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Sports Then and Now

25 Years Ago: Gibson Takes Eck Deep to Propel Dodgers to Improbable Title

Posted on October 15, 2013 by Dean Hybl
Kirk Gibson completely changed the 1988 World Series with one swing.

Kirk Gibson completely changed the 1988 World Series with one swing.

It was 25 years ago today that Kirk Gibson limped out of the Los Angeles Dodgers dugout and into baseball immortality. In his only at bat of the series, Gibson blasted a home run off future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley that not only lifted his team to victory in the first game of the 1988 World Series, but set the stage for a surprising series victory for the underdog Dodgers.

Though Gibson’s home run did not end a World Series the way blasts by Bill Mazeroski and Joe Carter did, his homer arguably was just as important in deciding a series as any other home run in history.

The 1988 Oakland A’s were believed to be virtually unbeatable. Assembled with a combination of home grown players and experienced veterans and managed by Tony LaRussa, the A’s won 104 games in the regular season and then swept the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.

Oakland scored 800 runs during the season and were led by Jose Canseco, who hit 42 home runs, drove home 124 runs, stole 40 bases and hit .307 to earn American League MVP honors. They also had an outstanding pitching staff including 21 game winner Dave Stewart and lights-out reliever Dennis Eckersley, who led the league with 45 saves in his first full season as a closer.

To the contrary, many believed that manager Tommy Lasorda had been using smoke and mirrors to coax his Dodgers team through the regular season and into the World Series. Sure they won 94 games in the regular season, but as a team hit just.248 and Gibson was actually the team leader with a .290 batting average and 25 home runs while finishing second on the squad with 76 RBI (Mike Marshall led the team with 82).

The Dodgers were in the 1988 World Series because they had one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. Even with perennial ace Fernando Valenzuela enduring the worst season to that point in his career, the team still had an ERA under three runs per game.

The main reason for that was Orel Hershiser, who was on his way to winning the Cy Young Award with a 23-8 record and 2.26 ERA.

However, in the opening game of the World Series, Hershiser was on the bench as he had pitched a shutout in game seven of the National League Championship against the New York Mets just three days earlier.

Thus, the A’s entered the ninth inning of game one with a 4-3 lead and the best closer in baseball on the mound. After getting the first two batters out, Eckersley walked pinch hitter Mike Davis, thus leading to one of the most iconic sequences in World Series history.

In his first season as a member of the Dodgers, Gibson had provided the team with much needed fire and energy. Though his statistical numbers were not earth shattering, his value to the Dodgers was so noticeable that he would be named the National League MVP.

In the National League Championship series against the Mets, Gibson had played in all seven games, but suffered injuries to both of his legs that put his availability for the World Series in question. He reportedly told Lasorda before the game that he had one good swing in him.

So, there was a definite buzz emanating from Dodger Stadium when Gibson sauntered out of the dugout and into the batters box to face Eckersley.

At times in the at bat Gibson looked like an overmatched injured warrior, but he summoned enough to foul off a couple pitches and work the count to 3-2.

It was then that Gibson’s “one good swing” connected with a backdoor slider from Eckersley to disappear over the rightfield fence and into baseball immortality.

After the 5-4 victory by the Dodgers, Hershiser came back to shut out the powerful A’s in game two. After Oakland won the first game in the coliseum, the Dodgers won the final two games to claim the series.

As it turned out, Gibson did indeed have just one good swing in him as he did not play again in the series.

However, he proved not to be needed as his work was already done.

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