Gimpy Gibson Beats the A’s

Gimpy Gibson Beats the A’s

October 15, 1988

“[Gibson] was huge. He made hustle cool; he made going hard into second base cool; he made coming to the park early cool. Instead of laid-back L.A., he was working-class Detroit.” — Orel Hershiser

When Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda sat in the Dodger Stadium dugout for the first game of the 1988 World Series against the Oakland Athletics, he was filled with uncertainty. Even though the Dodgers had clawed their way to a thrilling seven-game victory against the New York Mets in the NLCS, they were decided World Series underdogs against a dominating Oakland club that had won 104 games in the regular season.

Even worse, it looked the Dodgers would have to face the intimidating A’s without their best hitter, outfielder Kirk Gibson. Gibson had been instrumental in propelling the Dodgers to the World Series. In Game 4 of the NLCS, Gibson homered off Mets closer Randy Myers in the top of the 12th to even the series up at two games apiece. But the star slugger couldn’t hide the pain in his hamstrings (a chronic wound that had been aggravated while trying to steal second base) and even though he had told Lasorda that he could hit if Lasorda needed him to, few expected the hobbling Gibson to make good on his promise.

They were wrong. When Game 1 started, Gibson was in uniform — but on the bench, where he helplessly watched Oakland’s Dave Stewart turn in eight gritty innings. Dodger ace Orel Hershiser was also unavailable (he had shut out the Mets in Game 7 of the LCS) and his replacement, Tim Belcher, lasted just two innings. By the time Dennis Eckersley appeared in the bottom of the ninth the score was 4-3 in favor of the A’s.

“The Eck” was the premier closer in baseball, having racked up 45 saves that year. True to form, he easily induced a pop-out from catcher Mike Scioscia and struck out third baseman Jeff Hamilton. But when pinch-hitter Mike Davis came to the plate, “The Eck” uncharacteristically surrendered a walk.

One swing away from a win, Lasorda looked for lightning in a bottle. He called back Dave Anderson from the on-deck circle and sent out a visibly ailing Kirk Gibson out to bat against Eckersley as the Dodger Stadium fans erupted with applause. Gibson knew he was only asked to swing the bat. We weren’t worried about him having to run,” recalled Dodger outfielder Mickey Hatcher. “Hopefully he can wheelchair it to first and we can do something from there.”

Eckersley challenged Gibson with two fastballs, both of which a laboring Gibson managed to foul off. The veteran hitter managed to work his way back into a full count and remembered the words of advance scout Mel Didier, who had told Gibson earlier that with three balls and two strikes, Eckersley tended to throw back-door sliders.

Sure enough, Eckersley served up a hanging slider. Gibson launched it into the right-field seats to propel the Dodgers to victory, and Chavez Ravine shook as Gibson limped around the bases, his fist held high. The whole team stormed Gibson at home plate after his first and final at-bat of the series.

The next day, bullpen coach Mark Gresse put up a sign on Gibson’s locker which said simply, “Roy Hobbs” — a reference to the hero of Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural.” Gresse summed up the feeling of Dodger fans around the country thus: “When Kirk hit the ball, my heart kind of stopped.” Indeed, Gibson’s heroic home run an Oscar-worthy performance — pure Hollywood magic that inspired his teammates to beat the heavily-favored A’s in five games.