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I loved Moneyball, but feel I need to critique a few things in the same way a Star Wars fan must point out Hans Solo would not have survived being frozen in carbonite.

First the good: the film is wonderfully acted by the main cast of Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  I thought Hoffman did especially well portraying a big league manager (Art Howe).  The directing and photography were well done and the baseball scenes looked legitimate … for the most part.

Unfortunately, a non-baseball fan (or even an uneducated baseball fan) can easily walk away from Moneyball misled.

The 2002 Oakland A’s were a great team.  They did win 20 games in a row.  Billy Beane did gather his team in a way that was new to the baseball establishment.  But it took much more than Scott Hatterberg, David Justice and Jeremy Giambi to do this.  The film all but omits huge contributors such as Miguel Tejada, Jermaine Dye, Eric Chavez and Ray Durham.  Aside from Chad Bradford – a good, but not great middle reliever (3.11 ERA in 75 IP) – Moneyball doesn’t mention the dominating pitching staff consisting of Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito who pitched 46 percent of the entire staff’s inning total in 2002.

Barry Zito, the 2002 Cy Young winner was a huge reason the Athletics were as good as they were in 2002.

It could be pointed out that the pitching wasn’t the point of the film.  The point was Beane was trying to fill a gigantic hole from the loss of Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon and he did so with a few players that other teams considered unworthy of a roster spot, let alone a starting position.

One of the film’s main divergences focuses on Beane’s insistence for Howe to start Scott Hatterberg instead of the young rookie Carlos Pena.  When Beane and his assistant eventually work on trading Pena, his assistant says he’s going to be an All Star.  This is nowhere near the truth.  Pena wasn’t near his potential in 2002.  His statistics with the A’s were well below average (.218 AVG, .305 OBP, .419 SLG, 141 PA) – hardly an All Star.

The film also acts as if Hatterberg didn’t get significant playing time until after the trade of Pena.  This is also not true.  Hatterberg played 136 games with 568 plate appearances.  Pena only played 40 games.

Then there are the baseball scenes.  I don’t remember anything being wrong with the stadium lighting when the A’s were trying to win their 20th straight game, but director Bennett Miller seems to have taken a lesson from Tony Scott and his horrible film The Fan.  Given the lighting in the film, Hatterberg never would have hit that home run to win the game but rather listened to three strikes he couldn’t see.

During the flashbacks of Beane’s playing career, the audience is shown Beane playing for the Twins.  Unfortunately, they put Beane in a home uniform during an outdoor game – impossible during the mid-80s in Minnesota.

Speaking of Minnesota, even though the scene that portrays the A’s final game of the season is very short, there are a number of inaccuracies.  Eddie Guardado is the final pitcher for the Twins.  Guardado was not the athlete like the actor portraying him.  He was a chunk.  Corey Koskie catches the final out from the bat of Ray Durham in fair territory near third base.  The final out was caught by the second baseman Denny Hocking deep in foul territory behind first base.  It was also a day game with the sunny, cloudless sky a factor with high fly balls.

Eddie Guardado

During the Twins’ celebration the audience hears commentators talking about why Minnesota won and the A’s lost.  They forget to mention the Twins had an almost equally small payroll (Twins $50.4 million vs. A’s $44 million.)

Moneyball is a great film.  I wasn’t looking for absolute accuracy and didn’t expect it.  The book mentions Beane’s daughter, but not to the depth of the film.  I loved the father/daughter aspect of the film.  It adds a human quality to Beane that makes his decision in the end more appreciated.

In The Rookie, Jim Morris’s big strikeout in his first game takes only three pitches.  In real life, it was four.  Is this 100-percent accurate?  No.  Do I care?  No, but it’s fun to point out.

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Note to Triple In the Gap readers: I have joined the Peace Corps and have been living in Thailand since January and will be here until around opening day, 2013.

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

Living without baseball hasn’t been as difficult as I thought.  The number one question I was asked from friends and family before I left was, “What are you going to do without baseball?”  This made me wonder if people thought I was so shallow that all I thought about was baseball.  No, I also enjoy good literature and films like Shoeless Joe and The Natural.

Like all the other luxuries I enjoyed in the states (peanut butter, toilet paper, comfortable weather, libraries with English books) I don’t miss what I don’t have.  If I was in the states and was barred from going to baseball games, then I’d miss it.  But there’s no one here asking me if I saw the play that Denard Span made last night or what a great time they had at the Saints game, so I’m apathetic.

Honestly, I am!

“If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.” – Dave Barry

However, I am getting small fixes now and then through the games I have saved on my computer and the computer game Baseball Mogul (I’m currently playing a full season as the Billy Martin-led Twins of 1969.)  As for reading the news on the internet, I’m pretty satisfied simply checking the Twins box score and then the standings to see what team’s been hot lately (as of today, the Twins!).

Now that the season’s in full swing, I keep getting the comment, “It’s a good thing you’re not here with how bad the Twins are.”  I strongly disagree.  No, I don’t want to go back just to see a Twins game, but I have honestly missed bad Twins teams over the last decade.  We Twins fans have been spoiled.  We are not Yankees fans – we do not need to go to the World Series to be satisfied with our team.  We take what we get and I think the last decade has spoiled us  to the point where they’re a little more like Yankees fans, but still light years away from their egotism.

“This is a game to be savored, not gulped.  There’s time to discuss everything between pitches or between innings.” – Bill Veeck

Last season was frustrating for me.  For my entire life I could always count on going to the Metrodome by myself or a friend on game day and finding a seat to watch the greatest major league baseball organization in the history of Planet Earth.  Last year, the fair-weather fans flocked to the brand new Target Field like it was a 1994 Garth Brooks concert.  Twice I showed up by myself hoping to squeeze in somewhere – no go.  Meanwhile, there were 40,000 people inside about to see the game and 5,000 of them would leave early because their short-attention spanned kids consumed too much cotton candy and Mountain Dew and wouldn’t stop crying for two innings while witnessing one pitch through six innings … the first one.

“I believe in the Church of Baseball.  I tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones.  I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan.  I know things.  For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball.  When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance.” – from Bull Durham

I’ve watched some of the best baseball of my life when the Twins were “bad” (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/best-of-the-best-greatest-games-attended-6-10/).This year, 2011, the novelty of Target Field has worn off and the Twins are horrible with their number one draw, Joe Mauer, on the bench with owwy legs.  I think I’d be able to get a seat on game day now.  I don’t care if the team’s bad.  One of my favorite Twins teams was from 1996 with Paul Molitor and Chuck Knoblauch leading off the lineup with matching .341 batting averages (Molitor’s was slightly higher) and a pitching staff that couldn’t strike out Babe Ruth (present day).

If there’s something I miss most about baseball at this point, it’s that everyone at the games speak English.  I miss it, but in the same way I miss my friends, family and book stores – it’s what I signed up for and I was prepared for that sacrifice.

As for the 2011 Twins, I don’t care how bad the team is, I just want to be able to see them without having to buy a ticket four months in advance.

“The other sports are just sports.  Baseball is a love.”  – Bryant Gumbel

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Here are some of my favorite pictures I’ve taken from ballparks around the country.

For the record, my favorite major league park is PNC Park in Pittsburgh and the best minor league is Fifth Third Field in Toledo.  Click on the photos to enlarge.

 

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In terms of baseball, the 1991 World Series was the best ever played.  Critics can turn to others and make a case based on TV viewership, large-market teams or national security, but when it comes down to the best possible baseball being played, 1991 runs away from the pack.

The main story behind that World Series was both teams, the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves, were in last place in 1990.  No team had ever come from last place to the World Series in one season and in 1991 two teams did it.  Most people love an underdog and 1991 had two of them.

Many point to 2001 as the greatest ever with 9/11 less than two months old and the New York Yankees at center stage.  It’s true, it was a great World Series and one of the best.  There were four games decided by one run, three in the final at bat and two that needed extra innings.  Most of the nation, for once, was rooting for New York.

In 1975 the Boston Red Sox looked as though they might end their championship drought against the Big Red Machine, Cincinnati Reds.  This series contained five one-run games and two decided in the final at bat.  Games 1, 3 and 7 contained comeback wins for the Reds while Game 6 remains one of the greatest World Series games ever with Bernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk carrying Boston to victory and keeping hope alive.  The vastly talented Reds, however, won an exciting seventh game to win it all. 

In 1955 the Brooklyn Dodgers final beat the Yankees for their first and only title.  The underdog Cardinals and Pete Alexander defeated the Yankees in 1926.  The “bad guys” New York Mets won a thrilling sixth game at Shea Stadium to propel them to the 1986 championship.  The Red Sox and New York Giants needed eight games (one ended in a tie) in 1912 to decide it all with the Red Sox winning one of the greatest final World Series games of all time (it’s certainly the best Game 8 of all time).

Any World Series involving the Yankees or Red Sox tend to be over publicized.  This isn’t to say 2001 and 1975 didn’t have great World Series, but they don’t match up to 1991 – here’s why.

There is nothing more exciting than a walk-off win.  The suspense is held and the game is decided in the final at bat and the home team and fans go home happy.  This happened four times in 1991.   Over half of the final seven games weren’t decided until the last batter of the game.  All four of those games were decided by one run along with one other: five games decided by a single run.  There was little room for error in the 1991 World Series.

For the first time in World Series history, three games needed extra innings.  The Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves were the most evenly matched teams in World Series history.

The series started slow enough in Game 1.  The Twins won 5-2 thanks to home runs from Chili Davis and Kent Hrbek.  Jack Morris earned the win.  Although it was a well played game, this would be the Twins’ most boring victory.

The pitchers took over for the second game.  The Twins’ Kevin Tapani and Cy Young winner Tom Glavine battled.  With the game tied at two in the eighth inning, the Twins third baseman Scott Leius went deep off Glavine.  Rick Aguilera struck out the side in the ninth for the save to preserve the 3-2 win.

Gregg Olson took Dan Gladden's spiking at home plate with good sportsmanship.

It was the third game were things started to get really exciting.  Down two games to none, the Braves needed to win.  The franchise hadn’t been in the World Series since the Milwaukee Braves in 1958 and had never been in the Series since its move to Atlanta in 1966.  Down 4-1 in the seventh inning, the Twins stormed back to tie the game at four with a run in the seventh and two in the eighth.  In the bottom of the 12th, with two out and David Justice on second, Mark Lemke stepped to the plate.  Lemke was a .234 hitter that year, but had 10 hits in the Series and batted .417.  His single scored Justice to give the Atlanta Braves their first World Series win ever. 

Jack Morris returned to the mound for the Twins in the fourth game.  A 24-year old John Smoltz pitched for Atlanta.  A 2-2 tie followed the Braves into the bottom of the ninth.  The night before a .234 hitter was the hero.  In Game Four, a .214 hitter with 16 plate appearances was the hero: Jerry Willard.  With Lemke on third, Willard drove a shallow fly ball to Shane Mack in right field.  The throw was on time, but Twins catcher Brian Harper could only get an elbow, not his glove, on the sliding Lemke.  The Braves won 3-2 and evened the series at two games apiece. 

The fifth game was the anomaly for the 1991 World Series with Atlanta crushing Minnesota 14-5.  This only set up the notion that the Braves might run away with the title in Minnesota.

Atlanta had their two walk-off wins.  Now it was Minnesota’s turn.  In the first five games, Kirby Puckett was batting .167 (three-for-18).  Puckett foreshadowed how his night would go in his first at bat with Chuck Knoblauch on first base.  The centerfielder tripled down the left-field line to score Knoblauch and put the Twins on top.  Both starters (Steve Avery and Scott Erickson) were taken out after six innings.  Both bullpens proceeded to go into Operation Shutdown.  It was Mike Stanton and Alejando Pena for the Braves and Carl Willis and Rick Aguilera for the Twins.  Manager Bobby Cox decided to put left-handed junkballer Charlie Leibrandt on the mound to start the 11th inning with the score still tied 3-3.  Puckett took three pitches and then launched a hanging changeup into the left-center field seats sending Minnesota into dome-controlled chaos. 

“It’s a storybook World Series,” Tom Kelly told reporters after the sixth game.  “What’s going to happen in Game 7, Chapter 7?  Oh my, God, I can’t wait,” the Twins manager said as he turned his cap backwards to a throng of giggling reporters.  How could you not giggle?  Not only were you about to watch the seventh game of the World Series, but you were about to see the final game of a World Series that had already been spectacular.  How could the final act not be spectacular?  But at the same time, many must have wondered, how could it top the last game?  Or the third game?  Or the fourth game?  Thanks to a grizzled veteran and a young, unestablished pitcher, the seventh game of the 1991 World Series was the greatest in history.  In the words of the highlight film released in time for Christmas that year, “It was a beautiful dream and a tension-filled nightmare all wrapped into one.”

Another great aspect of the 1991 World Series worth noting was the sportsmanship shown by both teams to begin the final game.  As Lonnie Smith stepped into the batter’s box for the first at bat, he stuck his hand out to Twins catcher Brian Harper and they shook hands.  I still have never seen a gesture like than in professional baseball. 

Jack Morris and John Smoltz traded one scoreless inning after another.  Neither team posed much of a threat until the eighth.  In the eighth inning of the 1991 World Series, every real fan of the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins lost five years of their life.  The Braves had runners on second and third with no out in the top half.  No one really knows why Lonnie Smith didn’t score from first on Terry Pendleton’s double, but there are theories.  One is that Smith simply lost the ball as Dan Gladden and Puckett chased it against the left-center field wall.  Another is Smith fell for shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Knoblauch’s decoy which made it appear they were fielding a double-play ball.  My theory is a combination of the last two along with God and/or the baseball Gods wanted the Twins to win the World Series.

Morris managed to get Ron Gant to ground out weakly to first base.  Then, after walking David Justice, Sid Bream hit into a 3-2-3 double play to end the inning.

The Twins had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom half before Kent Hrbek lined into an unassisted double play to the shortstop.  Even in the ninth Minnesota started the inning with two singles before Mack hit into a double play and later Paul Sorrento struck out to strand a runner on third. 

And still, Jack Morris kept pitching.  He pitched a scoreless ninth and 10th inning.  In the bottom of the 10th inning, the Twins showed the world how baseball was played in Minnesota.  Dan Gladden broke his bat on a bloop single to left-center field.  His hustle stretched it to a double and the Twins thought they might see a light at the end of the tunnel.  Knoblauch put down a sacrifice bunt and Gladden was on third with one out.  The Braves walked Puckett and Hrbek to face … Jarvis Brown?  No, but he was due up.  Manager Tom Kelly put in of his best pinch hitters through the years: Gene Larkin.  With the infield and outfield playing in, Larkin poked a single over the leftfielder’s head to send Gladden home to a waiting Morris.  The starting pitcher had just thrown 10 shutout World Series innings and faces don’t get happier than Morris’s when Gladden touched home plate.

There may be bigger names names in other World Series and others may be more historical.  Names like Ruth, Mantle, Jackson, Jeter and Clemente come to mind when many fans think of the World Series.  There was one hall of famer in the 1991 World Series (Puckett) and two or three others who hope to make it (Glavine, Smoltz and Morris).  But the Series wasn’t defined by them.  It was defined by great baseball games.  If every World Series was compared to each other with a blindfold to the fan – not knowing what the teams, players, cities, fans or ballparks are – there was never a more evenly matched and enjoyable World Series than 1991.

This celebration was part happiness and part tension release.

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The first criticism I heard about Ken Burns’ new documentary, Baseball: The 10th Inning, was from my parents.  Being the good mid-west people they are, they’re tired of hearing about the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.  So am I, but at the same time: what’s done is done.  They told me it contained too much Yankees and Red Sox.  This turned me off, but then I thought about it and realized it would be very difficult to make a documentary about baseball from 1992 through 2009 without including those two teams.

Having said that, I loved Ken Burns’ new addition to his original nine-part series.  Burns takes his best sources from the original series like George Will, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Thomas Boswell and Roger Angell and puts them right back in front of the camera for a great perspective on the last two decades of the game.  Burns also calls on new opinions to the game like Howard Bryant, Joe Torre and Pedro Martinez.

Burns gives great perspective on the steroids era, starting with Jose Canseco and the Oakland A’s of the late eighties and flows to Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and eventually Barry Bonds.  Almost every story that is told in The 10th Inning I’ve heard before, but never from the perspectives they’re told from here.  It’s great to hear of Pedro Martinez’s dominance from 1997 through 2003 from Pedro as well as noted sportswriters.  I’ve known the story of Ichiro as I’ve been watching him play since his first game in 2000, but never really thought about what an anomaly he was from the rest of the game.  While the name of the game in the beginning of the century was, as George Will puts it, “Get two guys on base, get Godzilla to the plate to knock it into Tokyo Bay,” Ichiro was playing like a throwback to the deadball era and Negro leagues.  Ichiro is Cool Papa Bell!

 

Ken Burns

 

The story of Bonds cannot be ignored and Burns tackles it well from a small biography of his father, Bobby, to his time with Pittsburgh and onto his big signing with San Francisco before the 1993 season.  Burns shows the viewer how Bonds became the egotistical player he was.

I was worried Burns would go through all five of the Yankees World Series victories in depth, but instead, we only get to really know the 1996 Yankees.  That team happened to be the one New York squad I was rooting for (and likely, the rest of the country).  Joe Torre gives great insight to that team along with how the Series went down after losing the first two at home to the Braves.

Burns uses a lot more players than the previous nine innings and every one of them contribute well to the story.  Omar Vizquel, Ichiro, Torre and Martinez all show they have a great personality to match their skills on the diamond.

If it isn’t obvious that Burns is a Red Sox fan by the film, then watch the bonus footage and be thankful most of it was cut.  There is a full games highlights at Fenway Park as well as the entire guided tour in the special features.  Much of the interviews are certainly worth watching, especially from the ballplayers.

Much like my attitude at the time, I was happy to listen to the stories of the 2004 Red Sox, but was glad to move on once it was done.  Thankfully, Burns doesn’t dwell on the 2007 team and only mentions them along with the other World Series winners from 2005 through 2009.

Fans of small market teams may feel left out of this four-hour film, but this isn’t the All-Star Game and everyone can’t be included.  I would have loved to see more on the Twins, but how much is there to tell to the casual fan who’s not from the midwest?

I think the greatest compliment Ken Burns’ original documentary received was from my girlfriend who didn’t know anything about baseball or even care about it.  I was watching the second inning and Ty Cobb was being profiled.  She watched a few minutes and said, “I could watch this.”  When even the non-baseball fan enjoys it that much, imagine how much real baseball fans can get out of it.

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First and foremost this postseason, I hope the Minnesota Twins win it all.  If that can’t happen, all I ask for is some excitement in major league baseball’s postseason.  It’s been a long time since there’s been some serious drama for the baseball playoffs. 

My definition of a great postseason is fairly simple: a lot of series-deciding games and underdog victories.  I need plenty of division series that go to five games and championship series and World Series that reach the seventh game.  By this definition, the last good postseason was 2003.  

In the last decade of postseason play, there have been 70 series: 40 division series, 20 championship series and 10 World Series.  Only 27 percent (19) have gone to a deciding game.  It’s up to you to determine if this number is low, but to me, it’s far too low.  Why?  Because it’s October and soon I’m not going to see competitive baseball for five lonely months and I want to see as much as possible before I spend 10 minutes every morning scraping ice off my windshield while dreaming of the warm breeze running through the upper deck of Target Field. 

I’ll break down the number of deciding games in each series:
Division series – 25% (10 of 40)
Championship series – 35% (seven of 20)
World Series – 20% (two of 10). 

Only two World Series have reached a seventh game and they came in back-to-back seasons (2001 & 2002).  This is the lowest total by decade since the 1930s, when there was also only two seventh games (the highest total was six, in the 1960s).  This cannot stand.  I realize a good seven-game series has a lot to due with luck and getting two very evenly matched teams against each other.  There’s not much more to it than that.  This blog is not about solutions or reasons why baseball hasn’t had a good postseason for a while.  It’s pretty much just a baseball fan venting his frustration.  

Despite Minnesota’s first of four straight first-round exits in the 2003 playoffs, it proved to be a great October to watch baseball.  In the division series the Cubs and Braves traded wins with Chicago taking the final game thanks to the pitching of Kerry Wood.  The Oakland A’s took the first two games against the Red Sox, only to watch Boston win three straight to send them to the ALCS against the Yankees.  The Marlins / Giants series proved exciting even if it was decided in four games with Florida winning the fourth game thanks to the heroics of Ivan Rodriguez.  

The last time there was a great postseason, Kerry Wood was a good pitcher for the Cubs.

 

Then came the championship series.  On paper they look exciting with both games going to a seventh game.  In real life, they were more than exciting.  At the time, I was rooting for the Red Sox and Cubs, as was most of the nation.  The Red Sox hadn’t won their World Series they’d get the next year and spawn millions of bandwagon fans and the same can be said for Cubs fans … minus the World Series title, of course.  Boston held a 5-2 lead of the seventh game entering the eighth inning.  Some Red Sox fans will point fingers to manager Grady Little or Pedro Martinez, but I pointed straight up to Babe Ruth.  It was the last year of the curse of the Bambino as he guided the Yankees to score three eighth-inning runs followed by an eleventh inning home run by Aaron Boone to take the Yankees to the World Series.  

On the north side of Chicago, there was also a curse involved, but this one hasn’t been broken yet and has much more to do with a poorly run organization and play.  With the Cubs holding a 3-2 lead in the series and a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning, Moises Alou threw a conniption fit when he wasn’t able to make a catch on a foul ball in the stands which then caused shortstop Alex Gonzalez to drop an easy ground ball which then caused the Chicago Cubs to wet the bed and allow eight eighth-inning runs and lose 8-3.  Wood was rocked in the seventh game and Florida won to take the NL pennant.  

The World Series didn’t go seven games, but when the Yankees are involved, I also root for a quick finish.  Josh Beckett shut down New York 2-0 in the sixth game, giving the Florida Marlins their second championship.  

That was a good World Series.  The last great World Series was in 2002 when the Anaheim Angels defeated Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants four games to three.  

Seven years!  It’s been seven years since baseball fans have seen a truly great World Series and six years since there has been a good amount of drama throughout the postseason.  We’re due.  

What do I want from my postseason?  I want John Smoltz versus Jack Morris-style pitching duels.  I want underdog victories from the small-market teams as well as teams who haven’t been seen in the postseason for a long time.  I feel like a James Bond villain as I say this, but I want the Yankees eliminated!  I don’t want to see them in the championship series, let alone the World Series.  The same can be said for the Philadelphia Phillies, but not to the same extent.  I like the players on the Phillies, but they’ve been dominating the National League playoffs the last two seasons and I’d like to see someone new in the World Series.  

FOX Sports and Yankees fans are the only ones who would love to see A-Rod go deep in the postseason.

 

There are some great story lines waiting to happen, but none of them include Mariano Rivera getting the last out in another World Series.  No one thought the Reds would be better than the Cardinals, much less the rest of the division.  The Giants lineup, with exception to rookie Buster Posey (great baseball name, by the way), is from the land of misfit toys.  Baseball fans would like to remember Bobby Cox’s last postseason as a competitive one.  No one believes in the Rays, especially in Tampa Bay.  The Rangers have never won a postseason series.  The Minnesota Twins are the greatest baseball organization in the history of mankind. 

There are so many good things that can happen this postseason.  I’m hoping for all the baseball that’s possible.  The postseason will consist of between 24 and 41 games.  C’mon baseball, we won’t see you for a while … let’s make it last. 

The end of the last great postseason.

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This is usually where fans and players say their team had more heart than their opponents.  I do not jump on the bandwagon that says the championship team had more heart than the others.  However, I will do my best to convey how and why the Twins won the AL West, flew by the better-on-paper Detroit Tigers and took down the speedy St. Louis Cardinals in an exciting seven-game World Series. 

The real MVPs
The Blue Jays’ George Bell won the American League MVP award that season, but an argument could be made that Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola should have shared it.  Without those two starting pitchers, the Twins could have found themselves at the bottom of the AL West.  As a team, the Twins had a 4.63 ERA.  Take away Viola and Blyleven’s numbers and the Twins’ ERA jumps to 5.29.  The top two starters combined for a 3.47 ERA, 32 wins and 518 2/3 of the team’s 1,427 1/3 innings pitched.  Blyleven’s season was even more amazing as he approached the single-season record of home runs allowed that he’d set the previous season with 50 (see: https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/blyleven-scattered-50-home-runs-throughout-1986/).  The Dutchman gave up 46 in ’87.  

Other contributors on the mound
Although I’ve pointed out the many misfires in the Twins’ pitching staff, there were a few others who could be counted on.  Les Straker had spent the previous 10 seasons in the minors for the most part.  He emerged in ’87 to win eight games and sport a 4.37 ERA with 154 1/3 innings pitched.  More importantly, Straker pitched nine innings over two starts in the World Series and held the Cards to four runs.  Many argue he was prematurely taken out of the third game in St. Louis after pitching six shutout innings and holding a 1-0 lead.  Juan Berenguer allowed three runs after pitching only 1/3 of the seventh inning and the Cardinals went on to win 3-1.  

Speaking of Berenguer, aside from his performance in the World Series, the Panama-born relief pitcher was a rare bright spot in the bullpen.  Signed as a free agent before the season, Berenguer won eight games, lost only one while sporting a 3.94 ERA.  He proved even more valuable against the Tigers in the ALCS, pitching six innings of relief and allowing only one run and one hit while striking out six.  Berenguer recorded a five-out save in the second game, racking up four strikeouts.  

Senor Smoke.

 

Keith Atherton wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad coming out of the bullpen.  The glasses and mustache-wearing Virginia native won seven games with a 4.54 ERA. 

They didn’t beat themselves
Like the Twins of 2010, the ’87 squad didn’t give its competition many free chances.  Minnesota led the league in fielding percentage in ’87 (.984) and had the least number of errors as well (98).  Kent Hrbek (1B), Gary Gaetti (3B), Dan Gladden (LF) and Tom Brunansky (RF) were all in the top five at their respected positions in fielding percentage in the American League.      

Murderer’s row
The Twins didn’t have an entirely dangerous lineup, but there were four batters in the middle of the lineup who were known to put a few balls in the gaps and seats.  Minnesota hit 196 home runs in ’87; 125 of those were hit by Kirby Puckett (28), Kent Hrbek (34), Tom Brunansky(32) and Gary Gaetti (31).  Opposing pitchers had to feel a huge relief when they got through these four in the lineup.  Gaetti wasn’t much of an on-base machine that year (.303 OBP), but he got his hits when they mattered. He knocked in 109 runs and also had 36 doubles.  Although Brunansky struck out 104 times, he also drew 74 walks, raising his OBP to .352.  Hrbek’s 34 home runs were despite playing in only 143 games.  He earned his top slugging season in ’87 with a .545 mark while drawing 84 walks and struck out only 60 times.  

And then there’s Puckett.  The center fielder tied Kansas City’s Kevin Seitzer with the most hits in the AL with 207.  Puckett played 157 games while putting up his staggering, yet consistent offensive numbers (.332 / .367 / .534) while never seeing a pitch he didn’t like and couldn’t hit hard for a single (at least).  The biggest smile in baseball also had 32 doubles, five triples, 12 stolen bases, 98 RBI and 96 runs scored.  Puckett’s regular season was best known for what he did over two days in Milwaukee, August 29 & 30.  The stout-legged Twin went 10-for-11 with two doubles, four home runs, six RBI and seven runs scored.  He also robbed another future hall of famer, Robin Yount, of a grand slam of the second game with one of his well-known leaps against the wall.  

Other contributors on the field
There was also the defense of Greg Gagne and Steve Lombardozzi up the middle, the clutch hitting of Randy Bush, Gene Larkin and Roy Smalley, the speed of Al Newman and the veteran presence of a late-season acquisition, Don Baylor.   

The man with a plan and really big, dark glasses
Manager Tom Kelly was 36-years old when the 1987 season began.  He took over as Twins manager after Ray Miller was fired with 23 games to go in the ’86 season.  Kelly won 12 of those 23 games.  The no-nonsense manager took a team that should have won about 79 games to World Series champs the next season.  Kelly was not in the dugout for the fame, he was there to do a job.  This seemed obvious as the Twins celebrated on the field after winning the seventh game of the World Series and Kelly quietly sat on the bench and allowed his players to have this time for themselves.  His managing style has stretched to the present day where every Twins team is built on knowing the fundamentals and avoiding physical and mental mistakes; respect the game and your opponent and they will respect you back. 

 

They got hot when they needed to
Everything I’ve written up until now proves that the 1987 regular season Twins were far from the 1991 Twins or the 1965 Twins, or 1969, ’70, 2002, ’06 or ’10.  But when the postseason began and the Metrodome roof nearly popped off from so much noise, the Twins couldn’t be beaten.  I mean that literally: they were 6-0 at home in the postseason (2-4 on the road).   

My mom took my nine-year old 60-pound body to the first game of the championship series against the Tigers were I watched Gary Gaetti launch two homers and my Twins put up four runs in the eighth inning to beat Detroit 8-5.  Bert Blyleven pitched the Twins to a 6-3 victory in game two.  If it wasn’t for an eighth inning two-run home run from Detroit’s Pat Sheridan, the Twins may have swept the series.  Instead, they won games four and five at Tigers Stadium to take the AL pennant; the franchise’s first since 1965.  The Twins saved their wins against the Tigers for the playoffs: they were 4-8 against them in the regular season.    

In the World Series, it was dome, sweet, dome.  The Twins outscored St. Louis 33-12 at the Metrodome.  Minnesota managed only five runs at Busch Stadium in games three, four and five.  Late-season acquisition Don Baylor, who had last hit a home run on August 23 while he was still with the Red Sox.  Baylor’s home run was a grand slam against the Twins.  After picking him up off the waiver wire, Baylor hit well as a designated hitter, but didn’t show much power.  Down 5-3 in the fifth inning of the sixth game of the World Series, Baylor tied the game with a two-run home run.  Twins fans will show no shame in saying Baylor only hit one home run for Minnesota. 

It was Hrbek who blew the game open with his sixth-inning grand slam.  I remember hearing the rumor that when the mighty Minnesotan high-fived the Twins’ bat boy before touching home base, he broke the poor kid’s wrist.  Don’t quote me on this one as this was a rumor that was circulating through my peers at Columbus Elementary.  I realize fourth graders aren’t the most reliable source.  I think I still believed in Santa Claus, too.  

It was this man who allegedly broke the hand of the batboy after his game six grand slam.

 

After batting only .191 for the season, catcher Tim Laudner batted .318 for the series and knocked in four runs.  Second baseman Steve Lombardozzi hit a meager .238 in the regular season, but turned into Ty Cobb against St. Louis, batting .412 with four RBI.  Dan Gladden, after an average season at the plate and a great season in the field, he finally let his bat match his glove in the postseason.  Gladden batted .314 in the ALCS and World Series combined, leading all Twins starters.  Puckett batted .357 against the Cardinals and tied a World Series record in Game Six with four runs scored.  

Frank Viola’s 3.72 ERA and two wins were enough to win him the World Series MVP trophy.  Blyleven won one game with a 2.77 ERA.  Despite his shakiness during the regular season, Jeff Reardon did not allow a run over four and two-thirds innings.  

Nine years old or 32, I love the Twins
I was nine years old and I had yet to develop the attention span to watch a complete game on television.  I did, however, grab the Star Tribune sports page every morning and look at the box scores, standings and statistics.  I always went right to Kirby Puckett’s line from the previous game to see if he gained any ground on the batting title (I’d sometimes check Wade Boggs as well in hopes of an 0-for-5 game).  I wasn’t much for reading columns and features (unless they involved Kirby), but I would keep an eye on the standings as well as the statistical leaders in each league.  

I was playing baseball with my neighbor and buddy Brian when the Twins won the AL pennant in Detroit.  I remember my mom calling out to me, “Jeff, do you want to watch the Twins in the last inning?  It looks like they’re going to win!”  “No, that’s okay,” I replied, as I was too content to throw the ball around with Brian to be bothered with my favorite team winning its first pennant in 22 years.  

I can also remember my dad telling my sister and I after the Twins won the World Series that we should appreciate it while it lasts because we probably wouldn’t see it again.  We were fortunate enough four years later to see the Twins celebrating a World Series title and I’m keeping my fingers crossed again this year.

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