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Mike Davis' walk was setup to Kirk Gibson's punch line for Dodgers

JERRY CROWE / CROWE'S NEST

The two-out ninth-inning walk Davis drew in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series paved the way for one of the most dramatic home runs in baseball history and, ultimately, the Dodgers' last championship.

October 26, 2009|JERRY CROWE

If Mike Davis doesn't do his job, Kirk Gibson doesn't hobble to the plate in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

If Davis doesn't reach base against the greatest relief pitcher of his generation, Gibson doesn't hit perhaps the most dramatic walk-off home run in recent World Series history.

If Davis doesn't extend the inning, the ragtag Dodgers probably don't win the Series against the favored Oakland A's.

"And all I did," Davis says, "was walk."

In so doing, however, the former A's outfielder set the stage for Gibson's much-replayed blast and helped ease for Davis the sting of what had been a dismal, frustrating season.

As longtime Dodgers fans undoubtedly remember, the Dodgers in Game 1 were down to their last out against A's closer Dennis Eckersley, whose hallmark was pinpoint control.

The reliever, on his way to the Hall of Fame, led the majors with 45 saves in 1988 and then saved each of the A's four victories in their playoff sweep of the Boston Red Sox.

Before facing Davis, with the A's nursing a 4-3 lead, he retired Mike Scioscia on an infield popup and struck out Jeff Hamilton.

Up to the plate stepped Davis, batting for Alfredo Griffin.

Signed as a free agent the previous winter after hitting 65 home runs in his last three seasons with the A's, Davis had finished his first National League season with a career-worst .196 batting average, two home runs and 17 runs batted in.

Slow to recover from a spring-training ankle injury, he had appeared in 108 regular-season games, unable to win a regular outfield job after early June, when back problems caused power hitter Mike Marshall to shift from first base to right field.

In the National League playoffs, Davis had gone 0 for 2.

"Let's be blunt about it, man, and say I [stunk]," Davis, 50, says from his home in Surprise, Ariz. "I was in the middle of a nightmare, it felt like, in '88. You show up in a big market, it's one of those opportunities where you're looking to shine. . . .

"And everything fell apart."

But Eckersley, having played with Davis in 1987, apparently believed his former teammate still had power.

And with Gibson presumably unavailable because of knee injuries and light-hitting Dave Anderson in the on-deck circle, to bat for pitcher Alejandro Pena, Eckersley may have been extra cautious in how he pitched Davis.

Or, as former Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda recently put it, "I knew damn well he wasn't going to pitch to Davis with Anderson on deck. You've got to be a . . . idiot to do that."

Davis, a religious man, says he'd "gotten the word in prayer" that he was going to hit a home run in the World Series -- he actually did hit one in Game 5 -- and told his teammates.

"They kind of laughed at me," he says, "because they knew I was in Lasorda's doghouse and wasn't going to be playing much."

Davis, in fact, says he'd fallen so far out of favor that "I felt like I was playing tailback. Every time I'd try to go into a game, Tommy would say, 'Get your tail back on the bench.' "

But with the World Series opener on the line and Gibson sheltered in the clubhouse to disguise the Dodgers' intentions from Eckersley and the A's, Lasorda turned to Davis.

And Davis, believing that a World Series home run was his destiny, saw this as his chance to deliver.

"And I got a pitch to hit," he says, "but I fouled it straight back. And then the next four pitches Eck threw me were all about five to six inches off the plate."

Afterward, Eckersley lamented, "That was terrible. A two-out walk to any hitter is inexcusable. . . . I tried to go right at him, but everything sailed outside: Ball, ball ball. . . .

"They say walks kill you, and this one did. It was a mistake, but the pitch to Gibson was a bigger one."

Davis was at first base when Gibson climbed the dugout steps "and the whole stadium erupted," Davis said. "The energy that came from the fans at Dodger Stadium was phenomenal."

Moments later, after stealing second, Davis took off with the crack of Gibson's bat and didn't look up until he'd rounded third.

"I saw Jose Canseco's back," he says, referring to the A's right fielder who looked up helplessly as Gibson's home run cleared the outfield wall and landed in the seats beyond.

Davis, who played one more season before injuries ended his 10-year major league career, was grateful to have played a "small part" in the Dodgers' most recent championship season.

"Does it make up for a difficult year?" he asks. "I don't think so. I wanted to make a bigger contribution with the ability I had at the time, but winning sometimes covers a multitude of sins."

A divorced father of two -- son Deric is a basketball player at San Diego Christian College after surviving a battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma last year -- Davis sells insurance and hopes to get back into baseball as a coach or instructor.

He's surprised to learn that Eckersley, in 22 postseason appearances after that night, never issued another walk.

"Oh, that's amazing," he says. "That's absolutely amazing."

--

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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