In short, it was super-awesome! But allow me to expand…
In 1987, the Minnesota Twins won their first World Series since moving to the Twin Cities from Washington, DC in 1961. The win, admittedly, was a bit of a fluke. The Twins benefited from winning a weak division, but comported themselves very nicely when facing the Detroit Tigers, whose regular season record was 98-64, in the American League Championship Series (ALCS). The Twins, with a regular season record of 85-77, beat the best team in baseball that year in five games. They went on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals (95-67) in the World Series in seven games, winning their four home games. The boys really did enjoy home field advantage that season, with a record of 56-25 at home (best in the majors in 1987) and 29-52 on the road.
And for Twins fans, which I am one, it was glorious!
It had been decades since Minnesota had a championship-winning professional team. It was 1954 when the Minneapolis Lakers won their last NBA Championship. They moved to Los Angeles in 1961, taking the greatest team name in all of sports with them. (I know whenever I think of Los Angeles, I think of lakes, don’t you?) The Minnesota Vikings had lost four Super Bowls by 1977 and have never been back. The Minnesota North Stars had lost the one Stanley Cup Finals they had been to in 1981 (they would make it back in 1991 and lose and then left the state in 1993). The Minnesota Timberwolves wouldn’t begin their futile existence until 1989. The Minnesota Wild wouldn’t begin theirs until 2000. (Minnesota did get a consistent championship-caliber team with the Minnesota Lynx in 1999. That Women’s National Basketball Association team has won four championships. Kudos!)
So, in 1987, Minnesotans were pretty damned pleased with the Twins. In fact, after the boys beat the best team in baseball in the ALCS, there was an impromptu gathering of fans in the Metrodome, the home of the Twins and the Vikings. The word went out earlier that day that the doors would be opened at the “Dome” and fans could come in to greet the returning American League Champions. The team was told they would be heading to the Dome for a fan celebration, but they did not anticipate the number of fans that would be there and the shear outpouring of love and gratitude. The greeting brought third baseman Gary Gaetti to tears. It was a beautiful thing. It’s even getting me a little misty as I write this.
Four years later, the Twins were back in the post-season. This time it wasn’t fluky at all. With a regular season record of 95-67, they were a team to be reckoned with. They still had a few of the core team from 1987 on the roster: Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Greg Gagne, Al Newman, and Dan Gladden. They had added an outstanding rookie, Chuck Knoblauch, and a wily veteran pitcher, St. Paul (my hometown) native Jack Morris. Morris had been one of the most dominating pitchers in the 1980s and he still had some gas in the tank.
When the Twins faced the Atlanta Braves in the World Series in 1991, both teams having finished in last place in their respective leagues the season before, no one knew just how great that series would be. It’s legendary! I’ve seen it ranked as the greatest World Series of all time, beating out the 1975 series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. And, like the ’75 Series, it had one of the greatest Game 6s of all time.
The Twins were down three games to two when the series returned to the Metrodome. As in 1987, the two teams involved had won their home games. Twins fans (and some of the players) were a little worried about this must win Game 6, but Twins great Kirby Puckett told his teammates to climb on his back. He would see them through to a win.
He was true to his word. He had multiple hits, drove in a run and scored a run, and made a spectacular catch at the wall, which prevented a multi-base hit and at least one run from scoring. As was the case with most of the previous five games (only one game was a blowout), this one was a nail-biter. It went into extra innings and Kirby wasn’t done.
In the bottom of the eleventh, Kirby came up to hit against Atlanta’s left-hander Charlie Leibrandt. Puckett told his teammate Chili Davis that he thought he might be able to bunt for a hit. Davis said, “Bunt, my ass!” and encouraged the slugger to put the game away. Puckett worked the count to two balls and a strike, which is unusual for him being a free swinger and all, when Leibrandt hung a change-up right where Kirby wanted it.
Then came six of the most memorable words in baseball. The baseball announcing legend Jack Buck said, “And we’ll see you… tomorrow night!“
And that tomorrow night brought us possibly the greatest pitching performance in World Series history, and I’m including Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 Series. A perfect game is a marvel to behold, but being Game 5, the series was not on the line. In 1991, Jack Morris’s brilliant 10 innings of shut out baseball in the final game of the Series was phenomenal, considering the game was scoreless until the bottom of the tenth, when Gene Larkin drove in Dan Gladden. And the Minnesota Twins won their second World Championship. (Third if you’re pedantic and include the Washington Senators‘ only World Championship win in 1924.)
Great story if it ends there (apologies to the Dana Gould Podcast), but there is more to tell.
I worked evenings in those days, so I would hurry my way through work to catch as much of the games as I could. However, Game 6 was on Saturday night, so I could head on down to the local watering hole and take in the entire game. I was sitting next to one of the elder regulars, a fellow named Chic. Chic was known to all the bartenders in the area. He didn’t do much other than drink. I think he was in his 60s, but he appeared to be at least twenty years older.
At the same time, down in a sports bar in Florida, was a group of Twins fans taking in the game. This group included the sister of a friend of mine. The group were the only ones in the bar cheering on the Twins, Florida being so close to Georgia, the rest of the patrons were pulling for the Braves.
As I said, the game was a nail-biter. Until, we fans of the Twins saw that Leibrandt was being brought in to pitch against Kirby Puckett. You see, the Braves’ pitcher had played for the Kansas City Royals, a team in the Twin’s division, and our boys were familiar with Charlie. They knew how to hit against him very well. They had had good numbers against him already.
As Kirby stepped into the batter’s box, the Minnesota contingent in the Florida sports bar began to cheer. The Braves fans looked at those Minnesotans as though they were crazy. In Minnesota, I turned to Chic and said, “We’ve got this game!”
After making my declaration to Chic, I turned back to the TV and saw Puckett hit the ball out!
It was fantastic! I hope we are all in store for another outstanding Game 6 in this year’s World Series.
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