World Series clubs have candidates to join likes of Gibson, Carter, Beckett in history
Will there be a Kirk Gibson in the house, destined for a place in history, when the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals get together at Fenway Park in Wednesday night's Game 1 to launch the World Series (airing at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX, with first pitch scheduled for 8:07)?
How about a Joe Carter? A Josh Beckett? Opportunity of an immortal brand is about to come knocking.
Twenty-five years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Gibson wobbled to home plate on ravaged wheels and hit the Shot Seen 'Round The Baseball Planet. Gibby launched a backdoor slider by brilliant A's closer Dennis Eckersley into the seats at Dodger Stadium, creating one of the most astonishing scenes in Fall Classic history.
Twenty years ago, it was Carter driving a Mitch Williams delivery into the SkyDome crowd to lift Toronto over Philadelphia in Game 6 of a wild World Series, giving the Blue Jays their second consecutive championship. O, Canada!
A decade ago, the Florida Marlins pulled off their franchise's second World Series championship when they leveled the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium behind young Josh Beckett. The Texan pitched masterfully in a decisive Game 6 on three days' rest.
Anniversaries may come and go, but these names -- Gibson, Carter, Beckett -- are part of baseball lore for as long as they keep score.
There is no logical way to anticipate if a player from the Boston or St. Louis rosters will author a performance under the bright lights comparable to the feats of these October legends.
What we can do is reach into the imagination to identify names that plausibly might emerge, factoring in the profiles of Gibson, Carter and Beckett.
Let's take a flier on David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Clay Buchholz from Boston; Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Michael Wacha from St. Louis.
Gibson parallels can be drawn with Gomes for his breakneck style and with Craig for a physical impairment that kept him out of the Cards' National League Division and Championship Series triumphs against Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, respectively.
There's also some Gibby in the great Beltran, who endured nagging knee issues en route to yet another memorable postseason, and in "Big Papi" Ortiz, who has had more knockout blows in October than any active player.
Craig appears ready to resume his role as the clutch bat in the heart of the lineup, while Gomes is ready for anything, anytime.
Gibson was the emotional center of a 1988 Dodgers team that was viewed as among the least talented to challenge for a championship. It clearly was no match on paper for the formidable New York Mets or overpowering "Bash Brothers" of Oakland on the big stage.
There were media types, including this one, who forecasted a Mets sweep in the NLCS, only to watch, wide-eyed, as the Dodgers prevailed in seven stunning games.
Motivated by inimitable manager Tommy Lasorda, they did it behind a bionic Orel Hershiser and an opportunistic offense led by unyielding Gibson and Mike Scioscia. The catcher's stunning, ninth-inning homer off Dwight Gooden in Game 4 at Shea Stadium was just as vital as the one Gibson would deliver six days later.
He figured prominently in the upset of the Mets, but Gibson aggravated a hamstring injury and was not expected to be a presence against the heavily favored A's.
Lo and behold, here he came, limping to the plate in the bottom of the ninth of Game 1, A's leading, 4-3, runner aboard, two outs. Staying alive against Eckersley's heater, Gibson worked the count full and lifted his epic blast into the right-field seats. The "impossible" conquest, as Vin Scully called it, served as the springboard to a five-game knockout of the Bash Brothers.
Gibson, in reflection, says he was inspired by the words of Scully, who has been doing that to a faithful audience for 55 years in Southern California.
Scully, over the airwaves, held out little or no hope that Gibson would be available off the bench. When the stubbornly combative athlete heard that in the clubhouse, he pulled on his uniform, took some swings behind the dugout and came out to a roar of the crowd that became the most resounding, perhaps, in the history of the stately old ballpark.
"I'm out there throwing a bunch of fastballs, and then finally changing my mind and throwing him a backdoor slider," Eckersley said. "There are regrets there, my biggest regret. Because the last thing on my mind was a home run. Truly. And it's pretty easy. Shouldn't have thrown him that pitch. But the more amazing part was how far he hit it. Flat-footed. Strong guy, you know? And ultimately that was supposed to happen. It was in the stars."
Living in the moment, one that lives on with footage highlighting Eckersley's nightmare, Gibson pumped his right fist after rounding second base.
"I never thought about pumping my fist," he said. "I don't know why I did it. It was just an act of emotion."
Five years later, another veteran slugger came through to lift his team -- and nation. The difference with Carter's blow against "Wild Thing" Williams was that it closed the show against a driven Phillies outfit loaded with character and characters.
All across Canada, Carter said, "people still talk about that home run as if it just happened yesterday and it's at the forefront of their minds. I'm very elated that they still remember that, and it's indeed a special honor for me.
"I go to Canada all the time and there are a lot of people named Carter, a lot of people around 20 years old named Carter. They were born around that time, and it's a great moment not only for me but for Canada and for all of baseball. It was a rare feat."
Pittsburgh's Bill Mazeroski, in 1960 against the overpowering New York Yankees, is the only other player to hit a World Series-ending home run.
Ortiz, Napoli, Holliday and Beltran fit the Carter profile of professional hitmen driving in runs for years in pressure circumstances.
Ortiz's 2004 postseason heroics are the stuff of New England legend, while a case can be made there has been no more productive postseason hitter than Beltran. The elegant outfielder finally graces a World Series in his 16th season.
The bearded one, Napoli is a big man who lives for big moments. He was the presumptive World Series Most Valuable Player in 2011 for Texas before the Cards rallied improbably for a classic Game 6 triumph that made possible a Game 7 clincher in St. Louis. Holliday, like Ortiz, Beltran and Napoli, has a history of rising to the challenge.
Carter had come to Toronto after the 1990 season with future Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar in a deal that sent Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to San Diego.
As fortune would have it, Fernandez returned to the Blue Jays in a deal with the Mets, who'd acquired him from San Diego. A skilled shortstop, Fernandez was a major player, partnering with Alomar in the heart of a great infield, in the 1993 team's ride to the title.
Alomar hit .480 and Fernandez .333 in the World Series, but Carter remains forever in the hearts and minds of Jays fans for his three-run blast that lifted Toronto to an 8-6 victory and a second championship. Toronto had captured a memorable Game 5, 15-14, in Philly with Fernandez accounting for five RBIs.
"I dreamt about this in the backyard as a kid," Carter said.
A classic ending like Carter's clearly is within reach of sluggers such as Ortiz, Napoli, Gomes, Holliday, Beltran and Craig. St. Louis' David Freese and Boston's Shane Victorino also have shown a distinct flair for postseason drama.
Beckett was 23, one year older than Wacha, when he mesmerized the Yankees in the 2003 Fall Classic. In a postseason brimming with dominant pitching, nobody has been as brilliant as Wacha, the kid with the golden arm and advanced composure and command. Coming off his Game 6 NLCS masterwork against the great Clayton Kershaw, Wacha's confidence level is higher than the Green Monster. Staff ace Adam Wainwright is a proven October operator, and Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly have dynamic repertoires.
The Red Sox have no starters who fall into the youthful category, but Buchholz, 28, and Jon Lester, 29, have the right stuff to carve out Beckett-like niches. John Lackey and Jake Peavy have the savvy and toughness to make some magic.
To Jack McKeon, the Marlins' 72-year-old manager, going with the young Texan, Beckett, on short rest was no gamble. Game 6 was time to seize the moment -- and the 2003 World Series
"If you've got a chance to win it, you've got to go with your best," McKeon said. "Because if you are not going to go with your best, you're not going to win it."
Beckett went the distance for a five-hitter while striking out nine, outdueling Andy Pettitte, 2-0, to dispatch the dynastic Yankees of Joe Torre.
"Nobody thought we could do it," Beckett said as he was presented the World Series MVP trophy. "All I know is we're going to get World Series rings on Opening Day next season."
A crowd of 55,773 was muted in the aftermath of the final World Series game at the shrine, old Yankee Stadium.
"When I asked Beckett if he could do it, he said, 'You bet,' " McKeon said. "Somebody who wants it, that's what I look for."
In the Fall Classic, attitude and opportunity can mean everything when they intersect.