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Gibson's blast off Goose a classic

Gibson's blast off Goose a Motown classic

As Major League baseball crowned a new home run king, MLB.com is examining the most memorable long ball in each team's history.

Even casual baseball fans have likely seen Kirk Gibson's most memorable home run. Even for non-baseball fans, it's hard not to have witnessed his legendary pinch-hit home run for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

The image of "Gibby" limping around the bases, with Jack Buck's now famous "I don't believe what I just saw!" call playing in the background has transcended sports and become one of the signature home runs in at least the last 20 years of baseball.

But up until that point, fans in Detroit already had a signature homer by which to remember Gibson.

His three-run home run in the eighth inning of the series-clinching Game 5 of the 1984 World Series over the Padres is arguably the most memorable home run in the 107-year history of the Tigers. It was his second homer of the game and gave the Tigers an 8-4 lead and the eventual win for their first World Series title since 1968.

While the homer to ensure the Tigers' first World Series title in 16 years was dramatic enough on its own, there was a juicy back story so that Gibson's homer could remain in the memories of Detroit fans.

Padres closer Goose Gossage had dominated Gibson during his career and pleaded with manager Dick Williams to pitch to Gibson, even with first base unoccupied. Gibson had been 1-for-10 in his career against Gossage, including a popout in the previous game.

Williams simply held up four fingers from the dugout, but Gossage convinced Williams to come out to the mound for a visit.

The conversation between Williams and Gossage was audible on an audio replay, and Williams asked Gossage, "You mean you're talking about striking him out?"

"Yeah," was the only reply from Gossage, a five-time All-Star who had 25 saves and 10 wins during the '84 regular season.

Williams allowed the righty Gossage to pitch to the left-handed Gibson, even though right-hander Lance Parrish was on deck.

"We all knew that Gibson had a hole, up and in, and that's where Gossage wanted to give it to him," said Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline, who also was a television broadcaster for the Tigers in '84.

Tigers manager Sparky Anderson challenged Gibson from the dugout and said, "He don't want to walk you!" Anderson motioned with his hands to swing away.

It was almost like a scene straight out of the 1989 film "Major League," where Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn told fictitious Indians manager Lou Brown he wanted to pitch to opposing slugger Clue Haywood for a crucial out in the ninth inning. Vaughn struck Haywood out on three consecutive "heaters."

It was almost like that, except the exact opposite happened. Gibson hammered a fastball deep into the upper deck in right field of Tiger Stadium that got 51,901 fans out of their seats, because they knew the game was all but over with the three insurance runs.

"Gibson just blasted it to right field," Kaline said. "I'm sure if Dick Williams had it to do over, he'd tell Goose Gossage to walk him."

Gibson would never get another hit off Gossage, and ended his career with a 1-for-15 mark with eight strikeouts in all of his other at-bats against him in the regular season and postseason.

It was one of those stories that almost seem staged for a Detroit team that was in desperate need of a pick-me-up. The Tigers hadn't even played a playoff game since 1972, and fans throughout the state gravitated to the Tigers, particularity Gibson.

Gibson, a native of nearby Waterford, Mich., played football and baseball at Michigan State University before he was selected in the first round of the 1978 First-Year Player Draft by the Tigers. He was the perfect poster child for a blue-collar town with his gruff style and demeanor.

If the video of Gibson rounding the bases as a Dodger is the lasting image most fans remember, the photo of him on the front page of the Detroit Free Press the day after he hit his homer in '84 is a close second, especially in Detroit.

The still photo of Gibson leaping into the air with his arms extended upward in celebration after he crossed home plate has adorned the cover of at least three different books. It is seemingly the perfect image of Gibson with his full head of hair disheveled to go along with the rip in the right knee of his dirt-stained pants.

Gibson never hit a high amount of home runs in his career, as he battled injuries and finished his career with 255 homers in 1,635 games. That's not quite as impressive a number as Barry Bonds, but Gibson proved that you don't have to be a home run hitter to be remembered for a single home run. Or, in Gibson's case, two home runs.

The case can be made that Magglio Ordonez's walk-off home run against the A's in the 2006 American League Championship Series can be labeled 1A as the most memorable homer in Tigers history.

"It's tough to differentiate between the two," Kaline said, although he said he thought the Ordonez homer had a slight edge. "Maybe it was the spur of the moment feeling. For whatever reason, Magglio's home run just got to me. Just an amazing home run."

Ordonez's three-run homer in Game 4 of the ALCS gave the Tigers their first World Series berth since the '84 season.

Other memorable homers in Tigers history:

• Hank Greenberg's grand slam in 1945 on the final day of the season that clinched a postseason berth just months after he returned from a tour of duty in World War II.

• Larry Herndon's home run in 1987 for the only run of a 1-0 win over the Blue Jays on the final day of the season to clinch the AL East.

• Tom Matchick's game-winning, two-run home run in the ninth inning of a 5-4 win over the Orioles on July 19, 1968. It was one of just four career homers for Matchick, who batted .215 in six seasons.

Tim Kirby is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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