On October 15, 1988, Game One of the World Series was played at Dodger Stadium between the Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics. Kirk Gibson was an unlikely hero that night, and here’s a quick rundown on why.
The A’s had nearly a week to rest after sweeping the Red Sox while it took the Dodgers seven full games (including a complete seventh game from pitcher Orel Hershiser) to get past the Mets. That gave the Dodgers two days to get their act together and prepare for Saturday’s opener. Two days rest wasn’t enough for even the mighty Hershiser (who seemed to pitch in every postseason game that year having pitched eight-plus innings in Game 1, six in Game 3, earned a save in Game 4, and a game seven complete game shutout in the NLCS) so Tim Belcher took the mound against the A’s number one starter, Dave Stewart.
Kirk Gibson had injured his leg in the NLCS and was so hurt, in fact, that he had to skip the introductions while being attended to by the training staff. He was not expected to play at all, a huge blow for the Dodgers. Gibson had been brought in during the offseason to be a presence in the locker room and provide some power from the left side of the plate but it seemed as though their emotional leader was going to be watching the Series from the bench.
Things started well enough for the Dodgers, with a two run home run by Mickey Hatcher in the bottom of the first. Jose Canseco, part of the “Bash Brothers” with Mark McGwire (much smaller then but just as dangerous), hit a grand slam off of Belcher in the ofurth that dented a NBC camera in center field. Mike Scioscia would hit an RBI single in the sixth to bring it to within 4-3.
The ninth rolled around and the A’s brought in the best closer on earth, Dennis Eckersley. Jeff Hamilton promptly led off with a strike out. Mike Davis, pinch hitting for Alfredo Griffin, drew a walk.
Unbeknownst to manager Tommy Lasorda, Kirk Gibson had been in the clubhouse hitting balls off of a practice tee. When the ninth began to unfold he sent the bat boy up the ramp to tell Tommy he could hit, and Tommy put him in the game. “And look who’s coming up,” said the immortal Vin Scully as Gibson limped to the plate. “The bad left hamstring … the swollen right knee … and with two outs, you talk about a roll of the dice, this is it,” Scully said.
With the count 2-2, Mike Davis stole second. He was quick enough that a solid base hit would at least tie the game.
Gibson, however, was thrown another ball making the count 3-2. He called time and stepped out of the batter’s box. One of the Dodger’s scouts, Mel Didier, had been watching Eckersley and had told Gibson, “Now remember, and don’t ever forget this, if you’re up in the ninth inning and we’re down or it’s tied and you get to 3 and 2 against Eckersley. … Partner, sure as I’m standing here breathing, you’re going to see a 3-2 backdoor slider.” In fact, if you get a hold of a good copy of this game, you can actually see Gibson smile right before he steps back into the batter’s box and mumble the “partner” line to himself. Sure enough, Eckersley threw that pitch and Gibson hit it out, giving the Dodgers a 5-4 win.
Honestly, one of my favorite parts of this is how great Vin’s call is. He calls the home run and lets the crowd do most of the talking.
The A’s would never fully recover from that and the Dodgers would win the series in five games.
It was Kirk Gibson’s only appearance in the series.