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A Home Run of Great Significance- Part I

This week, Wednesday specifically, marks the 20th anniversary of the home run that made the term "walk-off" a part of popular baseball culture- Kirk Gibson's dramatic game-ending home run in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Dennis Eckersley introduced the phrase when commenting about allowing the home run, after the game.

Because that walk-off is of great significance to the baseball world, because I thought it was a cool moment, and because there are many ways in which I can connect that home run to the Mets, I thought I would pay it proper tribute here. So that will be the topic of discussion in a few essays this week.

It is worth noting that Kirk Gibson hit two home runs in the ninth inning of games during the 1988 season. If a lesson had been learned from that first one, the second might not have occurred.

I'm referring to the game between the Mets and Dodgers of May 31, 1988, one of the better victories of the season, but one that came at a significant foreshadowed cost.

The pitching matchup that day was a fascinating one, and you'd figure it was between two Hall of Famers since it pitted 23-year-old Dwight Gooden against 43-year-old Don Sutton.

The Dodgers scored a run in the first on an RBI groundout by Pedro Guerrero, and there wouldn't be much else on the offensive end until the fifth, when the Mets tallied twice against Sutton, courtesy of a two-run single by Wally Backman.

The Dodgers bullpen shut the Mets down for the next four innings, and Gooden was in pretty good shape heading into the ninth with a 2-1 lead, though his pitch tally was at 112.

Pitch number 113 would prove to be unlucky, as it was one that Gibson, leading off the inning, cranked over the centerfield fence for a game-tying home run.

They hit Gooden in the 9th and they hit Gooden in the 10th inning that day too, notching three straight hits against him, the last being a Steve Sax RBI single. The Dodgers had a lead, one they extended to two runs, but more importantly, they knew they could touch Gooden late in a game.

The Mets rallied to tie in the home 10th, as Jay Howell couldn't finish them off for the save. Wally Backman cut the lead to one with an RBI hit and Keith Hernandez evened the score, 4-4, with one of his own.

Randy Myers set the side down in the 11th, the last batter being catcher Mike Scioscia, who flew out to left field on a 2-0 pitch to end the inning. Scioscia never had much success against Myers (1-for-9 in regular season play) so this was not unusual.

The Mets won the game in the home half on a home run by Kevin Elster, who told the media afterwards that "for once I was trying to crank it up and get one out of here."

It was a case of the Mets winning the battle, but losing the war. Unnoticed was that Gooden was not the same pitcher in the ninth inning of games in 1988, as he'd been in years past. His opponents batting average that season in the ninth inning was .302.

Gibson's second ninth-inning home run of 1988 might never have happened had Davey Johnson realized this and yanked Gooden with the Mets up two runs in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS several months later. Granted, this is an extraordinarily easy second-guess, 20 years later, but when I saw Dwight Gooden at Shea on the final day of the season, it was one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind.

Had the Mets won Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS, they would have had a 3-1 series lead, and could have sealed the series the next afternoon. Instead, Scioscia homered off Gooden in the ninth (on pitch #127, with Randy Myers watching from the bullpen), Gibson homered off Roger McDowell in the 12th, and the Dodgers had stolen a victory that would prove integral to their championship run, and Gibson's moment in walk-off history.

True Metsons know...Kirk Gibson had 69 career regular-season at-bats against the Mets. That home run off Gooden was his only RBI against them.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Davey Johnson fails to make The Move that was already fairly standard practice, inserting the closer to start the ninth, and paid for it. Tony La Russa made the move in Game One of the WS and paid for it.

It was the Dodgers' year. At least it makes me feel better to frame it that way.

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