The sequence of pitches was designed to take advantage of Kirk Gibson’s fragile foundation, Dennis Eckersley would say later.
They were fastballs away, in the hope that Gibson, with a hamstring strain in his left leg and a sprained ligament in his right knee, would be unable to plant and turn--and in the hope that he would take an awkward swing and hit a fly ball to the opposite field.
So much for good intentions.
Catcher Ron Hassey ultimately called for a slider, a breaking pitch, and Eckersley threw it.
Gibson planted, turned and drove it into the right-field pavilion at Dodger Stadium, lifting the Dodgers to a 5-4 victory over the Oakland Athletics with one of the most dramatic home runs in World Series history.
The two-out, two-run shot by the limping Gibson in the ninth inning of Game One Saturday night left the A’s relief ace questioning his own intelligence.
“All I know is that he didn’t look good on any of his swings, and that’s why we threw him so many fastballs away, and that’s why it was stupid to throw him a breaking ball,” Eckersley said.
“If I throw him another fastball away and he hits it out to left center, I can almost live with that, but I can’t throw him a pitch he can pull. I mean, I threw him the only pitch he could hit out. I threw him a bad pitch, but you’ve also got to give him credit.
“He’s been the Dodgers this year.”
And Eckersley has been the A’s in much the same way that Jose Canseco has. Eckersley led the major leagues with 45 saves and allowed only 5 home runs in the 72 innings of 60 appearances.
He then saved each of the A’s four victories in their playoff sweep of the Boston Red Sox, permitting only 1 hit in 6 shutout innings while striking out 5.
It seemed to be more of the same when he came in to replace Dave Stewart at the start of the ninth with the A’s leading, 4-3. Eckersley first got Mike Scioscia on an infield pop-up, then struck out Jeff Hamilton.
Only Mike Davis, batting for Alfredo Griffin, stood between Eckersley and the victory. But Davis, who hit .196 while appearing irregularly during the regular season, took the count to 3 and 1, then walked.
Or as Eckersley said later:
“That was terrible. A two-out walk to any hitter is inexcusable, and I don’t do it very often. I don’t walk very many hitters at all. I tried to go right at him, but everything sailed outside. Ball, ball, ball.
“He was stepping in and out of the box a lot, and maybe that disrupted my rhythm. They say walks kill you, and this one did. It was a mistake, but the pitch to Gibson was a bigger one.”
Gibson batted for Alejandro Pena. Eckersley said that he was not surprised, that in the ninth inning of a one-run game he expected the Dodgers to pull out all weapons.
Eckersley responded with three straight fastballs, all of which Gibson fouled off. Then a fastball wide for a ball, another fastball fouled back, another wide for a ball, then a break in the pattern.
He threw a 2-and-2 breaking ball that was wide of the plate as Davis stole second. Hassey didn’t throw and said later he thought Gibson interfered with his attempt, which would have resulted in Gibson being called out, though none of the A’s, including the catcher, raised a prolonged argument about it.
The count was now full, and Hassey called for the fatal slider.
“We had been throwing him all those fastballs, and I felt we could freeze him with the breaking ball,” Hassey said. “I thought it was a good pitch. I thought a good hitter simply hit a good pitch.”
Hassey also said he didn’t consider Gibson’s physical condition, “because you still have to go at ‘em.”
Eckersley disagreed with his catcher on the question of the approach to Gibson’s physical state but said he didn’t consider shaking off Hassey on the slider.
“I was trying to make a nasty pitch with it but got too much of the plate,” he said. “It was a terrible pitch, and I’ve got to live with it.”
Did he know it was gone right away?
“Oh yeah,” Eckersley said.
What was his immediate reaction?
“I didn’t have one, because I don’t expect that to happen,” he said.
“It hurts right now, but it’s not like they won the World Series. It’s only one game. We have a chance to come back, and I have a chance to come back.
“Let’s get on with Game 2. I want to put this behind me.”
Eckersley stood at his locker, patiently responding to wave after wave of reporters asking the same questions.
His manager, Tony La Russa, stood at the door of his office and said: “We’ve had our hearts broken before and come back. In fact, I hope it comes down to a one-run lead in the ninth inning tomorrow night, because Eckersley will be back out there. I hope with all my heart for that.”