“Who scores from third on a pop up to the second baseman, anyway? In the World Series, no less!”


Maybe when Rusty Kuntz tells the story nowadays, to those who don’t know any better, the sacrifice fly has become a long drive to the warning track. And Kirk Gibson trotted home from third base, effortlessly.

I wouldn’t blame Rusty if that’s how it’s being put forth. Nothing wrong with a good fish story now and again.

But I was there, and there are tons of folks still around who remember it from watching it on TV, and we know that Kuntz’s sac fly that drove Gibson home with the go ahead run in the clinching Game 5 of the 1984 World Series was hardly a boomer.

I wonder if Rusty ever took Gibby out to dinner, or something, for making him moderately famous because of that play.

The scene: fifth inning, Game 5. The Tigers are trying to clinch the Series at home, but the San Diego Padres have come back from an early 3-0 deficit and the game is tied, 3-3. The bases are jammed with one out. Gibson is the runner on third base. Lefty Craig Lefferts has been brought in, so Sparky Anderson pinch-hits Kuntz for Johnny Grubb.

Kuntz, not a power hitter, swings mightily but manages only a soft, harmless pop up between the infield and the outfield, behind second base.

I’m in the CF bleachers, and I can see that Gibby is entertaining thoughts of trying to score, even though the ball is about to be caught by an infielder. But it’s really not a bad decision, because 2B Alan Wiggins’s back is partially facing the infield when he makes the catch.

Gibson takes off, building up his trademark head of steam. The crowd roars, which tips Wiggins off. But by the time he reacts and throws the ball homeward, Gibson is sliding in, safely.

It wasn’t even really close.

Tigers lead, 4-3. A lead they would build on and never relinquish. And a sacrifice fly for Kuntz, who hit the ball maybe 200 feet.

But like I said, maybe that 200 feet is now 360, up to the track in left center at Tiger Stadium.

Or maybe Rusty has played it true, and told the story as it actually happened. Which, frankly, is a better story anyway. Who scores from third on a pop up to the second baseman, anyway? In the World Series, no less!

Kirk Gibson, that’s who. He’s one of the few who had the daring and the sense of drama to try such a cockamamie thing. But he did it, and gave Kuntz the game-winning RBI in the process. The GWRBI in the game that made the Tigers champions of ’84.

Leave it to Gibson, though, to trump himself — twice. First he hits the legendary homer off Goose Gossage later in that game, to REALLY seal the deal, then he bests Dennis Eckersley four years later, as a Dodger, with that even MORE legendary homer.

But Gibby kicked things off, as a Fall Classic hero, with his feat of daring on Rusty Kuntz’s pop up. Rusty owes him one, if he hasn’t paid up by now.

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