Thursday, October 20, 2016

Reliving 1991 - Game 2: The Ballad of Hrbek and Gant

Welcome to Game 2 of the 1991 World Series, 25 years later. If you missed Game 1, the Braves started their worst pitcher, Jack Morris may or may not have thrown spitballs the entire game, and Greg Gagne and his Boston accent hit the game-winning home run.

Our pitching matchup is Tom Glavine, who would eventually make the Hall of Fame, against Kevin Tapani, who worked at UPS in the offseason. Seriously, Tapani had an off-season job working UPS over the Christmas holiday. At the time, that fact was presented as an example of how Tapani was a humble everyman, that even though he was a big-league ballplayer, he needed an offseason job to make ends meet. Except he made $197,500 that year. So, yah, he wasn’t on the high end of Major League salaries, but he was doing just fine. Certainly doing well enough to avoid having to work at UPS.

Anyway, the Twins’ lineup stayed the same as Game 1, while the Braves swapped out Jeff Treadway for Mark Lemke at second, thus beginning the Twins fans’ week-long Mark Lemke-related nightmares.

(Box score and play-by-play here; YouTube video of the game here)

Top 1 – Braves 0, Twins 0

Kevin Tapani pitching.

Summary of Kevin Tapani this year: Shitty first half, great second half, doesn’t walk people, lefties don’t hit him well.

Lonnie Smith lines to left. One out.

Just like in Game 1, it looked like Gladdenstache lost that first out in the lights. He caught it, but it didn’t look like he was sure where it was.

Tim McCarver, who made the last out of the 1968 World Series, tells us that Braves first-base coach Pat Corrales was the last out of the 1970 World Series. That was the only postseason plate appearance of Corrales’ career. He grounded out to Brooks Robinson on the first pitch. Now back to 1991…

Terry Pendleton strikes out. Two outs.

Nice sinker by Tapani. Aside from the UPS thing, I remember virtually nothing about Tapani, so I’m curious what he was like as a pitcher. Pendleton somehow swung under a low sinker, which seems hard.

Ron Gant grounds to third. Three outs.

Gant grounds out on a forkball. Did Jack Morris teach all Twins pitchers the forkball that year? I’m gonna have to check to see if I can see Tapani greasing up the ball, too.

Bottom 1 – Braves 0, Twins 0

Dan Gladden to second on error by right.

METRODOME MAGIC! Lemke and Justice both kept their eyes on that ball, afraid to take their eyes off it because of the white roof, and neither bothered to look at the other. They crashed into each other because they weren’t yelling. That was absolutely a Metrodome hit. Justice was given the error, but Lemke should have peeled out of the way on that one. Or Justice should have called him off.

Chuck Knoblauch walks.

The Braves still haven’t gotten Knoblauch out in this series. And now we have first and second, nobody out, for Kirby Puckett. My foot is shaking.

Kirby Puckett grounds into a double play, third to first, Knoblauch to second. Two outs.

Moments after McCarver says Puckett led the league in double plays, Kirby hits into a double play. It was a very unlucky one, too – the runners were going, and so Pendleton was going to third to cover on the throw, and Kirby hit it right to him. Too bad, too, because…

Chili Davis homers to left, Knoblauch scores. 2-0 Twins.

Red hot Chili. A low and in slider that he golfed it out of there. Nice shot. And the Twins have a 2-0 lead on a future hall of famer.

McCarver just said the Twins broke the Braves’ backs “temporarily,” which, well, is hard to do if you take it literally.

Brian Harper walks.

It’s weird to see Glavine struggling in the first inning like this knowing what I know about how his career turned out, but then I remembered that this was his first career World Series inning. He’s 21 years old. He’s nervous. Still weird to think about.

Shane Mack grounds into a fielders’ choice, Harper out, second unassisted. Three outs.

Top 2 – Braves 0, Twins 2

Jack Buck just apologized for technical problems. Everything seemed to be working. I really want to go back in time to watch this to see what the technical problems were.

David Justice singles to right.

Mack fielded that ball four feet in front of the wall, and Justice had no chance for a single. I forget sometimes how close that wall was to home plate.

Sid Bream doubles to left, Justice to third.

What a weird hit. Off the complete end of the bat, fair by about six inches down the third base line. McCarver compares it to a cue shot by Minnesota Fats, who is literally the only pool player people can think of.

Brian Hunter flies to right, Justice scores. 2-1 Twins. One out.

Mack threw home, but he had no chance at Justice. Luckily, Bream can’t run, so he didn’t try for third, or else Tom Kelly might have muttered something indistinguishable in Mack’s general direction.

APPEAL AT THIRD! I’m really surprised teams don’t do that more often. What would it hurt? The appeal didn’t work, and like 15 fans decided to half-heartedly boo.

All that is followed by another obligatory reference about Greg Olson living “not too far from here.”

Greg Olson grounds to short. Two outs.

And now the announcers are on Sid Bream’s case for not advancing to third on the previous flyball, saying the game would be tied if he had. It’s very weird to hear McCarver make coherent, relevant points in a baseball game.

Mark Lemke strikes out looking.

Tapani loves that sinker. Good clutch pitch.

Bottom 2 – Braves 1, Twins 2

Kent Hrbek up, the seventh hitter tonight, just like last night. He always batted seventh against lefties, even though he wasn’t really that bad against them most years. His career slash lines were .287/.374/.504 against righties, .271/.346/.417 against lefties. So he was worse, but not that much worse. In 1991, it was even closer: .284/.380/.467 against righties, .281/.352/.445 against lefties. Really, the only major difference was he didn’t walk nearly as much against lefties. And of course ...

Kent Hrbek walks.

Why do I bother looking up stats?

Scott Leius grounds into a double play, pitcher to second to first, Hrbek out at second. Two outs.

Leius grounded into that double play on a 3-1 count. Glavine had walked three already, so that one especially stings.

Greg Gagne grounds to short. Three outs.

Top 3 – Braves 1, Twins 2.

Rafael Belliard grounds to second. One out.

Smith to first on error by third.

Leius just reached his glove out and flat out missed. Kind of embarrassing, really.

Then McCarver mentions that Kevin Tapani came over from the Mets in the Frank Viola trade, along with Rick Aguilera. That … that was a decent trade. Sucked to have to give up Viola, but the end result was good.

Pendleton flies to center. Two outs.

Pendleton is now 0-for-5 in this series.

Wait a minute here … two outs, third inning, Smith on first, Gant batting … good God, that’s T-Rex’s music!

Gant singles to left, Smith to third; Gant out at first, left to pitcher to first. Three outs.

A bobblehead that you can buy for me
if you really want
There it is. The greatest defensive play in Twins history. It’s even been immortalized forever in bobblehead form. Watching this play live and in proper context, it’s mind-blowing that Drew Coble called Gant out on this play. Hrbek straight up pulled him off the bag. The Braves were outraged, the announcers were outraged, and Hrbek non-chalantly jogged off the field as if nothing unusual happened. Hrbek did a lot of cool things for the Twins, but getting away with blatantly pulling Gant off the bag in this game was by far the best.

(And a note on the above, Hrbek once said that when he was done with baseball, he wanted to go into wrestling, using the stage name T-Rex. That was the reference there. Cause he did a wrestling move to pull Gant off the bag. Get it?)

Bottom 3 – Braves 1, Twins 2.

They’re still on the Hrbek/Gant play (rightfully so, really). They pulled in another umpire to analyze the horseshit call on the play, and he’s somehow defending it! That analysis was probably more embarrassing than the original call. Then they asked Tommy Lasorda (for some reason), and he said it was a bad call, but suggested that the umpire – who was standing one foot away from the play – “didn’t have a good view.” I love guest analysts. Another bonus is that McCarver just said “wrestling” like everybody from my parents’ hometown – “wrassling.” That was pleasant.

Oh, while all that was going on…

Gladden strikes out swinging. One out.

Knoblauch grounds to second. Two outs.

Puckett strikes out swinging. Three outs.

Top 4 – Braves 1, Twins 2.

Gant threw his glove and knocked over the Gatorade bucket after going back to the dugout. They’re really not going to let up are they? I suppose it makes sense. I asked a question like this for the last game, but imagine if that terrible call happened today. The internet would explode. Gant’s body would have the Crying Jordan head. People would photoshop the umpire into shots showing him making other terrible calls. Hrbek running off the field would be split-screened with the #TeaLizard. Twitter would probably cease to exist (assuming there is enough of a large enough audience that both watches baseball and uses Twitter).

Justice lines out to left. One out.

Bream flies out to left. Two outs.

Damn, that was a really, really good catch by the Gladdenmullet. He ran probably 35 yards (I know this because you can still see the NFL hashlines on the field), then slid on a knee while catching it a foot off the ground. The two best parts of that catch were 1) Gladden losing his hat so you can see the Gladdenmullet in all its glory and 2) Gladdenmullet casually looking up at the scoreboard to see the replay, but totally pretending he wasn’t.

Hunter grounds to third. Three outs.

Bottom 4 – Braves 1, Twins 2.

Davis grounds to second. One out.

Lemke made a tough play up the middle, then almost pulled Bream off the base. But he still got Chili by like two steps because Chili was not a fast man.

They show Glavine throwing a circle change. So all the Twins throw forkballs and all the Braves throw circle changes? Is that what’s happening?

Harper grounds to third. Two outs.

Mack strikes out looking. Three outs.

Guys, Glavine is looking really good now, after that bad first inning. The Twins’ only hit through four is Davis’ home run. It’s like Glavine’s a future hall of famer or something.

Top 5 – Braves 1, Twins 2.

Olson doubles to left center.

That was perfectly placed between Puckett and Gladdenstache. It was in the air long enough, too, that I feel like someone should have caught it.

Lemke grounds to second, Olson to third. One out.

The light-hitting Rafael Belliard is up. McCarver is talking about a suicide squeeze. The infield is in. Belliard’s going to double, isn’t he?

Belliard flies to right, Olson scores. Two outs. Braves 2, Twins 2.

Ok, not quite. A fly ball of perfectly reasonable depth. With a catcher running, that should have been easy for Mack to throw Olson out. And yet Mack threw the ball 10 feet up the third base line. Olson lowered his shoulder and tried to knock Harper over, too, even though Harper didn’t have the ball and wasn’t by home plate. Think the Braves might have been bitter about the Gladdenstache play from Game 1.

Smith flies to right. Three outs.

Bottom 5 – Braves 2, Twins 2.

Hrbek lines to right. One out.

Hrbek hit that right on the screws. It just went right at Justice.

Leius flies to center. Two outs.

Glavine has retired 10 in a row. I know this because Jack Buck keeps updating us on every out.

Verne Gagne, wrestler
Greg Gagne, wrestler
Oh my god, he just called Greg Gagne “Vern Gagne.” Verne was a wrestler from Minnesota who pronounced his last name differently than Greg’s (GAG-ne vs. GONE-yay).Verne had a son named Greg, who also pronounced his name differently than the Twins player. That was an awesome mistake, Jack Buck!

Gagne strikes out swinging. Three outs.

Top 6 – Braves 2, Twins 2.

Pendleton singles to left.

Gant’s up for the first time since his … incident with Hrbek. I wonder how many ways he’s considering killing Drew Coble. I hope he’s thinking about that instead of thinking about hitting Kevin Tapani. (I don’t assume Ron Gant is/was a violent person. I just know he had every right to be pissed off about that play.)

Spitball update, I don’t think Tapani was throwing spitters. If he was, he was much better at hiding it than Morris was.

Gant flies to center. One out.

Seven-pitch at bat from Gant there. And it ends with him swinging one-handed on a ball a foot off the
ground. So it goes.

They just showed Ron Berenguer in the Braves’ dugout. He’s a former Twins reliever, and he still lives here. I saw him at Canterbury Park once with a blond on each arm. He did retirement right, apparently.

Justice grounds into a fielders choice, Pendleton out, first to short. Two outs.

Justice probably hit that too softly for the Twins to get a double play out of it, but Pendleton made damn sure there wouldn’t be a throw by taking out Gagne. Perfectly clean and legal slide, though.

Bream grounds to second. Three outs.

Bottom 6 – Braves 2, Twins 2.

Tim McCarver just said that Dan Gladden “accordioned” a .305 average in the middle part of the season. I don’t know what to say about that.

Gladden grounds to second. One out.

Lemke really bagpiped that throw to first. (I don’t know).

Knoblauch grounds to third. Two outs.

Puckett grounds to short. Three outs.

Top 7 – Braves 2, Twins 2.

It always bugged me the way Pat O’Brien said “MetrOdome.” Huge stress on the “o.” He’s asking the commissioner about shortening the baseball season, and Fay Vincent somehow called the longer season “dangerous.” I’m not sure what’s happening any more. Maybe it’s the stress of the game.
Also, the umpire who was sitting next to Fay Vincent said the Hrbek/Gant play was called correctly, according to Pat O’Brien. So.

Hunter strikes out swinging. One out.

Olson grounds to short. Two outs.

Lemke flies to left. Three outs.

Tom Glavine has only given up one hit and has retired 14 batters in a row, and this game is only tied, because Kevin Tapani has been almost as good. Baseball rarely makes sense, which is why it’s awesome.

Bottom 7 – Braves 2, Twins 2.

Davis grounds to third. One out.

Tim McCarver just described Brain Harper as “hard to walk,” as if that’s a positive trait for a baseball player. Oh, 1991.

Harper singles to center.

Hey! A hit! It’s the Twins’ second hit. And it ends Glavine’s streak of 15 batters retired in a row. We got something happening now.

Game tied in the 7th, runner on base, Mack fouling off two-strike pitches… this is getting good.

Mack strikes out swinging. Two outs.

After that fighting, Glavine makes Mack swing at a pitch that probably would have hit a left-handed batter in the leg. Time for Hrbek to come through.

Both of the Braves middle infielders are playing Hrbek in the outfield. A slow batter plus a super-fast turf – yah, that makes sense.

Hrbek strikes out looking. Three outs.

Oh well. Harper’s hit must’ve made Glavine mad.

This game has been really good. Related, I might be slightly nervous about a game that happened 25 years ago.

Top 8 – Braves 2, Twins 2.

Belliard singles to third.

Belliard drops the two-strike bunt down the third-base line. Because there was two outs, Leius was back, so he had no prayer on it. That took some balls, man.

Smith sacrifices to first, second covering, Belliard to second.

I bet advanced-stats people would have a field day about the leadoff hitter bunting Belliard over there, but I don’t hate that decision. It added 3% to the Twins’ chances of winning, but now there’s a runner on second with Pendleton and Gant coming up, and Belliard is fast enough to score on a single. I don’t mind bunts in close games when it’s late. Only takes one mistake now to take the lead.

Mark Guthrie (L) and Steve Bedrosian (R) warming up for the Twins. My guess is that Kelly wanted Guthrie ready for Justice, and then Bedrosian for Bream. Depending on what Pendleton does here, that is. If Pendleton gives the Braves the lead, it’s bye-bye Tapani.

Pendleton singles to first, Belliard to third.

Hrbek was playing back on that one, and his flip to Tapani was just barely late. Pendleton slid feet-first for some reason (and, it turns out, he hurt himself doing so, an injury we'll notice later in the series), but got bailed out because Tapani couldn’t get the footwork quite right and stutter-stepped before stepping on the base.

Now it’s first and third, one out, with Gant up, and Kelly is leaving Tapani in. Kinda surprising, although Kelly was always one to trust his starters. Maybe he shouldn’t have, as Tapani almost hits Gant in the chest. Jesus, Bedrosian is ready, isn’t he!?!? I’m genuinely nervous right now.

Gant pops to catcher. Two outs.

What a great play by Harper. He caught the ball right on the edge of the wall behind the plate, then sprinted back to the infield to prevent the Braves from playing some kind of baserunning game with two outs. Because he ran instead of throwing, nobody advanced. If he had tried to throw out Pendleton, Belliard might have been able to score.

Also, why the hell is Tapani pitching to Justice now? I know Guthrie is ready, he’s been warming up for like 10 minutes. Let me check the splits. Justice’s batting average was about the same vs. lefties and righties, but he drew far fewer walks and had a bit less power. Tapani, on the other hand, was actually quite a bit better against lefties than against righties. Interesting. Still, I’d rather have a fresh pitcher in there than a guy struggling through the eighth.

(Say it with me, Tim – Tom Kelly won two World Series for a reason).

Justice flies to left. Three outs.

Holy cow. Time to breathe. If only for a moment. It’s amazing that Tapani got out of that inning.

Bottom 8 – Braves 2, Twins 2.

Leius homers to left. 3-2 Twins.

SCOTT LEIUS! Wow what a shot. What a sequence of three batters for the Twins! To get out of that jam in the top of the inning, then homer on the first pitch of the next inning … incredible.

Glavine looks like he’s about to throw up. I don’t blame him. He was pitching an incredible game, probably thought his team was going to take the lead last inning, and then that. The Twins rookie third baseman, who hit five home runs all year, parks it.

Imagine being Scott Leius, knowing what we know now. He already had that home run to live off and tell his kids and grandkids about. But to be able to tell them he hit a go-ahead home run off Tom Glavine in the World Series? Just amazing.

The Dome is going crazy right now. Somebody (looked like Pendleton) was just talking to Glavine and had to go right up to his ear. They still probably didn’t hear each other.

Also, I replayed the home run, only with the Twins radio call instead of TV. Herb’s call was nothing special, but I could hear the background better: The Star Wars theme, then Fred Flintstone saying “Yabba Dabba Do,” then “Shout.” Glad the Metrodome was caught up on pop culture in 1991.

Gagne singles to center.

Everybody in a Braves uniform is taking turns talking to Glavine right now to calm him down. It 
doesn’t seem to be working. Meanwhile, CBS keeps showing Leius’ home run over and over again. They can’t show it enough in my mind.

Aguilera warming for the Twins for the ninth. He’s not throwing spitters in the bullpen. He must save those for the game.

Gladden flies to center. One out.

Gagne to second on a balk.

Glavine agreed with the call. He buckled his knees and was nodding almost sarcastically, but he looked pissed at himself rather than the umpire. Think he was flustered by the home run he just gave up?

Knoblauch grounds to second, Gagne to third. Two outs.

Kirby’s up now. He hasn’t done anything in this series so far – he’s 0-for-7, and looked flat out bad on many of his at bats. Hopefully he can take advantage of Glavine’s nerves.

Puckett grounds to short. Three outs.

Oof. So close. Belliard made a great play to get over there to prevent another run.

Top 9 – Braves 2, Twins 3.

Rick Aguilera pitching.

It’s the top of the ninth, and we have our first pitching change. There have been no lineup changes at all, actually, which is very strange for a one-run game. It’s like these managers didn’t feel the need to make changes just to prove how smart they are. Write out the lineup and trust your players.

Bream strikes out swinging. One out.

Weak-ass swing by Bream there. Not that I’m complaining. Also, Aguilera doesn’t appear to be going to the belt and pants nearly as much in this game. Maybe I was seeing things last game.

Hunter singles to center.

Sheesh, another one-handed swing, and it was a stupid little blooper that fell in only because Puckett was deep in a “no doubles” defense. And now the tying run is on base and I’m nervous and baseball is stupid.

Olson strikes out looking. Two outs.

I always enjoy when a player (preferably a non-Twin) tries to duck underneath a pitch, as if bending way over will convince the umpire to call a ball.

Tommy Gregg hitting.

Gregg strikes out looking.

Aguilera was great that inning. The Twins pitchers have been great all series.

Scott Leius postgame: “Once it went over the fence, it was a good feeling.” Really, Scott? A game-winning home run in the World Series gives you a good feeling?

Kevin Tapani outpitched Tom Glavine in a World Series game, the Twins are up 2 games to 0, and baseball isn’t stupid after all. Next, the Twins will be in Atlanta for three games. Nothing bad could happen there, right?


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