The Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series, with no need for ninth-inning homer heroics. But 25 years ago, Game 1 of the A’s-Dodgers World Series ended with a home run that many consider the most dramatic in baseball history…
Since Kirk Gibson’s home run is the signature pinch-hit in baseball lore, it is a classic case study for examining the significance of the cross of Christ, the peerless Pinch-Hitter.
Following continues (and concludes) a blow-by-blow account of Gibson’s Game 1 experience:
As the injured Gibson limped to the batter’s box to pinch-hit in the ninth inning, he says, “My knees were still cold [from the ice pack] … I had programmed myself to say, ‘50,000 people are gonna go nuts and you won’t hurt.’ And it doesn’t matter if you hurt because the game’s on. [A’s reliever Dennis] Eckersley wasn’t gonna send me any get-well card.”
In the NBC broadcast booth, Vin Scully said, “And with two out, you talk about a roll of the dice, this is it — so the Dodgers trying to catch lightning right now.”
Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda made a figurative gamble by sending an aching, injury-plagued Gibson to the plate. When Jesus was crucified, soldiers literally gambled for His clothing: “When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots.” (Matthew 27:35/NIV)
And while there is no record of lightning upon Jesus’ death, there is the record of an earthquake: “At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. … When the centurion and those who were with him saw the earthquake…” (Matthew 27:51,54/NIV
The Baseball Almanac website says this about Lasorda’s pinch-hitting choice: “Lasorda sent in a crippled Kirk Gibson to bat. … At first, the decision appeared completely irrational.”
In a song called “Winter Babies” that reflects on Jesus’ birth, songwriter Michael Kelly Blanchard says this: “You’d have to be a savior or just crazy to have His kind of kingdom come.”
As for God’s logic regarding His brutal yet ultimately beautiful redemptive choice: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9/NIV)
Plus: “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25/NIV)
So with a runner at first and the Dodgers down 4-3 — and down to their last out in this first game of the 1988 World Series — the lefty-hitting Gibson steps in against Eckersley, the right-hander with the nasty sidearm delivery.
Gibson fouls off the first two pitches on weak swings. On the next pitch he takes another ugly cut and bounces a slow roller up the first-base side — just foul. After Eckersley misses outside with a slider, Gibson fouls back the next delivery. A fastball sails wide and runs the count to 2-and-2. On the next pitch, Eckersley misses outside again with his slider as the baserunner, Mike Davis, steals second.
Lasorda says he knew L.A. could steal against Eckersley because of his big leg kick. So why didn’t the skipper send Davis right away? Because, Lasorda explains, he thought the A’s would walk Gibson intentionally with first base open: “So I waited till he had two strikes. [I figured] I’m gonna give him two strikes to let him hit the ball out of the ballpark, and if he doesn’t I’m gonna steal the base.”
“Mike’s stolen base was huge,” Gibson would say later, “because all I had to think about was shortening my swing and trying to get a hit to score him.”
In the other dugout, A’s manager Tony La Russa was thinking along the same lines. He notes that when Gibson began his career, his approach to hitting was less refined, but “by 1988 he was a really tough two-strike hitter.” With Davis at second and the count at 3-and-2, La Russa says, “I’m thinking ground ball in the hole, line-drive blooper — I had no thought of a home run.”
The scouting report on Eckersley, prepared by Dodgers scout Mel Didier before the Series, read like this: On a 3-and-2 count, look for the backdoor slider.
We’ll let Gibson take it from here: “Before the 3-2 pitch, I stepped out of the box. Well, I looked at Dennis and [thought], ‘Partner, sure as I’m standing here breathing, you’re gonna throw me that 3-and-2 backdoor slider, aren’t you?’ And I stepped in, took an ugly swing and it went out.”
On CBS Radio, legendary broadcaster Jack Buck made this famous call: “Gibson swings, and a fly ball to deep right field — this is gonna be a home run! Unbelievable! A home run for Gibson, and the Dodgers have won the game, 5 to 4. I don’t believe what I just saw — I don’t BELIEVE what I just saw!”
As Gibson limped around the bases, Vin Scully told the TV audience, “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
“I don’t believe what I just saw” … “the impossible has happened.” Sound familiar? To address Mr. Buck’s call: When Jesus appeared to His disciples post-resurrection, He said, “Why do doubts rise in your minds. Look at My hands and My feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see …” And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement… (Luke 24:38-39,41/NIV) And to address Mr. Scully’s statement: “For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37/NIV)
Gibson’s triumphant trot around the bases was part-Hollywood, part-storybook and all-encompassing in its snatch-victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat finality. He hobbled all the way home, raising his arms near first base and pumping his fist twice as he approached second base with a right-handed jab that knocked the A’s out cold.
“To this day,” Gibson says, “I can remember seeing the brake lights in the Dodger parking lot come on as the ball went out, as they all said, ‘Oh my God, I should have never left.’”
Lasorda called it the most dramatic home run he had ever seen. Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax echoed his manager: “The most dramatic ever — the guy was hobbling around all day … and he hits it out with basically one hand.”
ESPN.com reader Sam Partridge e-mailed this comment that was published on ESPN.com’s Page 2:
“In terms of a moment, it has to be Kirk Gibson’s home run, simply because it couldn’t happen.
The Dodgers couldn’t beat the A’s.
No one could hit Eckersley.
Gibson couldn’t swing.
Heck, Gibson could barely walk.
… The ninth inning of Game 1 was the classic moment when the impossible became possible and baseball took on a storybook feel that none of us who saw it will ever forget.”
Gibson’s heroics represented the first time in World Series history that a team which trailed in the ninth inning won with a walk-off home run.
Naturally, Jesus’ heroics also represented a first in human history: the first time God became man and triumphed over death after trailing in the tomb for two days.
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of Jesus’ pinch-hitting heroics is that He didn’t do the actual hitting — Roman soldiers did that for Him, in effect, as they hit nail-spikes with some type of mallet or hammer, driving them through His hands and feet and into a wooden cross.
Roman soldiers. A Roman cross in Rome-occupied Palestine. A soothsayer warning a Roman emperor (see Part 1). Given the Roman themes, it’s fitting to close the book (for now) on Kirk Gibson’s ides-of-October homer with some Roman numeral serendipity, in the form of a trivia question: What year in the 20th century contains the most Roman numerals?
The answer: MCMLXXXVIII. Yes, you guessed it — 1988, the very year Gibson recorded his historic World Series at-bat.
The apostle Paul penned the following words in the same Roman Empire: “You were dead … but God let Christ make you alive, when he forgave all our sins. God wiped out the charges that were against us … He took them away and nailed them to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14/CEV)
Information and quotes from various media outlets were used in this three-part article.
© Bruce Deckert 2013