The year was 1988. The Event? The World Series. At the 1988 edition of the Fall Classic, The LA Dodgers squared off against the Oakland Athletics.
Game one began on October 15th 1988 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. The field was tense as both teams were eager to make history, both knowing only one could be victorious. The crowd was hyped, ready to watch these two Cali teams go head to head.
The Dodgers took an early lead in game one, after a great start by Mickey Hatcher. Hatcher had hit a two-run home run in the first inning, causing a roar in the crowd. Adrenaline now running through their veins, The A’s however were determined to come back with their own offensive showcase, as Jose Canseco hit a grand slam off Dodgers starter Tim Belcher, leading to Belcher’s yanking, and giving the A’s a two-run lead.
On the other side of the mound, A’s starting pitcher Dave Stewart was fairly calm, thanks to his team’s lead. Finally though, the Dodgers broke through in the sixth inning, belting three consecutive base hits off Stewart, and cutting the lead to just one. It was at this point that injured Dodgers slugger Kirk Gibson began to take practice swings the dugout, with help from teammate Orel Hershiser.
With the Dodgers still trailing by one in the ninth inning, the A’s looked to be in command, as rock-star closer Dennis Eckersley took the mound. Eckersley led the AL with 45 saves during the regular season, so when he was brought in to finish the game, expectations in LA were tempered. Retiring both Mike Scioscia and Jeff Hamilton, Eckersley seemed poised to secure the win.
Mike Davis was next up, and he walked on five pitches. Eckersley would later say that he’d seen his former teammate deliver clutch hits, and wanted to play it safe. What nobody expected however, was that Kirk Gibson would pinch-hit after Davis, in place of Dave Anderson.
Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda later revealed that he didn’t know what he was going to do as the inning approached the end of the ninth. Speaking with ESPN on the 25th Anniversary of this historic game, he recalled the decision, “I didn’t think he’d be able to play. When the ninth inning came around, we had Mike Scioscia coming up, followed by Jeff Hamilton, Alfredo Griffin and the pitcher’s spot. I was going to have Mike Davis hit for the pitcher. As I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do, the clubhouse kid is trying to get my attention. I said, ‘Mitch, leave me alone god d— it! I’m trying to get this ninth inning set up.’ He said Kirk wanted to talk to me, so I went over. I go there in the back, and Kirk has his uniform on. He says, ‘I think I can hit for ya.'”
Tommy Lasorda didn’t want anyone to know that Gibson was ready to go so he sent Dave Anderson to the on-deck circle. But instead of sending Anderson to the plate, he decided to put Gibson in as the pinch hitter. Hobbling to the plate, Gibson shocked the crowd. Eckersley quickly got ahead in the count 0-2, but Gibson was able to stay in the box, fouling away pitches and marking his territory.
With Gibson battling back, the count reached 3-2. Stepping outside of the batter’s box, Gibson remembered some advice that scout Mel Didier had given to him. He once told him that given situations like these, Eckersley often turned to his backdoor slider. Stepping back into the box, Gibson got the pitch he was expecting.
Using all of his upper body strength, Gibson hit the pitch all the way over the right-field fence, winning the game 5-4 for the Dodgers, as teammates and fans went absolutely nuts.
This incredible play would be Gibson’s only plate appearance in the world series, but it was the emotional lift that his team needed to steamroll the A’s in five games, en route to the ’88 World Series championship.