Somewhere, earlier today, I saw a question about the greatest moments in sports that people had seen.
I missed BYU’s 1980 “Miracle Bowl” because I was in Cairo at the time. (It did, however, make the newspapers there.)
But I remember the end of the first game of the 1988 baseball World Series really, really well.
We were visiting my parents in southern California. We’d been living in Egypt for several years, and then were busy with graduate school, and had, by now, been in Utah for nearly thirty-six months. I had grown up a fanatical Dodger fan (I was in the stands for Sandy Koufax’s first no-hitter, which would surely qualify as another of my great sports moments), but, by this point, had lost the habit of paying much attention. I was only occasionally looking in on the progress of this particular game.
The Dodgers were playing the Oakland Athletics for the major league championship. They were trailing 4-3 as they entered the bottom of the ninth inning.
I came back into the room where my father was watching the game. I stood there, to see the last few minutes with him.
(How my Dad loved the Dodgers! When I think of them, I think of him. He was often given excellent tickets by materials suppliers, so I was commonly along the first base or third base line. Later, as he spent his last seven years blind from a stroke, he couldn’t do much. But he never missed a Dodger game on the radio. When I first entered the house after he died, I saw a Dodger game schedule affixed to the refrigerator door, so that his caregivers wouldn’t miss setting him up to listen. I had been reasonably stoic until then, but, seeing that schedule, knowing how much it had meant to my Dad, I lost it. I couldn’t look at it. My wife had to take it down, and to put the chair in which he had always sat, now empty, outside.)
We watched together, and it wasn’t encouraging. Oakland’s ace relief pitcher, Dennis Eckersley, who would eventually be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, was newly on the mound, fresh. There was a quick pop fly. An easy catch. And the second batter struck out.
Then Eckersley walked Mike Davis. So the tying run was on base. But there were already two outs.
Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers’ manager, decided to send Kirk Gibson in as a pinch hitter. Gibson, who is now the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, had been named the National League MVP (“Most Valuable Player”) that year. But, on this evening, he was both sick with a stomach virus and injured, and he hadn’t been playing in the game. He hadn’t even come out on the field pre-game to be introduced. Now, though, Gibson came hobbling out, limping with a pulled left hamstring and a swollen right knee.
I stood motionless, waiting for the thing to end.
Eckersley immediately went up 0-2 on Gibson.
It looked to be about over, but Gibson then took two pitches. 2-2. Then, prolonging the agony, he fouled a pitch.
The count was 3-2.
Davis stole second base.
Six pitches. Gibson was still managing to survive. But, surely, the Athletics were about to finish it.
I turned to my father and commented that, in the movies, the aging and injured slugger would now hit a game-winning home run and limp around the bases as the crowd went wild. (I think I had Robert Redford’s 1984 movie The Natural in mind.)
Immediately, Gibson put Eckersley’s seventh pitch over the right-field fence.
He ran, slowly and painfully, around the bases. Understandably, the crowd, who had already been on their feet from sheer tension, went wild. The Dodgers had won, 5-4, and they would go on to take the World Series four games to one.
It was definitely one of the greatest moments I’ve ever seen in sports.
Here’s the home run itself, if you want to watch it:
The entire bottom of the ninth, which really sets the stage for the crucial moment, can be seen here, with the great Vin Scully — my father’s nightly companion during seven darkened baseball seasons — offering the commentary as it happened:
This fuller version is really much, much better, in my judgment, with something of a “Casey at the Bat” quality as Kirk Gibson comes to the plate at 5:10. If you have the time and the interest, watch the whole thing.
I still tear up, remembering it. For the Dodger victory? A bit, perhaps. But not really. For my Dad.