A photo in the morning paper will show fuzzy-bearded, redheaded Justin Turner launching a ball into the night air and over the center-field wall. An unforgettable image of an instant October classic will show the Dodgers third baseman pulling the helmet off his head and spiking it to the grass before his teammates mobbed him at home plate.
One day you will tell your grandchildren a story about Turner blasting a three-run, wall-off homer to lift the Dodgers to a 4-1 Game 2 victory over the Cubs in the National League Championship Series. Twenty-nine years ago, on this date, Kirk Gibson hit the most celebrated World Series home run ever in Dodgers history. Growing up in Southern California, one of Turner’s earliest memories was watching Gibson hit that walk-off homer from the floor at his grandmother’s house as a 3-year-old.
This turned out to be, for a lifelong Dodgers fan, a wonderfully lasting moment of his own. This surely turned out to be, for the Southern California native, a Gibson moment that took our breath away. On Sunday night, in front of a packed house at Dodger Stadium, Turner did the best imitation of Gibson’s breathtaking game-winner and the roaring crowd went into a frenzy. The moment encapsulated everything about a team that made a habit of staging comebacks and rallying late for walk-off victories. Sure, we appreciate what Turner has done over the course of these playoffs, knocking in runs and winning it Gibson style.
For those curious to know what happened to the Wyndham Wyzard, he had long been rewarding hotel goers until he decided to quit his day job as a pitchman to reward Dodgers fans with a two-out, three-run, game-winning, bottom-of-the-ninth bomb. This guy’s bat imbued the Dodgers with prodigious power wholly unimaginable and, after tonight, he is the most famous wizard in the wizardry world of baseball. Turner authored one of those unequivocal postseason moments, and he’s joined Gibson as the only Dodgers with postseason walk-off homers.
This is one of those memories that will remain etched in your heart forever. Turner’s postseason moment was an amazing juxtaposition of Gibson’s heroism that sparked feelings of nostalgia. Now the Dodgers are up 2-0 in the NLCS with the series heading to a renowned Wrigley Field. They’re only two wins away from their first World Series appearance that has eluded them for 29 years and just six from capturing their first title in four decades. So a year ago after coming off a fourth consecutive division title, a trip to the National League Championship Series, the Dodgers, as usual, choked and incredibly unraveled after taken a commanding lead.
But, any true Dodgers fan knows that this team is better than what it was a year ago. Any team would be lucky to have Turner in its batting order. They’ve never seen a clutch hitter quite as sharp as Turner, since a hobbled Gibson smashed a pinch-hit ninth-inning home run off A’s closer Dennis Eckersley, circled the bases and crossed home plate victorious in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. And Turner, for all his brilliance, has become an ideally identifiable icon for the city.
For his astonishing effort, he’s hearing cheers and screams and he’s even receiving rock star treatment from fans at Dodger Stadium. If the season ended today, Turner would be named the MVP, but once a journeyman now an All-Star in Hollywood, he’s reaching new heights. If the Dodgers do get to the World Series, you may want to be kind enough to thank him. At the height of his popularity, he’s enjoying his coming-out party at age 32.
This star-studded Dodgers team is notably different from last year’s squad. They’re piling on runs, with a hungrier and more equipped group. The strength of the starting pitching, anchored by the amazing Clayton Kershaw and a stellar bullpen wielded the kind of dominance we’ve anticipated from a team with 104 victories, the most by any major-league team in 13 years. Right now, they are taking the smoothest route to the World Series. There’s a inner core of hunger and ferocity that makes them hard to beat. The most-telling thing about the Dodgers is that they’ve suddenly adopted the classic model of the ‘88 club with the way these guys have driven in runs and stifled opposing batters in the late innings with the magnificent arms of setup man Brandon Morrow and closer Kenley Jansen.
What it all comes down to, really, is great pitching which wins championships. That’s been a recipe for success, along with Yasiel Puig’s bat-flipping RBIs and Turner’s walk-off rocket that lit up the Los Angeles’ sky, brighter than the downtown skyline. Baseball is a funny game. The game, however, has been kind to the Dodgers, especially Puig and Turner, two stars craving out their postseason legacies. The stakes are simply higher and, through two games, a tried, true and tested Dodgers team has survived. That’s what great teams do.
Playing against the toughest competition under the most pressure, as much is expected from them, they’ve somehow reversed a trend of failure in October, courtesy of Turner’s walk to victory. As you might have imagined, with the Cubs down 1-0 in the series to begin the night, Chicago’s Jon Lester quiet the bats until he was pulled from the game in favor of an exhausted bullpen. The Dodgers were only 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and had left eight men on base. This postseason, they are grinding out at-bats to wear down the arms of Cubs’ relievers and eventually Chicago manager Joe Maddon had to give the ball to John Lackey. Not the same pitcher he once was, Lackey is hittable, a veteran Maddon turned to instead of using Davis in the event the game stretched to extra innings. With Puig on second, Lackey walked Chris Taylor and then fed Turner a 92-mph fastball.
In the ninth, Turner produced the most clutch hit of his glittering career. And now let’s just say the Dodgers are favored to move onto the World Series. This one hit, this walk-off homer, this one swing might have changed the outcome of the series.
Surely, it was a night that we won’t forget, as we will constantly be reminded about an impeccable moment as remarkable as Gibson’s.