Kirk Gibson hit a total of 262 home runs in his career (including postseason), but if you hear baseball fans talking about “Gibson’s home run”, you know exactly which one they mean. It was among the most dramatic moments in baseball history, that shot that won Game One of the 1988 World Series. You’ve seen replays of it a thousand times.
I saw it in person.
My wife had given me tickets to the game between the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Dodgers as a birthday present. I didn’t want to ask too many questions about how Sally got them, or how much she had to pay. Let’s just say they were very good seats, except for the fact that we were surrounded by the wives of the A’s players. I’m sure they are all wonderful human beings, but that night they were the enemy. One in particular had a voice like a power saw ripping through sheet metal.
Those Oakland wives had a lot to crow about with the A’s holding a 4-3 lead as the game went to the bottom of the ninth. The inning began with Mike Scioscia of the Dodgers hitting a weak popup for the first out. He was followed by Jeff Hamilton, who was overmatched against Dennis Eckersley, the best relief pitcher in baseball. Hamilton struck out looking. The A’s wives were positively screeching by now, with victory only one out away.
L.A. manager Tommy Lasorda sent Mike Davis to the plate to pinch hit for Alfredo Griffin. Davis had been Eckersley’s teammate in Oakland the previous season and had put up respectable numbers there. Maybe that’s why “Eck” pitched cautiously to Davis; whatever the reason, Davis was able to work a walk.
My head swiveled toward the Dodger dugout. “Here he comes,” I yelled, and at the same time about 50,000 other fans also saw Kirk Gibson limping out of the dugout with a bat in hand. It was pitcher Alejandro Peña’s spot in the batting order, although infielder Dave Anderson had been occupying the on-deck circle, ostensibly to pinch hit for Peña.
We all knew this situation called for Kirk Gibson, in spite of his injuries. Gibson had a bad left hamstring and a gimpy right knee that had kept him out of the lineup. Those of us who were still in Dodger Stadium were on our feet and screaming; however, beyond the center field fence I could see taillights of cars whose drivers had wanted to beat the traffic. They heard what subsequently happened on their radios.
Gibson was quickly behind in the count, 0-2. Eckersley tried to get him to bite on pitches off the plate. Gibson took a couple, and fouled off a couple. The count evened, and on a 2-2 pitch, Mike Davis got into scoring position by stealing second.
On the 3-2 pitch, Gibson hit the shot that sailed over Jose Canseco’s head into the right field pavilion, and into history. The A’s wives suddenly got quiet and slumped into their seats, stunned. The rest of us were hugging each other and ruining our vocal cords for what must have been fifteen minutes after the Dodgers had won, 5-4.
It was a thrill to be there on my birthday, and to see the career highlight of not one but TWO Gibsons. It was Kirk who ended the game with his memorable home run, of course. But how could you forget that the evening began with the National Anthem being sung by Debbie Gibson? What a night.