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Dedication to the cause is a quality that differentiates the best among pro athletes, and nothing better epitomizes that quality than playing through pain. During the first game of the 1988 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics, Kirk Gibson of the Los Angeles Dodgers made a game winning home run at the bottom of the ninth inning, despite playing with injuries on both legs.
The home run, which is celebrated as one of the most impressive plays of all time, gave the Dodgers a 5-4 win over the Athletics.
The Run-up to the Kirk Gibson Homerun
Kirk Gibson had signed for the Dodgers during the 1988 off-season as a free agent having been released by the Detroit Tigers. He quickly settled into the Dodgers roster and contributed enormously to LA’s journey to the National League pennant win. The Dodgers and the Athletics had both won their respective divisions, with the Dodgers putting together a 94-67 record to win the NL West Division.
The Athletics were slightly better with a 100-60 record in the NL East, giving them the best record in the MLB. For this reason and the fact that they had won ten of their eleven encounters with the Dodger during the regular season, the Athletics were considered the favorites for the World Series. The Dodgers were also not very prolific in their offense, ranking outside the top five in all major offensive categories.
During the NL Championship Series against the New York Mets, Gibson injured both legs and therefore was not to start Game 1 of the World Series. Mickey Hacker scored a two-run home run in the first inning to give the Dodgers an improbable lead. The Athletics responded in the second inning however with Jose Canseco hitting a grand slam that sent the Oakland outfit two ahead.
The Dodgers responded with one of their own through Mike Scioscia to cut Oakland’s lead to one. Midway through the game, cameras panned to the Dodgers’ dugout to reveal that Gibson was missing in action. Behind the scenes however, the fabled outfielder was undergoing physical therapy in readiness to contribute at some point. Not long after that, he was taking practice swings in the clubhouse batting cage. Meanwhile out on the field Oakland held on to their one point lead and brought on their star closer Dennis Eckersley to help see out the game.
To the astonishment of many around the stadium Gibson emerged from the dugout with two outs left in the ninth inning. At that point the Dodgers were still trailing the A’s 4-3 and were down to their last out. Gibson would pinch-hit for Alejandro Pena. Eckersley opened the encounter with Gibson with two fastballs which had the Dodgers man fouling both of them to fall behind 0-2. He then dribbled the third after swinging clumsily, giving out a hint that he was not quite ready for the game.
Facing a dull count, Gibson went out of the batter’s box. At that point, he would later narrate, he remembered instructions he had received from Mel Didier, a senior Dodgers scout. Didier had told him to expect a left handed pitcher to throw a back door slider when facing a 3-2 count, the same situation that Gibson was in now.
Back in the batter’s box, and as predicted Eckersley threw a slider, Gibson swung awkwardly with his entire upper body and struck the pitch towards the right field and over the fence for a home run. Gibson hobbled around the bases in and pumped his fists in the air in delirium as his teammates and fans joined in the celebration. The Dodgers had won game 1 by a 5-4 score line.
Aftermath of the Kirk Gibson Home run
Gibson would not make another appearance on the plate during the World Series but the Dodgers went on to win the series 4-1. The home run was nominated as one of the greatest baseball moments of all time. Eckersley expressed regret 25 years later about the way he threw his pitch, though he also expressed admiration of the home run that Gibson hit.
In the years since, the home run has been shown on TV countless times through ads and film. A woman who wrote to Gibson, claimed to have been hit on the leg by the home run ball and attached a photo of the bruise. The claims were however not substantiated sufficiently and the fate of the ball remains unknown.