1991 ALCS Game 5: Minnesota Twins (3-1) @ Toronto Blue Jays (1-3)

Sunday October 13, 1991

Howard Sinker delivered the news in the Star Tribune:

The Twins won the pennant yesterday.

Got a chill yet?

Think about it, and then remember how flat-out unreasonable those words would have sounded when the Twins, coming off their sad last-place showing of the previous year, first gathered for practice in February.

The best MacPhail was promising back then was a team that would be on the better side of .500, that they could win more often than not. And he suspected that some thought even those were wacky words.

“When you say things like that, frankly, I think people file them away so they can hang you with it,” said MacPhail, his blond hair dripping. “They could trot it out around Aug. 17 if things weren’t going so good.”

The Twins were favored to win this playoff, yet who could have imagined the method? Losing at the Metrodome five days back tied the series at one game apiece, with the next three in Toronto.

A sweep under the SkyDome by either team was unlikely; a Twins sweep was about as likely as cracking a Lotto America jackpot. The Jays had won four of six regular-season games against the Twins at the SkyDome, not to mention four of six at the Metrodome before the bigger games began last week.

Yet there were the Twins, the Domeboys, cracking open cases of champagne on foreign turf. You could smell it yards away from the clubhouse. You could get sprayed at random, although most of it was done for the benefit of the TV cameras. Al Newman was dousing newspaper reporters, knowing that he was short enough to be safe from retaliation. At 6-foot-6, David West was an easy target for random sprayers. The team doctors, John Steubs and L.J. Michienzi, made their happy rounds in T-shirts and dress slacks.

For the most part, though, the celebration was pretty calm. The pennant is a stop, cause for back-slapping on the route to a big parade that could be held a couple of weeks down the road.

Unlike Game 4, however, the outcome of Game 5 was in doubt until the eighth inning. The Twins found themselves behind early. From Jeff Lenihan’s game story:

“What is special to me is that we came in here and won two games already, and then we get behind 5-2 in this one,” Kelly said. “To battle back like that is pretty special.”

As was the case throughout the series, the Twins dictated the pace with an aggressive running game while the Jays, known for their speed, repeatedly let possible rallies fizzle. And, as was the case throughout the series, the Jays precipitated their own demise with some thoughtless play.

The Jays battered Tapani for eight hits, scoring three times in the third and twice in the fourth. Both rallies were started by Manuel Lee, 0-for-13 in the series before yesterday.

Toronto starter Tom Candiotti began the sixth by giving up a single to Shane Mack, who stole second and moved to third on Mike Pagliarulo’s single to center. With runners on the corners and no outs, rookie Mike Timlin entered. Kelly let Gagne hit for himself rather than pinch hit Randy Bush or Paul Sorrento, and Gagne fouled out to catcher Pat Borders. The rally looked as if it would fizzle when Dan Gladden chopped a ball toward third baseman Kelly Gruber. “I ran home to try to keep us out of the double play,” Mack said. “I figured he would throw home and I figured I would be out.”

Gruber did throw home. But Borders had to move slightly up the third base line to catch the throw. He was not in a position to tag Mack and, strangely, reached toward the baserunner with his bare hand rather than his glove hand – which had the ball. Mack was safe and Borders was charged with Toronto’s seventh error of the series. “Yeah, that was a big play,” Kelly said. “It gave us a good chance. But we still had that Ward fella staring at us.”

At least they did after rookie Chuck Knoblauch doubled past first baseman John Olerud and into the right field corner for his seventh hit of the series. Pagliarulo scored ahead of Gladden, and the game was tied. The clubhouse champagne was put on ice once again. Duane Ward, one of the game’s most effective relievers during the season’s second half and a pitcher the Twins ordinarily cannot touch, worked out of the sixth.

But by this point, eventual winner David West had slowed the Jays offense. West, whose struggles with injuries and inconsistency have been well-documented over the past two seasons, pitched three hitless innings, giving the Twins a chance. Carl Willis also threw a scoreless inning. In all, the Twins’ bullpen pitched 18 1/3 innings in this series without giving up an earned run. “There were some big questions (about West) early in the year,” Tapani said. “But I think we would trade all that for what he did in the postseason, for what he did (yesterday).”

Still, the Twins needed a run.

Gagne singled with one out in the eighth and immediately was caught stealing. Gladden singled and was able to steal second while Knoblauch batted. Knoblauch worked Ward for a four-pitch walk – “Swing the bat,” the pitcher yelled as Knoblauch jogged to first – and Puckett lined a single to right. David Wells replaced Ward, the loser, and Hrbek was able to take a pitch from the lefty the other way for a single that scored two crucial insurance runs.

Closer Rick Aguilera, fulfilling his boyhood dream by pitching the ninth inning of a pennant-clinching game, retired Mookie Wilson on a pop to the shortstop and struck out Devon White. One out to go. “It was all going by so fast,” Aguilera said.

Aguilera fell behind Alomar 3-0, admitting later he lost his concentration. The reliever threw a pitch on the outside corner that was called a strike, then got Alomar to swing at a 3-1 pitch. His 3-2 pitch was sent deep toward left – and into Gladden’s glove. The Twins’ worst-to-first odyssey had progressed from division to league.

Junior Ortiz, who had replaced Brian Harper to begin the ninth in what had to be considered one of Kelly’s more interesting moves, leaped into Aguilera’s arms, and the rest of the team converged.

“This time I just jump on him because I know he has sore ribs or something,” Ortiz said. “Next time, if I’m catching and we win the World Series, then I’m gonna kiss him – right on the mouth.”

The Twins will now play the waiting game. The World Series will start on Saturday, and the NLCS is far from decided. The Pittsburgh Pirates took Game 4 of the series with a 3-2, 10 inning victory. The series is now tied at 2-2.


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