I have seen many great home runs of great importance, but I have never seen anything like Kirk Gibson's home run in the first game of the 1988 Fall Classic. The drama that was attached to that home run was tremendous, and Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of that historic homer.
Gibson never came out for the introductions. He never took a swing of batting practice. He was in the trainer's room lying on the rubbing table the entire time. Every inning I would check on him to see whether there was anything he could do.
"How do you feel, big boy?" I would eagerly ask.
And every time he gave me the thumbs down. Gibson had hurt his leg making one of the greatest game-saving catches I had ever seen during the National League Championship Series at Shea Stadium. He just couldn't play.
We were trailing the mighty Oakland Athletics, 4-3, in the bottom of the ninth. Our batting order coming up was Mike Scioscia leading off, Jeff Hamilton on deck and Alfredo Griffin in the hole. The pitcher's spot was due up after those three guys, so I told Mike Davis that he would hit for the pitcher.
All of a sudden our clubhouse kid, Mitch Poole, came over to me and wanted to talk.
"Not now Mitch," I hollered. But he wouldn't leave me alone.
"Gibson wants to see you."
I ran up the tunnel to see what was going on, and that's when he told me.
"I think I can hit for you, Skipper."
There was a lot of strategy attached to this that most people don't realize.
When I found out Gibson could hit I told Davis that he would hit for Griffin. Dennis Eckersley, a future Hall of Fame closer, had gotten the first two batters out. Up comes Davis, and Gibson, who had taken those warmup swings in the cage, was waiting in the tunnel. He wanted to be on deck, but I told him that I did not want the A's to know that he was going to hit.
Instead of Gibson, I put Dave Anderson in the on-deck circle. Ron Hassey, the catcher, got Eckersley's attention and pointed to Anderson. Eckersley sees Anderson on deck and looks at Davis in the batter's box, and knows he isn't going to let Davis hit it out of the ballpark.
He worked the count to 3-2 and walked Davis.
I looked at Gibson and said, "Now get out there, big boy."
The crowd was electric. When he walked out to hit I had never seen a reception like it from the crowd in all the years I've been at Dodger Stadium. I got goose bumps just listening to the roar.
I was going to give Gibson two strikes to hit the ball out of the ballpark and if he didn't I was going to have Davis steal the base and play for a tie. I knew Tony La Russa wouldn't walk a batter with two strikes so that's why I waited to have Davis steal the base.
Gibson fouled off two pitches. Davis steals second on the next pitch, and with first base open the A's didn't walk Gibson. He worked the count to 3-2, and on the next pitch, the fateful swing lifted the ball out of the park.
I never saw the ball flying. I was watching the right fielder, Jose Canseco, turn his back and run to the wall. When I saw his back against the wall, I knew it was out of the ballpark.
Not only did it win that game, it paralyzed the A's, and we went on to beat them in five games and win the World Series.