I have a rule. If a friend ever offers you an extra ticket to a baseball game, take it.
The wisdom of this rule was proved again last month when my roommate offered me an extra ticket for a Saturday afternoon game in Yankee Stadium. I went, and Jim Abbott tossed a no-hitter. Go figure.
But the Rule of the Extra Ticket's biggest payoff came five years ago.
A teammate of mine from our high school baseball team offered to take me along to Game One of the 1988 World Series: Dodger Stadium, the Oakland A's versus the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Post-season baseball in L.A. is special. Those are the only games of the year when most of the crowd arrives early and stays to the end. But 1988 was even more special. The Dodgers had been decimated by injuries. Purely on the strength of a little clutch hitting and the incredible shutout-inning string of Orel Hershiser, the Dodgers had won the National League West, outlasted the Mets in a seven-game League Championship Series and reached the Fall Classic.
Anyone who knew baseball, however, knew the Dodgers had no chance. The A's had "The Bash Brothers"--hulking sluggers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. The Dodgers had Franklin Stubbs (currently playing in Pawtucket) at first base and Mickey Hatcher, a mediocre hitter who made a career as utility player, batting third.
Hatcher hit a two-run homer in the first inning, and the place went crazy. The Hatchet Man, never one to contain his enthusiasm, ran so fast around the bases that he almost caught the runner ahead of him.
But for the rest of the game, it looked like the A's would dominate. Dave Stewart pitched well for Oakland, and in the second inning, Canseco lined a grand slam home run that left a dent in NBC's centerfield camera.
Dennis Eckersley, the greatest reliever of all time, came in to pitch the ninth inning, his team up 4-3. He retired the first two batters, and got to a count of one ball and two strikes on Mike Davis, who hadn't hit well all season. From our seats in Dodger Stadium's upper deck, we could see the entire stadium parking lot. It was already emptying out fast as fans tried to beat traffic and make it home. This game was over.
Then something incredible happened. Eckersley, who has the control of a pitching machine, walked Davis. And Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda sent Kirk Gibson to the plate to pinch-hit.
Gibson was hurt. He could hardly walk, and this would be his only atbat during the entire series. He made a couple of terrible looking swings at pitches and then Eckersley threw a few balls.
Suddenly, the count was three and two.
Sometimes in baseball, as in life, you just know that something special is about to happen. This was one of those times. Gibson limped to the plate, but he was determined. He had picked the Dodgers up all year. I think everyone in that stadium felt what I felt. Maybe it was the alignment of the planets, maybe it was the smog layer. But we all knew we were about to see something special.
Eckersley made the big mistake: He threw Gibson a hanging slider. Gibson hit the ball. Canseco, playing rightfield, didn't even bother to turn around. The ball was in the rightfield pavilion.