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

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.

Box

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