Thursday, 11 April 2013

Trying to catch lightning: Game 1 of the 1988 World Series

One of the things I regret just a little bit about getting involved in university life was losing track of the greater world outside me. I got so absorbed in campus life at the University of Alberta, I lost track of a lot of news, sports, and even music, which had been touchstones for me, especially growing up on the farm.

Probably the two things I regret missing most, but only after hearing how great they turned out afterwards, were the 1988 Notre Dame-Miami football game, and Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

Then the Internet came along, and I have found both. The football game is in another post, and the entire bottom half of the ninth inning of the baseball game is above. I'm sure the entire game would be interesting to see, but the drama, one of the most dramatic moments in World Series history in fact, occurs in the bottom of the ninth inning. I'd seen highlights before, but never the entire bottom half of the inning. And it is amazing. See for yourself

1988 World Series - Game 1 - Bottom of 9th... by senatork

Free agent
Kirk Gibson had made his name as a Detroit Tiger, breaking the hearts of my beloved Blue Jays many times. He was a double letterman at Michigan State, playing both football and baseball. He had a deadly combination of speed and power. He was also tenacious and tough.

That tenacity went beyond the baseball diamond. In 1988, the owners in Major League Baseball were found guilty of collusion, and Gibson was one of the players granted immediate free agency. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, taking his show to the National League.

Just like a movie
The Dodgers won the National League West pennant and faced the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series. Gibson had home runs in Games 4 and 5, winning the game in one and breaking the game open in the other.

However, he was hobbled and unlikely to play in the World Series against the Oakland Athletics, who were appearing in their first of three consecutive World Series. With a bad left hamstring, and a swollen right knee, he was physically unable to play, according to announcer Vin Scully.

Then, with the Dodgers trailing 4-3 and two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, L.A. manager Tommy Lasorda chose to pinch hit for shortstop, and former Toronto Blue Jay, Alfredo Griffin. Mike Davis stepped in and worked a walk.

The entire stadium took a deep breath. What would Lasorda do? Then, out of the dugout came Kirk Gibson, slowly limping to the plate. The anticipation built.

"You talk about a roll of the dice, this it," Scully said as Gibson dug in.

"So the Dodgers, trying to catch lightning right now."

Facing Gibson was Dennis Eckersley, the best reliever in baseball, who had quickly recorded two outs before Davis' walk. He had not allowed a home run since August 24.

After Gibson fouled off the first pitch, Scully said the leg injuries prevented Gibson from pushing off, or landing.

"He's going to use all arms," colour man Joe Garagiola said.

After two more foul balls, Scully said Gibson was so banged up, he was not even introduced and did not come out onto the field at the start of the game.

He fouled a nubber down the line and you could see the pain on his face as he tried to run to first.

"You can really see the limp," Garagiola said.

"He almost has to talk to his legs and say hey, let's go, we gotta get outta here."

Gibson worked the count to 3-2 when Davis stole second, putting himself in scoring position. A base hit would now tie the game.

"Now the Dodgers don't need the muscle of Gibson as much as a base hit," Scully said.

Eckersley delivered. Gibson swung, and you could hear the crack of the bat. The right fielder could just watch as the ball sailed out of the park. Gibson had delivered. As Scully said, "In a year that has been improbable, the impossible has happened."

"And now the only question was could he make it around the base paths unassisted."

Bob Costas described it best in "Ken Burns' Baseball": It was like a scene from a movie.

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