It was the question of Saturday’s game. It may become the question of this 85th World Series. Due to a lack of wind conditions and elevation calculations, not to mention a simple stopwatch, it could even become a Dodger question for the ages.
Just how fast was Mickey Hatcher’s home run trot?
“Fast enough,” Dodger third base coach Joe Amalfitano said, “that it was as if he thought they would suddenly change their minds and take it back.”
“Fast enough,” Dodger batting coach Ben Hines said, “that he was in the dugout almost before any of us knew it.”
“Fast enough,” Hatcher said, “that I have no idea.”
It happened in the first inning, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 lead over the Oakland Athletics and helping to set the stage for Kirk Gibson’s homer eight innings later that gave the Dodgers a 5-4 victory.
Hatcher found a rising 0-and-1 fastball from Dave Stewart and shot it toward the left-center-field gap. It was his first World Series at-bat. He had hit 1 home run this season, 36 in his 10-year career.
Hatcher is only the fourth player in National League history to homer in his first World Series at-bat.
“Last thing in the world I expected was a homer,” Hatcher said. “I expected to stop at first. Maybe third. So I ran.”
Did he ever. He sprinted to first while the ball found an air current and picked up steam. He sprinted around first while the ball clanged into the seats.
He saw the umpires wave their hands; he stuck both of his hands high and pumped the night air.
And then he really ran.
Fast enough that, as he was rounding third, he was struck with a sickening thought.
“I knew Steve Sax was on first base when I hit the thing, and then suddenly I don’t see him,” Hatcher said. “I thought, oh my gosh, did I pass him up?”
Fast enough that third base coach Amalfitano ducked.
“I put my hand out to shake his hand like always, but then I saw he was coming with fire,” Amalfitano said. “I figured, I’m not getting hazard pay here. I’m not getting my hand broken for nobody. So I pulled back and let him go on by.”
A couple of years ago, Sax broke Amalfitano’s thumb with a hand slap after a game-winning home run.
“I wasn’t going to let that happen again,” Amalfitano said. “I just hoped he would hit me anyway.”
Finally, it was fast enough that Sax never knew what almost hit him. No sooner did he touch home plate than he felt Hatcher’s breath on his neck.
“Talk about surprise,” Sax said. “I turn around and there he was, right behind him. I thought, where did he come from? I thought he would still be somewhere around third base.”
The surprise, which began with Hatcher’s key hits in the last week of the season, continues. After his homer, he came out for a fist-pumping curtain call, and when he took his spot in left field in the second inning--where he had started in place of the injured Gibson--he waved his hat at another standing ovation. But Hatcher was not fooled.
“I know my place,” he said. “I was worried that when people saw my number out there instead of Gibson, they would be throwing things. I got lucky.”
There comes a point where Hatcher’s histronics become real inspiration. That point may have been reached last night.
“You got to understand,” Hines said, “that Mickey wasn’t just running like that because it was a home run. That could have been a base hit. That could have been him scoring after a groundout. With him it’s always the same. Hyper.”
And the home run?
“Well,” admitted Hines, “it was early, and the weather was still warm, and the ball was carrying. He hit about 3 homers in batting practice, and it was close to that time. He just got one up.”
Hatcher could not promise another homer in this series, another homer for the rest of his life.
But he did promise this: “I do not practice the home run trot. I do not have a home run trot. I don’t have any experience at it.”