Before we get to the game, I need to note that I attended the first annual SBG convention over the weekend. We managed to have a good time even though the Twins didn’t do their part to make the convention enjoyable. Not much to add to what folks have already posted here and here.
Now, on to fall baseball that was fun in Minnesota. I originally posted these in April as part of the Hot Stove 1987 series.
Sunday September 27, 1987
Twins 8, Royals 1
Three Twins home runs in the first inning and a complete game by Bert Blyleven were instrumental in the victory that clinched the Twins a tie for the AL West crown. Mark Vancil captured it well in his lead to the game story in the Star Tribune:
The crowd. The inning. The pitcher. All three added up to a magic number of one.
The Twins got a charge out of a record 52,924 fans, reduced the season’s biggest game to an inning and rallied behind veteran Bert Blyleven to clinch a tie for the American League Western Division title Sunday with an 8-1 triumph over Kansas City in the Metrodome.
A Royals loss or a Twins victory tonight in Texas would secure the team’s first championship in 17 years.
It is rare in an 8-1 game for both teams to point to a defensive play in the first inning as the keyto victory, but that was the case in the final home game of the regular season.
After Bert Blyleven, on three days rest, walked lead off man Willie Wilson, Kevin Seitzer laced a single to put runners at first and third with nobody out. Just as Tom Kelly was having doubts about his decision to go with Blyleven, Friday’s hero George Brett hit a shot on the ground to Gary Gaetti at third. What followed may be the signature defensive play of the season.
Gaetti tossed to Al Newman to complete the first leg of the 5-6-3 double play that one might expect in this situation. Newman, rather than throwing to first to complete to play, noticed that Wilson hesitated ever so slightly on his way to home. Newman instantly turned and fired a perfect strike to home. Newman described the play as he fought back tears in Vancil’s story:
“That was the biggest play of my major league career,” said Newman, whose throw nailed Wilson at the plate. “I don’t think I’ll ever make a bigger one either, unless it’s in the World Series. That was a key situation. With runners on first and third, no outs and Brett up, you’re thinking, if not three runs, at least one.
“I’ll tell you. Those guys (fans) almost brought a tear to my eye. There were 52,000 standing and cheering. It was awesome.”
The Twins escaped the inning, and put together an enormous first inning of their own to end the game just after it started. Newman started it off with a one-out double. He scored on a Kirby Puckett home run. A Gary Gaetti solo shot and a Kent Hrbek two-run blast completed the five-run inning.
After that, it was all left to Blyleven, who didn’t disappoint, pitching nine innings while allowing only one run. Blyleven remembered the last time he pitched in and won a key September game in Sid Hartman’s column:
“In 1970 (Blyleven’s rookie year) we saw a nine-game lead in the West reduced to three games and I was called on to pitch against the second-place California Angels in Anaheim,” he recalled. “I beat them, we increased our lead to four games, and from that we ran away with the division.”
Following the game, Twins did a curtain call for the fans. Dan Gladden ran along the warning track slapping high fives with the fans and throwing some of his gear as souveneirs.
The Twins wrap up the season on the road, starting Monday in Texas. Any Twins win or Royals loss will clinch the Division. The A’s were eliminated as a result of their fifth straight loss.
Monday September 28, 1987
Twins 5, Rangers 3
Twins Clinch AL West Title
For 24 out of 31 players on the Twins’ roster, the celebration was completely new. Those players had never won at the major league level before Monday’s clincher in Texas.
For six players, the win had to be particularly sweet. Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, Frank Viola, Tim Laudner, and Randy Bush all came up together in 1982. That season, the Twins lost 102 games, the worst record since the franchise moved to Minnesota. Now, six seasons later, they were pouring champagne on each other in the clubhouse at Arlington Stadium.
It didn’t look as though the celebration would happen early. Joe Niekro allowed three runs in the first inning. That Texas lead held until the top of the fourth. With two on and two out, Steve Lombardozzi launched a drive into the left field bleachers. The score remained tied until the eighth.
Once again, Lombardozzi came through with an RBI single to put the Twins ahead. An insurance run scored on a balk, but the Twins focus turned towards finishing the game before the Royals-Mariners game (a game the M’s led throughout) became a final.
At about 10:35 PM, Jeff Reardon coaxed Geno Petralli to hit a liner to Lombardozzi at second; Lombo relayed to Hrbek for the double play, and the celebration began.
The night’s hero summed it up to Mark Vancil in the Star Tribune:
“We wanted to get it over before they flashed a final on the Kansas City game,” Lombardozzi said. “We wanted to win it ourselves. And we went out and did it. I wanted to make the 1987 highlight film. Now I’m in Twins history forever.”
Though the celebration continued into the night, all eyes now turn to the AL East race that will determine who the Twins play in the 1987 ALCS.