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REMEMBERING THE MOMENT : In One At-Bat, Gibson Makes Fact of Fiction

March 08, 1989|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

Davis, however, noted Eckersley's big windup and kick and craved the chance to steal second. He got the green light, and with the count 2-and-2, he took off. The pitch was outside, Davis took second without a throw, and Gibson decided he now had the upper hand.

"When Mike stole, that made it a lot easier for me," Gibson said. "I felt very confident that I could hit a single to left field. I knew I couldn't handle his fastball unless I stayed back and hit it the other way."

Just before Eckersley delivered his next pitch, Gibson called time and stepped out of the batter's box. In that instant, he said, he recalled the scouting report the team had received from scout Mel Didier.

"He stood up in the room, and he said, 'Pardner, as sure as I'm standing here breathing today, if you get to 3-and-2 he'll throw a back-door slider to you.' I said those exact words to myself, stepped back in, and that's what he threw me, a back-door slider.

"It wasn't that bad a pitch, but I had programmed myself, and I went out and got it."

In the Dodger dugout, Hatcher said, he was confident Gibson could bloop a hit to score Davis with the tying run. Davis, on second base, was thinking the same thing.

Gibson, meanwhile, was thinking of how he had visualized this very moment.

"I didn't give in," he said. "I just said, 'You owe it to you. This is your type of situation. This is the situation you say you want to be in, so here it is.'

"Who else should have been in that situation? Probably nobody else would rather have been up there than I, regardless of physical limitations. I've always contended they mean nothing at a given point of time."

Was he saying he believed mind could overcome matter?

"It did," he said.

"In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened."

--Vin Scully Gibson knew on impact that he had hit a home run.

"It's hard to even relive the trip around the bases," he said.

Davis, running from second, said he was certain only that the ball was over outfielder Jose Canseco's head. "But when I reached third, I became a spectator, too," he said.

Hatcher said he jumped about 18 feet out of the dugout. Lasorda would have, too, had gravity permitted. The manager said he got chills when Gibson triumphantly double-pumped with his right fist as he approached second base.

Gibson said: "The first thing I remember was as I was coming to home plate, those guys were getting ready to mob me and I didn't want them to because I could barely stand up."

On the radio, Dodger broadcaster Don Drysdale noted how Gibson's teammates reached out to touch him at the plate with care, as if he were a Rembrandt.

Gibson then ducked into the clubhouse to conduct the ritual that had become a necessity, the one in which he roars "What a . . . team." Then he returned to the field for a TV interview, and to a sight unprecedented, according to Lasorda, in all his years with the Dodgers: The crowd had refused to leave.

"I've heard noise before, but that was a very special moment," Gibson said. "I feel blessed that the Big Man blessed me and let me be the guy who experienced that. It's not like everything has been like that in my career.

"There have been times I've taken a lot of abuse, but I got through that. That's what made it all worth it. You've got to suffer a little bit to prosper."

If he had been needed, Gibson said, he could have hit again. Had there been a Game 7, he would have played. As it was, the Tennessee Thumper never got another swing.

A month after the season, Anderson ran into Eckersley at the taping of a TV game show. "But I didn't ask him about the home run," Anderson said. "I was afraid to ask him."

Gibson has not spoken with Eckersley since.

"If we ever confront each other again, we will both be just as determined," Gibson said. "He may come out on top.

"I respect him. I always have. I always will."

The Tennessee Thumper, he has tucked away, but Gibson does not rule out the possibility that the day will come when he gets another chance like the one he had that October night. For now, though, Gibson can only visualize it.

"I hope it does happen again," he said. "But all you can do is hope."

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