Make no mistake: Justin Turner’s game-winning home run Sunday night in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Chicago Cubs was an amazing moment if you are a Dodgers fan.
Even more amazing was how Turner’s blast was hit exactly 29 years to the day after Kirk Gibson hit his famous game-winning homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series for the Dodgers against the Oakland Athletics. In fact, it was only 40 minutes from being the exact moment.
Turner even added to how similar the two moments were after the game when he revealed what he was doing on Oct. 15, 1988.
“One of my earliest baseball memories was being at my grandma’s house and watching that game and watching Gibby hit that homer,” said Turner, who was about a month shy of his fourth birthday then. “Yeah, I can’t even put it into words right now. It’s incredible. The most important thing was, obviously, helping us get another win. But that’s something down the road, hopefully many, many years from now I’ll get to tell stories about.”
But as astounding as Turner’s home run was for the Dodgers on Sunday night, it was not as amazing as Gibson’s. Hey, mister. I was in the right-field pavilion at Dodger Stadium for Gibson’s homer. I saw Gibson’s homer. And this, mister, was not as good as Gibson’s homer.
(That was my best Lloyd Bentsen impersonation, by the way. And you, you apparently were doing your best Dan Quayle impersonation.)
Let me point out at least some of the ways that Gibson’s homer was a much better moment than Turner’s homer.
- First of all, Gibson’s homer was in the World Series and Turner’s was in the NLCS. If the Dodgers manage to lose their 2-0 lead to the Cubs, Turner’s homer will scarcely even be remembered.
- Second, and this may be the biggest difference: The Dodgers were an enormous underdog to the Athletics in 1988. In fact, no one even expected the Dodgers to make it out of the NLCS. It was almost as much of a miracle that they beat the New York Mets to get to the World Series. The 2017 Dodgers had the best record in baseball and even though they had trouble in August and September, it’s not a big surprise that they are in the position they’re in.
- Next, Gibson’s home run, even though it was only in Game 1, has long been regarded as the thing that defeated the A’s. Oakland did manage to win Game 3, 2-1, on a walkoff homer of their own by Mark McGwire, but virtually nothing else is remembered. Not Orel Hershiser’s two complete-game victories, giving up two earned runs in 18 innings. Not Mickey Hatcher’s two homers and his .368 batting average. Virtually nothing.
- Turner’s home run came with the score tied 1-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. If Turner doesn’t win the game there, it merely goes into extra innings. Gibson’s homer came with the Dodgers losing 4-3 1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. If he makes an out, the game is over and the A’s win the opener on the Dodgers’ home turf.
- Gibson’s at-bat in 1988 was his only appearance of the World Series. His knees were so torn up, it was amazing he was even able to hobble up the dugout steps and onto the field for Game 1 of the Series. Turner is batting .429 (a team-leading nine hits in 21 at-bats) in the playoffs two home runs and 10 RBIs. Gibson wouldn’t play again in ’88; Turner figures to be a big part of whatever the Dodgers do this postseason.
- The drama on Gibson’s home run was ratcheted up as far as it could go: a 3-2 count with Mike Davis on second base and two outs. Davis stole second during Gibson’s at-bat to get into scoring position. Turner’s came on a 1-0 count with two outs and runners on first and second. Yasiel Puig had led off with a walk and Chris Taylor later got on base with a walk two batters later. If Turner even just hits a single, Puig has a good chance to score and win the game for the Dodgers. If Gibson singles, Davis has a good chance to score and tie the game for the Dodgers. However, if Gibson had hit a ball to right field, he might’ve been thrown out at first because of his bad knees.
- Turner’s homer was caught, rather spectacularly, in fact. Keith Hupp, a 54-year-old retired South Gate policeman, is suddenly a celebrity after nabbing Turner’s shot. However, if anyone was going to catch JT’s ball, Hupp might have had the best statistical chance. Hupp, according to an ESPN.com story, has caught 10 home runs this season alone and 18 over the past two. He caught Cody Bellinger’s 35th and 36th home runs, which gave him the Dodgers’ all-time rookie record. Sunday’s homer wasn’t even the first Turner NLCS shot against the Cubs Hupp had nabbed; he got one last year too. He said he studies the ESPN Home Run Tracker before every game he attends. The fate of Gibson’s home run, meanwhile, remains unknown after 29 years.
So Turner’s home run, while plenty dramatic, was the most dramatic. It may be the straw that breaks the Cubs’ back, like Gibson’s broke the Athletics’ — or it may just be one part of a long story that could still end in victory or in defeat for the Dodgers.