Friday, October 15, 2010

October 15, 1988: Two bad legs

LOS ANGELES - Kirk Gibson wasn't even in uniform when game 1 of the 1988 World Series began. He had two bad legs, could barely walk, and was all but ruled out of the World Series. That he was even on the World Series roster at all was as a token of gratitude for his incredible first season with the Dodgers.

After nearly a decade with Detroit, Gibson came over to Los Angeles and instantly became the team's biggest hitting threat. In a year where the Dodgers were especially punchless, Gibson was their only truly dangerous offensive player. Add to that the emotional leadership he gave them, and he was an easy choice for NL MVP.

That didn't do him any good, though, sitting in the trainers' room. Without Gibson, and going up against the powerful Oakland A's, the Dodgers looked cooked. He wasn't even announced in the pregame introductions, choosing instead to stay in the clubhouse to get treatment.

During the game, one of the TV announcers casually mentioned how Gibson was hurt and not even in uniform. That pissed Gibson off, and he immediately put on his uniform and began trying to get loose, hoping beyond hope that he could will himself onto the field. In the seventh inning, he sent word to Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda: he was ready to pinch hit if he was needed.

The Dodgers entered the ninth trailing 4-3, thanks to a grand slam by Jose Canseco in the second inning that dented the center field camera. Oakland sent Dennis Eckersley, the best reliever in the world, out to the mound. Even though it was only a one-run game, Lasorda didn't want to use Gibson unless he could win the game, so Gibson waited on the bench while the first two batters went down quietly. A pinch-hitting Mike Davis provided a glimmer of hope by drawing a two-out walk, and then Lasorda made the call.

Dodger fans, hoping for a miracle, cheered wildly when Gibson was introduced. Here was their MVP, hoping for one more big blast for his team. For people watching at home, though, it didn't look good. The man could barely walk to home plate - how was he supposed to get a good swing off Eckersley?

After two fouls, Gibson hit a foul ball down the first base line made it look even worse, as he could barely get out of the batters box. It became apparent that he had to hit the ball past the outfielders to even be guaranteed of making it to first base. But he stuck with it. Another foul, sandwiched between two out of the zone. Davis stole second on ball three. It was a full count.

As Eckersley got set for the 3-2 pitch, Gibson called time and stepped out of the box. He adjusted his gloves, took one swing, examined his bat, and thought. Every pitch Eckersley had thrown him to that point had been a fastball. What if he tried to sneak that slider past him? He stepped back in, waiting. Eckersley kicked his leg and fired.

A waist-high slider. An awkward, almost one-armed swing. A line drive to right. Canseco looking up. Gibson painfully running to first, his right fist in the air. The Dodgers leaping out of the dugout, Lasorda leading the way, waving his arms. Gibson doing the now-famous double fist pump as he rounded second base. Jack Buck yelling "I don't believe what I just saw!" Gibson getting mobbed as he reached home plate.


Kirk Gibson only had one at bat in the 1988 World Series. After his game 1 blast, he was far too injured to even consider playing again. But it didn't matter. His home run had changed the course of the series like no other one before it. The Dodgers had all the inspiration they needed, beating the heavily favored A's in five games. Orel Hershiser won the World Series MVP award for two masterful complete-game wins, but everybody knew who the true MVP was. It was a man who stepped up when his team needed him, who delivered despite a debilitating injury. It was a man who won a World Series with one swing.

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