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A Rise from ‘Utility Infielder’ to ‘Kirk Gibson’

October 15th, 2017 · 1 Comment · Baseball, Dodgers

As recently as the winter of 2013-14, Justin Turner was out of baseball. For the second time.

A seventh-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds in 2006, out of Lakewood Mayfair High School, Turner had not demonstrated he could hit successfully at the major-league level. At best it looked as if he might be a banjo-hitting utility man handy to have around to plug a hole anywhere in the infield — which was pretty much all he did for the New York Mets during the 2013 season.

So they waived him, as the Baltimore Orioles had done earlier in his career. And for two months Turner, 29, did not have a team and faced the real possibility his big-league career was over, without his leaving much of an impression.

Until the Dodgers signed him as a free agent, and called him up to the big club in May.

It has been onward and upward for Turner ever since, to the point that the waived utility infielder of four years ago is now commonly referred to as the “heart and soul” of the Dodgers — a tired expression, usually overstated, but we know what people are getting at.

Rather like Kirk Gibson was described, back in 1988.

You may recall Gibson hit a memorable home run in the postseason that year.

Tonight, Turner hit one that will not be replayed millions of times in years to come, but his homer also won a game, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, at Dodger Stadium, 29 years to the day of Gibson’s big hit, to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead over the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series.

Now, not many people scoff when Turner is compared to Kirk Gibson.

Turner’s home run, on the first pitch he saw, went over the fence in center field, and was struck by a guy with injury-free legs. Gibson’s came on a full count, as he stood, precariously, on two bad legs.

Turner’s homer came against John Lackey, a solid pitcher but no Dennis Eckersley*, the Hall of Famer Gibson took over the right-field fence.

But still! It was the first walkoff postseason home run hit by a Dodger since Gibby’s “I don’t believe what I just saw” shot.

Turner is fun to back because he seems like such a regular guy, and he has allowed himself to be seen in public showing more red hair than Rita Hayworth.

And unlike Gibson, who was more feared than loved, Turner seems to popular among his teammates.

He also is killing the ball in the 2017 playoffs; Turner is 9-for-21 with two homers and 10 runs batted in in five postseason games.

It is now quite possible that the man who wondered for two months, just four years ago, if he would play again, could be the guy who leads the Dodgers to their first World Series — and first World Series championship — since Gibson did, 29 years ago.

If Turner can lead the club to its long-awaited seventh championship, he will be mentioned in the same breath with Kirk Gibson, even if his career took detours through the waiver wire.

*In the original version of this, I had Rollie Fingers as the pitcher Gibson homered again. Of course, it was Eckersley, as the reader below helpfully noted. A change has been made in the item to reflect the correct HOF Athletics reliever.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Chris Shirk // Oct 19, 2017 at 3:25 am

    OK, I know they both had mustaches, both pitched for the A’s, both won the CY Young and MVP in the same year, and both are in the Hall of Fame, but it is Dennis Eckersley who is forever linked with Kirk Gibson and his iconic World Series home run, not the older Rollie Fingers who had already retired.

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