1990: Puckett covers the field

Thursday August 16, 1990

Coming into the afternoon game at Cleveland, Kirby Puckett had played 1,038 major league games. He had never taken the field at any position other than center field.

Tom Kelly decided to change things up a bit, putting the star player’s name in right field on the lineup card. The move was not a surprise, it had been suggested that Kelly would play Puckett in right on occasion to save his legs; but what was surprising was Kelly’s moves late in the game.

Puckett must have been comfortable in his new position because he was asked to try another new spot in the eighth inning. The unusual inning is logged at baseball-reference.com:

Bottom of the 8th, Indians Batting, Ahead 7-3, Tim Drummond facing 9-1-2
                  Tim Drummond replaces Roy Smith pitching; Kirby Puckett moves to SS; John Moses moves to RF
          ---  6  F Fermin        Single to CF (Line Drive to CF)
                  Kirby Puckett moves to 3B; Al Newman moves to SS
   O      1--  1  A Cole          Groundout: SS-1B (SS); Fermin to 2B
                  Kirby Puckett moves to 2B; Al Newman moves to 3B; Nelson Liriano moves to SS
   O      -2-  5  J Browne        Lineout: SS (SS)
   O      -2-  4  J Manto         Flyball: CF (CF)
                  0 runs, 1 hit, 0 errors, 1 LOB. Twins 3, Indians 7.

Jeff Lenihan explained Kelly’s moves in the Star Tribune the next day.

His move to the infield in the eighth was no gimmick. John Moses had pinch hit for shortstop Greg Gagne in the top of the inning, creating a need for an additional infielder. Gary Gaetti, Brian Harper and Kent Hrbek, each of whom has played both first and third this season (Gaetti also has played short), were available, but manager Tom Kelly wanted to keep them eligible to pinch hit in the ninth. Hrbek later delivered a pinch single that pulled the Twins within two before Gaetti, the potential go-ahead run, grounded into a game-ending double play.

Kelly moved Puckett around the infield in an attempt to position him in the spot the Indians were least likely to hit the ball. After Puckett moved to second, he and right fielder John Moses nearly collided chasing Jeff Manto’s inning-ending pop. Moses made the catch. “I take a lot of grounders when we’re messing around before BP (batting practice),” Puckett said. “And then Johnny Mo wouldn’t let me have that popup I was calling for. Brutal.”

Despite the potential action, Puckett did not record any official defensive statistics in the infield. A similar scenario occurred three more times in Puckett’s career, twice in 1992, and again in 1995.

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