1991 World Series Game 7: Atlanta Braves (3-3) @ Minnesota Twins (3-3)

May 1, 2009

Sunday October 27, 1991

Dennis Brackin previewed the evening’s pitching matchup for Game 7 of the World Series:

Jack Morris is 36 years old, has won 216 regular-season games and generally is considered one of the most intense competitors in baseball.

John Smoltz is 24, has gone a modest 42-42 for his career and has been aided since midseason by a sports psychologist.

Their techniques might differ, but their objectives will be identical tonight. The righthanders, once spring training teammates with the Detroit Tigers, will oppose one another tonight in Game 7.

Both have been superb in the postseason.

Morris is 3-0 with a 3.08 ERA in 26 1/3 innings, winning two games against Toronto in the American League Championship Series and Game 1 of the Series. He was ahead 2-1 in the seventh inning of Game 4 before being removed for a pinch hitter.

Smoltz is 2-0 with a 2.01 ERA in three postseason starts. He pitched a complete game to defeat Pittsburgh 4-0 in Game 7 of the NLCS and had a no-decision in Game 4 of the Series.

When Game 6 was over, Morris fielded some less-than brilliant questions: Have you ever pitched in the seventh game of the World Series before? Morris’ only previous Series appearance was in 1984, when his Detroit Tigers blew away San Diego in five games.

Will your experience help? “I don’t know,” he said. “I just want to pitch.”

Did you ever dream of pitching the last game of the Series? “When I was a kid, my brother (Tom) used to play Wiffle ball. I pretended I was Bob Gibson. He was Mickey Mantle. That’s the only thing I can think of.”

The Twins have been saying all along they just wanted to get to Game 7 and to turn it over to Big Jack, right?

“I’m not God,” he said. “I’ve made mistakes in the past. I’ll make them in the future. I’m going to give it the best shot I have.”

Smoltz followed Morris by saying he had been thinking about pitching in this kind of game for a long time. “This is a situation I’ve played out a lot in my mind when I was younger,” he said.

“I’ll be like a little kid out out there. Naturally, I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to do this and we’d win it. But I look on it as a challenge.”

It is fairly well-established by now that Braves catcher Greg Olson is from Edina. It is not as well-established that Smoltz still has relatives in Chisholm, Minn.

“Yes, I do, mainly from my dad’s side of the family,” he said. “About four or five of them were visiting me today in my hotel room. It should make for an interesting thing for them tomorrow. I know they’ll be caught in the middle, but hopefully, they’ll be rooting for me.”

Smoltz was asked whether he ever thought, growing up that he might be pitching against Jack Morris in Game 7 of the World Series. “I didn’t think there was any way possible, because we were both with the Tigers and I thought I would stay with them. I learned one thing: you have to put personal goals and personal challenges aside in situations like this and just pitch your normal game.”

The pitchers were the focus prior to the game, and they both proved up to the challenge. Smoltz and Morris exchanged zeroes the first seven innings. Smoltz eventually gave way to the Atlanta bullpen, but not so for Morris. From Patrick Reusse’s column:

How was it possible Morris could have a lot left? “Early on, I had a good fastball and a slider,” Morris said. “My forkball came back around the sixth. It was very effective for me in the late innings.”

There was something else that was very effective for Black Jack last night: the fire that burns down below – the fire to win that burns in his belly.

Kelly said: “What more can you want? What more can you ask for? The guy poured his guts out. I told him nine was enough.”

Morris said it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough because the Twins had not yet scored, which means they had not yet won this World Series.

“Jack said he was fine,” Kelly said. “(Pitching coach) Dick Such said he was fine. What the heck? It’s just a game.”

Neither team scored until the bottom of the tenth inning. What the Pucketts, Hrbeks, Justices and Gants failed to do for nine plus innings was finally accomplished by Gene Larkin. Dennis Brackin’s description:

He was largely a forgotten figure in the summer of 1991, best remembered perhaps as the designated hitter before Chili Davis arrived on the scene. On Sunday night, Gene Larkin emerged from the shadows of this season, driving in the only run of Game 7 with a 10th-inning single. Whatever emotional pains Larkin had endured riding the bench during the World Series were erased as he rounded first base, watching Dan Gladden come home with the winning run.

As his one-out, bases-loaded fly ball landed beyond the drawn-in Atlanta outfield, Larkin leaped ecstatically into the air. “I knew as soon as I made contact it was hit far enough to go over (left fielder Brian) Hunter’s head,” Larkin said. “I said, `We’re champions. We’re champions.’ It was an unbelievable feeling.” As the Twins celebrated on the field, doffing their hats to admiring fans and embracing one another, Kathleen Larkin stood amid a group of Twins players’ wives. Tears welled in her eyes as she watched her husband savor his brightest moment as a major leaguer. “It was indescribable,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. I grabbed Micki Gagne and couldn’t let go. I’m just so glad Gene got to play a part. And what a part he played.”

What a part, indeed. Larkin, who had batted only three times in the six previous games, was summoned to pinch hit for Jarvis Brown with the bases loaded in the 10th. Gladden had begun the inning with a double, stretching for an extra base with characteristic hustle. Chuck Knoblauch sacrificed Gladden to third. At that point, Braves manager Bobby Cox ordered reliever Alejandro Pena to issue intentional walks to Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek.

“Herbie turned to me and said, `Just finish it,’ as he walked away,” Larkin said. “I just told myself to relax, and wait for a strike, and that’s what I did. I’ve watched (Pena) the whole Series. The fastball is basically all he throws. He might mix in a breaking ball now and then. I was just looking for a pitch that was up, and in the strike zone.” Larkin didn’t have to wait long for the fastball he was looking for.

He jumped on Pena’s first offering, driving the ball to left-center, easily deep enough to remove the doubt that had lingered over the game for 9 1/2 innings. Larkin was an improbable hero, but that was perhaps fitting for an improbable team that went from last in the American League West in 1990 to the World Series championship.

Howard Sinker summed up the series, and the season nicely:

Maybe you heard the words after the game. It won’t hurt to hear them again.

“It was probably the greatest World Series ever,” said Fay Vincent, the commissioner of baseball. “I was proud to be here.”

What a game! What a Series! What an ending!

It took 10 innings and words won’t describe it as well as rewinding the videotape and watching it over and over and over and over. . . .

Sometimes words can’t compete.

Watch the tape. See Gene Larkin’s fly ball sail deep into left center for a single. See Dan Gladden cross home plate, stomping and being surrounded by a cheering pinstripe mob.

See the Twins win 1-0.

Grab some bench, America. Watch Minnesota party.

“It’s some kind of feeling, isn’t it?” rookie Chuck Knoblauch yelled at the crowd a few minutes after the game, when the Domeboys commandeered the stadium’s public address system.

“This is the craziest place I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Mike Pagliarulo, who used to play for the Yankees. So he knows crazy.

“I love all these guys and I love all of you,” shouted Jack Morris, who pitched all 10 innings, alpha to omega, telling the manager he wasn’t coming out after nine.

“Words can’t describe the respect I have for that man,” said Atlanta outfielder David Justice.

The World Series’ most valuable player award, which was won by Morris, does justice to Justice could not describe.

Many of the 55,118 fans remained in their seats a half-hour after the game, listening to the best team in the world scream back at them.

At home plate, Kirby Puckett looked into the stands, where his brother Spencer was sitting. He launched a joyful fist in Spencer Puckett’s direction that, had it connected, would have knocked out Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and George Foreman. All at once.

Ali and Frazier, too. Remember, this was a classic.

Remember it always. The Braves were good. Darn good.

Too bad there had to be a loser, huh?

Just kidding.

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1991 World Series Game 6: Atlanta Braves (3-2) @ Minnesota Twins (2-3)

April 29, 2009

Saturday October 26, 1991

While most were skeptical of the Twins’ chances to repeat the Dome sweep that occurred in 1987, Sid Hartman could always be counted on to find reasons to root for the home team:

Twins general manager Andy MacPhail says he likes his team’s chances more now than he did in 1987 because the Twins have Scott Erickson pitching tonight; Les Straker was the starter in the sixth game of the 1987 World Series.

“We had Straker going against John Tudor in 1987, and Tudor had shut us down in St. Louis,” MacPhail said. “Straker certainly had been up and down (he was 3-4 with a 4.53 ERA the last two months of the season).

“This time we have Scott Erickson going against Steve Avery. Even though Scott hasn’t pitched that well recently, we shouldn’t write him off. He has been a 20-game winner and certainly has been a much better pitcher than Straker ever was. As recently as Sept. 24, he was throwing the ball well into the 90s and pitched a good game. I’m not ready to give up the ship. We are going to be fine.”

Straker, after an ordinary 1987 season, pitched 11 2/3 innings in the postseason. He gave up nine runs and 12 hits and wound up with a 6.94 ERA.

Erickson’s ERA hasn’t been much better the last month, but he proved he has the ability to pitch in the major leagues when he won 12 straight games. A headline on a recent story about Erickson in the Boston Globe read, “The New Rocket or Just a Dud?” That probably best describes Erickson.

Junior Ortiz, who has caught Erickson in every game this season, described Erickson’s Game 3 outing against the Braves, when he lasted only four innings, as the worst he has pitched all year.

“His ball wasn’t moving and he didn’t throw very hard,” said Ortiz. “He can pitch a lot better.”

One positive is that Erickson has performed well in the past. Some of us in the media thought manager Tom Kelly might start Jack Morris with two days’ rest today after he had pitched only six innings Wednesday.

There’s no doubt that Kelly isn’t going to stay with Erickson for long if he doesn’t have his stuff.

As it turned out, Erickson did his job, lasting into the seventh inning. From Jeff Lenihan’s game story:

Regardless of what happens in Game 7, the 88th World Series is certain to be remembered as one of the most dramatic and competitive in history. Last night’s game was the fourth in the Series to be decided by one run, the first time that has happened since 1975.

The Twins’ seventh straight Series victory at the Metrodome featured an explosive game from Puckett, who had had a rather disappointing Series. A crowd of 55,155 also was treated to the return of Shane Mack’s bat, a four-hit game by Terry Pendleton that included a home run and the continuing heroics of Mark Lemke, who has more hits in the Series (nine) than he had in any of the season’s first three months. The crowd also saw the Twins bullpen throw five scoreless innings and redeem itself for Thursday night’s four-inning, 10-run nightmare.

The second Series matchup of young guns Scott Erickson, 23, and Steve Avery, 21, proved interesting, especially since no one expected Erickson to see the fifth inning. Erickson reached the seventh, though both starters were gone long before the game was decided. Atlanta manager Bobby Cox turned over the game to his closer, Pena, in the ninth while Kelly gave Aguilera the ball to start the 10th.

The Braves were able to forge ties at 2-2 and 3-3 because of their ability to stay out of the double play. But they blew two chances to take the lead in extra innings.

In the 10th, Pendleton hit the first pitch from Aguilera up the middle for a single and took off for second on the first pitch to Ron Gant. But Gant lined a pitch right at shortstop Greg Gagne, who tagged Pendleton to complete the double play. In the 11th, Sid Bream hit a one-bouncer off the right field fence. But Bream’s bad knee and Mack’s strong arm held Bream to a single. This proved critical when pinch runner Keith Mitchell took off for second on the first pitch to Brian Hunter. Twins catcher Brian Harper, who was criticized for throwing out only 18 percent of the runners who tried to steal against him during the season, gunned down Mitchell, and the next two hitters popped out to end the inning.

The Braves tied the game in the seventh because, for the second time in three innings, they were able to stay out of what looked like a double play.

Lemke’s leadoff single ended Erickson’s night. Mark Guthrie struck out pinch hitter Jeff Blauser on three pitches but threw a wild pitch and walked Lonnie Smith. Both runners advanced when Pendleton, whose homer in the fifth had tied the game at 2-2, hit a pool-cue shot to the right side of the infield that left second baseman Chuck Knoblauch without a play.

With the bases loaded and one out, Kelly summoned Carl Willis, who was trying to rebound from a rare bad outing in Game 5 (one inning, three runs). The righthander got Gant to hit a grounder to short. Gagne’s flip to Knoblauch retired Pendleton at second, but Gant crossed the bag just ahead of the relay throw as Lemke scored the tying run.

The Twins broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the fifth in a manner that would have made their National League counterparts proud. Dan Gladden milked Avery for a 10-pitch walk. On the first pitch to Knoblauch, Gladden stole second. He took third on Knobluach’s fly to deep right and scored when Puckett, hitting .167 in the first five games, drove Gant back to the warning track with a fly.

The Braves tied the game 2-2 in the fifth. The most obvious contribution was a two-run homer by Pendleton; a more subtle contribution was a slide by Rafael Belliard that wiped out what looked like a sure double play.

With none out and Belliard on first, Smith hit a hard grounder right at third baseman Scott Leius, who threw to second to start what looked like a 5-4-3 double play. Knoblauch had trouble handling the ball and chose not to make an off-balance throw to first. The play proved crucial when Pendleton hit an 0-1 pitch 418 feet over the wall just to the right of center. The game was tied.

The fact Erickson returned for the sixth was somewhat surprising. Erickson, who did not finish five innings in two previous playoff starts, threw 26 pitches in the first inning and at least 13 in each of the next four.

Trying to protect the 2-0 lead, Erickson survived two scares in the third. Smith was hit by a pitch leading off the inning. Pendleton hit a fly deep down the left field line that Gladden could not catch it. But the ball landed inches foul. Pendleton forced Smith at second with a grounder to Kent Hrbek.

Gant hit a fly ball deep to left-center. Puckett gave chase, but the only question seemed to be whether the ball would would clear the plexiglass or bounce off it. Puckett managed to get to the wall before the ball, an accomplishment in itself. The four-time Gold Glove winner timed his leap perfectly and managed to come up with the ball with the back of his glove against the fence. “I didn’t think he could get to it, it was hit so far,” Mack said.

Said Puckett: “I just told myself to get back, just get back into a position to catch the ball. That’s about as high as I can jump.” Erickson got out of the inning by getting David Justice to bounce harmlessly to first.

The third inning catch, of course, was not Puckett’s only heroics in Game 6. From Howard Sinker’s story:

There will be one more baseball game in 1991. For that, you can thank Kirby Puckett.

Was there ever any doubt?

Was there?

Can’t hear you, Minnesota.

Not because you weren’t loud. It’s because our eardrums have been burned into toast.

For that, you can thank Kirby Puckett.

Puckett slammed a home run in the 11th inning Saturday night to give the Twins a 4-3 victory over Atlanta in Game 6, setting off a raucous 10-minute ovation that didn’t quiet until a postgame interview was shown on the Metrodome scoreboard.

In front of 55,155 folks who paid to get in, including about 1,500 who were rooting for the visitors, the Twins made sure the 88th World Series would play through one more full weekend. For that, you can thank . . .

Oh, heck, never mind.

Today is it. Mad Jack Morris for the hometown nine, John Smoltz for the visitors. Biggest game of all.

Morris saw Puckett’s ball sail beyond the wall in left and knew that his turn on center stage was next. Is he ready? “Words from the late, great Marvin Gaye come to mind,” Morris said. ” `Let’s get it on.’ “

…and, in the words of Jack Buck, “we’ll see ya tomorrow night!”

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1991 World Series Game 5: Minnesota Twins (2-2) @ Atlanta Braves (2-2)

April 27, 2009

Thursday October 24, 1991

If a fan was looking for a break from the drama of the 1991 World Series, he got it in Game 5. While each of the first four games were close, including the last two decided by the last at-bat, Game 5 was a blowout. Braves hitters got to Tapani early and kept the heat on against the Twins’ bullpen to close the Atlanta portion of the series with a 3-2 series lead. From Jeff Lenihan’s game story:

One of the most competitive World Series in history took an unexpected U-turn as the Braves pounded 17 hits – seven for extra bases – in eight innings, sending 50,878 of their most ardent tomahawk-choppers into a state of delirium and the Twins into a state of shock. The 14 runs were the most scored in a Series game in 31 years and the most ever scored by an NL team. Neither the Twins nor the Braves had scored more than five runs in the first four games.

The Braves swept the three games at Fulton County Stadium, which explains why some of their faithful turned in their tomahawks for brooms. The Twins are 0-9 in World Series games on the road.

The Braves hammered Tapani (1-1) for four runs in the fourth inning. After the deficit grew to 5-0, the Twins took advantage of some uncharacteristic wildness from Braves starter Tom Glavine (1-1) to chop away at the Atlanta lead in the sixth, pulling within 5-3 and twice sending the go-ahead run to the plate. But the Twins’ overworked bullpen gave up 10 earned runs in four innings, with David West (four batters faced, four runs allowed) setting the less-than-melodic tone.

Heroes for the Braves were plentiful. David Justice hit a two-run homer to start the scoring in the fourth and finished with five RBI. Mark Lemke, who drove in the winning run in Game 3 and scored the winning run in Game 4, tied a World Series record with two triples, giving him three in a span of four at-bats. And Lonnie Smith, trying to win a World Series with a fourth different team, hit another homer. He became the first player to homer in three consecutive World Series games since Reggie Jackson did so for the Yankees in Games 4, 5 and 6 of the 1977 Series.

What kind of a night was it for the Twins? Manager Tom Kelly, who resorted to starting Chili Davis in right field, pinch hit Jarvis Brown for Kirby Puckett in the eighth. And Al Newman, who had not hit a triple since 1989, hit one in the eighth. It scored a run that made the score 11-4, but Carl Willis gave three runs back in the bottom of the inning.

“We just flat out got our butts kicked,” Newman said. “But in a sense that’s not so bad. I’d prefer that to having to walk off the field when they score the final run, when you’re just inches away from victory.”

Said Chuck Knoblauch, the Twins’ best player in the series with a .523 on-base percentage: “After all those games, someone was going to break loose sooner or later with a lot of runs. It’s just one of those things. But it’s a lot easier to digest than those 3-2 or 2-1 games when you have the umpires involved and everything. These things happened to us in the regular season and there was always a feeling of `Whew,’ a sense of relief. I don’t know if it takes the pressure off or not, but we’ve come back from these games and played well. And there’s guys in this clubhouse that have come back from a deficit just like this in the World Series.”

That, of course, was in ’87, and several Twins said that experience should prove beneficial. So will the day off. “We need a day off,” Kelly said. “Especially pitching-wise.”

Noel Holston described how the CBS crew worked the first blowout of the series:

How big a yawner did Game 5 of the World Series eventually become?

This big: While the Twins batted in the eighth, CBS play-by-play man Jack Buck, analyst Tim McCarver and guest commentator Tommy Lasorda got into an intense discussion of the merits of the designated hitter – and the CBS camera was focused on them. And who could really blame them for losing interest? Tom Kelly had already taken Kirby Puckett out. He might as well have raised a white Homer Hanky on a stick.

For Twins fans, there was not much to smile about in the telecast.

For many Twins fans, panic began to set in. From Howard Sinker’s article in the Star Tribune:

You lost big. So big that your manager cleared the bench near the end, sending Jarvis Brown to bat for Kirby Puckett and Paul Sorrento for Kent Hrbek. By then, you were down by eight, and it was clear to all that you were done for the night.

You had this World Series under control once. That was a few days ago, after winning two games at the Metrodome. Forgive your fans if last weekend feels like it happened last year.

Your fans are wondering, Atlanta’s are celebrating. Up three games to two, they have that right.

In the eighth inning, when Mark Lemke came to bat, a chant carried into the mild, moonlit night: “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” Lemke hit two more triples last night, raising his World Series average to .438, after a regular season of hitting only .234. In his four games against Minnesota – he stayed on the bench for the opener – Lemke has four extra-base hits. In 136 games against the National League teams this season, he had only 15.

“M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” When the Twins were sort of close, at 5-3 in the seventh, Lonnie Smith led off with a home run for the Braves that started a surge of nine runs in their final two at-bats.

Smith homered in three straight games. The last guy to do that during a World Series was Reggie Jackson in 1977. Remember, Smith hit only seven homers all season.

Yo, Domeboys! You turned Lonnie Smith into Reggie Jackson; Mark Lemke into Kirby Puckett.

…and Sinker took some historical perspective:

One more set of numbers, anyone? Minnesota’s World Series road report has been stunning – nine games, nine losses. Stunning like a fastball in the ribs. Go back into franchise history, when the Twins were the Washington Senators, and the franchise road loss streak is 14.

The Senators won at Pittsburgh in Game 1 in 1925. Walter Johnson was the winning pitcher. You beginners, go look up Johnson in a baseball encyclopedia.

It would be nice for the Twins if he could pitch Game 6 in 1991.

Patrick Reusse was even more pessimistic:

Four years ago, when the Twins returned home after losing three in a row in St. Louis, there were excellent reasons to be confident. It was written that way: The fans should not be depressed – that the Twins had done everything that season by crushing the opposition at the Metrodome and that they would do it again.

The Twins scored 11 runs against the hopeless John Tudor and his relievers in Game 6. Then they cruised behind a marvelous Frank Viola in Game 7. A little, two-game Dome winning streak and Minnesota had a World Series champion for the first time.

It is difficult to express the same level of confidence in this group of Twins after they staggered home from Atlanta early this morning – nudged in Games 3 and 4, crushed in Game 5.

The feeble Tudor and a novice named Joe Magrane were coming to town to face the Twins four years ago. Steve Avery and John Smoltz – the guys who gave Atlanta back-to-back shutouts in Pittsburgh last week – will be coming to town to face these Twins.

Four years ago, Metrodome magic was more than a cliche. When an opposing pitcher took the mound in there, his earned-run average and his life-insurance rates would soar.

The Twins had more than Viola and powerful hitting going for them. It was the first time around for most of their fans, and the Twins were feeding off the frenzy of an emotional bandwagon that carried the entire state.

This time, the Braves are the long shots, the first-timers, the team feasting on a city’s frenzy. The citizens have worked the Cherokees of North Carolina to a frazzle, producing foam-rubber tomahawks to be waved in the stadium, in bars and in TV dens.

Game 6 will feature Scott Erickson and Steve Avery as the starting pitchers.

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1991 World Series Game 4: Minnesota Twins (2-1) @ Atlanta Braves (1-2)

April 23, 2009

Wednesday October 23, 1991

The good news is that the World Series is now assured of being decided at the Metrodome. The bad news, for the Twins at least, is that the Braves won Game 4 to tie the series at two games a piece.

As with Game 3 the night before, the Game 4 loss wasn’t without its drama. From Jeff Lenihan’s game story:

The Braves used a homer by Terry Pendleton off Jack Morris to wipe out a 1-0 Twins lead and a seventh-inning homer by Lonnie Smith off reliever Carl Willis to erase a 2-1 deficit. The Twins had gone ahead in the top of the seventh on Mike Pagliarulo’s homer.

Atlanta began its winning rally off lefthander Mark Guthrie, who had thrown 37 pitches the night before, when Kelly used every available pitcher and was on the verge of sending outfielder Dan Gladden to the mound. Lemke, a switch hitter, has no power from the right side of the plate. Both of his 1991 home runs came from the left side, but he would be batting righthanded vs. Guthrie.

Lemke, a .234 hitter who had only 15 extra-base hits all season, hit a drive to deep left-center field that spliced Gladden and Kirby Puckett and rolled to the wall. “I saw it take one extra bounce out there,” said Lemke, who already had a single and a double. “And that made me think I could get to third, which makes a big difference with one out.”

Kelly had Guthrie walk Jeff Blauser intentionally to set up a possible double play. When Cox announced Francisco Cabrera as a pinch hitter, Kelly summoned righthander Steve Bedrosian. Cox countered by pinch hitting Willard, who bats lefthanded.

Willard looked overmatched as he flailed at two Bedrosian offerings and hit weak fouls toward the screen. Willard then lofted a 1-2 pitch toward right field, where Shane Mack, like the other Twins outfielders, was playing shallow.

The fly at first looked as though it would have sufficient carry, but it was held up by a stiff breeze. Mack got under the ball and made a quality throw to the plate. Lemke, who got a late jump off third, tried to go around rather than through Harper. Their shoulders bumped, but Tata ruled that Harper never tagged the runner.

“I got a late jump off third because I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave early,” Lemke said. “I saw Lonnie try to run over Harper earlier in the game and he was out, so I thought the only way was to try and slide around him. Our shoulders hit, but he did not tag me.”

Said Harper: “It was a good throw, maybe a little up the line, but it short-hopped me. I know we made contact, but I was concentrating on the ball and don’t know where I hit him. If the throw had been two feet closer to home, he would have been out for sure.”

Harper argued vehemently, throwing his mask and his helmet to the ground. “I get a little emotional, and I know we made contact,” he said. “Usually, when that happens the guy is out. I got caught up in the emotion. I was angry we lost the game. I’ve never been in a World Series before. I don’t think I’d be that upset if I didn’t think we got him.”

Two former catchers who are now broadcasters, Johnny Bench and Tim McCarver, watched several replays and agreed with Tata.

So did Kelly. “Safe,” he said.

Tata’s explanation: “Harper was up the line a few feet and tried to make a sweep tag. He hit him with his left elbow but that was the only contact. Lemke got around him and got the plate with his hand. Harper never touched him with his glove. . . . (The Twins) obviously thought he was out. . . . I told them he only got him with the elbow and that was the end of the conversation. There was no doubt in my mind he was safe.”

At the end of this game, people were starting to compare the 1991 World Series to some of the all-time classics. This came from Dan Barreiro’s column:

For the second consecutive night, a World Series game came down to one, final close play at the plate – this one even closer than the night before. This is the way it should be in the postseason. For the third consecutive game, a World Series game was decided by one run. That has not happened since, yes, the historic World Series of 1975, when the Reds beat the Red Sox in seven remarkable games.

In the midst of the classic series was the regular back-and-forth between the two communities involved. From Howard Sinker’s story:

Yesterday afternoon, a radio talk show host named Freddie Mertz decided to share his impressions of some Twins players with listeners. He decided that Kent Hrbek, whose name can’t be called in this town without a hostile reaction, “is the kind of guy you’d expect to get into a fight with at a bar.”

About Puckett, teddy bear to Minnesotans and to young baseball fans throughout the continent, Mertz offered: “He looks like the kind of guy I would expect to find in prison, based on his facial expression.”

And Junior Ortiz, the cheerful catcher, “looks like a guy who can pull several knives on you in a short period of time,” Mertz yammered.

Ah, gracious Georgia. Threatening phone calls to Hrbek and his mother, vandals spray painting a Twins billboard near the team’s hotel in the suburbs, tasteful comments by radio personalities.

Ah, gracious Georgia. There are good people here. They’re the ones who know that the World Series, and especially this one, is too good for that stuff.

Game 5 will feature a repeat of the Tapani vs. Glavine pitching matchup from Game 2.

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1991 World Series Game 3: Minnesota Twins (2-0) @ Atlanta Braves (0-2)

April 21, 2009

Tuesday October 22, 1991

Though the Twins came into Game 3 with a 2-0 lead in the series, the Braves were still confident. The reason for the confidence, in part, was the 21-year-old who would take the mound for the Braves. From Mike Augustin’s article in the Pioneer Press:

The pitcher who stands between the Minnesota Twins and a three games-to-none lead in the 1991 World Series was a junior in high school when the Twins won their first championship four years ago.

Steve Avery, a 21-year-old left-hander with poise beyond his experience, gets the starting assignment for Atlanta tonight when the Series switches to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with Minnesota owning a 2-0 lead.

Avery arguably has been the hottest pitcher in baseball the second half of the season. He had winning streaks of six and five games during that period en route to an overall mark of 18-8.

“I have never seen a guy this young be this unflappable,” Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. “That’s why we think he is so special.”

Avery, 6 feet 4, 190 pounds, was Atlanta’s first-round selection (third overall) in the 1988 June free-agent draft.

He is was 3-11 and pitched only 99 innings for the Braves the last half of the 1990 season. This year, Avery blossomed into a solid starter. In 210 1/3 innings, he struck out 137 batters and walked 65.

“Steve has always been one to be on the attack on the mound,” Mazzone said, describing the southpaw’s come-right-at-you style. “I bet he has been that way since Little League.”

In other pre-game news, Jeff Lenihan had this note:

World Championship Wrestling has extended an invitation to Kent Hrbek to join the organization during the offseason.

This is no joke.

“When I saw that single-leg takedown that Hrbek put on Ron Gant at first base during Sunday night’s game, I knew he had a future in pro wrestling,” said Jim Herd, executive vice president of WCW.

“We might have to do something with the name, though. “Hrbek’ looks like a typo.”

Ironically, WCW is a subsidiary of Turner Broadcasting System Inc. Ted Turner is the owner of the Braves.

Not all of the reaction to the play was as funny, according to Dennis Brackin:

Hrbek had been involved in a controversial play Sunday in which Atlanta’s Ron Gant was called out at first base in the third inning. The Braves, who would have had runners on first and third with two outs and David Justice at the plate, argued that Hrbek had lifted Gant off the base.

Hrbek said his mother, Tina, received a phone call at 3:30 a.m. Monday, and his sister, Kerry, received another call about 30 minutes later. Hrbek said his mother and sister, who live at separate Bloomington residences, believed the caller to be the same person by the details of the threat.

Tina Hrbek said the caller told her that he would “get your son between his eyes.” The Twins flew a charter plane to Atlanta after Sunday night’s game, and Hrbek said he was not aware of the threats until his mother called Monday evening.

Hrbek said he also received several threatening calls at his Atlanta hotel. He called the calls “similar types” to the ones his mother and sister received.

Somehow, Hrbek still managed to have some fun with the situation:

Hrbek accurately predicted that he would be greeted by a loud chorus of boos from Braves fans. Hrbek answered the boos during the pregame introductions by waving to the crowd as he ran to the third base line. When the boos continued, he thrust both hands into the air and doffed his cap. On his first at-bat, the crowd chanted “Cheater, cheater, cheater . . . ” and one young boy carried a sign behind the plate reading “Hrbek is a Hood.”

The drama on the field far exceeded the drama off the field, however, as the Twins and Braves put on a game for the ages. Once again, the hero was an unlikely one. From Jeff Lenihan’s game story:

Lemke’s single off Rick Aguilera with two outs in the 12th inning scored David Justice from second base and sent the Braves to a 5-4 victory in Game 3 of the World Series. The game, which will go into the history books as one of the most compelling and intriguing dramas in World Series history, enabled Atlanta to slice the Twins’ advantage in the Series to two games to one.

A crowd of 50,878 watched the first World Series game ever played in the South. They saw a classic.

The Twins had staged an improbable comeback against Steve Avery, baseball’s hottest pitcher, slicing into a 4-1 lead with their fifth and sixth homers of the series. Kirby Puckett hit a solo shot in the seventh, and Chili Davis, shelved because there is no designated hitter in the National League city, hit a pinch two-run homer off Alejandro Pena in the eighth.

After each team squandered several prime scoring chances, Justice reached with a one-out single to right in the 12th. One out later, he stole second on an 0-2 pitch to Greg Olson. The catcher from Edina coaxed a walk.

Lemke, who had booted a double-play grounder in the top of the inning, lined a 1-1 pitch over shortstop. Justice, who missed third base in a 1-0 loss here during the National League Championship Series, slid home just ahead of left fielder Dan Gladden’s throw, ending the longest World Series game in 14 years.

Lemke said he was not trying to redeem himself after his error. “But it would have been pretty darn good if I could,” he said. “I didn’t put any pressure on myself like, `Hey, we have to win the game,’ ” he said. “But I knew we needed a hit. I tried to put the error behind me.”

The run allowed by Aguilera was the first surrendered by the Twins bullpen in 28 1/3 postseason innings this season and 33 1/3 innings of postseason play dating to Game 5 of the 1987 World Series.

“I’m not happy we got beat,” Twins manager Tom Kelly said. “But it was a great game. My brain is really racked after that one.”

Kelly racked his brain so much, he was forced to use a pitcher as a pinch hitter:

The top of the 12th inning epitomized this game’s strategy and its weirdness.

Gladden reached with a one-out single. Chuck Knoblauch hit into what appeared to be an inning-ending double play to second base, but Lemke let the ball skip off his glove for an error and Gladden moved all the way to third.

“I didn’t think it was the end of the world,” Lemke said. “Some of the other infielders told me to shake it off.”

With runners on the corners, lefthander Kent Mercker came in to face lefthanded Kent Hrbek, who was caught looking at a third strike for the second time in the game as Knoblauch stole second base. Atlanta manager Bobby Cox’s decision to walk Puckett, who had homered in the seventh to start the Twins’ comeback, was a no-brainer, especially with the pitcher, now hitting in the fifth spot, due up next.

Cox called on veteran Jim Clancy -who would earn the victory – to issue the intentional walk, as Kelly had Aguilera jog in from the bullpen. Mark Guthrie had thrown 37 pitches, and Aguilera was the only pitcher Kelly had available. Because Aguilera also happens to be the Twins’ best-hitting pitcher – with three homers and a .203 average during his NL days – Kelly had him pinch hit for Guthrie.

With the go-ahead run dancing off third, Aguilera took ball one in the dirt, then lined out to center fielder Ron Gant. Kelly later wondered aloud whether he was wise to pinch hit Al Newman for Mike Pagliarulo in the 11th. “I could have had Newman left for the (12th),” he said. “But Aggie took a good swing at it.”

Among the players who did not enter Game 3 were the starting pitchers for Game 4: Jack Morris and John Smoltz.

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1991 World Series Game 2: Atlanta Braves (0-1) @ Minnesota Twins (1-0)

April 17, 2009

Sunday October 20, 1991

Prior to the start of Game 2, there was still some discussion about a play at home plate during Game 1. From Jeff Lenihan’s story in the Star Tribune:

Twins outfielder Dan Gladden was surprised to learn Sunday evening that many of those attending Game 1 of the World Series considered his fifth-inning collision with Atlanta catcher Greg Olson a cheap shot.

CBS-TV analyst Tim McCarver called the play “dirty pool” and Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, working the series for CBS radio, criticized Gladden for going into the plate with his spikes high.

“I’m surprised to hear that,” Gladden said. “I don’t think it was dirty. I thought it was a good hard slide. I guess you have to figure that they’re former catchers.”

McCarver and Bench both are former catchers. Bench is in the Hall of Fame and considered the best player ever at his position.

McCarver said on the air he thought Gladden put Olson at peril by sliding in with his feet raised as Olson received the throw from third baseman Terry Pendleton.

“I would have said the same thing,” Bench said. “I said (on radio) I didn’t like it. Sure, this is a World Series and anything goes, but still. That was like Ty Cobb.”

Olson was not injured. In fact, he handed Gladden his helmet and slapped him on the rear end. Gladden and Olson were teammates with the Twins for three games in 1989.

“I thought it was just one of those hard-nosed plays,” Olson said. “Dan Gladden plays the game real hard. It was just unfortunate for me that his spike went up near my glove and fortunate for me it went into my glove. If it would have gone into my hand, it could have hurt. . . . But it made a heckuva picture in the paper. He asked me if I was OK and I said I was and handed him his helmet.”

Not to be outdone, Game 2 had its own controversial plays. From Noel Holston’s critique of the CBS crew:

Nothing brings out the best in a good sportscasting team like a controversial call.

Game 2 of the World Series provided one in the third inning when the Twins’ Kent Hrbek tagged Atlanta’s Ron Gant out at first base, apparently after first lifting Gant’s leg off the base.

First base umpire Drew Coble ruled that Gant didn’t have control of the base, so Hrbek’s tag was a good one.

Even before multiple replays suggested otherwise, CBS’ broadcasters labeled it a bad call. Guest commentator Tommy Lasorda, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, asserted that Hrbek “deliberately pulled Gant off the bag.”

Analyst Tim McCarver, a pretty wily player himself in his day, said Hrbek did exactly what he should have done with the Braves in the middle of what could have been a big rally – and was lucky enough to get away with it.

“Nice effort by Hrbek,” commented play-by-play man Jack Buck. “I bet he was surprised when he got the call.”

During one of the many replays that showed Hrbek using – how shall we put this? – a little leverage on Gant, McCarver mentioned that Hrbek “is a big wrestling fan. I think this might be a wrestling move right here.”

But it was Buck who came up with the best comment on what might have been the game’s pivotal play: “I know some of you fans like to keep score,” Buck said. “That play went 7-1-3-Umpire.”

While the play at first base would resonate in the minds of Braves fans (and would pop up again throughout the series), Twins fans enjoyed another memory from an unlikely source. From Jeff Lenihan’s game story:

Gene Tenace. Brian Doyle. Rick Dempsey. Joe Oliver. They were the least likely of World Series heroes. Sunday night, in a game he never expected to play before a screaming crowd he never expected to hear, Scott Thomas Leius made a spirited bid to join that list.

Leius, a rookie third baseman who was the last player to make the team out of spring training, hit the first pitch Tom Glavine threw in the eighth inning over the fence in left-center, sending the Twins to a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves that gave them a two-games-to-none lead in the 88th World Series.

Leius spent his minor league career at shortstop and expected to play the position for Class AAA Portland this season. But when free agent signee Mike Pagliarulo began struggling at the plate midway through the spring, Leius was moved to third base three weeks before the team broke camp.

“I can remember when guys were getting cut in the spring,” fellow rookie Jarvis Brown said. “He kept saying, `I’m next. I’m next. I’m not going to make the team.’ I’m sure this was nothing he even could have thought about back then.”

Indeed, the chances of the Twins, a last place team in 1990, being in the World Series in the first place were remote. The chances of Leius, a .229 hitter for Portland last season, making the team were low. The chances of him making it as a third baseman were even lower.

“I’m sure in his wildest dreams he didn’t expect to make the team as a third baseman,” Knoblauch said. “And this? He’s the guy in here who hates the attention the most. He’s probably going to run away from everyone. Actually, he’ll say he hates it but probably like it. You have to like this.”

In 199 at-bats this season, Leius hit five homers, including a 10th-inning game-winner Aug. 22 that capped a comeback victory over Seattle.

Last night, he was facing a pitcher who had allowed only two hits, Davis’ first-inning homer and Brian Harper’s single with one out in the seventh. Glavine had retired 15 batters in a row over one stretch and had not allowed a Twin to reach second base since Davis’ homer.

“We talk before each at-bat,” hitting coach Terry Crowley said. “We hadn’t been able to get anything going off Glavine, so he asked me if he should take a pitch. I said, `No, get something you can hit.’ He’s got some power. He’s shown that.”

Leius got a first-pitch fastball and lifted it just over the plexiglass wall in left-center. It was the Twins’ fourth homer of the Series and the first by a rookie since 1982.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Leius said. “I was just trying to make sure I touched all the bases.”

Crowley, recounting game-turning homers in the playoffs by Pagliarulo (six regular-season homers) and Greg Gagne (eight) said, “It looks like it’s going to be someone new every night.”

The Twins struck first when Chili Davis put a Tom Glavine pitch in the stands for a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning. After that, Glavine held the Twins scoreless until Leuis’ home run in the eighth. The Braves managed two runs on sacrifice flies off of Kevin Tapani, Brian Hunter in the second and Rafael Belliard in the fifth. Rick Aguilera came on for the ninth inning. He allowed a single to Hunter, but struck out the other three men he faced to give the Twins a 2-0 lead in the World Series.

The two teams will take a travel day before Game 3 opens in Atlanta. The scheduled pitchers are Scott Erickson and Steve Avery.

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1991 World Series Game 1: Atlanta Braves (94-68) @ Minnesota Twins (95-67)

April 15, 2009

Saturday October 19, 1991

Greg Gagne batted .265/.310/.395 during the regular season and managed eight home runs along the way. The ninth hitter for the Twins was likely not expected to supply the power in the Game 1 victory, but that is exactly what he did. From Jeff Lenihan’s story in the Star Tribune:

Nine days ago, Greg Gagne stood near the visiting dugout at Toronto’s SkyDome and, without prodding or solicitation or any real sense of timing, let loose with the revelation that he did not feel appreciated.

Around 9 p.m. Saturday night, the shortstop must have figured Game 1 of the World Series had been canceled and replaced by Greg Gagne Appreciation Night. Gagne’s three-run, fifth-inning homer sent the Twins on their way to a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves at the Metrodome, giving them the early advantage in baseball’s 88th World Series.

With the Twins leading the National League champions 1-0, Gagne sent a 3-1 fastball from Charlie Leibrandt 15 rows into section 141.

Appreciation? What Gagne received last night was adulation.

A hanky-waving crowd of 55,108 stood and cheered Gagne, whose consistent defense has gone unappreciated by people outside the Twin Cities for years. Gagne pointed to his wife behind the plate and then his father in the upper deck down the third base line.

“A lot of times, players who go out and do their job and keep their mouths shut are overlooked,” said closer Rick Aguilera, who got the final four outs to save Jack Morris’ victory and the Twins’ eighth triumph in nine postseason games at the Dome.

The Twins always have looked at any offense they received from Gagne as a bonus. He hit .265 this season with 34 extra base-hits in 408 at-bats, certainly more than respectable totals for a No. 9 hitter.

His homer last night gave the Twins a 4-0 lead. They turned that advantage over to Morris, which is tantamount to dumping chum before a starving shark. Morris readily admitted he did not have his best stuff last night, but he held the Braves scoreless for five innings. He tired in the eighth, walking the first two batters. He retired having allowed five hits and two runs, one of which scored after he left the game.

Morris extended two impressive trends. He is 23-5 in the Dome, 14-3 this season. He is 6-1 in seven career postseason starts, 3-0 in three World Series assignments and 3-0 this postseason. “These guys made me a hero,” Morris said. “It’s good to know you won a game without your best stuff.”

Kent Hrbek, a power source Twins’ fans were more accustomed to, added a solo home run in the sixth. Rick Aguilera and Mark Guthrie combined to hold the Braves scoreless for two innings of relief.

One of the highlights of this game (and the series to come) was the play-by-play performance of Jack Buck, critiqued in the Star Tribune by Noel Holston:

When Twins shortstop Greg Gagne lifted a long fly ball to left in the bottom of the fifth inning Saturday night, CBS play-by-play man Jack Buck immediately observed, “Pretty well hit.”

Then, “This ball is . . . GONNA GO!”

I loved it, just as I loved it when Buck couldn’t stifle a reflexive “You’re out!” when Twins starter Jack Morris blew a third strike past some unlucky Atlanta Brave.

I love it that Buck is not so busy broadcasting that he can’t enjoy the game which, in retrospect, was the shortcoming of CBS’ coverage of the American League Championship Series. ALCS play-by-play man Dick Stockton was so focused on doing his job that he conveyed little enthusiasm to the viewers. He didn’t provide the emotional bridge that makes home viewers feel as if they’re at the game, too.

Buck and analyst Tim McCarver did that in Game 1 of the World Series, though for some reason they weren’t quite as loose and conversationally informative as they typically were during the seven-game NLCS.

Was it the chilly weather? The noise in the Dome? Is there something in the water in American League cities? We’ll see as the Series progresses.

Speaking of the noise, Buck was impressed. “The crowd is like the Atlanta crowd,” he said. “They never stop. Particularly when their team is doing something.”

“The difference,” McCarver added, “is that in Atlanta, the noise has someplace to go.”

There were other good lines and good insights:

In the pregame show, CBS host Pat O’Brien said: “What we have here tonight is a pair of cabooses who have been magically transformed into locomotives.”

Buck displayed his knack for summing players up tersely. Commenting on hard-throwing Braves reliever Mark Wohlers, Buck said: “Nothing fancy about Wohlers. He’s a hummer.”

After Brian Harper’s two-strike double in the second inning, McCarver analyzed: “When you take the right approach to hitting, good things happen. With two strikes, good hitters protect the outside part of the plate.

“And look at Harper right there,” McCarver said, timing his comment to the replay. “(He) shoots one to right field. Fine hitting by Brian Harper.”

Fine, plain-spoken analysis by McCarver, too. Much, much better than the ballyhooed “Inside Pitch” feature that was supposed to give viewers a clearer understanding of the speed and motion of various pitches. Maybe it just needs a bit of fine-tuning, but I don’t think it’s as revealing as a good slow-motion replay.

Speaking of replays, the best of the night showed us Dan Gladden’s ill-fated slide into Atlanta catcher Greg Olson, who did a backwards roll worthy of a gymnast and still hung on to the the ball.

CBS also covered the Indians’ complaints during its pregame show. That, too, provided a memorable quote. “The best way to take care of the chop,” said Bill Means, national director of the American Indian Movement, “is four straight – for the Minnesota Twins.”

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Game 2 tomorrow at the Metrodome will feature Kevin Tapani against Tom Glavine.


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