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Gibson's heroics top Dodgers lore

Gibson's World Series heroics top Dodgers lore

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In 1988, the Los Angeles Dodgers shocked the Oakland A's in the first game of the World Series and one man forever sealed his place in baseball lore by hitting what is arguably one of the most memorable home runs in history.

Major League Baseball crowned a new home run king when Barry Bonds hit No. 756 against the Nationals at AT&T Park on Tuesday, and memories of other memorable home runs come to mind. For some teams, choosing the most memorable can be a tough call. But for most Dodgers fans, it's easy: Kirk Gibson, Game 1, 1988 World Series.

"You know when the L.A. Sports Council came up with the 100 greatest moments here in Los Angeles, the No. 1 was Gibson's home run," said former Dodgers manager and special advisor to chairman Tommy Lasorda. "There have been a lot of home runs hit of great significance, but none that had the drama attached to it as that one did."

If there was ever a classic tale of David and Goliath, the 1988 World Series between the underwhelming Dodgers and the colossal Oakland A's was it.

The Dodgers snuck into the World Series behind the arms of a rookie, Tim Belcher (12-6, 2.91), a journeyman, Tim Leary (17-11, 2.91) and "the Bulldog", Orel Hershiser (23-8, 2.36). Behind Hershiser's record 59 consecutive scoreless innings pitched, the Dodgers beat out the Cincinnati Reds for the National League West title, and then defeated the New York Mets, an overwhelming favorite, to reach the World Series.

On the other hand, the A's, led by the "Bash Brothers" -- Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire -- cruised into the playoffs with a convincing 13-game margin over the Minnesota Twins in the American League West. In the American League Championship Series, the A's swept the Boston Red Sox and headed into the World Series as the clear favorites.

The events that unfolded on Oct. 15, 1988, catapulted the Dodgers to their sixth World Series title in franchise history.

After defeating the Mets in grueling seven-game series, the Dodgers went into the World Series without NL MVP Gibson, who had severely injured his leg in the Division Series.

After battling back and forth in Game 1, the A's took a 4-3 lead into the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium. Dennis Eckersley, the premiere closer of his era and a future Hall of Famer, was on the mound for Oakland.

No one expected Gibson to play in that game, but Gibson was in the training room getting treatment on his leg with the hope of making a pinch-hit appearance. Lasorda said he ran into the training room every inning to ask Gibson if he could hit, but each time he received a thumbs down.

According to Dodgers clubhouse manager Mitch Poole, Gibson heard legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully say that he would not play in the game. The comments played a large role in Gibson's decision to bat.

"I don't remember the exact words that Vin Scully said, but it triggered him when he was in the training room. He decided he wanted to hit, and he asked me to get his uniform," Poole said. "Gibby just said he wanted me to set up for the back-door slider so I did on a tee and we started tossing the ball in the cage. He was hurting bad. Every time he'd swing you could here it."

In the meantime, the Dodgers were down to their last out after Eckersley retired the first two batters he faced.

In the clubhouse, Gibson continued to swing. Everyone in the stadium, including Lasorda and A's manager Tony La Russa, were under the assumption that Gibson was unavailable.

"Right in the middle of swinging, he [Gibson] stopped and told me 'You know, Mitch, this could be the script,'" Poole said. "Then he told me to go tell Tommy he could hit, so I start running down the tunnel screaming, and Tommy comes wobbling over, and I told him Gibby could hit."

After pinch-hitter Mike Davis drew a walk Lasorda summoned Gibson out of the clubhouse, and the fans erupted.

Gibson limped to the plate using his bat as a cane. After falling behind in the count, Gibson fouled off two Eckersley pitches, creating a full count.

Then, as Scully put it, "In a season that has been improbable, the impossible has happened," Gibson drilled a back-door slider into the right-field bleachers, giving the Dodgers the dramatic win.

"I was at the bottom of the ramp," Poole said. "It was weird. I haven't told too many people this, but when I was standing down at the bottom, kind of like a chill came over me, and I actually was thinking about a ball going into right field."

Gibson's remarkable home run was more than a game-winning homer; it was what catapulted the Dodgers past the seemingly invincible A's, four games to one.

"The fans couldn't believe it; they stood there even after the game was over. They just stood there," Lasorda said. "It didn't only just win that game but it paralyzed that team for the rest of the series, because their talent was so much better than our talent."

Jayson Addcox is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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