1991 World Series Game 7: Atlanta Braves (3-3) @ Minnesota Twins (3-3)

Sunday October 27, 1991

Dennis Brackin previewed the evening’s pitching matchup for Game 7 of the World Series:

Jack Morris is 36 years old, has won 216 regular-season games and generally is considered one of the most intense competitors in baseball.

John Smoltz is 24, has gone a modest 42-42 for his career and has been aided since midseason by a sports psychologist.

Their techniques might differ, but their objectives will be identical tonight. The righthanders, once spring training teammates with the Detroit Tigers, will oppose one another tonight in Game 7.

Both have been superb in the postseason.

Morris is 3-0 with a 3.08 ERA in 26 1/3 innings, winning two games against Toronto in the American League Championship Series and Game 1 of the Series. He was ahead 2-1 in the seventh inning of Game 4 before being removed for a pinch hitter.

Smoltz is 2-0 with a 2.01 ERA in three postseason starts. He pitched a complete game to defeat Pittsburgh 4-0 in Game 7 of the NLCS and had a no-decision in Game 4 of the Series.

When Game 6 was over, Morris fielded some less-than brilliant questions: Have you ever pitched in the seventh game of the World Series before? Morris’ only previous Series appearance was in 1984, when his Detroit Tigers blew away San Diego in five games.

Will your experience help? “I don’t know,” he said. “I just want to pitch.”

Did you ever dream of pitching the last game of the Series? “When I was a kid, my brother (Tom) used to play Wiffle ball. I pretended I was Bob Gibson. He was Mickey Mantle. That’s the only thing I can think of.”

The Twins have been saying all along they just wanted to get to Game 7 and to turn it over to Big Jack, right?

“I’m not God,” he said. “I’ve made mistakes in the past. I’ll make them in the future. I’m going to give it the best shot I have.”

Smoltz followed Morris by saying he had been thinking about pitching in this kind of game for a long time. “This is a situation I’ve played out a lot in my mind when I was younger,” he said.

“I’ll be like a little kid out out there. Naturally, I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to do this and we’d win it. But I look on it as a challenge.”

It is fairly well-established by now that Braves catcher Greg Olson is from Edina. It is not as well-established that Smoltz still has relatives in Chisholm, Minn.

“Yes, I do, mainly from my dad’s side of the family,” he said. “About four or five of them were visiting me today in my hotel room. It should make for an interesting thing for them tomorrow. I know they’ll be caught in the middle, but hopefully, they’ll be rooting for me.”

Smoltz was asked whether he ever thought, growing up that he might be pitching against Jack Morris in Game 7 of the World Series. “I didn’t think there was any way possible, because we were both with the Tigers and I thought I would stay with them. I learned one thing: you have to put personal goals and personal challenges aside in situations like this and just pitch your normal game.”

The pitchers were the focus prior to the game, and they both proved up to the challenge. Smoltz and Morris exchanged zeroes the first seven innings. Smoltz eventually gave way to the Atlanta bullpen, but not so for Morris. From Patrick Reusse’s column:

How was it possible Morris could have a lot left? “Early on, I had a good fastball and a slider,” Morris said. “My forkball came back around the sixth. It was very effective for me in the late innings.”

There was something else that was very effective for Black Jack last night: the fire that burns down below – the fire to win that burns in his belly.

Kelly said: “What more can you want? What more can you ask for? The guy poured his guts out. I told him nine was enough.”

Morris said it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough because the Twins had not yet scored, which means they had not yet won this World Series.

“Jack said he was fine,” Kelly said. “(Pitching coach) Dick Such said he was fine. What the heck? It’s just a game.”

Neither team scored until the bottom of the tenth inning. What the Pucketts, Hrbeks, Justices and Gants failed to do for nine plus innings was finally accomplished by Gene Larkin. Dennis Brackin’s description:

He was largely a forgotten figure in the summer of 1991, best remembered perhaps as the designated hitter before Chili Davis arrived on the scene. On Sunday night, Gene Larkin emerged from the shadows of this season, driving in the only run of Game 7 with a 10th-inning single. Whatever emotional pains Larkin had endured riding the bench during the World Series were erased as he rounded first base, watching Dan Gladden come home with the winning run.

As his one-out, bases-loaded fly ball landed beyond the drawn-in Atlanta outfield, Larkin leaped ecstatically into the air. “I knew as soon as I made contact it was hit far enough to go over (left fielder Brian) Hunter’s head,” Larkin said. “I said, `We’re champions. We’re champions.’ It was an unbelievable feeling.” As the Twins celebrated on the field, doffing their hats to admiring fans and embracing one another, Kathleen Larkin stood amid a group of Twins players’ wives. Tears welled in her eyes as she watched her husband savor his brightest moment as a major leaguer. “It was indescribable,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. I grabbed Micki Gagne and couldn’t let go. I’m just so glad Gene got to play a part. And what a part he played.”

What a part, indeed. Larkin, who had batted only three times in the six previous games, was summoned to pinch hit for Jarvis Brown with the bases loaded in the 10th. Gladden had begun the inning with a double, stretching for an extra base with characteristic hustle. Chuck Knoblauch sacrificed Gladden to third. At that point, Braves manager Bobby Cox ordered reliever Alejandro Pena to issue intentional walks to Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek.

“Herbie turned to me and said, `Just finish it,’ as he walked away,” Larkin said. “I just told myself to relax, and wait for a strike, and that’s what I did. I’ve watched (Pena) the whole Series. The fastball is basically all he throws. He might mix in a breaking ball now and then. I was just looking for a pitch that was up, and in the strike zone.” Larkin didn’t have to wait long for the fastball he was looking for.

He jumped on Pena’s first offering, driving the ball to left-center, easily deep enough to remove the doubt that had lingered over the game for 9 1/2 innings. Larkin was an improbable hero, but that was perhaps fitting for an improbable team that went from last in the American League West in 1990 to the World Series championship.

Howard Sinker summed up the series, and the season nicely:

Maybe you heard the words after the game. It won’t hurt to hear them again.

“It was probably the greatest World Series ever,” said Fay Vincent, the commissioner of baseball. “I was proud to be here.”

What a game! What a Series! What an ending!

It took 10 innings and words won’t describe it as well as rewinding the videotape and watching it over and over and over and over. . . .

Sometimes words can’t compete.

Watch the tape. See Gene Larkin’s fly ball sail deep into left center for a single. See Dan Gladden cross home plate, stomping and being surrounded by a cheering pinstripe mob.

See the Twins win 1-0.

Grab some bench, America. Watch Minnesota party.

“It’s some kind of feeling, isn’t it?” rookie Chuck Knoblauch yelled at the crowd a few minutes after the game, when the Domeboys commandeered the stadium’s public address system.

“This is the craziest place I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Mike Pagliarulo, who used to play for the Yankees. So he knows crazy.

“I love all these guys and I love all of you,” shouted Jack Morris, who pitched all 10 innings, alpha to omega, telling the manager he wasn’t coming out after nine.

“Words can’t describe the respect I have for that man,” said Atlanta outfielder David Justice.

The World Series’ most valuable player award, which was won by Morris, does justice to Justice could not describe.

Many of the 55,118 fans remained in their seats a half-hour after the game, listening to the best team in the world scream back at them.

At home plate, Kirby Puckett looked into the stands, where his brother Spencer was sitting. He launched a joyful fist in Spencer Puckett’s direction that, had it connected, would have knocked out Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and George Foreman. All at once.

Ali and Frazier, too. Remember, this was a classic.

Remember it always. The Braves were good. Darn good.

Too bad there had to be a loser, huh?

Just kidding.

Box

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