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.