Posts Tagged ‘Ron Gant’

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.

 

 

 

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 hopes 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: Atlanta

April 18, 2016
Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta

Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta

By 1991, the Atlanta Braves were largely irrelevant for 20 years. They’d made a playoff or two and lost quickly, and Hank Aaron had hit his 715th homer while in Braves uniform, but that was about it. Their owner, Ted Turner, may have been more well-known than the Braves. That changed in 1991, when they, like the Twins went from last place to a pennant.

Manager Bobby Cox was over from a stint as manager and general manager at Toronto (and he’s never really gotten proper credit for that). He led a team that went 92-70 and beat Pittsburgh for the National League pennant. They were second in the NL in runs, doubles, average, and OBP. They were third or fourth in slugging, OPS, hits, and homers. The staff was third in ERA, saves, and runs given up while being first in hits allowed (meaning they gave up the fewest hits in the league).

The staff was, in some ways, the heart of the team, although it was not yet the staff that dominated most of the 1990s (Greg Maddux wasn’t there). Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, and Charlie Leibrandt were all lefties and accounted for three-quarters of the main staff. Glavine had 20 wins, Avery 18, and Leibrandt had 15. Glavine’s ERA was 2.55 and easily led the starters. John Smoltz was the right-hander. He went 14-13 and had a starter high 3.80 ERA. Between them they started 141 games. Glavine led the team with 192 strikeouts and Avery’s ERA+ of 116 led the starters. Galvine, Avery, and Smoltz all produced WAR above 5 with Glavine leading the team at 9.3. All that got Glavine his first Cy Young Award. Juan Berenguer had a 2.24 ERA and 17 saves while Mike Stanton appeared in 74 games with an ERA of 2.88. By late in the season Dodgers reliever Alejandro Pena had taken over the closer role racking up 11 saves in 14 appearances with an ERA of 1.40.

Greg Olson did most of the catching. He was 30, hit .241 with no power, and allowed stolen bases at a rate above the league average. Mike Heath was his backup. He was 36, hit even worse, and wasn’t any better behind the plate. Playoff hero Francisco Cabrera got into 31 games, only a handful as catcher.

Six men shared outfield duty. David Justice, former Rookie of the Year, was in right field. He was third on the team with 21 home runs, hit .275, had 87 RBIs (good for second on the team) and managed all of 1.6 WAR. Otis Nixon and Ron Gant shared time in center. Nixon was fast, leading the team with 72 stolen bases and walked more than he struck out. Gant provided the power. He led the team with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs. His WAR was 1.4 while Nixon checked in at 2.2, Left field saw Lonnie Smith and Brian Hunter split duty. Smith wasn’t much of an outfielder (the called him “Skates” for a reason), but he could still hit going .275 for the season. Hunter was new. He played a lot at first and was another player in the lineup primarily for his bat. His 12 home runs were fourth on the team. Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders got into 54 games for Atlanta, primarily in the outfield. He hit .191 and had 11 stolen bases.

The infield was stable at the corners and in flux up the middle. MVP Terry Pendleton, over from St. Louis, hit .319 with 22 home runs, 86 RBIs, and a 6.1 WAR, tops among non-pitchers. Sid Bream was across the diamond at first. He was notoriously slow (which is part of what makes his “dash” in the playoffs so famous), but could hit and fielded his position well. He had 11 home runs in 91 games (Hunter did most of the first base work in Bream’s absence.). Jeff Treadway, Rafael Belliard, Jeff Blauser, and Mark Lemke worked the middle of the diamond. Treadway hit .320, Blauser popped 11 home runs, neither Belliard nor Lemke hit .250, but both were good defensemen.

The Braves, like the Twins, were surprise winners. They had a nice mix of veterans and fairly new guys and a pitching staff that was rounding into form. With Glavine winning the Cy Young and Pendleton the MVP they were capable of winning the whole thing.

 

 

Game Six: One Man Band

August 10, 2011

Did you ever notice how one player can completely take over a game? Bet you’ve seen it a thousand times with pitchers. Occasionally a hitter can do it too, but it’s not as frequent as with pitchers. The World Series has produced a handful of games in which one player simply steps up and decides “this game is mine and we will not lose.”  Take a look at both Sandy Koufax in game seven of 1965 or Bob Gibson in game seven of 1967. Those are two pitchers that did just that, take over a game and refuse to lose. I’ve got a game six position player who did the same thing.

Puckett hitting the home run in game six, 1991 and the statue of him at the new Twins field

1991

I’ve said before that 1991 is simply the greatest World Series I ever saw. Game six is one reason. It was played 26 October in the Metrodome. The visitors sent Steve Avery in to pitch what could be a close out victory for Atlanta. The home team Twins sent Scott Erickson to the mound. His job was to keep Minnesota alive for Jack Morris and game seven. Fortunately for him and the team, Kirby Puckett was playing center field.

Erickson got through the first inning, then Puckett took over. With one on and one out he laced a triple that scored the first run (keep track with me–1 RBI). Then he scored the second run (1 run) on a Shane Mack hit. So far, Puckett 2, Braves zip.

In the third inning with a runner on first, Ron Gant hit a long fly to deep left center field. Puckett was playing Gant in right center. Puckett dashed across center, raced to the fence, leaped and caught the ball against the fence for out two. The Braves didn’t score. You’ve all seen Willie Mays’ 1954 catch. Some of you remember Ron Swoboda’s 1969 World Series catch. I’ll bet you can name a handful of Ken Griffey or Jim Edmonds or Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter catches in the regular season. Puckett’s catch ranks right at the top with any of them. Remember he’s in right center, he’s got short legs and a jelly donut filled backside (I’m trying not to say he was pudgy), and he caught the damned thing. It was arguably the greatest catch I ever saw and if not, it’s certainly in the top five.

So now we’re Puckett 2, plus a great catch, Braves still zip. Of course that wasn’t going to last. The Braves tied it up in the top of the fifth. Want to guess who was going to bat in the bottom of the fifth? Dan Gladden singled, stole second, and went to third on a bunt. Up came (you guessed it) Kirby Puckett who launched a long sacrifice fly that put the Twins back on top (1 run, 2 RBIs). So now we’re Puckett 3-Braves 2.

The Braves tied the game in the top of the sixth and Puckett wasn’t due up in the bottom, so the game remained tied through the ninth (although Puckett singled in the eighth). Neither team scored in the tenth. In the eleventh the Braves got a man on, had him thrown out stealing, and then went in order, bringing up the bottom of the eleventh and bringing up Puckett one last time. He immediately hit the ball over the fence and ended the game (Puckett 4, Braves-3). The next night the Twins won it all in ten innings.

Here are a couple of lines from the game: Braves-3 runs, 3 RBIs, and 9 hits. Puckett–2 runs, 3 RBI’s, three hits (in four at bats), and a superior catch. Puckett had a hand in all four Twins runs, either scoring or knocking in each. It was a dominating performance. I can’t recall seeing a better one among position players in a World Series game (feel free to nominate your own candidate if you have one). Unlike SportsPhD, I’m not a particular Twins fan, but what a treat to see such a great performance.

20 Greatest Baseball Games

May 9, 2011

Jack Morris, 1991

Don’t know if anyone but me has been following MLB Network’s 20 Greatest Games series. It’s a series that let fans vote and experts decide on the 20 best baseball games of the last 50 years. It begins with Richardson’s catch to end the 1962 World series and goes through last year’s no-hitter in the playoffs. They had about 50 games you could vote on and then they’ve been doing a two-hour special with Bob Costas and a couple of the players left from the game. They show the game (or at least most of it) and talk to the players about what happened, how it felt, what they thought, what perspective they’ve gained over the years, etc. All in all, it’s a pretty good series. It shows at 7pm Eastern time on Sundays and if you’ve missed the ones they’ve already done, I’m sure they’ll reshow it. The list is pretty standard, the focus is on playoff and World series games, and there aren’t a lot of surprises in it. And because it’s limited to 50 years, the film is pretty good (and Don Larsen is left out).

Last night they walked us through the second greatest game of the last 50 years. It was game 7 of the 1991 World Series. For you who don’t know, that’s the 1-0 10 inning Twins over Braves thriller that capped the greatest World Series I ever saw. They had Jack Morris and John Smoltz, the two starting pitchers, as guests and both were a lot better than I thought they’d be, especially Smoltz. Next week they’re doing the greatest game of the last 50 years. The hints make it obvious that it’s game 6 of the 1975 World Series, Fisk’s “body english” home run.

I think they have the two games reversed. I saw both and 1991 was better in a couple of ways. First the score in 1975 was 7-6 with 24 total hits,  nine walks, and an error. That’s too much offense for a truly great game. Frankly, if offense makes great games, people should love game four of the 1993 Series. The final was 15-14 with 32 hits and 14 walks; runners all over the place. I don’t know anyone who thinks it was a particularly great game (unless, I guess, you’re a Toronto fan–they won). I also remember the 1975 game was not particularly crisply played and ultimately became famous because one cameraman kept his camera focused on Fisk so fans could see him “push” the ball fair. If I had to pick a game I saw involving Boston that I thought was the greatest of the last 50 years, I’d go with either the Buckner wickets game (which is a top five for this show) or the “Bucky bleepin’ Dent” game which also made the list.

But compare the 1991 game. Both teams went ten innings, scored one run, there were 17 hits, no errors, 7 walks (three intentional). There were base running blunders (Hello, Lonnie Smith), a couple of great double plays (Lemke unassisted and a 3-2-3 that was utterly special). There was great pitching, good strategy, some wonderful catches (including a superb one-handed job by Terry Pendleton). All in all I simply consider it a superior game to the one in 1975. And not least because Jack Buck’s “The Twins are going to win the World Series” is one of the great calls of all time. I’ll also never forget Twins manager Tom Kelly hugging Braves outfielder Ron Gant. Pure class and great acknowledgement of how great a game and Series Kelly had just witnessed.

Anyway, feel free to disagree. But don’t fail to watch next week. Hopefully you can find the rest of the set sometime soon.