Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Reliving 1991 - Game 1: Did Jack Morris Throw Spitters?

It had been only four years since the Twins last appeared in the World Series, but there were only seven players left from the 1987 World Champions once the 1991 season started. In between, the Oakland Athletics dominated the American League, while the Twins fell from the top to the basement before retooling for the 1991 season.

The Twins' two biggest signings before 1991 were designated hitter Chili Davis, who would lead the team in home runs that year, and a certain graduate of St. Paul Highland Park high school who took the ball for Opening Day. Jack Morris ended up starting the All Star Game, Game 1 of the ALCS, and Game 1 of the World Series, becoming just the second pitcher to ever do that.

So without further ado, we go to Game 1. The boxscore and play-by-play are here, and the full game on YouTube is here.

Top 1 – Braves 0, Twins 0

Jack Morris pitching.

Jack Morris is introduced as the classic hometown hero. After 14 seasons with the Tigers, he signed a free agent contract with the Twins before season to pitch in this exact game. Ok, not really. The Twins had finished in last place the year before and expectations were low. They needed some excitement going into the 1991 season, so they pulled the “bring back the hometown hero” routine that they like to do so much. This time, though, the hometown hero bit worked out perfectly.

Facing Morris to lead off the World Series is Lonnie Smith, who I learn is playing in his fourth World Series for his fourth different team. And he’s never lost a World Series, either. I wonder if that streak will continue.

Lonnie Smith lines to left. One out.

And on the first batter of the game, Dan Gladden buckles his knees while catching a ball he lost in the lights, showing that while the Metrodome gave the Twins a huge home-field advantage, it sucked to play there no matter what team you were on.

And mark it down: With one out in the top of the first, we have our first Tim McCarver mistake. He referred to Atlanta’s Brian Hunter as Brian Harper. Although I can accept that mistake. I do shit like that all the time. On the flip side, no one has ever paid me to talk.

Unrelated to that, I think Bobby Cox and Tom Kelly always looked old.

Jeff Treadway strikes out swinging, catcher to first. Two outs.

The first Atlanta hitter falls victim to Morris’ splitter. That pitch was often unhittable in this series.

Terry Pendleton grounds to short. Three outs.

Bottom 1 – Braves 0, Twins 0

Charlie Leibrandt pitching.

The 1991 Braves had Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery in their starting rotation, and who trots out for the start in Game 1? Charlie fucking Leibrandt. Thank you, Pittsburgh Pirates, for taking the Braves to seven games in the NLCS and forcing their fourth best pitcher to open the World Series.

CBS shows Brian Harper Hunter and says he’s making his second start all year in left field. Again, this is a World Series game. So thank you, Otis Nixon, for failing a drug test in September and getting suspended just in time for the playoffs.

Also, Tim McCarver has shown me how to throw a right-handed split-finger (Morris’ specialty) and a left-handed circle change (Leibrandt’s specialty). Tim McCarver is being helpful! I … I don’t know what to think right now.

Dan Gladden pops to first. One out.

Chuck Knoblauch singles to center.

Everybody forgets this because the end of his career featured the Dollar Dog Day Disaster, Steve Sax Disease, and beating his wife, but Knoblauch was so incredibly good for the Twins. He never had a bad year for them, and at his peak, he was the best second baseman in team history (and yes, I know Rod Carew played second base for the Twins).

And that brings up Kirby Puckett. Sigh. What memories. The bat wiggle. The high leg kick. (Swings at a pitch that bounced). Swinging at everything that looked like a baseball. (Swings at another pitch that bounced). Uh, Kirby? The World Series started, man. This ain’t batting practice.

Puckett strikes out swinging; Knoblauch steals second. Two outs.

Knoblauch stole that base because Leibrandt is almost impossibly slow to the plate when he’s pitching from the stretch. No pitcher would be allowed to be that slow today. You've gotta at least change up your rhythm a little.

Chili Davis grounds to pitcher. Three outs.

As they go to commercial, CBS shows a woman in the crowd who already looks stressed out and like she’s in physical pain. Clearly she’s going to die before the series is over.

Top 2 – Braves 0, Twins 0

David Justice flies to left. One out.

If this series were happening today, Dan Gladden’s moustache and/or mullet would become a meme, or at least have its own Twitter account. They would be called Gladdenstache or Gladdenmullet, and that’s what how I will refer to him from now on. For example, on that Justice fly out, it looked like the Gladdenstache invented the “not impressed” face.

Ron Gant singles to right.

I feel bad for Gant, because he’s going to be prominently involved in many of the bad moments for Atlanta in this series. This time, though, he gets a single that Knoblauch made a mess out of. It probably should have been an error, except that he butchered it so badly that he never even touched it.

Sid Bream flies to left. Two outs.

The Gladdenmullet has three putouts already.

Brian Hunter grounds to pitcher. Three outs.

Bottom 2 – Braves 0, Twins 0

Brian Harper doubles to right.

Brian Harper also had a great mullet. Here, Brian Harper’s mullet rips one the other way into the right field corner.

Shane Mack lines into a double play to short, Harper out, short to second. Two outs.

Fun fact number 1, Shane Mack was worth more WAR than Kirby Puckett in 1991. Fun fact number 2, that double play was the second-most important play of this game based on win probability added.

Kent Hrbek grounds to second. Three outs.

Top 3 – Braves 0, Twins 0

Greg Olson singles to center.

Hey – Greg Olson’s from Edina, Minnesota! The announcers are all over this, too: Olson went pheasant hunting last night! He drove to work on the icy roads today! Jack Buck is saying these things like it’s particularly amazing, and all the Minnesotans watching were like “well, yah, of course he went pheasant hunting. They’re in season.”

Also, after this single, the Braves have a 54% chance to win the game. Spoiler alert, that’s the highest that number will get tonight.

Rafael Belliard sacrifices to pitcher, unassisted, Olson to second. One out.

Smith grounds to third, Olson to third. Two outs.

Nice play by Scott Leius and his mullet. But we have our first runner on third in the series.

Treadway strikes out swinging, catcher to first. Three outs.

Again, Morris gets bailed out by his splitter. The Braves have no clue what to do with that thing.

Bottom 3 – Braves 0, Twins 0

Scott Leius grounds to first, unassisted. One out.

Hey, let’s randomly put Vin Scully on camera to talk about the 1955 World Series between two teams that are not playing tonight, and have him not actually give any new information. Great idea!

(I mean, come on. I love reading about the Brooklyn Dodgers, and 1955 was their high-water mark, but that was a meaningless interruption).

Greg Gagne strikes out swinging. Two outs.

Despite my skepticism, Leibrandt looks pretty good so far. The only memory I have of him from this series is throwing a terrible pitch to Kirby Puckett in Game 6 (spoiler alert) and walking off the field trying to hide in his elbow, so it’s mildly surprising he’s competent.

Gladden walks.

Gladden steals second.

Shocking. One pitch after a pitchout, (and two cursory throws to first), Gladden steals second because of Leibrandt’s slow-ass delivery. The announcers keep saying Leibrandt led the NL in pickoffs this year, and that’s great, but it’s clear the Twins do not fear his pickoff move in any way. Maybe pick up the speed a little bit so your catcher has a fighting chance to throw these guys out (No, I don’t know why I’m giving the Braves advice).

Great, now Tim McCarver is telling us that Tom Kelly has a stopwatch he uses to time pitchers, and he uses it on “every single pitch,” as if this is a stunningly new strategy that nobody has tried before.

(Wait, this series is 25 years old. Managers had used stopwatches before then, right? It’s not like stopwatches were a new invention in 1991. Was Tom Kelly a trailblazer? I suddenly don’t trust anything.)

Knoblauch singles to right, Gladden scores; Knoblauch out, right to first to short. 1-0 Twins. Three outs.

Twins lead! Knoblauch singles again, and the Gladdenstache scores easily because Leibrandt can’t hold a runner. The Gladdenstache was practically halfway to third when the pitch was thrown. Knoblauch got in a rundown to make sure the throw didn’t make it to the plate, but I think Gladdenstache would have scored easily regardless.

Top 4 – Braves 0, Twins 1

Pendleton grounds to pitcher. One out.

Great, Morris took a grounder off his throwing shoulder. That could have ended badly. I’m sure I didn’t handle that replay very well in 1991. Clearly everything worked out OK, though.

Jack Buck is now telling us that the Twins’ run last inning was the first against the Braves in the last 24 postseason innings. Of course, only three of those innings were pitched by Leibrandt, so it doesn’t really count.

(No, I don’t know why I’m ripping Charlie Leibrandt so much).

Justice walks.

Gant flies to center. Two outs.

Whew. Kirby and the Gladdenmullet almost ran into each other there. That one sounded really good off the bat, but it died on the track. Gant looked back over his shoulder at Puckett after that catch, probably in disbelief that it didn’t go farther. It is not the last time he will look over his shoulder in disbelief in this series.

Bream flies to left. Three outs.

Gladdenstache is covering a hell of a lot of ground in this game already. He’s caught balls on the leftfield line and in shallow left center.

Bottom 4 – Braves 0, Twins 1

McCarver says Puckett is hitting .406 against lefties this year. He’s foreshadowing to Game 6 again. Although he doesn’t know he’s foreshadowing here. OR DOES HE.

Once McCarver got done saying the .406 average against lefties thing, this is a summary of the rest of Puckett’s at bat.
  1. Foul ball.
  2. McCarver says, “He’d rather bite the head off a rattlesnake than let you swing at a strike.” (I’m assuming he means Leibrandt here).
  3. Foul ball.
  4. McCarver says, “It’s like being smothered by a feather pillow.” (As opposed to being smothered by a rattlesnake?)

It’s the fourth inning, and I don’t know what’s happening anymore.

Puckett strikes out swinging. One out.

I’m happy about this strike out only because it means McCarver will hopefully stop saying home-spun southern phrases disguised as baseball analysis.

Davis lines to third. Two outs.

Harper’s up. McCarver almost gives us analytics-based analysis by saying Harper puts the ball in play 91% of his at bats. But he doesn’t quite make it all the way and give us his BABIP (which is a very average .306).

Harper singles to right.

Mack flies to right. Three outs.

Top 5 – Braves 0, Twins 1

Now we’re introduced to CBS’ “Inside Pitch”, which tracks pitches just like MLB’s Gamecast, but with 1991 computer graphics. It’s actually quite advanced for its time. Bravo, CBS.

Hunter flies to left. One out.

Jack Buck says that this Atlanta pitching staff will be heard from over the next few years, because “they might get some help from Pete Smith next year.” That’s almost a perfect prediction, except exchange “Pete Smith” for “Greg Fucking Maddux.”

Olson walks.

Belliard grounds into a double play, short to first, Olson out at second. Three outs.

Bottom 5 – Braves 0, Twins 1

Hrbek doubles to right.

That’s the pride of Bloomington Kennedy High school right there. (That’s where my kids will go to high school, in case you were wondering). (Also, Kent Hrbek is incredibly awesome).

Leius singles to left, Hrbek to third

I love this at bat. Leius spent three pitches trying to bunt Hrbek to third, then just said “screw it” and singled to left. Also, Hrbek absolutely should have scored on that play, but Gardy (yep, that one) held him up. Luckily, that didn’t matter, because…

Gagne homers to left, Hrbek and Leius score. 4-0 Twins.

Yep, that’s right. The biggest hit of a World Series game was struck by a shortstop who looks like he wears pants with a size 26 waste. That’s why I love baseball.

That’s the first postseason home run ever given up by Charlie Leibrandt. And with that, he goes to the showers, presumably to bite the head off a rattlesnake.

Jim Clancy pitching.

Gladden to first on error by second.

I like how they spent four innings telling us that Treadway is the better hitting of the Braves’ second base combination, as if preparing us for that horrendous error. Also, if that error was the reason that Mark Lemke played second base most of the series, than screw that error.

Knoblauch walks, Gladden to second.

Puckett flies to center, Gladden to third. One out.

Puckett swung at the first pitch, because he didn’t know what “take a pitch” meant. Sometimes I wonder how the man ever drew a walk in his life.

Random thing I forgot: Chili Davis had really different stances depending on whether he was batting righty or lefty. I wonder how common that is.

Knoblauch steals second.

The Twins tried the play that all little league teams do with runners on the corners. Olson handled it right by looking Gladden back to third, but he couldn’t quite get Knoblauch at second, mostly because of his great slide. He grabbed the extreme back corner of the base to avoid the tag. Let another good play by Knoblauch.

Davis walks intentionally.

McCarver makes a (gasp!) good point – why walk Davis on a 3-2 count? Why not at least throw a slider out of the zone, see if he’ll chase? But, Cox decides instead to pitch to Harper, who is 2-for-2 today.

Harper lines to left, Gladden out, left to third to catcher. Three outs.

And here’s the famous play where Gladdenstache knocked Olson over and Olson did a headstand. 

That headstand got Olson on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And that was pretty dirty on Gladdenstache’s part – he went out of his way to kick Olson in the knee. Pretty weak.

But really, Gladdenstache should have easily scored on that play. Hunter caught that ball away from the infield and toward the foul line. Gladdenstache should have scored without a throw. Bad job of tagging up.

Top 6 – Braves 0, Twins 4

I know the Twins are up 4-0 (and – spoiler alert – this game is pretty much done folks), but I wonder what kind of effect that inning had on them the rest of the series. Sure they got three runs, but they also had runners on first and second, nobody out, and the 3-4-5 hitters coming up. Later, they had bases loaded and one out. They didn’t score either time. Again, it won’t matter for this game, but I wonder if it had an effect their confidence the rest of the series. They could have buried the Braves in that fifth inning, and they just didn’t do it. (Of course, the Braves started their fourth-best pitcher in Game 1, so that also may have had something to do with it). Anyway…

Smith grounds to second. One out.

Treadway singles to center.

Pendleton flies to second. Two outs.

Justice singles to center, Treadway to second.

That’s the first time all game the Braves put two runners on base.

Gant singles to left, Treadway scores; Justice to third, Gant to second on error by left. 4-1 Twins.

Hey, here’s an example Jack Morris’ very own hall-of-fame case! Kind of! Morris has said that people should ignore his (kinda poor) ERA and other (below average) stats because he often let up in games where his team had a big lead, thus making his numbers look worse than they were. Of course, breaking his pitching down by situation or inning quickly debunks that theory. (Go ahead, look. Maybe you’ll see something I’m not). If anything, if that was his game plan, why not bury the Braves here? Why “let up” and let them get one back?

Bream strikes out looking. Three outs.

That being said, when he needed a clutch pitch this series, he always found that pitch. That was a great one.

Bottom 6 – Braves 1, Twins 4

Mack grounds to second. One out.

Hrbek’s up, and the Commissioner’s daughter just got hit in the top of the head by a foul popup. That sucks for her (though she was apparently all right), but it only happened because the Twins extended the seats behind first and third base for the World Series, because forget regular foul territory when you can fit an extra 100 people into the game, right? So instead of a foul popout, Hrbek gets only a strike. And then…

Hrbek homers to right. 5-1 Twins.

I guess the Twins knew what they were doing with those seats? I wonder how many times Hrbek hit home runs into the first or second row of the right field seats like that.

Mike Pagliarulo hitting.

Pagliarulo grounds to short. Two outs.

And now Greg Gagne is introduced as the Twins’ all time postseason home run leader, which is both depressing and amazing. At that exact moment, with two outs in the bottom of the sixth of Game 1, he had 4 career postseason home runs, and Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti, and Kent Hrbek all had 3 (counting Hrbek’s from like two minutes before). Now that I think about it more, that’s amazing. I’m not even mad. It’s impressive.

Gagne grounds to short. Three outs.

Top 7 – Braves 1, Twins 5

Pagliarulo playing third.

Hunter grounds to short. One out.

Ok, I kinda noticed this earlier in the game, and now I can’t stop noticing it. After every single pitch Morris throws, before he gets the ball back from Harper, he touches the brim of his cap, then the back of his cap, then the brim again. Both spots, in that order, every single time. Was it just a nervous tick? Or was he lubing up the ball on every pitch? It’s hard to say. There’s a stain on the back of his hat, but that could easily be sweat. Did anybody accuse Morris of pitching a spitball before? I know he accused Clay Buchholz of throwing one a few years back. Did he always do that bill-back-bill routine? It’s curious.

Olson flies to third. Two outs.

Jeff Blauser hitting.

Blauser flies to left. Three outs.

Bottom 7 – Braves 1, Twins 5

Mark Wohlers pitching; Blauser playing short.

Hey, it’s 1995 World Series hero Mark Wohlers! Of course, in the universe of this game, 1995 hasn’t happened yet, so nobody knows that the Braves are going to dominate the 1990s, and nobody knows that Wohlers is going to be the closer on the best Braves team of that decade. Instead, in this game he’s a 21-year-old setup reliever.

And now Gladdenmullet leads off, and while doing so, he’s having a conversation with Olson. McCarver and Buck are wondering if he’s talking about the previous incident where Gladdenmullet spiked Olson. Honestly, they probably are. It was a bush league play. And I don’t think Gladdenmullet gave two shits that the Braves thought it was bush league. He didn’t when it happened, he didn’t during that conversation, and he doesn’t now, 25 years later. Gladdenmullet don’t care. Gladdenmullet don’t give a shit.

Gladden walks.

Gladden caught stealing, catcher to short. One out.

The replay shows he was actually safe on the play. If there were managers’ challenges in 1991, Kelly could have challenged that play, and he would have won. That being said, I hate replay reviews in baseball. Save them for football.

Knoblauch singles to short.

And that should have been an error on Blauser, either because of his inability to pick up the ball cleanly on the first bounce, or because of his piss-poor throw to first. Now McCarver says Blauser’s hurt and can’t throw. That’s remarkable, if true. Why exactly was he playing shortstop in the World Series?

Puckett grounds into a fielders choice, Knoblauch out, second to short. Two outs.

Knoblauch openly reached his hands for Blauser’s legs on that slide. He didn’t try to touch second base at all, although he could have reached it if he had tried. I don’t think that counts as dirty, though. He could have done far worse.

Also, that’s just another example of Knoblauch doing the little things right. He has had an outstanding game.

Davis strikes out. Three outs.

Top 8 – Braves 1, Twins 5

They’re talking about Jack Morris pitching another complete game, and how complete games are more common in the American League because pitchers don’t hit. Of course, this means Morris will walk the first two hitters.

Smith walks.

Treadway walks, Smith to second.

See? It’s almost like I had a play-by-play in front of me while watching this game.

Anyway, Morris is done. 7 innings pitched, 1 run, 2 runners left on base. That’s what you want and need from an ace in Game 1. Let the good bullpen clean it up. Morris gets a standing ovation and tips his (vasoline-covered) hat to the crowd.

Mark Guthrie pitching.

Pendleton grounds into a double play, second to short to first, Treadway out at second, Smith to third. Two outs.

Justice walks.

Rick Aguilera pitching.

Bringing in the closer in the 8th inning. I like how you roll, TK. Bring in your best reliever in a tense situation, regardless of the inning. It’s like Kelly won two World Series for a reason.

Also, the Blue Jays hit .316 against Twins starters in the ALCS and .119 against Twins relievers. I knew the Twins bullpen was great that year, but holy crap. (Yes, yes, five games is too small a sample size, blah blah blah).

Aguilera also threw a splitter, like Morris. Every time HE threw a pitch in this game, he touched his shirt and then his belt on his right side, right on the hip. Is HE lubing up, too? Are ALL the Twins’ pitchers throwing spitters?

Gant singles to left, Smith scores, Justice to second. Twins 5-2.

STAT: The Braves are now hitting .500 against the Twins relievers in this series. That run was Morris’, though. But now Bream is the tying run.

Bream flies to center. Three outs.

Ah well. There goes the drama for today.

Bottom 8 – Braves 2, Twins 5

Mike Stanton pitching.

Because he played most of his career in the 90s for the Braves and the Yankees, Mike Stanton somehow pitched in 20 World Series games in his career, which is third all time. CBS does not provide us with this stat, because this was Stanton’s first World Series game. Either way, that’s a pretty nice career.

Harper grounds to third. One out.

Mack strikes out. Two outs.

Mack had a really good couple of seasons for the Twins in 1991 and 1992. He also had a really bad World Series in 1991. This 0-for-4 game is just the start of it.

Hrbek strikes out. Three outs.

There was no scenario where Hrbek was going to get a hit in that at bat. Stanton had him on a string. Clearly Kelly had a reason to often bat Hrbek 7th against lefties.

Top 9 – Braves 2, Twins 5

Every pitch, Aguilera’s at the belt. Were the Twins cheaters? (If they were, I couldn’t possibly care less. They won the World Series, and it was awesome, so who cares of some of their pitches were a little slippery?)

Hunter lines to short. One out.

Olson grounds to short. Two outs.

Blauser flies to left. Three outs.

And that’s that. Twins win 5-2.

Postgame interviews are Greg Gagne and Kent Hrbek. Greg Gagne has the most Boston accent ever, and I’m really disappointed I didn’t remember that until just now. Hrbek doesn’t sound too Minnesotan to me, but I could be biased because I hear Minnesotans talk every day. Speaking of which, if you ever want to meet Kent Hrbek, just go to a Twins game and go to Hrbie’s bar. He actually shows up there to drink and shoot the shit.

Anyway, there will only be one other game in this series that is decided by more than 1 run. Even in this one, the Braves had the tying run up in the 8th inning. It was a good game, but not great, but if this is the second-worst game of a World Series, that’s a pretty damn good World Series.

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