A View From Studio 3: Behind every hero is a teammate
Like Gibson's iconic homer in '88, Ross' go-ahead double in Game 5 preceded by walk
It was Saturday, Oct. 15, 1988. Los Angeles. The day we witnessed one of the most famous and unlikely home runs in baseball history. In the 25 years since Kirk Gibson rolled off the trainer's table and limped to home plate to pinch-hit, his shot off Dennis Eckersley has been replayed and reanalyzed countless times. Depending on your mood, you can still get chills or have the hair on your arms stand up when you hear Vin Scully or Jack Buck's call of the play that ended Game 1 of that Fall Classic.
A quarter-century later, Gibson and Eckersley still answer questions about that moment. And a quarter-century from now, one can imagine that tandem going on tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary. This generation's version of Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca.
What's lost and rarely discussed in regard to that heroic at-bat is the plate appearance that preceded Gibson's. There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning when Mike Davis was called on to pinch-hit for light-hitting shortstop Alfredo Griffin. Davis' task was to extend the game against, perhaps, the best closer in baseball that season. The Athletics were one out from taking the series opener in enemy territory. An Oakland win seemed like a mere formality. Not only did Eck save 45 games in 1988, he issued only 11 walks in 72 2/3 innings.
Wouldn't you know it? Davis walked. That allowed Gibson to drag his broken body to the plate and provide us with a moment for the ages.
Fast forward to Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. St Louis. A day we witnessed a series-altering win by the Boston Red Sox. Let's be clear, I'm not suggesting that the 3-1 victory by Boston in Game 5 was nearly as dramatic or memorable as the "Gibson game," but there was a plate appearance in the pivotal seventh inning that changed the game and helped lead the Sox to the brink of a World Series championship.
Here are the details. With the series tied, 2-2, and the game tied at 1-1, there was one out in the top of the seventh inning and Xander Bogaerts on first base. Light-hitting shortstop Stephen Drew came to the plate. Drew is mired in such a miserable postseason slump, he's become this week's punching bag on Twitter for thousands of disgruntled Boston fans. But Drew's defense is so good, so important to the Red Sox's success, that manager John Farrell has no choice but to stick with him.
Drew's task was to somehow keep the line moving against Adam Wainwright. The Cardinals' ace, one of the great control pitchers in baseball, had not walked a batter in the entire game. Wainwright's control in 2013 was so good that midway through the season, he was on pace for about as many wins as walks.
Wainwright walked Drew. A Cardinal Sin. (Corny, yet appropriate.) Wainwright's only walk of the game, and one of just three free passes he has issued in 35 postseason innings.
How about this for perspective: Wainwright is only the 17th pitcher in World Series history to strike out at least 10 batters while walking no more than one batter. Of those 17, Wainwright is only one of four to be tagged with the loss. Before Monday night, the last time that happened was in Game 5 of the 1962 Fall Classic, when the Giants' Jack Sanford took the L.
That free pass to Drew may sting for decades. Wainwright lost him after being ahead in the count, 1-2. Wainwright admitted after the game that he would have liked to "attack" Drew a little more, but he just didn't make it happen.
What did happen cost the Cards the game. With Bogaerts in scoring position, David Ross came through with a double that not only gave Boston a 2-1 lead, but also enabled Farrell to allow his starting pitcher and ace, Jon Lester, to stay in the game and hit.
Farrell and the Sox had exactly what they wanted: A lead with Lester coming back to the mound for the bottom of the seventh inning. Final score: Red Sox 3, Cardinals 1.
The heroes? Lester, Ross and Drew. While the headlines scream "RED SOX ONE WIN AWAY," we are reminded, 25 years after Davis-before-Gibson, that behind every postseason hero is a teammate who deserves credit for his role in baseball history.
Chances are that decades from now when the highlights from this World Series are played, Lester and Ross will be featured, but don't forget to give Drew his due.