LOS ANGELES — Justin Turner authored one of the greatest moments in Los Angeles Dodgers franchise history in Game 2 of the NLCS Sunday night at Dodger Stadium, on the anniversary of yet another iconic moment.
When Kirk Gibson hit his walk-off home run for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Turner was nearly 4 years old, a southern California kid who remembers watching on TV.
“One of my earliest baseball memories was being at my grandma’s house and watching that game and watching Gibby hit that homer,” Turner said.
Gibson’s home run was hit on Oct. 15, 1988 and was the only walk-off home run in Dodgers postseason history. Until Sunday night that is, when Turner hit the second, against Cubs relief pitcher John Lackey.
“Nobody is a really great matchup against Turner, so it just did not work out,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
“I can’t even put into words right now. It’s incredible,” Turner said. “That’s something down the road, hopefully many, many years from now I’ll get to tell stories about.”
That the Dodgers even have Turner is a story in itself. He was non-tendered after the 2013 season by the New York Mets, who didn’t want to go through salary arbitration with the soon-to-be-29-year-old. The Dodgers signed Turner to a minor league contract with a non-roster invitation to spring training, and he made the club as a utility infielder.
That turned out to be one of the best $1 million investments the club ever made.
Turner, who grew up in southern California and played his college ball at nearby Cal State Fullerton, was back home. He also completely overhauled his swing and started concentrating more on fly balls, and the power and production soon followed.
First a utility man who could play all four infield positions, Turner wrestled away the starting third base job by mid-2015, his second year with the Dodgers, then hit a career-best 27 home runs in 2016.
Last winter he was a free agent for the first time and returned to the Dodgers on a four-year, $64 million deal. He responded with the best year of his career, hitting .322/.415/.530 with 21 home runs and 32 doubles.
He is simply a different hitter than he was with the Baltimore Orioles and Mets in the first five years of his career:
A tale of three cities
In the postseason, Turner has been even better. In his 23 career playoff games — all with the Dodgers in the last four years — Turner is hitting .377/.478/.636 with four home runs, six doubles, and 22 RBI.
“I’m not saying he’s David Ortiz, but I played with David, and you’re talking about big spots and coming up big. And J.T.’s that guy for us,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He just has that pulse where he can just kind of keep his calm and stay within the strike zone. Also just not afraid to fail and just wants to be in that spot.”
The Dodgers haven’t won, or been to, a World Series since that Gibson home run. Turner already authored a moment 29 years in the making and put them one step closer to another.
“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,” Turner said.