I originally wrote this for Twinscards.com in 2007.
1991 World Series Game 6
Saturday October 26, 1991
The 1991 World Series returned to Minneapolis with a completely different feel than it had left five days before. The Twins returned home trailing in the series, three games to two, after the Braves defeated them in Game 5, the only blow out of the series so far. What’s more, Atlanta had Steve Avery on the mound for Game 6, the pitcher that had become something of a phenom in the NLCS. The Twins countered with Scott Erickson, who had been all but untouchable in June of that year, but had run into some post season problems. To many, the Braves seemed like the team of destiny, and Game 6 was when they were likely to achieve that destiny.
Prior to the game, Twins manager Tom Kelly had nothing but praise for Avery.
“You have to give the kid a lot of credit for poise and composure,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t look like he has any fear in his eyes. He’s going to be one of the great ones. We’re going to have to take the ball up the middle against him and scratch for some runs.”
Kelly’s reputation lent some doubt as to whether his praise for the Atlanta pitcher was genuine. There was open speculation in the local papers that it was a ploy to get into the young pitcher’s head.
Master plan or not, the Twins got to Avery early. After Scott Erickson worked around a single and a walk to get out of the first inning unscathed, the Twins offense started with one out in the bottom of the first. After Chuck Knoblauch singled, Kirby Puckett, who had told the rest of the team earlier in the day to “jump on his back,” tripled with a ground ball down the left field line. Puckett later scored when Shane Mack connected with his first base hit of the series two batters later. The Twins held a 2-0 lead over the Avery and the Braves.
Erickson maintained the lead through four innings, not necessarily with dominant pitching. He was helped along the way by some great defensive plays, including Scott Leuis’ jumping grab of a Brian Hunter line drive in the second, and Puckett’s leaping grab of Ron Gant’s drive in the third inning, which robbed Gant of an easy double.
The Braves finally cracked the score board in the fifth, when NL batting champion Terry Pendleton connected with a two-run home run to center field. No sooner had the Braves tied the game than the Twins took the lead again, this time on a sacrifice fly by Puckett in the bottom of the fifth. Erickson retired the Braves in order in the fifth inning, but was ultimately removed from the game after he allowed a lead off single to Mark Lemke, who had been an unlikely October hero for the Braves. Lemke ended up scoring later in the inning to once again tie the game. Erickson’s night was over. Though he wouldn’t get a decision in the game, he had performed well enough for the Kelly, allowing three runs over six plus innings pitched.
Avery, meanwhile, didn’t come out for the seventh inning, and ended his game with three runs on six hits over six innings pitched. The respective bullpens made relatively easy work of the batters over the next several innings, Puckett’s one out single in the eighth and subsequent stolen base notwithstanding. The Braves got a lead off single in the 11th, but it was immediately removed when Keith Mitchell was caught trying to steal second. The score remained tied into the bottom of the 11th.
Five years prior, Charlie Leibrandt was on the hill for Kansas City in a must-win late season game against the first place Minnesota Twins. With a man on and one out in the bottom of the first inning, Kirby Puckett launched a home run to left center that set the tone for an 8-1 Twins win and ultimately a season’s end for the Royals. Now, in an even bigger situation, Bobby Cox called on Leibrandt to extend the game another inning. The first batter he would face: Kirby Puckett.
A 2-1 hanging change up from Leibrandt was the catalyst for arguably the most memorable moment in team history. Puckett launched the ball to left center field where it landed among the 55,155 fans in the Metrodome. As he rounded the bases, fists pumping, Jack Buck made his famous call that set the stage for a memorable Game 7.
Kirby Puckett had been in some way responsible for each of the four Twins runs, and in all likelihood took away an Atlanta run with his catch in the third inning. The Twins went on to win the series in seven, but Kirby Puckett almost single-handedly got them there with his performance in Game 6.