The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Minnesota

Inside the Metrodome, Minneapolis

Inside the Metrodome, Minneapolis

My World Series memories go back into the 1950s. Some of them are pretty vague, but they’re still locked away somewhere in my brain and come back every so often. So I missed some of the great World Series’ of the 1910s and the 1920s and even the ’30s and ’40s. Some of those may have been the greatest World Series ever played, but I missed them. For my money in my lifetime the best I ever saw was in 1991. It’s been overshadowed by its own game seven and the controversy over Jack Morris’ qualifications for the Hall of Fame, but 1991 was more than Morris and game seven.

The 1990 Minnesota Twins finished dead last. They recovered and won the American League West in 1991, then ran past the Blue Jays to win the pennant. Manager Tom Kelly’s gang won 95 games by leading the AL in average, OBP, and hits while coming in second in slugging, OPS, and total bases. They were third in triples, fourth in runs, and sixth in home runs. The staff was second in ERA and in saves, third in runs allowed and fourth in shutouts.

The infield consisted of long-time Twin Kent Hrbek, rookie (and later Rookie of the Year) Chuck Knoblauch, Greg Gagne, and a platoon system at third. Hrbek was an underrated first baseman whose 20 home runs were second on the team. His 89 RBIs also tied for second and, in a rarity for modern hitters, walked more (67) times than he struck out (48). Knoblauch filled a hole Minnesota had for a while by playing a decent second (he’d not yet forgotten how to throw to first). He also walked more than he struck out (59-40) and led the team with 25 stolen bases. Gagne made only nine errors all season at short, hit .265, and was tied for fourth in stolen bases. Mike Pagliarulo was the left handed hitting part of the third base platoon. He’d come over from the Yankees and hit .279 in 365 at bats. Scott Leius was the righty at third. He hit .286. Between them they gave the team 11 home runs and 56 RBIs. Al Newman and Gene Larkin did much of the backup work in the infield. Newman was noted more has a pinch runner than either a hitter or fielder but had been caught more often (five times) than he’d been successful (four times) in stealing a base. Larkin hit .286, Newman a buck-91. Both also walked more than they struck out. Hrbek, Knoblauch, and Larkin had OPS+ numbers of 100 or better (Knoblauch’s 125 was high) and Knoblauch’s 2.8 WAR barely topped Hrbek’s 2.7 to lead the infield.

The outfield was, from left around to right, patrolled by Dan Gladden, Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, and Shane Mack. Gladden, a San Francisco refugee, led off and was dead last of the starters with a .306 OBP and his .356 slugging percentage was second lowest among starters (ahead of only Knoblauch). He wasn’t a bad outfielder and had some speed on the bases. His 15 stolen bases were second on the team, but he was a strange choice as a leadoff hitter (although in defense of Tom Kelly it worked). Puckett hit .319 with 15 home runs, 89 RBIs, and 195 hits. All were either first or second on the team. As usual he didn’t walk much (my son used to say he never met a pitch he didn’t like) and he was a competent center fielder who, despite his weight, could run some. In game six he would prove to be a spectacular fielder. Mack was in the game for his bat. It’s not like he was an awful outfielder, but his .977 fielding percentage wasn’t all that good for a big leaguer. He made up for it by hitting .310, putting up 74 RBIs, and leading the position players with a 140 OPS+ and a 5.0 WAR. Randy Bush and Pedro Munoz did most of the outfield backup. Between them they had 13 home runs, 49 RBIs, and Bush hit .303.

Chili Davis, another Giants cast off, was the designated hitter. He led the team with both 93 RBIs and 29 home runs. He also led the team with 34 doubles and his 141 OPS+ was a point higher than Mack’s, although his WAR was only 3.3.

Brain Harper did the catching. He was another player in the game for his bat. He was third in errors and second in stolen bases allowed, but he hit .311, second to Puckett on the team. There were 10 home runs, 69 RBIs, and a 111 OPS+ to help make up for his lack of glove.

The staff was new. Of the team that won the 1987 World Series, none of the main pitchers remained. The primary starters were led by Jack Morris, who has by now become famous for nothing except his game 7 performance. He was a star in the era, with a no hitter and a World Series ring from 1984. He was also famous for having more pitching wins than any other pitcher in the 1980s. In 1991 he was 36 and went 18-12 with a team leading 163 strikeouts. Kevin Tapani was 16-9 and had the only ERA under 3.00 (he was 2.99). His 135 strikeouts were second on the team to Morris and his 6.8 WAR led the team. Scott Erickson was a 20 game winner (20-8) over 204 innings. His ERA was 3.18, but had been going up as the season wound down. Allan Anderson was 5-11, the only lefty among the starters, and the only other pitcher to start 20 games. Rick Aguilera was the stopper. He’d managed 42 saves and a 2.35 ERA over 69 innings. He had a 1.072 WHIP. Steve Bedrosian managed six saves, and Mark Guthrie had started 12 games in a sport starter role.

The Twins had fallen a long way from their 1987 championship, but rebounded in 1991. In some quarters they were favored, in other they were underdogs. Few people bothered to point out that they had a secret weapon. They would play four games in the Metrodome. In the history of the Twins, they were 0-6 on the road in the World Series, 7-1 at home.

 

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