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Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Updated: October 16, 8:28 AM ET
TWENTY YEARS LATER:
GIBSON AND ECKERSLEY



The moment.

Everyone knows the moment. Kirk Gibson, hobbled, takes it out in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series versus one of the best closers ever, Dennis Eckersley. Jack Buck starts screaming: "I don't believe what I just saw!" None of us did. Twenty years later, to the day, both parties reflect. For a bonus Eckersley story on former teammate Rickey Henderson, please click here.

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: Looking back, we didn't spend a lot of time on Kirk in the pre-game meetings. I mean, no one expected him to play in that game. The one thing I remember is one of the coaches says to me, "Listen, if he does get up, do not throw him anything soft. He'll hit it." I remember thinking, "Yea, but he's not playing."

Now it's like "OOOOOOK…nothing soft."

KIRK GIBSON: I was hurt bad. My legs were pretty much frozen. I can't even really explain how it felt and I didn't think I could do it. But after Mike Davis gets up and gets on, I was looking at the other bench guys we had as options and I went up to Tommy Lasorda and told him I could hit.

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: Mike Davis was a .200 hitter. I have no idea why I walked him. I gave him way too much credit. I glanced over at the on-deck circle, but I'm not really paying attention because I'm pissed I walked Davis. Then the crowd starts to rise and I look back over, and there's Gibson.

KIRK GIBSON: I told myself the crowd was going to help me.

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: My first thought when I see Gibson coming to the plate is: "How long is this going to take?" I'm antsy. I was estimating this at-bat could take a half-hour at worst. I wanted to get it over with.

KIRK GIBSON: To the crowd at that point, I don't even think they're thinking, "Oh, Gibson's injured." I think they're thinking, "He gives us an opportunity to win."

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: I started off with a fastball.

KIRK GIBSON: It was an outside fastball. I threw an ugly swing at it. Ugly result, too.

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: So, I come back with another fastball. It was 0-2 in a heartbeat.

KIRK GIBSON: Around then, I hit this little nubber down the line and I'm running down to first. I can barely run. It was awful.

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: I remember he hit a foul roller to the first base side. Mark McGwire picked it up and Gibson's over there, we're all standing there. At the time, I'm thinking, "If this is fair, this entire thing is over with."

KIRK GIBSON: I fought back in the at-bat, fouled off a couple of pitches, took a few balls.

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: I think Mike Davis stole second on the 2-2 pitch, and Davis was a big part of that at-bat. I had been concerned he was going to steal the entire time.

KIRK GIBSON: It goes 3-2, and there's a report from Mel Didier, one of our scouts. Didier's been associated with baseball for about 50 years. He says to me, "Partner, as sure as I'm standing here breathing, Eckersley throws a backdoor slider on 3-2." Now, there are people who claim Eckersley almost never went to a 3-2 count. He might have gone to one three or four times that season, but Mel had the book on it.

I stepped out of the batter's box and I said to myself, looking at Eckersley, "As sure as I'm standing here breathing, you're gonna throw a backdoor slider." Then I stepped back in.

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: I was tired of throwing fastballs, so I thought to myself, if I give him something off-speed, maybe he'll pull it off. It was really stupid, because something off-speed is probably the only thing he can get to at this point.
The moments after Gibson crossed home plate.

KIRK GIBSON: I had what I called my "emergency stroke." I spread out and tried to shorten my stroke. With two strikes on me, Game 1 of a World Series, I'm completely in emergency stroke mode. I took this ugly swing at it, and it went out.

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: How he flipped that ball out—400 feet!—is incredible. I mean, check his bat! I'm kidding, but in today's game, some manager might call for a bat check on that.

KIRK GIBSON: It was a memorable run around the bases. I was ecstatic. I'd endured a lot in baseball, and it made it all worth it.

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: Back in the clubhouse, no one said sh*t to me. No one would look at me, let alone talk to me. Everyone gave me my space, they're trying to process it themselves. I just wanted eye contact, for chrissakes. But I guess in those situations, no one knows what to say.

KIRK GIBSON: Honestly, it was a good pitch.

THE POST-SCRIPT

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: I grew up in the Bay Area, so I'm just so glad—"WHEW!"—that the next year, we had a good enough team to get back to the World Series and win it. I went to games at Candlestick as a kid, so for me to win the World Series at Candlestick, it was just incredible. I'm also glad I was able to have enough success in my career and be surrounded with enough good players that people don't just remember me for that home run.

KIRK GIBSON, NOW THE HITTING COACH OF THE DIAMONDBACKS: The Diamondbacks right now have some of the elements of the 1984 Tigers team I played with as champs. As you go along in baseball, you get better at dealing with adversity. We had a disastrous couple of weeks at the end of last season. We'll refine things a bit and be more consistent.