LOS ANGELES — Justin Turner’s earliest memory of baseball came precisely 29 years ago on Sunday night. He was watching from his grandmother’s house in his native Southern California when a hobbled Kirk Gibson sent a baseball soaring into the night.
For Turner, this was long before a career that has been so improbable, long before the impossible happened. He couldn’t have known that after watching Gibson hit the first postseason walk-off homer in the history of the Dodgers, he would hit the second one.
“I can’t even put it into words right now,” Turner said after his three-run shot with two outs in the ninth inning gave the Dodgers a 4-1 victory over the Cubs in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. “It’s incredible.”
Gibson’s homer off Dennis Eckersley nearly three decades ago came in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. It was enough to propel the Dodgers to their most recent championship, a five-game victory over the heavily favored A’s, a team assembled by current Mets general manager Sandy Alderson.
It would be Alderson, of course, who non-tendered Turner from the Mets after the 2013 season. Since then, the redheaded, red-bearded slugger has transformed himself, going from a lightly used utilityman to one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League.
The Dodgers are two victories away from winning their first pennant since Gibson made the ground shake and the tail lights flash in the parking lots beyond the outfield.
“It’s definitely been special,” Turner said. “Obviously, in that moment, in that time, it was a tough situation for me. But I’m happy to be right where I’m at today and be a Dodger and get an opportunity to bring the first championship back here in a long time.”
While Turner’s swing provided the crescendo, the ending seemed inevitable. Once Game 2 took the same rough shape as Game 1, and the winner would be decided by the bullpens, the countdown began. How long would it take for the Dodgers’ superior relief weapons to outlast those of the Cubs?
Just as they had done in Game 1, the Dodgers’ bullpen pitched four shutout innings, continuing what has been an outstanding postseason. But the Cubs’ struggling bullpen answered, keeping the Dodgers scoreless. The teams entered the ninth inning with the score tied at 1-1.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon then paid for committing to convention. Rather than deploy closer Wade Davis in a tie game on the road, he leaned on inferior arms in a critical game. Lefty Brian Duensing remained in the game to begin the ninth and promptly walked Yasiel Puig on four pitches.
Charlie Culberson bunted Puig to second, and after pinch hitter Kyle Farmer struck out, Maddon summoned a fresh arm. It wasn’t Davis, who had closed out the Nationals with a seven-out save. Instead, he chose starter-turned-reliever John Lackey, who walked Chris Taylor.
Up came Turner, with two on and two out, history beckoning him to deliver. He unloaded on the second pitch he saw. The ball took off into the night, sailing into the waiting glove of a fan who would return the artifact to Turner.
Out of the box, Turner jogged, then extended both of his arms. He tapped his chest as he approached a mob of his teammates at home plate. Later, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts joked that all that was missing was Gibson’s famous fist pump around the bases.
Yet it was no less improbable, no less impossible, for a player dumped by three organizations, only to become the heartbeat of his fourth.
“Tonight,” said Turner, who knocked in all four of the Dodgers’ runs, “it was just my turn.”