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Gibson’s Double Shots Electrify Anaheim Fans : Tigers: Center fielder relives glory days with grand slam in ninth and three-run homer in fifth.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kirk Gibson swung so hard on the first pitch he saw from Mike Butcher, it looked as if he would twist out of his shoes. He missed.

Quickly, Gibson turned to home plate umpire Joe Brinkman and asked if the pitch was high. It was.

This was the top of the ninth inning Saturday night at Anaheim Stadium, and the outcome was still very much in doubt. Detroit led the Angels, 7-5.

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The bases were loaded with one out, and most of the crowd of 25,713 was sticking around to see how this battle would turn out.

Butcher’s next pitch sailed in for a ball, and the crowd settled in for what promised to be something dramatic.

It was.

Butcher delivered. Gibson waited patiently, swung easily and sent the ball racing toward the right-field bleachers.

Taken on its own, Gibson’s third career grand slam would have made it a memorable night. After all, he had broken the game open and sent the Tigers to an 11-5 victory.

But coming as it did, after a three-run blast into the right-field bullpen off Craig Lefferts in the fifth, might make Gibson a candidate for player of the week honors.

Two homers and seven runs batted in--that’s a pretty good week even for the best power hitters. Gibson rolled it into one night’s work.

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Certainly, the Anaheim Stadium fans thought so. Southland fans simply can’t forget Gibson’s dramatic, game-winning homer off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

Seconds after he touched home plate Saturday, the stands emptied. The fans had seen what they came to see.

Gibson had buried the Angels and made a shambles of their bullpen.

“When he sets his mind on something, look out,” Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson said. “He’s hitting incredibly.”

Said Gibson: “There’s no explanation for it.”

Actually, there was a story behind the grand slam.

“I wanted to stay back and see the ball,” Gibson said. “The (second) ball he threw me inside and I had been lunging for it. I over-swung on that first pitch. I wanted to relax and stay back.

“I stepped out and said, ‘Come on.’ I wanted to get the runs in bad. Things were getting too energetic up there. I told myself to relax.”

It seemed to work. Gibson waited for Butcher’s curveball, then crushed it for his 13th homer and 44th RBI this season. He had 13 homers and 62 RBIs in 116 games last season.

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Asked if Gibson seems to be reversing the aging process, Anderson nodded.

“He does look better to me than even last year,” Anderson said. “He works hard and keeps himself in great shape.”

Nothing seemed to hold Gibson back on Saturday. He ran down everything hit his way in center field, and he didn’t have to go full blast around the bases after slamming his homers.

“He’s been a marvel to me from the very first day I met him,” Anderson said. “He has only one thing in mind: Win.”

Gibson tersely dismissed questions about personal achievement, saying the only thing that concerns him is winning. He said he was unaware that seven RBIs represented a career high or that six was his previous best.

“I feel good that I came through for my team,” he said.

Reminded that the Tigers wouldn’t have won without his contributions, Gibson wouldn’t have any of it.

Truth is, the Tigers climbed on board and Gibson took them for a ride Saturday.

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