Thursday, May 24, 2012

1987 World Series: Thunder Dome

The Teams
American League: Minnesota Twins (85-77) - Second World Series
National League: St. Louis Cardinals (95-67) - 15th World Series (Won in 1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967, 1982)

What Happened
The Cardinals had been here before. Having perfected the offensive attack known as Whiteyball, after manager Whitey Herzog, St. Louis got to its third World Series in five years in 1987 by using its tried-and-true method of speed, speed, and more speed. They had the experience, they had the better-known players, and they had the better record.

But the Twins had the Metrodome. Winners of only 29 road games in 1987, the Twins went 56-25 at home, making them just good enough to win the AL West. After an upset of the Tigers in the ALCS, the Twins advanced to the World Series with home-field advantage and the best home record in baseball.

The Twins also got a break before the series started in that the Cardinals' two best hitters - Jack Clark and Terry Pendleton - were injured. Clark wouldn't play at all in the World Series, and Pendleton couldn't play in the field. With everything swinging in their favor, the Twins battered the Cardinals in the first two games in the Metrodome, scoring a combined 13 runs in the fourth inning of the two games (including a grand slam by Dan Gladden in Game 1). With the deafening crowd noise, the ceiling that made pop flies all but invisible, and the rocket blasts coming off the Twins bats, the Cardinals couldn't wait to get back to Busch Stadium for Games 3 through 5.

Once they got home, though, thing started slowly, as unheralded Twins starter Les Straker shut them out through six innings. Fortunately for the Cardinals, John Tudor was just as good, and they were only down 1-0 when they finally broke through in the seventh. Using a prototypical small ball attack, St. Louis took the lead on two straight singles, a sacrifice bunt, a ground ball double, a stolen base, and another single. With their seventh inning rally enough to win Game 3, the Cardinals swept the final two games in Busch Stadium. They were sparked by third string third baseman Tom Lawless, a surprise starter despite his .080 batting average that season. Lawless' home run off Twins ace Frank Viola in Game 4 - only the second home run of his career - gave the Cardinals a lead they wouldn't relinquish and gave them the momentum to take the series lead back to the Metrodome.

Once there, their momentum continued, as they took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the fifth. But then, the Metrodome turned back into their personal house of horrors. It started with a two-run home run by Don Baylor - the only home run he hit as a Twin - to tie the game, followed by an RBI single by Steve Lombardozzi to give the Twins the lead. One inning later. with the bases loaded and two outs, hometown boy Kent Hrbek homered to center field. It was the Twins' second grand slam of the series, and it was the clinching blow for Game 6. It also overshadowed a stunning 4-for-4, 4 run performance by Twins centerfielder Kirby Puckett.

Defining Game
When Game 7 rolled around, all the subplots were gone. The Cardinals stopped playing Whiteyball, the Twins stopped hitting moon shots all around the Dome. Instead, it was just a well-played, tight Game 7. The Cardinals got four hits off Viola in the second inning, leading to two runs. After the inning, Viola was told to scrap his. After that, the Cardinals were done, only getting two hits the rest of the way. Meanwhile, instead of scoring runs in bunches, the Twins got them one at a time. There was an RBI single by Lombardozzi in the second, followed by a game-tying double by Puckett in the fifth. In the sixth, the Twins took the lead on a two-out, bases loaded infield single by Greg Gagne. Puckett then came up with the bases still loaded and a chance to clinch the series, but he struck out. It didn't matter, though. Viola wasn't giving up any more runs. The Twins added an insurance run in the 8th, then got the final three outs for their first World Championship.

Viola was named MVP, mostly for his brilliant pitching in Game 7, though he was very good in Game 1 as well. He got hammered in Game 4, though, making his selection not quite a slam dunk. The Twins had two good offensive candidates: not surprising was Puckett, who led all players with 10 hits; surprising was Lombardozzi, who hit .412 for the series and got big hits in both games 6 and 7.

Random Fact
Where to begin? With a bulleted list:
  • Game 1 was the first World Series game ever played indoors
  • Game 6 is, as of right now, the last World Series day game ever played
  • Game 7 was the 500th World Series game of all time
  • The 1987 series was the first one in which the home team won every game
(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

St. Louis 143 7452
Minnesota 1081 22114

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

59. 1987 - Minnesota (A) def. St. Louis (N) 4-3
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis 4, Philadelphia 2
29. 1965: Los Angeles 2, Minnesota 0 
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0

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