Posts Tagged ‘Steve Avery’

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: 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: 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: Bunt?

August 12, 2011

The period 1991 through 1993 produced three extraordinary game six dramas. I talked about 1991 in my last post. Most people who follow baseball know about Joe Carter, Mitch Williams, and game six of 1993. I really don’t want to look at three in a row, so I think I’ll skip it to look at the 1992 game six, which was also an interesting game. It ended on, of all things, a bunt.

Cito Gaston

1992

Game six of the 1992 World Series was played in Atlanta on 24 October. The Toronto Blue Jays were ahead of the Braves 3 games to 2. It was the first trip to the World Series by a Canadian team and Cito Gaston was in position to become the first black manager to win a World Series. Steve Avery (who started game six in 1991) gave up a leadoff hit to Devon White who later scored the first run of the game.  Jays pitcher David Cone made it hold up until the third when the Braves got the run back. Candy Maldonado put the Jays back on top with an answering leadoff home run in the top of the fourth. The game settled down to a pitching duel, although the Braves went through pitchers like Tony LaRussa. In the bottom of the ninth, Gaston brought in stopper Tom Henke to close out the Series. Henke had 34 saves during the regular season and two already in the Series. He couldn’t get one more. The Braves bunched together a handful of singles and  sacrifices and tied the game, sending game six into extra innings for the second year in a row.

Toronto managed one hit in the tenth, failed to score, and Atlanta went down in order in the bottom of the inning. In the eleventh the Blue Jays used a hit batsman, a single, and a run scoring double by Hall of Famer Dave Winfield to plate two runs.  The Braves answered with a single, then got help from the Jays on an error by Alfredo Griffiin. After one out, the Braves got a run on a ground out and sent pinch runner John Smoltz to third. That brought up center fielder and lead off man Otis Nixon. Nixon was 33 (and looked 63), had stolen 41 bases during the regular season and five in the Series. He decided to get on base and score the tying run from third with a bunt. He hit it too hard. Pitcher Mike Timlin picked it up and flipped it to first baseman Joe Carter. The Jays had won their first World Series.

A lot of people wondered at ending the Series on a bunt. For a while it even overshadowed the true importance of the game. For the first time the World Series champion played its home games outside the United States. And as importantly, a black man became a winning manager of a World Series team. It may not have been the greatest game six ever, but it was historic.

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.