If there was one pivotal swing, one pivotal at-bat, in the Dodgers’ World Series victory over the Oakland Athletics, it came in the 9th inning of Game 1.
The 2-out, 2-run pinch homer by injured Kirk Gibson, wrenching victory away from the A’s and giving it to the Dodgers, 5-4, may have irreparably damaged the A’s feeling of invincibility and, of course, lifted the Dodgers emotionally.
Oakland relief ace Dennis Eckersley said later that he made a stupid pitch, that he should have stayed with a fastball against Gibson instead of throwing a slider.
A stupid pitch? In more ways than one, apparently.
It turns out that Gibson was looking for the slider in that situation because scouts Mel Didier, Steve Boros and Jerry Stephenson had detected a tendency on Eckersley’s part to throw it to left-handed hitters in critical situations.
Didier, Boros and Stephenson had met with Dodger players the day before to discuss the A’s.
Didier, a Texan, reflected on that meeting Friday and said:
“When we got to Eckersley, and it was my turn to speak, I used my best Southern drawl and said, ‘Pardners, you can bank on this as sure as I’m standing here. If you’re a left-handed hitter and you get in a tough, tough situation with Eckersley, he’s going to throw you that back-door slider.’
“Well, when the count went full on Kirk, the players tell me that everyone on the bench was whispering, ‘Back-door slider,’ and Kirk told me later that he stepped out of the batter’s box and kind of laughed and smiled to himself because he could see me standing there talking about it. He said: ‘Mel, I knew what I was going to get, picked it up as soon as it left his hand and hit it as hard as I could.’ ”
Satisfaction? “Of course,” Didier said. “We work hard on the reports, but it comes down to execution by the players. They’re the ones who have to do it and deserve the credit, and they all certainly earned it.”
With considerable help from their friends.