At one end of the Los Angeles Dodger dugout on Saturday night, the players could hear Kirk Gibson. He was at work up the runway, in the batting cage. Crack...clank. Crack...clank. Mitch Poole, the Dodger batboy, would put a baseball on the batting tee, and Gibson would send it clanking off the metal frame of the cage. Out on the field the Dodgers were down to their final three outs in Game 1 of the World Series. The Oakland Athletics held a 4-3 lead, and baseball's best reliever, Dennis Eckersley, was on the mound. Crack...clank. Crack...clank. Gibson paused, took a deep breath, looked up at Poole and said, "This could be our script." Gibson didn't elaborate. He put his head down and resumed swinging. Crack...clank.
When, with two outs, Eckersley went to 3 and 1 on pinch hitter Mike Davis, Dodger Tracy Woodson turned to teammate Mickey Hatcher and said, "If Davis gets on, wait till you see the crowd reaction." A puzzled Hatcher glanced out at the on-deck circle, where Dave Anderson, an unprepossessing utility in-fielder, was getting ready to bat for pitcher Alejandro Pena if Davis managed to keep the inning alive. Like the 55,983 fans in Dodger Stadium, Hatcher hadn't heard the sounds from the batting cage and hadn't noticed that by the time Davis went to bat, Gibson had appeared in a corner of the dugout, bat in hand.
When ball 4 sent Davis to first, Anderson turned back to the dugout, and the crowd erupted with the realization that this was one of those Hollywood moments: Gibson, half-man, half-beast, whose arrival as a free agent in February had so dramatically transformed the Dodgers, now limped toward the plate to face Eckersley.
Gibson wasn't even supposed to be able to limp. He'd re-strained his left hamstring in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, and he hadn't swung at a pitch since compounding his woes by injuring his right knee in the seventh game of that series. He hadn't even been introduced before the game. (Debbie Gibson, who sang the national anthem, was, but Kirk wasn't.) And 20 minutes earlier he hadn't had his uniform top on. He'd been sitting in the trainer's room during the eighth inning when he'd heard Vin Scully tell the TV audience, "The man who is the spearhead of the Dodger offense throughout the year, who saved them in the League Championship Series, will not see any action tonight, for sure. [Gibson] is not even in the dugout."
With that, Gibson had slid off the trainer's table. "——it," he'd shouted, grabbing an ice bag for his injured right knee. "I'll be there."
And so he was, against Eckersley, "just the way it's supposed to be," he said later. "I live for these moments. I'm an impact player, and I love the added pressure of admitting it."
The crowd was on its feet, through three straight foul balls—the third one a dribbler down the first base line—and a backdoor slider that barely missed the outside corner; through Davis's steal of second on a 2-2 pitch; through drama stretched as tight as it could go, to a full count. Eckersley wheeled in with a slider, down but dangerously over the center of the plate. In Hollywood, Roy Hobbs hits the ball out to end The Natural, but on this night it was Gibson.
Welcome to the California World Series.
Gibson sent that slider far into the L.A. night, five rows up the bleachers in rightfield. He knew what he'd done the instant the ball exploded off his bat. He raised his arm and held it aloft until he reached first base coach Manny Mota. Then he limped around the bases as if he were straggling home from the Russian front, dragging his right leg and stepping gingerly on his left. His home run hobble was probably the slowest passage around the bases of all time, and it stood in stark contrast to Hatcher's first-inning scamper around the diamond, then noted as the fastest in World Series history. While Gibson was mobbed at home plate by fellow Dodgers, bullpen coach Mark Cresse sneaked away and put a sign over the slugger's locker that read ROY HOBBS.
It seemed perfectly appropriate that a taped guest appearance by L.A. manager Tom Lasorda would air on The Magical World of Disney the day after the Dodgers' 5-4 Game 1 victory. And the fairy-tale endings didn't stop there, for no sooner would Lasorda's Disney guest spot end on NBC (at least for viewers in the East) than the Dodgers' Orel Hershiser would appear on the same network to give another of his performances right out of the Magic Kingdom. He put underdog L.A. ahead two games to none by shutting out Oakland 6-0, with a brilliant three-hitter.