I originally wrote this at twinscards.com in 2007.
1991 World Series Game 7
Sunday October 27, 1991
Just hours after Kirby Puckett took the team on his back to win Game 6, the Twins were back at the Metrodome preparing for Game 7. St. Paul native Jack Morris was brought in as a free agent for the 1991 season, and would now take the hill for the most important game of the season. Morris already had a reputation as a big game pitcher, mostly for his efforts in 1984 when he went 3-0 in three post season starts with the Detroit Tigers while holding the opposition to just five runs over 25 innings in that post season. Morris was prepared for another run in the post season, and had promised that “If I feel like King Kong, I’ll throw like King Kong” before the 1991 World Series started.
Morris and the Twins knew that it was likely he was going to need to throw like King Kong in Game 7, because runs weren’t going to come easy for the Twins. Taking the mound for the Braves that night was John Smoltz, then just a 24-year-old most famous for coming to Atlanta in the trade that sent Doyle Alexander to the Tigers for what turned out to be an unsuccessful run in the 1987 playoffs (a year when the Tigers were eliminated by the Twins). Of the big three pitchers for Atlanta, Smoltz may have been the less publicized, but he had quietly gotten the job done, including a very strong showing against the Twins in Game 4.
The game started with a handshake between Atlanta lead off man Lonnie Smith and Twins catcher Brian Harper, who had met earlier in the series under very different circumstances in a violent home plate collision. Whether it was a gesture by Smith to bury the hatchet, or more indicative of the battle that the Series had been up to that point is unclear, but it was a unique start to a baseball game.
Smoltz and Morris, as advertised, settled into a pitcher’s duel immediately. Both retired the side in order in the first inning, then worked around some trouble in the early innings. The Twins got a pair of two out singles off of Smoltz in the second inning, but a Pagliarulo ground out ended that threat. The Braves had runners at first and second with just one out in the third inning when Morris retired Pendleton and Gant in order to keep the score 0-0.
The Braves threatened again in the fifth. Series hero Mark Lemke led off the inning with a single, and had advanced to third on two bunts, the first a sacrifice, the second a bunt single by Lonnie Smith. With runners at the corners and one out, Pendleton and Gant had a chance to redeem themselves for the missed opportunity in the third inning. It was not to be, however, as Morris got an innocent pop up out of Pendleton, and caught Gant looking with a third strike that erupted the crowd and caused Morris to pump his fist as he jogged off the field.
The teams entered the eighth inning with the score still tied at zero. In the top of the frame, Smith led off with a single that brought Pendleton to the plate with Smith on first and no outs. Pendleton launched a drive to left center that should have easily scored Smith, but at the end of the play he had only made it to third. Replays showed Smith pull up when he saw short stop Greg Gagne fake a throw to Knoblauch at second. The bluff confused Smith long enough that he was unable to score the go-ahead run.
Still, the Braves had runners at second and third with no outs and the heart of the lineup due to bat against Morris, so a run seemed inevitable. After Morris induced a weak ground out from Ron Gant, the Twins decided to give David Justice and intentional pass to load the bases for Sid Bream. Bream hit a hard grounder to Hrbek at first who was playing in to cut down the run at home. He did that, then took the return throw from Harper to complete the double play and end the inning with no damage done.
In almost a mirror image of the Atlanta half of the eighth, the Twins loaded the bases with one out in their half. With Kent Hrbek ready to bat, the Braves had brought in Mike Stanton to intentionally walk Puckett and try to wiggle out of the inning. A hard line drive off the bat of the slumping Hrbek was hit right to Braves shortstop Rafael Belliard who easily stepped on second to complete the double play.
The Twins looked like they might end the game in the bottom of the ninth with two consecutive singles to start the inning, but Alejandro Pena came on and got a ground ball double play and a strikeout of pinch hitter Paul Sorrento to send the game into extra innings.
Five years earlier, in Tom Kelly’s first World Series as manager, ace pitcher Frank Viola came to the dugout after the eighth inning of Game 7 with a 4-2 lead and wanted to continue. Kelly didn’t let him, explaining that Reardon had been the man in the ninth all season, and sent his closer out to finish the Series. After Game 7 of 1991, the same manager said the only way he could have removed his starter on that day was “with a shotgun,” and told pitching coach Dick Such after the ninth “it’s just a game, let him go” – so Morris took the mound for the tenth inning, and promptly retired the Braves in order.
Dan Gladden led off the Twins’ tenth with a broken bat looper to short left center. On what most likely should have been a single, Gladden made into a double by hustling around first while the Braves fielders played the ball on the high hop from the Metrodome turf. A perfectly executed sacrifice bunt from rookie Chuck Knoblauch sent Gladden to third, and the Braves opted to walk both Puckett and Hrbek to load the bases with Jarvis Brown on deck, who had entered the game to run for Chili Davis in the ninth.
Kelly called Gene Larkin’s name to face Pena with the bases loaded and one out. Larkin had a bad knee, and had only seen three previous at bats in the series. All that was meaningless, however, when Larkin drove the first pitch he saw over the heads of the drawn in outfield to clinch the World Series for the Twins.