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?
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!”