Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Tapani’

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Blowout and the Puckett Show

April 27, 2016

With the World Series tied two games each in 1991, the baseball season came down to a best of three set of games with Minnesota holding home field. But before the teams could return to Minneapolis, there was one game left in Atlanta.

Tom Glavine

Tom Glavine

Game 5

The game of 24 October became the only blowout of the Series. The Braves lit up Twins starter Kevin Tapani for four runs in four innings (has kind of a nice symmetry doesn’t it?). He’d pitched well enough through three innings (one hit, one walk) before Atlanta unloaded in the fourth. Dave Justice hit a two run home run. A walk, a single and an interference call put a man on for Mark Lemke who tripled to score the run. Rafael Belliard followed with a double to make the score 4-0. The Braves got another on a pair of singles and a force out in the fifth to up the tally to 5-0.

Braves starter Tom Glavine was pitching well (three hits and no walks) going into the top of the sixth. He never got to the seventh. He walked four men in the sixth and gave up a single. That, plus a ground out, gave Minnesota three runs and sent Glavine to the showers.

With the score 5-3 fans were getting what was, for this Series, a fairly typical game. But for this contest, no one was finished scoring. In the seventh and eighth Atlanta exploded for nine runs (six in the seventh, three in the eighth) including home runs by Lonnie Smith and Brian Hunter and triples by Mark Lemke and Ron Gant. The Twins got single runs in both the eighth and ninth that included triples by Al Newman and Dan Gladden. The final score was 14-5 and Atlanta now led the Series three games to two. For the game the two teams combined for five triples.

Kirby Puckett, game 6

Kirby Puckett, game 6

Game 6

With Atlanta ahead three games to two, the 1991 World Series moved to Minnesota for the final two games. Although down by a game and facing elimination, the Twins had one significant advantage, they’d never lost a World Series game in the Metrodome (6-0). They got another advantage when the Braves made the mistake of pitching to Kirby Puckett.

The Twins started Scott Erickson in game six while the Braves countered with Steve Avery. In the very first inning Puckett struck. With Chuck Knoblauch on, Puckett tripled (another triple for the Series) to score the game’s first run. He later scored the second run on a Shane Mack single.

In the top of the third Erickson hit a batter, then a force moved him to second. Up came Ron Gant, who smashed a drive into deep left center. Unfortunately for the Braves and Gant, Puckett played center. By 1991 Kirby Puckett was no longer slender (I’m not sure he was ever actually slender). He was, not to put too fine a point on it, overweight, especially in the hindquarters. But people forget that when he came up he was a leadoff hitter with decent speed. He raced across center, leaped at the fence and caught the ball as it was about to hit the Plexiglas and bounce around for God knows how many bases. The runner didn’t score and Erickson got the third out on a weak tapper to first.

Puckett's catch

Puckett’s catch

In the top of the fifth the Braves tied the score when Rafael Belliard singled and Terry Pendleton homered. But Puckett was due up in the bottom of the fifth. Dan Gladden singled, stole second, went to third on a fly. All that brought up Puckett who lifted a long fly that scored Gladden on a sacrifice and put the Twins ahead 3-2. In the seventh, Atlanta got a run to tie the game at 3-3.

And it stayed that way for the rest of regulation. Puckett singled in the eighth, stole second, but didn’t score. Atlanta had to consider that a minor victory. In the top of the eleventh a caught stealing and two pop ups set the Braves down in order. To start the bottom of the eleventh, they brought in Charlie Liebrandt to pitch. He drew Puckett leading off. Liebrandt threw four pitches. Puckett parked the last one in the stands for a 4-3 Twins victory and a necessary game seven. And the Twins had still never lost a World Series game in the Metrodome.

Over the years Puckett’s performance in game six has been lost behind the mythology that became game seven. That’s a great shame. Between the hitting and the run saving, and possibly game saving, grab in left center Kirby Puckett had one of the great World Series performances ever.

 

 

 

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The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Opening Round in Minnesota

April 21, 2016

After a short detour, it’s time to get back to 1991.

The first two games of the 1991 World Series were scheduled for Minneapolis in the Metrodome. It was a place of quirks with a “baggie” in the outfield, Plexiglas in the outfield, and an inflatable roof. It was also the place that saw two excellent games and one controversial play.

Greg Gagne

Greg Gagne

Game 1

The first game was played 19 October with Twins pitcher Jack Morris facing Charlie Leibrandt. Both hurlers got through the first two innings giving up a couple of hits, but allowing no runs. That changed in the bottom of the third when Dan Gladden singled with two outs. He stole second and came home on a Chuck Knoblaugh single for the Series’ first run. That was all until the bottom of the fifth. A Kent Hrbek double and a Scott Leius single put runners on first and third for nine hitter Greg Gagne. He’d hit eight home runs all season, but grabbed a Leibrandt pitch and drove it to left field to put Minnesota up 4-1 and send Leibrandt to the showers.

It was all Morris would need. He gave up single runs in both the sixth and the eighth, while Hrbek contributed another Twins run with a home run in the bottom of the sixth. It made the final score 5-2 and put Minnesota up one game to none. For his career, Gagne managed four home runs in 12 postseason games for the Twins (the 1991 homer was his last postseason home run) while averaging only 10 a season for his career. For Morris it was a typical outing. He gave up two runs on six hits, and four walks while striking out three. All six hits were singles.

For the Series it was to be the only game of the first four decided by more than one run. It set the stage for an excellent game two, a game that led to one of the Series’ most controversial plays.

Wrestlemania

WrestleMania

Game 2

On 20 October, Minnesota hosted game two of the World Series. The hometown Twins sent Kevin Tapani to the mound in hops of taking a 2-0 lead in games, while Atlanta countered with Tom Glavine, whose job was to help tie up the Series.

Glavine was in trouble from the first. He managed to coax a fly from Minnesota leadoff hitter Dan Gladden, but right fielder Dave Justice misplayed it into a double. Then Glavine walked Chuck Knoblauch. Kirby Puckett grounded to third. Terry Pendleton got the ball, stepped on third, tossed to first, and picked up a double play that left Knoblauch alone on second. With two outs, Kent Hrbek smashed a two-run homer to left center to put the Twins up 2-0.

In the top of the second, Justice helped make up for his error with a single. He went to third on a double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Brian Hunter. That put the Braves a run closer. It stayed that way into the top of the third when one of the most controversial plays in World Series history occurred.

With one out, Lonnie Smith reached first on an error. A second out brought up Ron Gant. Gant singled to left field and rounded first wide. Gladden, the left fielder, threw to Tapani, cutting off on the mound. Seeing Gant turn wide, Tapani threw to first baseman Hrbek covering the bag. Gant dashed back and collided with Hrbek. In the process Hrbek lifted Gant off the base while holding the ball. The umpires ruled Gant out to end the inning. Atlanta argued that Hrbek had intentionally pulled Gant off the bag and thus Gant was safe at first while Smith was on third. Ultimately the umps conferred and agreed that Hrbek had been unable to maintain balance in the collision and had not purposefully pulled Gant off the bag. That made for three out and the inning was over.

It did matter. In the top of the fifth, the Braves picked up a tying run on a double, ground out, and sacrifice. That tied the score and left Braves fans wondering what might have happened had Gant been safe with Smith on third.

The score remained tied into the bottom of the eighth. Scott Leius, Twins third baseman, whose error had put Smith on in the third inning, led off. He drove a home run to left center to put Minnesota ahead with one inning to play. Twins reliever Rick Aguilera entered the game in the ninth. He struck out one, allowed a single, then struck out the final two Braves to end the game and leave Atlanta fans wondering what would have been had “WrestleMania” not broken out at a baseball game.

The Twins were ahead two games to none with the Series moving to Atlanta. The Braves now had three consecutive home games to tie up the Series or go ahead.

 

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.