Tommy Lasorda, the Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Fame manager, came into the Dodgers clubhouse late Sunday on his motorized cart, his eyes glistening, looking for the man of the hour.
Twenty-nine years ago to the day, Lasorda was in uniform, jumping up and down, wildly waving his arms, the moment Kirk Gibson hit that legendary walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
And on this night, with 90-year-old Lasorda sitting in the third row by the Dodgers’ dugout, history repeated itself, with the third-oldest stadium in the major leagues shaking so hard at 7:50 p.m. local time, you’d have thought it was an earthquake.
This time, it was 32-year-old Justin Turner doing his Gibby impersonation, hitting John Lackey’s 92-mph fastball deep into the Los Angeles night, giving the Dodgers a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs, and a stranglehold on the National League Championship Series with a 2-0 lead.
“It reminded me a lot of that night,’’ Lasorda said. “Same result, but with his, it was different. Gibson’s home run helped us win the World Series.
“This home run got us into the World Series.’’
Well, to be technical, the Dodgers still have to win two more games, but this victory, leaving a sellout crowd of 54,479 caring less about the traffic and sticking around for the finish, may have been their biggest since that Oct. 15, 1988 night.
“It was the coolest moment I’ve ever seen in my career,’’ said Dodgers leadoff hitter Chris Taylor, who set up the heroics by drawing a walk. “I can’t imagine how he feels.’’
Turner didn’t try to imitate Gibson’s classic exaggerated pump while rounding the bases, and instead threw both arms into the air, spreading them wide, as if he wanted to hug all of Los Angeles.
When Turner rounded third, and headed home as the crowd screamed louder than anything he’s ever heard, he pulled the helmet off his head, unleashing his long flowing red hair, ferociously spiked the helmet, and was mobbed at home plate.
“I can’t even put into words right now,’’ said Turner, who remembers watching Gibson’s home run on his grandma’s TV in Long Beach. “It’s incredible.
“The most important thing, obviously, was helping us get another win. But hopefully, many, many years from now, I’ll get to tell stories about it.’’
Well, how about forever?
Who knew in the Dodgers clubhouse, on the whiteboard before they walk to the dugout, there would be a written message that would become prophetic nearly 10 hours later:
“All Mothers give birth to children, not ours though. Ours give birth to [expletive] legends! Win the game.’’
Indeed, it was the day a legend was born.
It will also be remembered as the day that will end the Cubs’ reign as World Series champions, with fans fit to bicker all winter on why veteran John Lackey was even in the game to pitch to Turner.
Lackey, who had just pitched 1 2/3 innings Saturday in Game 1, in his first postseason relief appearance in four years, now was being asked to pitch back-to-back games for the first time in his career.
Lackey had been warming up in the bullpen along with closer Wade Davis, but when the Cubs didn’t score in the top of the ninth (extending to 30 their hitless at-bats against the Dodger bullpen), Lackey was the one Cubs manager Joe Maddon chose to enter the game.
Even the Dodgers, they would say later in their clubhouse, were stunned that Davis didn’t come into the game.
Maddon, grilled in his postgame press conference, said that Davis, who threw 44 pitches for his career-long seven-out save in Game 5 of the NL Division Series on Thursday night, was available for only one inning.
Simply, he was going to save those bullets for a save situation.
Really, the moment Turner stepped to the plate, the Dodgers had an idea how this one would end. Sure, no one was calling a home run, considering Turner had never had a walk-off homer in his career, but this is their best clutch hitter.
This is a guy who has a career .377 postseason batting average, with four homers and 21 RBI, and the second greatest on-base percentage in at least 75 plate appearances behind only Lou Gehrig.
“I’m not saying he’s David Ortiz,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Robert said, “but I played with David, and you’re talking about big spots, and coming up big. J.T.’s that guy for us.
“He just has that pulse where he can just kind of keep his calm, stay within the strike zone, and just not afraid to fail.’’
And just like that, 29 years to the day, Turner went where no other Dodger, with the exception of Gibson, has ever gone in the month of October.
“It’s unbelievable,’’ Roberts said. “Twenty-nine years.
“It was pretty special. Our guys feel it. We feel it.’’
Sure, it’s not over, but it may be nothing more than dotting the I’s and crossing those T’s on their World Series itinerary.
There have been only three teams in League Championship Series who won the first two games of the LCS and lost, and only one team, the 2004 New York Yankees have blown a 2-0 lead since 1985.
The Dodgers have everything going their way. They have won five consecutive postseason games for the first time in franchise history, their bullpen has yet to give up a hit, and the Cubs are hitting.162 in seven postseason games.
Tired of hearing about ’88, the Dodgers now are ready to create their own memories, with an indelible image left for everyone this night.
“We badly want to bring a championship back to L.A.,’’ Turner says. “It’s been such a long time. It’s time. It really is.’’
This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook.