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Though He Can Hardly Stand, Gibson Delivers

Before Kirk Gibson came to bat, with two Detroit teammates on base, one final time in what turned out to be the final game of the 1984 World Series, he noticed the San Diego Padres engaged in an animated discussion on the pitching mound. They looked unhappy.

Goose Gossage, it turned out, was trying to talk his manager, Dick Williams, into letting him pitch to Gibson instead of walking him intentionally. Williams, who already had seen Gibson belt one home run in this game, shook his head from side to side. He looked as though he would rather eat the rosin bag than pitch to Gibson.

Gibby strolled from the on-deck circle to the dugout.

“Hey,” he yelled down to Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson. “Ten bucks says they pitch to me.”

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Sparky called.

“Ten bucks says they don’t,” he said.

They did.

The score immediately transformed from 5-4 to 8-4. The final game of the World Series belonged to the Tigers, with Gibson homering twice and scoring another run by tagging up and racing home on a sacrifice fly--that was caught by the second baseman.

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Let’s face it, the man thrives on this stuff.

Moral of the story:

Do Not Pitch to Kirk Gibson If You Don’t Have To.

WORLD SERIES, GAME 1

Oct. 15, 1988

Ninth Inning

Dennis Eckersley had just come into the game to pitch the ninth inning for the Oakland Athletics in Saturday night’s World Series opener against the Dodgers. The A’s led, 4-3, and Eckersley got the first batter, Mike Scioscia, to pop out, then struck out the second, Jeff Hamilton, on three pitches.

Ex-Athletic Mike Davis pinch-hit for ex-Athletic Alfredo Griffin and drew a walk.

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Little did any current Athletic know who was coming up next.

Little did they know that Kirk Gibson, the Motor City hit man, had just gone up to his manager, same way he did in 1984, to tell him what was about to happen next.

Little did they know that Gibson, the hurt batsman, the guy who walks around the clubhouse like Walter Brennan, the guy who tried to limber up on his injured leg in his living room at home Saturday morning and discovered that “I couldn’t even jog,” was summoning Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda into the tunnel behind the dugout to tell him he was ready to bat.

“I was in there in the training room, watching the TV and listening to Vin Scully,” Gibson said, “and they were panning the dugout and saying, ‘Well, Gibson’s not even in there, so he’s definitely out for the night,’ and, well, I just said, ‘Bull . . . ‘

“I figured I’d come this far. I thought I could give it a try.”

So, Gibson got ahold of Lasorda.

“Whaddaya want? Whaddaya want?” Lasorda yelped. He had other things on his mind at this point.

Gibson told him he could see how the ninth inning was shaping up, that maybe Davis could bat for Griffin, and that maybe if Davis got on base, he, Gibson, might just hobble up there with a bat or a cane or some piece of wood and, well, take a whack at it.

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Lasorda went dancing back to the dugout.

“That’s all he wanted to hear,” Gibson said. “He took off like, ‘Don’t change your mind!’ ”

Davis got on. Gibson came up.

First Pitch

He fouled it high and off to the left, into Dodger Stadium’s blue reserved-level seats.

Second Pitch

Eckersley lobbed one over to first base, just to let Davis know he was thinking of him. Davis maintained only a short lead, but he represented the potential tying run, and a single could score him. That is, assuming Gibson could run as far as first base.

Eckersley brought one home, and Gibson got a good rip at it, but once again fouled it off to his left, this time into the loge seats.

“I was determined not to let him go 0 and 2 on me without getting at least one good swing,” Gibson said.

Third Pitch

Gibson dug in now, protecting the plate. Davis took a slightly longer lead. The Dodgers might have to gamble now and let him go. Joe Amalfitano, their third base coach, was practically doing semaphore as Davis looked for a sign.

Gibson could look for no sign. He could only swing now. No bunting, as in that game against the Mets. No taking a pitch, because one more strike meant the game.

Eckersley delivered, and Gibson got around on him but managed only to dribble a grounder, just foul of the first-base line.

Fourth Pitch

Eckersley finally wasted one. Gibson took a ball, outside. But Ron Hassey, the Oakland catcher, fired a strike to first baseman Mark McGwire, trying to pick off the baserunner. Davis scrambled back safely.

Fifth Pitch

Davis was stealing now. Maybe the A’s knew it, maybe they didn’t. He was going now, though. He got a good jump, and took off. But Gibson fouled another one down the left-field line. Back Davis went.

Sixth Pitch

Gibson took another pitch, this one high and outside. Eckersley did not want to give him anything he could pull. Especially since Gibson is the kind of guy who pulls pitches into parking lots.

“I wasn’t thinking about trying to hit one out,” Gibson swore. “I was just trying to put the ball in play.”

Seventh Pitch

Eckersley checked the runner again, throwing over with serious intent. Davis made it back OK.

But as soon as Eck went home with another pitch, Davis took off. He stole second base without a throw from Hassey, as Gibson took Ball 3 inside.

Full count.

Last Pitch

Gibson, who likes to knock the dirt off his spikes with his bat, tapped the bottom of his left shoe but laid off the right. The right knee is the one that had kept him out of the game until this point.

Eckersley got the sign from Hassey and delivered. “He tried to backdoor me with a slider,” as Gibson described it later.

Gibson swung.

He did not put the ball in play.

He put it out of play.

Well, fans, the place went nuts. Gibson gimped his way around the bases in about twice the time it had taken Mickey Florence Griffith Joyner Hatcher a few innings before.

Gibson said: “If somebody had asked me earlier today, ‘If you hit one out, do you think you could make it around the bases?’ I’d have said, ‘I guess I could make it, even if I have to walk around them.’

“I managed to run around them, if you can call that running.”

The game was over. “It was a classic,” Gibson said. “A great game. Good, clean baseball.”

Mark Cresse, a Dodger coach, went bounding down the aisle to the clubhouse, screaming: “Roy Hobbs! Roy Hobbs! Roy Hobbs!” This was part-The Natural, part-Babe Ruth, part-Carlton Fisk. Cresse tacked a sign on Gibson’s locker. “Roy Hobbs,” it read.

Atlas just shrugged, and thanked the Lord for giving him strength, and reminded everybody there would be another game tomorrow.

Gibson isn’t supposed to be able to play in it.

Ten bucks says he does.


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