October 26, 1991, Metrodome, Twins vs. Braves, World Series, Game 6
Never in my life have I been so happy while feeling so much physical pain. That’s how the second greatest baseball game of my life ended: joy-filled pain.
The Twins were down three games to two after losing three straight in Atlanta. The first two were nail biters decided in the last at bat, but in the third game down south the Twins were trounced and things weren’t looking good.
Legend has it that legend Kirby Puckett began to turn things around in the clubhouse before the game when he told him teammates he’d carry the load that night.
My dad and I went to the Saturday night game and took the same seats we had for Games One and Two: half-way up the upper deck in left-center field. Jim Jackson kept warning his 13-year-old son that day, “Now, they could lose today. I hope you’re prepared for that.” I wasn’t. Luckily, the situation never arose.
The Twins had 20-game winner Scott Erickson on the mound while the Braves had Steve Avery who’d been hot in the postseason.
Puckett made good on his promise to his teammates in the first inning when he tripled to score the game’s first run. A few batters later, the Twins’ Shane Mack knocked in Puckett to break out of a 0-for-17 slump.
Puckett made better on his promise in the top of the third when Atlanta’s Ron Gant drove, what should have been at least a double, to left-center field. Puckett leaped up and caught Gant’s fly in mid-jump. For once, I was glad I wasn’t in my seat when this happened. My dad and I went to use the restroom and grab some food while the Braves were up. We were about to order food as I was watching the televisions in the concourse.
“He caught it!” I yelled to my dad. Maybe I didn’t say those exact words, but that’s what I think of probably because that’s what TV announcer Jack Buck yelled, more in surprise than excitement. Terry Pendleton was on his way to third when the catch was made. He had to touch second and get all the way back to first. Puckett, in his own excitement, tried to throw the ball all the way to first base on the fly instead of hitting the cut-off man and probably getting the out.
Not only was this game tension filled, but I was sitting in front of a whistler. In my younger years, I was prone to headaches. The whistler behind us didn’t help. My guess is the headache was there before the whistler, but it got a lot worse with his constant screeches of pain to my brain. My head was throbbing, but we weren’t going anywhere.
After the Braves tied the score at two in the fifth inning, Puckett’s sacrifice fly in the bottom half put the Twins ahead 3-2. In the seventh, Atlanta tied it again, sending Erickson out of the game. The pitcher’s duel began.
One more Atlanta run and the Braves would win the World Series in front of my eyes. One more Twins’ run and we’d survive to play Sunday night for the title. Our backs were against the wall, the game was tied late and my head wouldn’t stop pounding.
The game went into extra innings and there was no real threat of scoring, not even when the Twins did score. Braves manager Bobby Cox sent veteran Charlie Leibrandt to the mound in the 11th inning. Puckett led off the inning.
According to Puckett, he told on-deck hitter Chili Davis he was thinking of bunting to start the inning, hoping he’d get on base and Davis could hit a double to win the game. Davis told Puckett something to the effect of, “Bunt? Bunt my ass!”
Puckett told Davis he was going to take a few pitches first. Davis laughed knowing the Puckett rarely takes pitches and even likes to swing at anything within the Metrodome confines.
Puckett did take three pitches, sending the count to 2-and-1. Leibrandt’s next pitch was a change-up that Puckett sent into the center-field seats. TV announcer Jack Buck summed up the situation perfectly from the crack of Puckett’s bat.
“To deep left center, for Mitchell … and, we’ll see ya tomorrow night!”
Puckett’s face rounding the bases is pure baseball joy. You can see the adrenaline oozing out of him. He was greeted at home by him teammates and over 55,000 screaming, insane fans. He stomped on home plate, grabbed two of the closest teammates and lifts them in the air. With all his teammates so closely gathered around home, it almost looks as though he’s lifting the entire team with his two arms.
In his retreat to the dugout after giving high fives to anyone within range, Puckett stops in front of his manager, Tom Kelly, hugs him and buries his head into his chest. The game was over and he made more than good on his promise to carry the team to Game 7.
While this is happening, probably 60 seconds after the final pitch was made, my dad and I are already 100 yards from the Metrodome. Puckett’s home run was hit directly in front of us. I think my dad was the first to realize it was going to be a home run because the second it reached the stands we already had our coats on and were heading to the nearest exit. My headache had reached nasty status and my dad isn’t a fan of fighting traffic.
We reached the front row of the upper deck, about to go through the tunnel and out the doors when I looked back at the field and saw Puckett and his teammates gathered around home plate. I had never seen a walk-off home run in person.
I said to my dad, “Look!”
“Yeah,” my dad said, excited about the game, yet in a hurry to get his aching son home before the traffic stopped our momentum.
Our truck was about a quarter of a mile from the stadium and in between were many parking lots, streets, short fences and drop-offs.
We jogged all the way back, dodging parked cars, moving cars, hopping fences and jumping down curbs and drop-offs. No other 48-year old father and headache-stricken 13-year-old boy could have made better time.
I put my head down on the seat on the drive home while my dad and I listened to WCCO and the reply of the game.
Twins radio announcer John Gordon couldn’t have shared the joy of Twins’ fans better that night with his commentary of the home run. “Touch ’em all, Kirby Puckett! Touch ’em all, Kirby Puckett! And the Twins go to a seventh game on a dramatic home run by Kirby Puckett!”
At the time I might have thought there was no way the seventh game could top the sixth. The World Series already had four of its six games decided by one run. Two games had gone into extra innings and three were decided in the last at bat.
In the post-game interviews, manager Tom Kelly seemed to know something special was going on. “It’s a storybook World Series. Chapter six is over and now we turn the page. What’s going to happen tomorrow in chapter seven, Game Seven? Oh my God, I can’t wait,” Kelly said as he turned his cap backwards like a kid giddy to begin the game.
There’s no way Game 7 could be as exciting.
The Twins would have the old horse Jack Morris on the mound while the Braves were scheduled to start some young guy by the name of John Smoltz.