At one end of the Los Angeles Dodger dugout on Saturday night, the players could hear Kirk Gibson. He was at work up the runway, in the batting cage. Crack...clank. Crack...clank. Mitch Poole, the Dodger batboy, would put a baseball on the batting tee, and Gibson would send it clanking off the metal frame of the cage. Out on the field the Dodgers were down to their final three outs in Game 1 of the World Series. The Oakland Athletics held a 4-3 lead, and baseball's best reliever, Dennis Eckersley, was on the mound. Crack...clank. Crack...clank. Gibson paused, took a deep breath, looked up at Poole and said, "This could be our script." Gibson didn't elaborate. He put his head down and resumed swinging. Crack...clank.
When, with two outs, Eckersley went to 3 and 1 on pinch hitter Mike Davis, Dodger Tracy Woodson turned to teammate Mickey Hatcher and said, "If Davis gets on, wait till you see the crowd reaction." A puzzled Hatcher glanced out at the on-deck circle, where Dave Anderson, an unprepossessing utility in-fielder, was getting ready to bat for pitcher Alejandro Pena if Davis managed to keep the inning alive. Like the 55,983 fans in Dodger Stadium, Hatcher hadn't heard the sounds from the batting cage and hadn't noticed that by the time Davis went to bat, Gibson had appeared in a corner of the dugout, bat in hand.
When ball 4 sent Davis to first, Anderson turned back to the dugout, and the crowd erupted with the realization that this was one of those Hollywood moments: Gibson, half-man, half-beast, whose arrival as a free agent in February had so dramatically transformed the Dodgers, now limped toward the plate to face Eckersley.
Gibson wasn't even supposed to be able to limp. He'd re-strained his left hamstring in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, and he hadn't swung at a pitch since compounding his woes by injuring his right knee in the seventh game of that series. He hadn't even been introduced before the game. (Debbie Gibson, who sang the national anthem, was, but Kirk wasn't.) And 20 minutes earlier he hadn't had his uniform top on. He'd been sitting in the trainer's room during the eighth inning when he'd heard Vin Scully tell the TV audience, "The man who is the spearhead of the Dodger offense throughout the year, who saved them in the League Championship Series, will not see any action tonight, for sure. [Gibson] is not even in the dugout."
October 23, 1988
With that, Gibson had slid off the trainer's table. "——it," he'd shouted, grabbing an ice bag for his injured right knee. "I'll be there."
And so he was, against Eckersley, "just the way it's supposed to be," he said later. "I live for these moments. I'm an impact player, and I love the added pressure of admitting it."
The crowd was on its feet, through three straight foul balls—the third one a dribbler down the first base line—and a backdoor slider that barely missed the outside corner; through Davis's steal of second on a 2-2 pitch; through drama stretched as tight as it could go, to a full count. Eckersley wheeled in with a slider, down but dangerously over the center of the plate. In Hollywood, Roy Hobbs hits the ball out to end The Natural, but on this night it was Gibson.
Welcome to the California World Series.
Gibson sent that slider far into the L.A. night, five rows up the bleachers in rightfield. He knew what he'd done the instant the ball exploded off his bat. He raised his arm and held it aloft until he reached first base coach Manny Mota. Then he limped around the bases as if he were straggling home from the Russian front, dragging his right leg and stepping gingerly on his left. His home run hobble was probably the slowest passage around the bases of all time, and it stood in stark contrast to Hatcher's first-inning scamper around the diamond, then noted as the fastest in World Series history. While Gibson was mobbed at home plate by fellow Dodgers, bullpen coach Mark Cresse sneaked away and put a sign over the slugger's locker that read ROY HOBBS.
It seemed perfectly appropriate that a taped guest appearance by L.A. manager Tom Lasorda would air on The Magical World of Disney the day after the Dodgers' 5-4 Game 1 victory. And the fairy-tale endings didn't stop there, for no sooner would Lasorda's Disney guest spot end on NBC (at least for viewers in the East) than the Dodgers' Orel Hershiser would appear on the same network to give another of his performances right out of the Magic Kingdom. He put underdog L.A. ahead two games to none by shutting out Oakland 6-0, with a brilliant three-hitter.
Hershiser was on a roll the likes of which no pitcher—not Koufax, not Drysdale, not Mathewson—had ever known. Including his Game 2 whitewashing of the A's, he'd allowed just three earned runs in his last 92⅖ innings (a 0.29 ERA). He'd thrown seven shutouts in 10 starts spanning the stretch run of a divisional race, a league playoff series and now the beginnings of a World Series (and that's not counting 10 scoreless innings he pitched in a no-decision on Sept. 28). But as masterful as Hershiser was, it was Gibson's blast that made this World Series seem the stuff of Hollywood drama.
For the supposedly invincible Athletics, the loss in the Series opener was a stunning blow. The game had been typical of the A's 108-win season, with a strong performance from starting pitcher Dave Stewart, a big homer—in this case a second-inning grand slam by Jose Canseco—and a ninth-inning lead for the Eck to protect.
"Hopefully it woke us up," said Eckersley. "We know now it's going to be a long, tough Series."
Besides giving the A's a new perspective, the dramatic events of Game 1 put all the pre-Series hype back in the can. In the two days before the opener, the media had fueled a war of words between beleaguered Dodger reliever Jay Howell and Oakland's sometime DH Don Baylor, who accused Howell of having no guts. (Never mind that Baylor may have been trying to deflect media scrutiny and pressure from the A's young sluggers Canseco and Mark McGwire.) And while reporters were busy creating fresh beefs, hardly anyone recalled an old one: Jim Lefebvre, the A's third base coach and a former Dodger of long standing, once had a fistfight with Lasorda in a television studio.
The Lasorda-Lefebvre relationship was typical of the most important subplot of this Series: A lot of the Dodgers are former A's, and a lot of the A's are former Dodgers. In Game 1, ex-Dodger Stewart would start against ex-Athletic Tim Belcher, and each of them had once been traded for Rick Honeycutt, now a member of the A's bullpen. The Athletics sent the hard-throwing Belcher to L.A. for Honeycutt in August 1987, because they figured it would take Belcher two years to improve his control enough to make the majors. But throwing strikes was never a problem for him with the Dodgers—until Saturday.
He delivered 71 pitches—33 of them balls—during his two-inning stint and set off a beanball battle when he tried to get a heater in on Canseco in the top of the first and plunked him on the arm. (Stewart sent his old teammates a clear message to stay away from Canseco by drilling Steve Sax with the first pitch when the Dodgers came up in the home half of the first. Home plate umpire Doug Harvey promptly defused the situation by warning both teams that the next brushback pitch would result in an automatic ejection of that club's pitcher and manager.) "That was the worst control I've had since I was in Tacoma," said Belcher, referring to the fact that he walked nine in one of his last starts for Oakland's top farm club before being shipped to the Dodgers. (His opponent in that game? Why, the Dodgers' Albuquerque farm club, of course.)
Though Belcher would lose this battle with Stewart, the exchange of hit batsmen handed the Dodgers a short-term advantage. "When Sax gets on base, the next two hitters get nothing but fastballs because Steve is such an aggressive base runner," said Dodger hitting coach Ben Hines. Indeed. Sax danced off first, prompting Stewart to balk, and with one out Hatcher got hold of one of those preordained fastballs.
Wait just a minute! Hatcher hitting No. 3 in the World Series? This guy wasn't in last year's World Series because the Minnesota Twins, figuring he was washed up, had released him. He'd hit all of one home run in 191 at bats for Los Angeles during the 1988 regular season. But he ripped Stewart's pitch over the fence in left center and proceeded to charge around the bases as if he were returning a kickoff—which wasn't all that surprising, since Hatcher used to play on special teams for Oklahoma (see box, page 43).
The Dodgers' 2-0 lead didn't last long, because after Glenn Hubbard singled to left in the top of the second, Belcher was so wild that he walked Stewart, who was hitting for the first time in five years. Carney Lansford then reached base on a walk to set the stage for Canseco's grand slam, a bullet of a line drive to centerfield.
"By the time I turned around, it had already ricocheted off the TV camera," said Belcher. That camera was beyond the fence, 415 feet from home plate.
Almost forgotten in the face of the Gibson histrionics, in fact, was Canseco's flair for October dramatics. In Oakland's first five postseason games he hit four homers, all of which either tied the score or put the A's ahead. Hollywood Jose has big-time style too. Against Belcher he crushed the ball, looked up and flipped the bat away as if he were discarding a chicken bone, and then began a strut around the bases.
To set the stage for Gibson's appearance, the Dodgers got seven shutout innings from relievers Tim Leary, Brian Holton and Pena. Leary had two on and none out in the third and escaped. Dave Henderson doubled to lead off the fourth but committed a baserunning gaffe: He got tagged out between second and third when Canseco sent what seemed certain to be an infield hit deep in the hole at short. In the sixth Stewart gave up a run on three singles but avoided further damage by inducing Jeff Hamilton to bounce to Lansford, who started an inning-ending double play.
So they went into the ninth inning, A's 4, Dodgers 3. In the seventh, former Athletic Alfredo Griffin—whose nickname is El Brujo (the sorcerer)—had predicted to Dodger teammates Mike Sharperson and Fernando Valenzuela how it would end, with Gibson homering off Eckersley. "Eckersley will look around, realize he's back in a National League park, and the [Chicago] Cub will come out in him," Griffin had said.
It was during the inning after Griffin's prophesy that Gibson heard Scully write him out of the script. That seemed logical enough. There was no sign of Gibson, after all, and that afternoon he'd been given injections of cortisone and Xylocaine for the sprained ligament in his right knee.
"I jammed an ice bag on my knee and pulled on my uniform top," said Gibson, who asked Hines to get him a batting tee. Hines found one and told Poole to put the balls on the tee for Gibson. "We didn't want him bending over and hurting himself," Hines said later. After he'd hit about half a bucket of balls, Gibson said, "I told Mitch to go down and tell Tommy [Lasorda] that if someone got on, I wanted to try to hit." Lasorda came up the runway, and Gibson told him he was ready. "As soon as he heard that I wanted to hit," Gibson said, "he took off. I never got a chance to say I think...."
Gibson admitted later that he had no idea how he would feel once Scully's words inadvertently incited him to action. "I tried to swing a bat in my living room in the morning and couldn't do it," he said. "But once I got up in that cage, I didn't feel anything again until I was going around the bases."
Davis, another Oakland refugee, became a central player in the final act. One thing the Dodgers wanted to do against Eckersley was step out of the batter's box and force him to disrupt his rhythm. Davis did just that, stepping back, calling time. "The guy's hitting a buck ninety—what the hell's he doing calling timeout?" Eckersley said later. Davis accomplished his purpose: He infuriated the Eck and coaxed a base on balls from a pitcher who had allowed only nine unintentional walks all season.
Lasorda had sent Anderson into the on-deck circle as a decoy. "I figured Eckersley would pitch more carefully to Davis with the righthander on deck," Lasorda said. "If he'd seen Gibson, he would have pitched Davis differently."
Eckersley's first two pitches to Gibson were in the strike zone. Gibson fouled off both. The third delivery was a hard sinker, the one that Gibson dribbled down the first base line. But as he dragged himself out of the batter's box, it trickled foul. Then Eckersley tried to sweep a slider that would come back and catch the outside corner. "That was the key pitch, because I was able to stay back, lay off it," said Gibson. "And it just missed the strike zone."
After Gibson fouled off another pitch and Eckersley threw outside for ball 2, Davis stole second. "That was important for me, because then all I had to think about was shortening my swing and trying to get a hit to score him," said Gibson. Then came the slider. "It was dumb," said Eckersley. "It was the one pitch he could pull for power. He hit the dogmeat out of it."
A Series that began with a distilled Hollywood moment—baseball the way television wishes it were—continued the next night with baseball as it really is, a game that at its best unfolds with protracted drama. After a five-run Dodger third inning on Sunday night, the drama was not in the score. The question was whether Hershiser could continue the brilliance he'd maintained for a month and more. The answer was clear: He was in command from first pitch to last and ended up with yet another shutout. For good measure he threw in three hits of his own, two doubles and a single, thus becoming the first World Series pitcher to have as many hits as the opposing team since the New York Yankees' Don Larsen had none in his 1956 perfect game against the Dodgers. (And because Oakland's attack consisted of three Dave Parker singles, Hershiser also had two more total bases than the A's.) "Orel's been held back because he looks like a librarian," says his catcher, Mike Scioscia. "But who's ever done anything like this?"
And who's done anything like this unlikely pair, Hershiser and Gibson? Gibson is an instinctive, almost brutal player. Hershiser uses a computer to make notes on each of his starts. He pulled the piece of paper containing the Dodger scouting report on the A's—what he called his cheat sheet—from his back pocket before the first inning of Game 2 and showed it to home plate umpire Durwood Merrill and crew chief Harvey. "I didn't want them thinking I was cheating if I pulled it out during the game for some information on a hitter," said Hershiser.
What Hershiser and Gibson have in common is superb athleticism. "To maintain such a high level of consistency takes unbelievable coordination, great athletic ability," says Scioscia of Hershiser. "Look at all the things he can do."
Hershiser got the Dodgers going in the third inning against Oakland's Storm Davis by faking a bunt and then slapping a single through the middle, a move he'd worked on for several minutes during batting practice that day. He went from first to third on a single by Sax to key a rally that culminated in Mike Marshall's three-run homer. When Hershiser later added his two doubles, he became the first pitcher in 64 years to have three hits in a Series game.
"The shutout was satisfying, but the hitting was a thrill," he said. "This is the World Series, and I want to hit, go first to third, steal bases, break up double plays...."
That comment made Lasorda, who was sitting nearby, cringe. With Gibson hurt, the last thing he needed to worry about was a baserunning injury to his ace. After all, Hershiser was already pitching with far less rest than usual.
"If I threw a screwball or a zillion pitches, it would be one thing," Hershiser said. "But I'm basic. I get a lot of quick innings. I don't go deep into many counts. I don't worry about what will happen down the road. I may never be through anything like this again in my life, so I'm going to roll with it and enjoy it. I know my arm, and I feel great. If something happens, well, there's life after baseball. But I'm not sacrificing what we've got our hands on to think about how many years and how much money I have left. I was raised to throw properly."
The parents who reared him that way—his father, Orel III, and his mother, Millie—were on hand to throw out the first pitch of Game 2, lending another made-in-Hollywood touch to this World Series saga, one in which Gibson and Hershiser combined to provide a storybook beginning.