-bat since 1986. He also walked Carney Lansford, throwing one pitch behind the A's leadoff hitter.

With the bases loaded, Belcher went to a full count on Dave Henderson before striking him out. But that was only the inning's second out, and Canseco erased the Dodger lead with one swing.

"I just couldn't believe that a ball could go out of the park that fast," Lasorda said of Canseco's slam. "He hit a line drive and it was gone."

So, too, was Belcher.

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