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Dodger Notebook : Gibson Comes Out Running in His 1989 Debut

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

For the first time since his World Series home run, Kirk Gibson tested his aching right knee in a game Sunday afternoon.

And, not surprisingly, Gibson treated the test like a qualifying lap in the Daytona 500. In other words, he didn’t touch the brakes once.

In the fourth inning, for instance, Gibson went from first to home on a double by Eddie Murray, sliding into the plate to score the Dodgers’ second run in a 4-1 win over the Houston Astros.

Even if Joe Amalfitano, the Dodgers’ third base coach, had been waving a yellow caution flag as Gibson made the turn at the bag, it wouldn’t have mattered.

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“I made Joe’s decision for him, he couldn’t have stopped me,” said Gibson, in high spirits after his first five innings of activity since his pinch-hit appearance in Game 1 of the World Series last October 15.

“That’s my game and that’s our game. If Eddie drives the ball like that, I want him to have an RBI.”

And while Gibson--who has been diagnosed as having tendinitis in the knee after bruising it sliding into the second base in the National League playoffs--may not be as highly tuned as he’d prefer, he reiterated his intention to be in the starting lineup when the Dodgers open the regular season April 3 in Cincinnati.

"(The pain) is there, it’s not going away, it’s not as sharp as it was,” Gibson told reporters. “But when I’m standing at the plate I’m not thinking about the pain in my knee.”

Gibson, who flied out to deep left-center in his first at-bat, walked and scored in the fourth, and singled in a run and stole second in the fifth before calling it a day. All of his at-bats came against Houston starter and loser Rick Rhoden, the ex-Dodger.

“I wasn’t worried, he told me not to worry,” Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said afterward. “I thought he looked good.”

Gibson had said last week that he didn’t expect to test the knee until the middle of this week, but changed his mind after working out Saturday.

“Yesterday, it’s like it clicked,” he said. “I felt I could stand in there at least and create some good habits. I just have to see some live pitching and do things properly.

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“I’m cautiously optimistic. I want to keep things going in the right direction.”

If some eyebrows were raised by the degree of abandon with which he played, they shouldn’t have been, Gibson said.

“That isn’t the first time I’ve run the bases hard (this spring),” said the National League’s most valuable player in 1988. “I’ve been running them for five days. It’s not like I played today just to test it. What I did today was just instinct.

“If I’m mechanically sound, I’m going to run hard.”

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Now that he has tasted some action, Gibson is clamoring for more.

“I guess I was getting anxious,” he said. “I feel good about playing, everything went just right.

“I’d like to play again tomorrow, maybe stay back the next day, do some running, take batting practice, throw some. I’m in decent shape, but that’s no substitute for playing.”

Dodger Notes

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There was some encouragement on the Fernando Valenzuela front, too. The left-hander won earned his first win of the spring with five innings in which he gave up the Astros’ only run and six hits. While he admitted not having a good fastball, Valenzuela’s control was much sharper. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out two. He said he expects to be able to make his first turn in the rotation when the season begins.


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