Series highlight: Kirk Gibson's Unlikely Game-winning Home Run in Game 1
The 1988 World Series pitted the Major League’s best team, the Oakland Athletics, intent on returning to glory days of the early-1970s when they won three straight titles (1972-1974), against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who with the help of two stars, Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson, were seeking their second MLB title of the 1980s having won in 1981. The A’s not only combined solid pitching with power hitting, but also paired experience with youth as the lineup featured 24-year old Mark McGwire and 23-year old Jose Canseco, the "Bash Brothers." McGwire crushed 32 home runs in his second season in the pros while Canseco became the first player to hit 40 home runs, 42 to be exact, and steal 40 bases while also hitting .307. He was the unanimous choice for American League MVP. Dave Stewart, who finished second in the American League in wins (21-12, 3.23 ERA, 192 Ks) led the pitching staff that also included 17-game winner Bob Welch and 16-game winner Storm Davis as well as AL save leader Dennis Eckersley (45), a converted starter. The A’s were among the tops in many of the offensive categories including home runs (156) and RBI (752), but also led in team ERA (3.44) and posted a .983 fielding percentage. Oakland took the American League West division by 13 games over the world champion Minnesota Twins and then swept the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. Los Angeles instead road the exploits of their two stars with Gibson having a career year (.290 BA, 25HR, 76 RBI, 31 stolen bases) and poised to become the National League’s Most Valuable Player while Hershiser astounded on the mound going 23-8 including five straight shutouts at the end of the season, setting a Major League record with 59 consecutive scoreless innings. He, too, collected a little hardware at the end of the season as the National League’s Cy Young Award winner. The pitching staff also included Tim Leary (17-11) and Tim Belcher (12-6) with Jay Howell (21), Alejandro Pena (12) and Jesse Orosco (9) closing. Los Angeles beat the Cincinnati Reds by seven games to win the National League West before they narrowly took out the favored New York Mets 4-3 in the NLCS.
This battle of California heavily favored the Oakland Athletics, but the Dodgers were determined to give them a run. Prior to the start of Game 1, longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully announced that Kirk would not be available to manager Tommy Lasorda due to a pulled left hamstring, swollen right knee and a bout with the stomach flu. The Dodgers began the scoring in the bottom of the first when left fielder Mickey Hatcher smoked a two-run homer to deep left. However, the heavy hitting A’s responded as Bash Brother Jose Canseco pounded a grand slam over the centerfield wall to take a 4-2 lead. The Dodgers fought back in the sixth with an RBI single from catcher Mike Scioscia. With both teams held scoreless heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, the Athletics put the best closer in Dennis Eckersley on the mound to close out the game as Oakland held onto a narrow 4-3 lead. While all of the drama was unfolding on the field, Gibson was in the training room getting treatment and then stepped into the batting cage to take a few hacks, just in case. Eckersley got ahead of the Dodgers hitters forcing Scioscia to fly out to short and then caught Jeff Hamilton looking for out number two, but then walked Mike Davis. After taking a few whacks, Gibson told Lasorda, "Skip, I think I can hit for you." The Los Angeles crowd erupted as Gibson stepped into the on-deck circle. Once in the batters box, Eckersley quickly worked to a 2-0 count, but Gibson fought the count to full. Just before the 3-2 pitch, Gibson stepped out of the box, took a deep breath and assumed the Eckersley would "bring me that 3-2 backdoor slider." Kirk reached out and took that backdoor slider over the right field wall as right fielder Jose Canseco watched. The hobbled Gibson lumbered around the bases, in obvious pain, touching home plate with his entire team surrounding him and the LA fans in an absolute frenzy. "And the Dodgers have won the game five to four… I don’t believe what I just saw!" said it all as announcer Jack Buck and the baseball world were shocked by the unlikelihood and absolute enormity of Kirk Gibson’s ninth-inning Game 1 home run. Sports fans around the world have heard Jack Buck’s famous call and immediately recall this historic shot. It will long be remembered as one of the greatest and most improbable home runs in World Series history.
In Game 2, Hershiser was up to his regular season tricks as he shutouts the A’s for a three-hits complete game 6-0 victory that put the Dodgers up 2-0 in the Series. Right fielder Mike Marshall provided all the offense Orel would need with a three-run blast in the third. Not to be kept down, Oakland put Bob Welch up against John Tudor, allowing only one run over five innings. With the ballgame tied heading into the bottom of the ninth, Mark McGwire proceeded to take Jay Howell’s 2-2 pitch to deep left centerfield for the walk-off home run as the A’s won 2-1 and tied the Series 2-1 as well. That would virtually be the highlight for Oakland in this Series as Tim Belcher outdueled Dave Stewart 4-3 in Game 4 and Orel Hershiser returned to the mound for Game 5 against Storm Davis. As he had done all season, Orel dominated the powerful A’s offense allowing only four hits and two runs while striking out nine batters to win 5-2. The Dodgers clinched their sixth World Series title in franchise history and Hershiser easily won the World Series MVP award after going 2-0 with 17 strikeouts and a 1.00 ERA in 18 innings pitched. The Bash Brothers of McGwire and Canseco were each held to a home run each (Canseco’s was a Game 1 grand slam) and neither batted better than 0.060.