I don’t know if he really made it through all seven and a half hours and 18 innings, but the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Game 3 win over the Boston Red Sox prompted a friend to ask about personal favorite World Series memories.
While I will freely admit that I didn’t even make it into “free baseball” territory (and, just to make sure we’re all on the same page: when I say “free baseball,” I’m just referring to anything beyond the regularly scheduled game’s nine innings. I come from the Ernie Banks school of baseball thought of, “It’s a great day for a ball game; let’s play two,” and consider extra innings just bonus content we’re lucky to have when we came into things expecting only the usual nine innings of baseball), so I can’t say for sure what happened to cut the Red Sox lead to 2-games-to-1 in a series they would eventually win 4-1 wouldn’t have ranked highly on my list.
I can, however, say it wouldn’t have knocked my memory of another Dodgers’ World Series from the top spot.
I was 10 years old and a fan of the home run in 1988. Rob Deer of the Milwaukee Brewers was my favorite player at the time. I still recite (silently, in my head, or aloud during wiffle ball) occasionally, Bob Uecker’s call of a Rob Deer at bat during the Brewers’ Easter Sunday 1987 game against the Texas Rangers that kept the Brewers’ 13-game winning streak to start the season alive (“A curve ball, drilled to deep left, gonna get way, way, way outta here, and gone for Deer. And they have tied it at 4. Wow, oh wow.” Dale Sveum won it with a home run a couple batters later. “Holy cow, do you believe it?”).
Because I enjoyed a good home run, I was rooting for the Oakland A’s to start the 1988 World Series. The A’s lineup included the power hitting “Bash Brothers,” Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, who won back-to-back Rookie of the Year awards a couple of years before the 1988 Series (and, sure, later admitted to using steroids, but that wasn’t really on my radar as a 10 year old).
So I was feeling pretty good with the A’s leading the Dodgers 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1 with Oakland’s closer Dennis Eckersley on the mound.
Then, with two outs and a runner on, Vin Scully, the Dodgers’ announcer doing the World Series game, said, “And look who’s coming up.”
Eckersley had already walked a batter, something he typically didn’t do, and the Dodgers pinch hit with Kirk Gibson. Over the course of the regular season, Gibson hit 25 home runs for the Dodgers, a pretty solid total in those days. But by the time the World Series rolled around, he was hobbled with two bad legs — one a knee issue and one a hamstring — and was relegated to coming off the bench.
And, I mean, this guy could barely walk. He looked bad coming out of the on-deck circle, like he could barely put weight on either leg.
“With two outs, you talk about a roll of the dice, this is it,” Scully said. “If he hits the ball on the ground, I would imagine he would be running 50 percent to first base, so the Dodgers are trying to catch lightning right now.”
Gibson fouled away the first two pitches from Eckersley — who had not allowed a home run in two months — and his swing looked excruciatingly painful both times. So Gibson’s down no balls and two strikes with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and he fouled the third pitch down the first base line, and he had to run it out. He looked so bad, I didn’t know if he’d make it back to the batters box.
Gibson fouled a couple more off, hobbling around home plate each time he had to swing the bat, and eventually worked the count full.
On the eighth pitch of the at bat, Gibson got a pitch at the knees on the inner half of the plate, and he launched it into the right-field bleachers for a game-winning two-run home run.
Gibson began his slow hobble around the bases. By the time he got to second base and did his “starting-a-chain-saw” celebration, my rooting interest, which started as tenuous, at best, in favor of the A’s, had switched to the Dodgers.
“The only question was, could he make it around the basepath unassisted,” Scully said after the home run.
When Gibson made it around to home plate, he looked like he wanted nothing to do with the celebration his teammates had planned for him. But after some jostling, he seemed to become more accepting of the congratulations and got into the celebration a bit more.
The Dodgers went on to win the Series 4-1. Gibson was so injured, my friend reminded me after I explained that both Minnesota Twins’ World Series wins were big for me but this was most memorable, that the game-winning home run turned out to be his only at bat of the entire Series.
Any chance any moment of this year’s World Series had of supplanting that memory as my favorite of a World Series ended with the Brewers’ loss in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
But there’s always next year.
Nate Jackson can be reached at nathan. email@example.com.