Here, finally, is the greatest game I have ever attended. I’m fairly certain it will forever be my No. 1 game, but that could change should the Twins find their way back to the World Series.
The list will forever be expanding and changing, however. I attended a 3-0 Saint Paul Saints win a few weeks ago that could easily creep its way onto this list thanks to a walk off three-run home run to end the game in the 10th inning. As the game entered the 10th inning, my dad said, “I think this is the first 0-0 tie we’ve seen since the seventh game of the World Series.”
There was no need to put into detail which World Series he was talking about.
October 27, 1991, Twins vs. Braves, Metrodome, World Series, Game Seven
“I just want an easy win – Eight to one, seven to two – something like that where I don’t have to worry.”
Those were the words of my mother that Sunday morning.
The heroism of Kirby Puckett sent the Twins to a deciding Game Seven of the World Series the night before. My screaming headache was gone after a couple Tylenol’s and a good night’s sleep.
Back to my mother’s comment, there are two things I can’t stand about watching ball games with her. One is she’s a ball of nerves during close games. The Twins will be playing Kansas City in early May with the tying run on third for the Royals in the ninth inning and my mom can hardly watch. She doesn’t get excited, she gets scared.
The other thing she likes to do is judge players based on either one good or bad game she saw or their looks. Because of this, the Twins’ Gene Larkin was screwed from the beginning. First off, he’s a little funny looking with his dark thick eyebrows and pale face. To go with that, there must have been some game in the regular season where Larkin came up in a big situation and struck out and my mom was watching. It doesn’t matter if Larkin would go on to win the MVP award; he was no good in my mom’s eyes.
“Oh, God, they’re putting Gene Larkin up there! We’re doomed.”
I heard that throughout the 1991 season. It didn’t matter when I told my mom he was batting .280 and got on base a lot (Larkin batted .286 with a .361 OBP in 291 plate appearances in 1991 – fantastic numbers for a role player). He failed while she was watching and he’s not as cute as Dan Gladden.
Once again, I got my warnings from my dad before my mom and I went to the game. “Now, they COULD lose tonight. Be ready for that.”
In 1991, no one in the Metrodome realized how legendary the pitching match-up would be. Sure, everyone knew the St. Paul native Jack Morris was already a legend. Morris already had a World Series ring with the 1984 Tigers and was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s. Before the season began, many believed Morris was past his prime, but he proved them wrong with 18 wins and a 3.43 ERA over 246 innings.
Everyone knew about Morris’ past, but no one could predict the future of the Braves’ starting pitcher, John Smoltz. He grew up in Michigan idolizing Morris when he played for the Tigers. Smoltz was a young pitcher with little on his resume in 1991. No one knew he’d become one of the most dominating pitchers of the 1990s and 2000s, both as a starter, then a nasty closer and then back to a starter.
The Twins won 95 games during the regular season. The Braves won 94. It seemed only fitting that the championship for those two almost identically talented teams came down to the last game of the year. At this point four of the six World Series games were decided by one run and three of those were decided in the final at bat giving the home fans plenty to go crazy about.
The Braves leadoff hitter, Lonnie Smith, seemed to realize how closely matched these teams were and how hard they’d worked when, before leading off the game, reached out and shook the hand of the Twins catcher, Brian Harper. I had never seen such a classy show of sportsmanship at that point and wouldn’t again until the 2004 playoffs when the Los Angeles Dodgers shook hands with the Cardinals after St. Louis booted them out of the playoffs in three straight games. As much as I despised the Braves for the decade, I have to say they played the game with respect.
There’s really not much to report on for much of the game. Morris and Smoltz took over from the first pitch. It was wisdom and experienced grit against youth and energy.
Once the game hit the fifth or sixth inning and there was still no score, my mom started to get nervous. I was nervous, too. Sitting in the upper deck in left-center field, the tension would easily be felt. No one could score, let alone get close – until the eighth.
Smith started the top of the eighth with a single for Atlanta. What happened during Terry Pendlton’s at bat, with Smith on first, would not be believable in a story. The baseball Gods must have wanted the Twins to win because the Braves should have scored. It’s one of those eerie baseball moments much like the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Six of the 1986 World Series.
Smith was in his fourth World Series with his fourth different team. Pendleton, who’d sat out the 1987 Series when he was with St. Louis, seemed to be making up for his absence.
Pendleton slapped an easy double off the left-center field warning track. After hitting the wall, the ball hung in the air above the heads of Puckett and Gladden, for what seemed like two minutes. The baseball ghosts invaded the Dome while everyone was focused on that floating ball. Everyone, that is, but Lonnie Smith.
On his way to second base, Smith got confused. The Twins shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Chuck Knoblauch pretended they were fielding a double-play ground ball. Did this confuse Smith? Maybe. Did Smith simply lose track of the ball? Maybe. Did the baseball ghosts hold up Smith after rounding second base? Who knows what was going through his mind, but as Gladden and Puckett were scurrying for the ball, Smith stopped and watched, still in the second-base dirt. Eventually, he made his way to third. Without the delay, he may have scored.
The Twins were still no where near the end of the inning. Atlanta had runners on second and third with no out. Ron Gant stepped to the plate, only having to hit the ball past the drawn-in infield or to hit a fly ball to the outfield to put the Braves up. Normally a power hitter, Gant did the opposite when Morris got him to hit a weak grounder to Kent Hrbek at first base. Hrbek tagged Gant and held both runners from advancing.
Morris intentionally walked Justice to load the bases and set up a hopeful inning-ending double play with the Braves’ Sid Bream due up. What’s more exciting than a home run in the World Series? A 3-2-3 double play to end an inning where the opposing team started the inning with runners on second and third and no out, that’s what. Bream hit a solid grounder right to Hrbek at first base. He threw right to Harper at home to get the force out who then threw a strike right back to Hrbek get Bream. Hrbek pumped his fist in celebration and the Metrodome exploded.
I can remember being a bundle of nerves, wondering if I’d be watching the Braves celebrate a win on our field. It was so damn exciting, yet it was so nerve-racking – and I was 13! It’s an age where you still look up to the ball players. They’re your heroes. They’re almost mythical. When I speak to friends who are Milwaukee Brewers fans, I feel a little sad for them. The Brewers are a great team with a storied history, but they don’t have that World Series championship.
It’s moments like the top of the eighth inning of Game Seven that Brewers fans don’t have and I sincerely wish they did … even if they do root for Milwaukee. Every baseball fan between the age of eight and 15 deserves a World Series title. I realize how blessed I was to have two of them.
It looked like the Twins were going to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded and Minnesota native Hrbek at bat. It was at this point, I thought my nerves couldn’t get worse. Hrbek lined into a double play to end the inning.
Smoltz had been replaced, but Morris went out there again for the ninth inning.
“Morris is still pitching!” I said to my mom.
Twins manager Tom Kelly had warmed up a few pitchers, but he kept with Morris.
The Braves went down easily in the ninth. The Twins got pinch runner Jarvis Brown to third with two out in the ninth, but Paul Sorrento struck out to end the inning. I remember thinking, “Paul Sorrento is going to be a World Series hero, because he’s unlikely.”
I was half right.
“Oh, my God, Jack Morris is going out there again!” I told my nerve-racked mom.
I’d never seen a pitcher go 10 innings, much less in a World Series. It was working as Morris retired the side to set up the Twins half of the 10th.
Leading off was Gladden. He’s not the most talented player on the Twins, but he may have been the hardest working – always giving his all. His broken-bat blooper off Alejandro Pena landed between the Braves’ centerfielder and leftfielder. The dome-field advantage kicked in as the ball bounced above the jumping Brian Hunter and into the David Justice’s glove in centerfield as Gladden hustled to turn his single into a double. The throw to second came just as Gladden did. He slid into second a split second before being tagged. SAFE!
The Twins horrible stadium and hustle had put a runner on second with no out in the bottom of the 10th inning of the seventh game of the World Series. Metrodome, I won’t miss your stale atmosphere, narrow concourse, football seating, ugly turf, uglier roof, nasty hot dogs, nosebleed seats, bad sound, horrible sight lines, or anything else, but I will miss the Twins’ advantage when we play at home.
Knoblauch, the American League Rookie of the Year, was up next. What he did was boring, yet extremely important and underrated. He bunted … perfectly, getting thrown out by third baseman Pendleton and sending Gladden to third.
With one out and a runner on third, the Braves needed a double play, so they walked Puckett and Hrbek to load the bases, giving them any base to throw to.
It was Chili Davis’ spot in the order, but he was taken out for a pinch runner in the ninth. Jarvis Brown was due up, but Tom Kelly knew he needed a better bat.
“Now batting – No. 9 – Gene! Larkin!”
My mother groaned in horror.
“Oh, no, Gene Larkin!”
I had to put a stop to this.
“Now, mom,” I said, “If he gets a hit here, you can never make fun of him again.”
“Okay, okay,” she said.
The Braves had their fielders in. Even the outfielders were shallow in case a hit got through, there still might be a chance to throw out Gladden coming home. If there was a shallow fly ball, they’d be able to throw him out if he tagged.
With the bases loaded, one out and the Twins’ season was held in the hands of their backup first baseman.
The hit came right at us in left-center field. The Braves outfielders didn’t make much of an effort knowing that even if they caught it, it was so deep they’d have no chance of throwing out the speedy Gladden at home. It bounced once off the left field turf and the crowd exploded – I did nothing. It bounced twice, the crowd was hemorrhaging, Gladden was on his way home to an ecstatic Jack Morris and the rest of the Twins bench – I stared at the ball. It bounced a third time (747s are quieter than this crowd) and Gladden and Larkin are being mobbed by teammates in two separate piles of celebration – I finally realize what just happened. The Minnesota Twins, my team, just won THE greatest World Series of all time.
“We won! We won! We won!”
My words were more out of shock than excitement. It was a lot like graduating: You were more surprised it was finally over than excited for the outcome. It seemed like it would go on forever.
I jumped up and down, I hugged my mom, I screamed, clapped and waved my Homer Hanky.
I’m not sure if the tears came from happiness or the collapsing of nerves or both, but I couldn’t hold it back.
Many baseball writers point to the 1975 Series as the greatest or the 2001, but I disagree. Nineteen-ninety-one gets looked over only because there were two small-market teams. The 1975 Series had Boston and Cincinnati while 2001 had Arizona and the Yankees. The ratings may have been higher for those, but they weren’t as great. The Diamondbacks and Yankees came close with three games decided by in the last at bat including the seventh. The 1975 Series is famous for Game Six and a good Game Seven.
Nineteen-ninety-one had five games decided by one run, three went into extra innings and four were decided in the last at bat. It was the greatest World Series ever. I was there, my team won and I know how blessed I am.