Posts Tagged ‘Brian Harper’

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Game 7 and the Realm of Legend

April 29, 2016

All this work on the 1991 World Series ultimately had to come to game seven. It was, admittedly, a great game, one of the truly finest World Series games ever. By this point it’s entered the realm of Legend and Mythology.

Jack Morris

Jack Morris

Game 7

On 27 October 1991 Atlanta and Minnesota squared off in the final game of the World Series. The Twins started game one pitcher Jack Morris while the Braves had John Smoltz on the mound. They proceeded to engage in one of the great pitching duels in World Series history.

Over the first five innings Morris gave up five hits and a walk with one batter reaching third and not scoring. Smoltz was as good giving up four hits and hitting a batter. As with Morris, he allowed only one man to reach third and that man stayed there.

The sixth and seventh followed in the pattern of the first five innings. In many ways the key moment came in the top of the eighth. Lonnie Smith singled. Terry Pendleton doubled sending Smith to third. Almost everyone agreed Smith should have scored, but a decoy play by Minnesota middle infielders Chuck Knoblauch and Greg Gagne kept him at third. A grounder to first recorded the first out without Smith being able to score. An intentional walk loaded the bases. That brought up Sid Bream who hit one right at Twins first sacker Kent Hrbek. Hrbek fired the ball to catcher Brian Harper for the second out and Harper fired it back to Hrbek for a three-two-three double play that ended the inning and may have been, Kirby Puckett’s great catch in game six not withstanding, the defensive play of the Series.

In the bottom of the eighth a pair of singles and a fly gave Minnesota two on and one out when the Braves pulled Smoltz. His line for the night was no runs, six hits, a walk, and four strikeouts. In came Mike Stanton, who’d pitched well so far. An intentional walk loaded the bases, then a double play liner to second ended the Twins threat.

Morris set down the Braves in order in the ninth. A pair of singles in the bottom of the ninth led to Stanton’s removal and the arrival of closer Alejandro Pena. He got out of it with a double play and a strikeout. After Morris repeated his ninth inning performance in the tenth, Minnesota came to bat in the bottom of the tenth.

Dan Gladden greeted Pena with a bloop hit to left center. When it fell between the fielders, Gladden, who had speed, took off for second and was safe. Knoblauch sacrificed him to third. That brought up Kirby Puckett who was walked intentionally to set up a double play. A second intentional walk to Hrbek loaded the bases and set up a force at home. The Twins then sent up pinch hitter Gene Larkin. With the Atlanta outfield playing shallow, Larkin lifted a fly to left center than plated Gladden with both the game and the Series winning run.

Larkin singles

Larkin singles

It was an absolutely terrific Series. Five games were won by the winning team in their last at bat. Three games went into extra innings. Only two games were won by more than one run. The Twins had eight home runs and four triples while hitting .232 (.398 slugging) and scored 24 runs. The Braves also had eight home runs and four triples, but hit higher at .253 (.422 slugging) and scored 29 runs (almost half in the 14-5 blowout that was game five). Minnesota’s ERA was 3.74, again much of it because of game five, while walking 26 and striking out 39. Atlanta’s staff was even better, showing signs of the dominant staff of later years. Their ERA was 2.89 with 21 walks and 48 strikeouts. Morris took the MVP award.

Normally I would wrap up one of these looks at a World Series at this point, but I’d like to take a few lines and comment on the way game 7 in 1991 has moved beyond normal World Series hype to take on a bit of cultural legend and myth. There are a number of reasons for this. First, it was a heck of a game. It was well-played, it was dramatic, it went into extra innings, it went into extra innings as a double shutout. There was the decoy play; there was the three-two-three double play. Like I said, a heck of a game. Second, it occurred just before the strike and was seen as baseball at its purest (never mind it used a DH and was played indoors on artificial turf). Thirdly, for three years the Twins stood as the last American team to win the World Series and they’d done it in a terrific game. Don’t forget that Toronto won the next two World Series’ and that 1994 was the lost Series (You know, you could make a pretty good TV show outta something called “The Lost Series”). Next, it was a great ending to an overall great World Series. And it has, over the intervening years become much of the lynchpin for Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame campaign. That’s kind of a shame. Morris won a lot of games, had a ton of strikeouts, pitched a no-hitter, had three rings. All of that is as important as game 7 in making the case for or against including him in the Hall of Fame. It’s like making Sandy Koufax’s case rest on game 7 in 1965 (also against the Twins, by the way) or resting Carlton Fisk’s case on game six in 1975. Whether you think either or both belong in the Hall of Fame or not, you have to make your case based on the totality of their career. The same holds true for Morris.

It think that without the legend and the mythology game 7 stands as a great game. I’m not sure it was actually better than game 6 of the same Series, but it was game 7, the ultimate deciding game. Was it the greatest game ever played? Probably not, but it easily stands in the top half-dozen or so even without the mythology that goes with it. Back a few years ago MLB.com did a series trying to identify the 20 greatest games of the last 50 years. Game 7, 1991 placed second to game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Having watched both I think game 6 of 1975 is overrated, but then I prefer great pitching to hitting. My choice for greatest game of my lifetime has to be Larsen’s game 5 performance in the 1956 World Series (I got home from school early enough to see the last couple of innings.).

 

 

 

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The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Two Games in Atlanta

April 25, 2016

Down two games to none, the Atlanta Braves picked up home field advantage for the next three games of the 1991 World Series. The games in Atlanta would produce, in its first two games, two nail-biters.

David Justice

David Justice

Game 3

The third game of the World Series was held 22 October 1991. Twins 20 game winner Scott Erickson faced Braves lefty Steve Avery. Avery started off rocky by giving up a triple to Minnesota leadoff man Dan Gladden. A Chuck Knoblauch fly plated him, but Atlanta got out of the inning without further damage. The Braves got the run back in the bottom of the second with a two out walk to catcher Greg Olson followed by consecutive singles to bring him home.

In the bottom of the fourth, Dave Justice, whose error in game two cost Atlanta a run, smacked a homer to put the Braves ahead 2-1. In the bottom of the fifth they added another run on a Lonnie Smith home run. Up 3-1,  Terry Pendleton Walked and went to second on a wild pitch. An error sent him to third and sent Erickson to the bench in favor of David West, who proceeded to walk the bases full. A further walk scored Pendleton and brought in Terry Leach, who finally got the third out.

Down 4-1, the Twins fought back in the seventh and eighth innings. A Kirby Puckett home run leading off the seventh made the scored 4-2, then in the top of the eighth catcher Brian Harper reached on an error and came home on a two run homer by Chili Davis that knotted the score.

And it stayed that way through the ninth, through the tenth, through the eleventh. Men were on base, but no one came home. In the twelfth the Twins loaded the bases, but had depleted their bench. They sent relief ace Rick Aguilera to bat with two outs. He lined out to center. In the bottom of the inning Justice singled with one out and stole second. A walk brought up Mark Lemke, who singled home the winning run.

Atlanta won 5-4 in twelve innings to halve the Twins lead in games. Despite two errors (Minnesota had one), they’d hung in to finally show they could win a game. Twins manager Tom Kelly played his entire bench and was later criticized for having to bat Aguilera in the last inning.

Mark Lemke

Mark Lemke

Game 4

On 23 October 1991, Minnesota and Atlanta squared off in game four of the World Series. The Twins sent game one winner Jack Morris back to the mound, while the Braves countered with John Smoltz, starting his first Series game.

Again, the Twins broke on top. A Brian Harper double and a Mike Pagliarulo single plated the first run of the game in the second inning. It held up until the bottom of the third when Terry Pendleton launched a homer to tie the game.

There things stayed through the sixth. In the top of the seventh, with one out, Pagliarulo hit a home run. An out later the Twins pulled Morris for pinch hitter Gene Larkin. He grounded out to end the inning. In came reliever Carl Willis to take over for Morris. He got two outs before Lonnie Smith tied the game with another home run, making three total for the game.

And there it stayed into the bottom of the ninth. With one out Mark Lemke tripled to put the winning run 90 feet from pay dirt. An intentional walk set up a potential double play which pinch hitter Jerry Willard promptly made moot by sending a sacrifice fly to right that scored Lemke with the winning run and tied up the World Series two games each. Lost in the shuffle was a great hitting performance by Pagliarulo in a losing cause and a fine two inning shutdown in the eighth and ninth by Braves reliever Mike Stanton, who took the win.

Game five was scheduled for the following day.

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Minnesota

April 17, 2016
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 spot 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.

 

Game Six: Blown Call

July 30, 2011

There have been a lot of blown calls in baseball history. There was Jim Joyce’s muff last season that cost a perfect game. In game five of the 1952 World Series, Johnny Sain, playing for New York, was called out at first on a play in the 10th inning. Photographs clearly showed him safe. Brooklyn then won the game in the eleventh. Some people argue the Steve Bartman play was a blown call. Just the other day the Pirates had a complaint. But no blown call is more famous than the “Denkinger Call” in game six of the 1985 World Series.

Game 6, 1985

1985

Down three games to two on 26 October 1985, the Kansas City Royals needed to win game six to force a game seven. Going for them was the fact they were playing at home. The game featured Charlie Leibrandt (who will show up prominently in another game six a few years later) for the home team. He had gone 17-9 during the season, but was 0-1 for the Series. Danny Cox, who was 18-9 for the season, but had no decision in his previous start, was on the mound for St. Louis.  Both men pitched well. Cox went seven innings, walked one, struck out eight, gave up seven hits, and held the Royals scoreless. Leibrandt did equally well through seven, giving up four hits, no walks, three strikeouts, and, like Cox, held the opponent scoreless.

Things changed in the top of the eighth. With one out, Terry Pendleton singled, went to second on a walk, stood at second while the next out was made. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog pulled Cox, sending up Brian Harper to pinch hit. Unlike Bob Lemon’s 1981 ploy, this one worked. Harper singled plating Pendleton with the go ahead run. Now six outs from a championship, the Cards brought in Ken Dayley. He gave up a  walk, but shut down the Royals. St. Louis did nothing in the top of the ninth, which brought the game to the last half of the last inning and  Don Denkinger’s brush with infamy.

St. Louis brought in closer Todd Worrell who had a terrific World Series to that point. The Royals countered with pinch hitter Jorge Orta. Orta hit a roller toward first and was called safe by first base umpire Denkinger. The Cardinals went ballistic and replays showed Orta was out. First baseman Steve Balboni singled sending Orta to second. An attempted sacrifice by catcher Jim Sundberg resulted in Orta being out at third. Back up shortstop Onix Concepcion, running for Balboni made it to second with Sundberg safe at first. A passed ball moved both runners up a base, then Hal McRae was walked intentionally. That brought up Dane Iorg to bat for the pitcher. Iorg was a former Cardinal and had made an out in his only previous Series appearance. He singled to right scoring both Concepcion and Sundberg and setting up a seventh game which Kansas City won handily 11-0. It is, to date, the Royals’ only world’s championship.

Denkinger had been a Major League umpire since 1969 and a crew chief since 1977. He was crew chief for the 1985 Series (his third Series) and served again as crew chief for the 1991 World Series. He did a number of All Star games and umped for several League Championship Series’. In other words, he was an experienced and respected umpire. After the end of the 1985 season he reviewed tapes of the play and admitted he’d gotten it wrong. Unfortunately, as crew chief he had the plate for game seven which St. Louis lost. Some sources blame both the blown call and the follow-up of Denkinger being behind the plate in game seven for the Cardinals losing the Series. Frankly, St. Louis couldn’t get its act together for game seven and that wasn’t Denkinger’s fault. If I blame anyone, it’s Herzog for not having his team mentally prepared for the seventh game. St. Louis, and pitcher John Tudor in particular, looked like they were going through the motions in game seven, convinced they’d won and didn’t seem to understand why they were playing another game (I’m sure Tudor would dispute that, and probably validly. But that’s how it seemed to me as a fan.). That’s the fault of the Cardinal players and managers, not the umpire. It took St. Louis 21 years to win its next World Series. Sometimes I think they thought that was Denkinger’s fault too. Denkinger is now retired and seems to have gotten over it. That’s good. So too have the Cardinals, which is better. At the 2005 Whitey Herzog Youth Foundation dinner, Denkinger was one of the speakers.

Best Possible Game 7

December 15, 2009

Ah, Game 7, the ultimate baseball postseason game. Game 7 ends the season, game 7 ends the series, game 7 crowns  winner. It’s no wonder that there have been so many very good game 7’s. The best was the 27th of October 1991.

The Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins had battled through six games with 4 being decided by a single run and one being decided by 3 runs. This game was to be as close. The Braves sent John Smoltz to the mound against Jack Morris.

The two pitchers engaged in a fantastic pitching duel. Through 7 innings neither team had scored. The Braves had left 6 men on base, the Twins only 5.  In the 8th inning Braves Designated Hitter Lonnie Smith singled followed by 3rd baseman Terry Pendleton’s double. A great decoy play by the Twins middle infielders (Greg Gagne and Chuck Knoblauch) caused Smith to pause long enough that he was unable to score and was forced to stop at 3rd.  With one out 1st baseman Sid Bream hit into a nifty first base to catcher to first base (Kent Hrbek-Brian Harper-Kent Hrbek) double play to end the threat. Not to be outdone the Twins hit into a crucial double play in the bottom of the eighth. Neither team scored in the ninth, although the Twns did leave two men on base.

In the 10th inning the Braves went in order. The bottom of the 10th saw Dan Gladden drop a hit which he stretched into a double. Knoblauch sacrificed him to third. With one out the Braves walked both Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek intentionally to set up a play at any base. That brought up pinch hitter Gene Larkin who singled over a drawn-in outfield to drive in Gladden with the Series clinching run. Morris pitched 10 shutout innings for the win.

I watched it in something like amazement. I still consider it the greatest game I ever saw entirely through.

Honorable mention game 7:

1912-in extra innings New York Giants outfielder Fred Snodgrass drops a crucial flyball opening the door for the Boston Red Sox to win the Series.

1924-also in extra innings the Washington Senators push across a run against the Giants to give Walter Johnson his first World Series victory and the Senators their only championship.

1926-In what is probably the most famous strikout in baseball history, Grover Cleveland Alexander, with the bases loaded, strikes out Tony Lazzeri to preserve the Cardinals lead. Later Babe Ruth will be caught stealing to end the game and the Series.

1940-Paul Derringer outduels Detroit’s Bobo Newsom 2-1 to bring home Cincinnati’s first untainted World Series triumph.

1946-tied in the bottom of the 8th Cardinals right fielder Enos Slaughter runs through a stop sign to score the winning run all the way from first on a double. Harry Brecheen shuts down the Red Sox in the ninth for his third Series victory as Ted Williams is a loser in his only World Series appearance.

1955-By a score of 2-0, the Brooklyn Dodgers finally win the World Series.

1960-a 10-9 slugfest between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees ends when Bill Mazeroski leads off the bottom of the ninth with a home run. It is his second home run of the Series. In the regular season he hits 11.

1962-Willie McCovey hits the ball with the tying run on base. Bobby Richardson snags it to preserve the Yankees victory.

1965-Sandy Koufax, on 2 day’s rest, shuts out the Twins on 3 hits, two singles and a double.

2001-With the Yankees ahead and Mariano Rivera on the mound in the bottom of the ninth, the Arizona Diamondbacks score two runs to upset the 3-time defending champions.

2002-With the score tied 1-1, the Angels load the bases against the Giants and Garrett Anderson’s double plates all thee runners for the margin of victory in the last game 7 played to date.