Hatcher Was Just Where He Wanted to Be : His Game-Winning Single in Eighth Inning Against Padres Puts Dodgers Into Playoffs

Times Staff Writer

He stood there in the middle of his first championship, with beer in his hair and nine years worth of smile on his face, but the thing you noticed most about Mickey Hatcher was the hand.

Wrapped tightly around his left hand was a black batting glove.

It had been 20 minutes since the Dodgers had clinched the National League West title with a 3-2 victory over the San Diego Padres. It had been an hour since he had won that game with an eighth-inning slap-shot single to left field, after which he immediately departed for a pinch-runner.

Yet there remained the glove. It was as if any minute Hatcher expected somebody to run in and announce that the game wasn't really over, that a 33-year-old pinch-hitter was needed to come out and get one last hit before it could be official, and was there anybody there who could do that?

"The thing about me and the guys on this team ," Hatcher said, "is that we are always ready to do whatever, whenever."

Whenever came Monday night, with the score tied at 2-2 in the eighth and Dodger Alfredo Griffin standing on third base with one out. Up came Hatcher for only his 185th at-bat this year.

He didn't think he would be starting that game, but Kirk Gibson had a sore left hamstring and the Dodgers needed somebody to play left field. Then, when he started, he didn't think he would last until the eighth inning, figuring he would be replaced in a double-switch during some pitching changes two innings earlier.

"But there I was," Hatcher said. "I thought, 'Oh, thank you, thank you for letting me get a crack at this.' I was just where I wanted to be."

Two pitches later, the ball was just where he wanted it to be, as he slapped it into left field between shortstop and third base, past a drawn-in infield.

"Can you imagine that, my first playoff, and I get the hit that (puts the Dodgers into) it," Hatcher said, almost shouting. "I was so happy I was able to do it. It makes this celebrating so much better."

He paused.

"But you know, if it wasn't me, it would have been someone else," he said.

Fred Claire, the Dodgers' executive vice president, was especially pleased, too.

"It was particularly rewarding for this thing to end on a Mickey Hatcher hit," he said. "He was the first guy I brought here, he is where the building began."

It began on April 10, 1987 at 7:30 a.m., to be precise. Hatcher had just been released by the Minnesota Twins, a team with which he had spent six years. He was working out when he read in the newspaper that Dodger Bill Madlock was injured.

"I stopped working out and called my agent (Willie Sanchez) and told him to call the Dodgers," said Hatcher, who spent the first four years of his career in the Dodger organization. "I thought, I would love to get one more chance to play for that team. I would have done anything."

At first he had to swallow pride, as he watched the Dodgers struggle last season while his old friends in Minneapolis finally were achieving the one thing he had been denied.

"Hey, it's OK, I understood," Hatcher said. "The Twins had to make room for some kids, they no longer needed me. It was OK."

It was so OK, Hatcher said, that he phoned his former teammates throughout the season and didn't miss an inning of the playoffs or World Series on television.

"Man, I was happy for them, I almost felt like I was there," he said. "I wanted them to do well, I cheered for them every second. Really, it almost felt like being there.

"Now I know what it's like to really be there, and it's been so long, and feels so good, I'm not going to let this feeling go."

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