LOS ANGELES -- Even before Kirk Gibson's home run for the ages in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, there were signs during much of that summer that something special was under way that season, signs that included Orel Hershiser's scoreless-innings streak and several unusual August walkoff wins.
"We had something really magical going here in '88," Gibson said.
That special season culminated 25 years ago on Oct. 20, 1988 in Game 5 of the World Series, with Hershiser going the distance in a 5-2 victory over the heavily favored Oakland Athletics to give the Dodgers a 4-1 series win.
Many believed that same sense was there with this year's Dodgers, who saw their season end with a thud Friday night in St. Louis. At various points in the 2013 season -- the week of Yasiel Puig's debut, the 42-8 midseason streak, Juan Uribe's NLDS heroics -- it seemed that might truly be the case.
Before the season ended former manager Tommy Lasorda noted with confidence that the 2013 team was a "far better club than we had when we won the World Series."
But it proved untrue, in the long term, meaning it will be at least another year before a Dodgers team will get a chance to match that feat from '88.
Waking up in the middle of the night before Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Gibson realized injuries to both legs would keep him from starting the game. So he started visualizing what he planned to do if given a chance to pinch-hit late in a game against vaunted A's closer Dennis Eckersley.
"For me, it was like Chekhov," Gibson recalled recently, referring to the Russian author who said if there's a rifle hanging on the wall in the first chapter, then it absolutely has to go off in the second or third chapter.
"You try to predetermine or create a moment in your head," Gibson said. "You're gonna walk up there, the crowd, Eckersley, the batter's box, how they're gonna be defending you, what you're gonna see, rounding the bases. ... You create these moments in your head.
"It's much the same as when you're a little kid and you played Mickey Mantle or whoever and hit a game-winning home run."
For the last 25 years, little kids in Southern California have been playing Kirk Gibson.
Six days before Gibson's legendary homer, Mike Scioscia rounded the bases after his tying longball in Game 4 of the NLCS against the New York Mets. Scioscia recalls how "weird" it felt to hear his cleats dot the infield dirt on his trot in front of a silenced Shea Stadium crowd.
Now the longtime Angels manager, Scioscia was the catcher and rock for that under-talented, overachieving Dodgers team. He remembers what Bob Costas said about the Dodgers in the World Series -- that they were possibly the worst team, on paper, ever to play in the Fall Classic.
And because Lasorda stressed it oh-so-many times, Scioscia remembers what A's designated hitter Don Baylor said leading up to the World Series -- that he and his teammates preferred to play the better National League team, the New York Mets.
"As far as we were concerned, the Mets were the best team in baseball," Scioscia said.
But no matter. The upstart Dodgers upset them in seven drama-filled games and moved on to the World Series, where homer-hitting Oakland was heavily favored.
The story of the home run has been told thousands of times: Gibson's last-minute hacks off an underground tee held up by batboy Mitch Poole; the omniscient scouting tip from Mel Didier about Eckersley's tendency to throw 3-2 backdoor sliders to left-handed hitters; the mid-flight brake lights so very visible on Stadium Way.
And, yet, Lasorda still somehow revels in his frequent retellings.
"I'll never forget it, as long as I live," he said in his Dodger Stadium office last week. "There have been a lot of home runs of great importance, but none with the drama that this one had."
Lasorda loves the small details: the thumbs-down he kept getting when he checked on Gibson's availability every inning or so, the thumbs-up he finally got in the middle of the ninth and his decision to send light-hitting reserve infielder Dave Anderson to the on-deck circle in Gibson's eventual spot.
He believes that contributed heavily to Eckersley's walking of Mike Davis in front of Gibson, making the winning homer possible.
"That's when I fooled them all," Lasorda says. "I sent the decoy! And they went for it."
Eckersley won the World Series the next season and went on to become a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he's still often remembered as the victim of Gibson's heroics.
He doesn't mind all that much.
"Believe me, I gave up a lot of home runs. That one was just the most costly," Eckersley said on TBS on the anniversary night of that homer. "But I played a long, long time. I was fortunate to play and get to the Hall of Fame.
"I'll take the Hall of Fame anytime. He can have that home run."
Some form of the home run -- a closeup of Gibson's fist-pump, Vin Scully's "impossible" call -- plays often at Dodger Stadium.
"You could say too much," says a grinning Rick Honeycutt, the Dodgers pitching coach who was then an Oakland reliever. "It's one of those moments that'll never stop being played."
To many, it's also a moment that'll never stop being inspirational.
"It's evident to anybody who believes you can't do something, it gives you a reason to believe you could," Gibson said. "That's really what I went on, and some way, somehow, that ball went out of the ballpark and we won the World Series."
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