Sunday, October 23, 2016

Reliving 1991 - Game 4: Seriously, just watch home plate

Welcome to Game 4 of the 1991 World Series. Game 3 ended about 14 minutes ago, but for some reason the two teams have to come out and do this again. We’re starting to reach the breaking point in this game, going from “this is a pretty good series” to “this series is life-changing” over the next nine innings.

On the mound: John Smoltz, who went 12-2 in the second half of the season and had, two wins against Pittsburgh in the NLCS, including a shutout in Game 7. He’s going up against Jack Morris, who I talked about in Game 1. He’s 3-0 this postseason and is 6-1 in the postseason at this exact moment in his career.

John vs. Jack. It begs the question: Why is Jack a nickname for John?

Anyway, the play-by-play and boxscore are here, and the video of the game is here.

Top 1 – Twins 0, Braves 0

John Smoltz pitching.

Dan Gladden grounds to short. One out.

If you had “announcer mentions the fast infield” on your 1991 World Series bingo card, mark ’er down.

Chuck Knoblauch doubles to right.

He swung one handed at a pitch six inches off the ground and blooped it with six inches of the right field foul line for a double. It’s really too bad Knoblauch completely flamed out, because he keeps doing things in this series that reminds me of just how good he was.

Kirby Puckett flies to right. Two outs.

Another bad swing, but Puckett got enough of that to send Justice to the wall. Ball seems to be carrying well tonight. Fun fact: When this World Series was played, Fulton County Stadium had the highest elevation of any Major League park, which doesn’t seem possible.

And now Hrbek is up, and the boos the Braves fans are giving him are much louder than the Tomahawk Chop has been this series. And I’d much rather hear that. Give me real passion rather than canned, half-hearted, racist chanting any day.

Kent Hrbek grounds to first, pitcher covering. Three outs.

Bottom 1 – Twins 0, Braves 0

Jack Morris pitching.

Lonnie Smith flies to center. One out.

In case you were wondering, Morris is still touching the brim of his hat and then the back of his hat after every pitch. At least he’s consistent?

Terry Pendleton lines to left, Two outs.

Both those balls carried farther than I think the Twins fielders were expecting. It’s a bad night for pitchers who leave the ball up.

And now they provide a lovely stat for Ron Gant, saying he tied a World Series record with his 0-for-6 night last night. And then he promptly grounds to third.

Ron Gant grounds to third. Three outs.

Top 2 – Twins 0, Braves 0

They just showed a (probably) 90-year-old man in the crowd, staring at home plate while holding his cane, with the awe-struck smile of a 7-year-old on his face. If that’s my future, I’ll take it in a heartbeat.

Brian Harper doubles to center.

Justice looked weird running for that ball. It’s like he though it he took longer strides, he’d get to it faster, but instead it just made him look like an awkward gazelle.

Now they show two stats: In the first eight games of the postseason, the Twins batted .317 with runners in scoring position; last night, they were 0-for-10. This is where the analytics people tell you that clutch hitting is a myth and that all players and teams will eventually settle to their normal levels of production if given enough “clutch” at bats. That, or they’ll break into your house while screaming “REGRESSION!”

Shane Mack is up, and he needs some regression of his own. He’s 0-for-12 in the series.

Shane Mack strikes out. One out.

He looked completely clueless that at bat, and has for most of this series. Maybe this entire postseason is his regression to the mean.

Mike Pagliarulo singles to left, Harper scores, Pagliarulo to second on the throw. Twins 1-0.

Outstanding jump by Harper there. He took off with the hit and didn’t slow down for a second, even when Belliard missed the ball by about two inches in shallow left, and even when Smith came up throwing. Smith’s throw almost air-mailed Olson at the plate, which allowed Harper to score easily. And now the Twins have scored first in all four games this series.

Greg Gagne strikes out. Two outs.

Gagne looked about as bad in that at bat as Mack did in his. Of course, Mack was a much better hitter in 1991 than Gagne, so that’s not a good comparison.

Now, with Morris batting, the announcers mention that he hit a home run in batting practice, as if that means he has any chance at succeeding in this situation. It’s the second at bat of Morris’ career, after a random one in the 1987 season. He pitched twice in the 1984 World Series, but didn’t bat because they used the DH in every game in that series, regardless of who was at home.

Apparently that was a thing they used to do all the time – just like they would alternate which league had home field advantage (which they should still do, IMO), they would alternate whether to use the DH in every game or have the pitcher bat in every game. To make it even more confusing, they switched it up – if the NL had the home field advantage, the DH was used in every game. They ended that ridiculousness in 1986, switching it so that they’d follow the rule of home team’s league. That move makes sense, although Buck and McCarver are talking like Tom Kelly doesn’t like that switch, that he’d prefer it all one way or all the other.

It’s possible, though, that Kelly said that because of watching at bats like this one that Morris is having against Smoltz.

Morris strikes out. Three outs.

Bottom 2 – Twins 1, Braves 0

Morris is sweating up a storm here. The cover of the DVD I’m watching says the game-time temperature was 72 degrees, which is far hotter than any Minnesotan has ever dealt with (/sarcasm), so that could be part of the problem. I don’t know if it’s the sweat or what, but Morris seems to be having trouble controlling the bottom of the strike zone.

Of course, it’s also possible that I don’t know shit about pitching.

David Justice grounds to short. One out.

It’s amazing how often Gagne made hard plays look pretty easy.

Sid Bream strikes out. Two outs.

Morris got him chasing several low pitches, which further proves that I don’t know crap.

Greg Olson walks.

That’s somehow his fifth walk of the series. The Twins are pitching him like he’s Babe Ruth (phrase stolen from the announcers), but I think it’s more a symptom of how weak the bottom of the Braves lineup was rather than respect for Olson.

Mark Lemke singles to center, Olson to second.

In that at bat, we learned that Lemke’s nickname was “dirt.” Because he hustles and is always dirty. (Puts on liberal hat) You don’t see black players described that way very often, do you? (Takes off liberal hat).

But yah, that hit. It was hit right at Puckett, who was playing too deep to do anything about it (that's at least the second hit for the Braves that fell in front of a too-deep Puckett this series), but for some reason Gladdenstache cut off the ball and made a spinning throw towards third. Might have been better letting Kirby handle that one, Danny.

Rafael Belliard fouls to right. Three outs.

Top 3 – Twins 1, Braves 0

Gladden flies to center. One out.

Knoblauch flies to center. Two outs.

Gant’s catching them just fine, guys. You don’t need to keep testing him.

Puckett singles to left.

His bat speed was so fast. I don’t know how he followed up that big leg kick with such a quick swing, but that was part of Kirby’s mastery of the game. Just amazing.

Hrbek flies to short. Three outs.

Bottom 3 – Twins 1, Braves 0

Ah, there’s the “Hrbek, buy a vowel” sign! I was wondering when I’d see that.

Smoltz is up, and there’s our first reference of Smoltz growing up as a Tigers fan idolizing Jack Morris. Like sands through the hour glass, or something like that.

Smoltz strikes out. One out.

Pat O’Brien is interviewing commissioner Vincent, who was asked what he thought of last night’s game. His response: “I’m just happy to be here. I had a great view.” Does he know that was one of the best World Series games ever? Does he know what a baseball is?

Smith strikes out. Two outs.

Dammit, Buck just said “Morris is in a grove” and “Jack Morris is right tonight.” You know what’s coming…

Pendleton homers to right. Braves 1, Twins 1.

I’ll be honest, I don’t believe in jinxes. But there are plenty of people who do, and I respect all beliefs.

Gant singles to left.

Jack Morris isn’t in a grove anymore, is he, JACK BUCK?

(Insert monotone chanting that sounds like the a entire crowd has joined a cult)

Gant steals second.

Gant picked a pitch that bounced. Good decision-making there.

Gant to third on wild pitch.

Gant picked another pitch that bounced. Remember what I said about Morris and the bottom of the zone? Maybe I was right about something.

Justice walks.

See, if Morris keeps throwing shitty pitches, the fans will think that terrible chant actually had something to do with it. He’s gotta get Bream here to shut them the hell up.

Getting to a 2-0 count won’t help that, though.

Pitching coach Dick Such is visiting the mound, and I honestly think that’s his first mid-inning mound visit of the series. I hadn’t noticed how unusual that was (at least compared to today) until I saw him out on the mound.

Bream grounds to pitcher, unassisted. Three outs.


Top 4 – Twins 1, Braves 1

Harper singles to left.

Two at bats for Harper, two balls that outfielders missed by inches. He has been on base constantly this series. Too bad Scott Erickson had to have a personal catcher, or else Harper might have made a difference in Game 3.

Tim McCarver on why teams should hit and run, or something: “It’s like a golf swing. It’s a game of half swings.” Sure, sure.

Mack grounds into a fielders choice, Harper out, short to second. One out.

This is fine. Mack’s a faster runner than Harper anyway.

Pagliarulo singles to left, Mack to third.

There was a weird cut in the action there. We lost about 10 seconds.

Anyway, great hit and run. Belliard at short broke to second with Mack trying to steal, and Pagliarulo hit it right in the hole. You don’t usually see hit and runs designed to go through the hole at short.
And now with Gagne up, Buck and McCarver are talking about a squeeze play.

Mack caught stealing, catcher unassisted. Pagliarulo to second. Two outs.

And there’s the failed squeeze play. It goes as a caught stealing by Mack, but it was Gagne missing the bunt that caused it. (But really, it was Smoltz throwing a nasty slider that caused it).

Seriously, though, did the announcers have the Twins’ signs? Or did Kelly tell them when he wanted to try something like that? That’s some incredible foreshadowing. They had to know it was coming, right?

Gagne strikes out, catcher to first. Three outs.

Bottom 4 – Twins 1, Braves 1

Weird that Kelly was playing for one run there. He must have been convinced that Morris was fine, despite struggling last inning. Otherwise, why play for one? I know that Morris was on deck, but Gagne was good enough that he could be trusted in an RBI situation.

Or, maybe not, since he blew the squeeze play.

Olson strikes out looking. One out.

Lemke doubles to right center.

Puckett let that ball get under his glove, but McCarver thinks Lemke would have tried for second and probably made it anyway, and I have no reason to doubt him. This time.

Belliard flies to left. Two outs.

And now another aspect of National League ball. The Braves “cleared the pitcher,” meaning they got Smoltz up with two outs in an inning instead of leading off. The Twins failed at this last inning, so Morris will be leading off the fifth. It’s the little things.

Smoltz grounds to second. Three outs.

Top 5 – Twins 1, Braves 1

Morris grounds to short. One out.

Jim Kaat is talking about how deep Puckett plays in center field, saying it’s a combination of coming up playing in the Metrodome and having lost a step. McCarver counters with “he may have lost a step in the field, but he hasn’t lost a step at the plate,” because one of the most important aspects in successfully hitting a ball is how fast you are.

Gladden flies to center. Two outs.

This has not been a good series for Twins outfielders.

Jack Buck just said this is “sweater weather” in Atlanta. Game time temp was 72, and Morris has been sweating all game. But sure, we’ll go with sweater weather.

(I’m a Minnesotan, so I just can’t fathom 72 being “cold.”)

Knoblauch strikes out. Three outs.

Bottom 5 – Twins 1, Braves 1

Halfway through the game, it’s 1-1. Smoltz vs. Morris brings out the best in each other, for sure. That or the World Series atmosphere does.

Ted Turner lives his dream.
And then they show Jane Fonda bear hugging Ted Turner in a very obvious “this is my man and you can’t have him” look, while Turner calmly eats popcorn with a “damn right” look on his face. Oh, and Jimmy Carter is on the other side of Turner. Talk about life goals for Turner.

Smith singles to left.

Oh, hey, it’s this inning! Just keep the camera trained on home plate, camera people. Trust me on that.

Jane Fonda, longtime political activist who several times took the side of Native Americans in disputes with the government, is shown doing the Tomahawk Chop with to her soon-to-be husband. There are no words.

Smith steals second.

Harper is mad at himself, but he had no chance. The pitch bounced, and Morris is slow anyway.

Pendleton doubles to center, Smith out, center to second to home. Pendleton to third. One out.

Three things about that play:
  1. That was absolutely terrible baserunning by Smith. McCarver is – correctly – tearing him apart for that one. Smith started that play on second base, the ball was hit over Puckett’s head and to the wall, and he got thrown out at home. Completely inexcusable. Easily the worst baserunning play of his career, and it will remain that way for exactly two games.
  2. Smith plowed into Harper at full speed like a linebacker on a blitz. The Braves have been waiting to do this since Gladdenstache kicked Olson in Game 1, and they finally got their chance. Seeing that play for the first time in 25 years, it’s shocking how hard he hit Harper. Nobody would have been surprised if Harper had been knocked out by that. That was straight up dangerous – you can see why it’s banned now.
  3. Harper hanging on to that ball is the most amazing thing about that play. That might have been the best defensive play of his career.
Smith’s in the dugout getting treatment, looking like he’s completely miserable. And he’s the one who delivered the hit. Man. How could Harper recover from that to keep catching without a break? I’m sore watching that.

Gant walks.

That was one of those famous “unintentional-intentional” walks. It wasn’t a true intentional walk, but Morris was obviously not going to throw a strike that at bat.

Pendleton out advancing, catcher unassisted. Gant to second. Two outs.

And as if the last play wasn’t enough, Harper let the ball bounce awkwardly off his leg high in the air, then was able to dive back to tag out Pendleton trying to come home. A great play in any situation, but especially so considering he just got more or less run over by a semi. It’s not often your catcher single-handedly saves two runs in the same game, much less the same inning.

Justice flies to left. Three outs.

If Major League Baseball arbitrarily decided to end the World Series right here, with the Twins up 2-1-1, Harper would have been the MVP. Luckily, Bud Selig wasn’t the commissioner yet they let them keep playing.

Top 6 – Twins 1, Braves 1

The Braves fans are booing … what, exactly? Bad baserunning? I guess I get that. If anything, they should be giving polite applause to Harper for what he did that inning.

(Yes, I know there’s no such thing as polite applause toward your opponent in the World Series. Just go with it, OK?)

Puckett grounds to second. One out.

There was awkward skip number 2. Are we missing the “station identification” breaks or something? In-game commercials for … (quickly searches to see what was on CBS in the fall of 1991) … Major Dad or Murphy Brown?

Hrbek grounds to second. Two outs.

Hrbek checked his swing three times that at bat. He looked completely fooled by Smoltz. They even showed Kelly yelling toward Hrbek exasperatingly, which honestly probably happened a lot in the time they spent together.

Now they’re singing the praises of Harper. Release three times by three organizations. Sent to the minors at age 27. Rudy, Rudy, Rudy, etc. 

Harper grounds to shorts. Three outs.

The Twins are acting like they’re allowed to tie in the World Series. You’re gonna need at least 2, guys.

Bottom 6 – Twins 1, Braves 1

Bream flies to left. One out.

You can mark it down. It was the bottom of the 6th of Game 4 where Jack Buck first starts commenting on how great the series has been. And it seems like both teams are almost acting like that. Like they collectively decided to take this inning off to reflect on what was happening and how they got here.

Olson grounds to pitcher. Two outs.

Random Joe Torre sighting in the crowd.

Lemke flies to center. Three outs.

Top 7 – Twins 1, Braves 1

Jack Buck just introduced the Spanish broadcasters for this series, saying their names with a perfect Spanish accent. I don’t see good ol’ Joe Buck doing something like that.

Mack strikes out. One out.

A check-swing on a pitch at his eyes. Mack is an automatic out at this point.

Also, Carl Willis is warming up. Morris is coming out if the Twins get a baserunner. They show him in the dugout looking resigned to his fate.

Pagliarulo homers to right. Twins 2-1.

I’ve long remebered Pags’ Toronto home run. For some reason, I’ve long forgotten that one. That was such a huge home run. The Twins are now nine outs from a 3-1 series lead.

Gagne strikes out, catcher to first. Two outs.

Now here’s an interesting move. You’re up 2-1, with your ace pitcher about to come to bat. He’s on short rest, but he’s been on a roll in the last few innings. Do you let him bat with two outs so he can continue the game? Or do you try the pinch-hitter, and trust your bullpen to get the last nine outs? Kelly chose the latter.

Gene Larkin hitting.

I think I’d have done the same, and not just because I don’t want to second-guess a two-time World Series winning manager. The Twins bullpen had been great all season and into the postseason. They should be able to get nine outs.

Larkin grounds to first, unassisted. Three outs.


Bottom 7 – Twins 2, Braves 1

Smoltz is pissed on the bench. He made Pagliarulo look bad on two curveballs, then threw a fastball that Pags hit out. He probably thinks he blew the series.

Carl Willis pitching.

Jeff Treadway hitting.

Again, they’re accusing Willis of throwing a spitball. Since they’re ignoring what Morris is doing but talking about Willis, I’m gonna go ahead and assume every ball Willis threw that season was soaking wet.

Treadway flies to left. One out.

Pat O’Brien talking to Torre and Ted Simmons, two old catchers, about the Harper/Smith collision. They had nothing interesting to say about it.

Tommy Gregg hitting.

And now Smoltz is out of the game. Pitched almost as well as Morris did, but left the game trailing 2-1. Game 7 might be fun.

You're damn right we went trick-or-treating in that.
Again, they say the night is “cool enough” to let Willis blow on the ball. Seriously, did we lose 20 degrees from the opening pitch to now? Can I make a snarky comment about wussy southerners not being able to handle the cold? No? Halloween Blizzard?

Gregg strikes out looking. Two outs.

McCarver is talking to an umpire about whether Willis is throwing a spitter. While the umpire is dodging the issue directly,

Smith homers to center. Twins 2, Braves 2.

Guess that’s one way to correct shitty baserunning – make sure you only have to jog.

Pendleton flies to left. Three outs.

Top 8 – Twins 2, Braves 2

Seven innings played, tie game, both aces out of the game, the entire season depending on the next two innings … this is fine. I’m fine.

Mark Wholers pitching.

Jeff Blauser playing short.

Gladden grounds to third. One out.

Great play by Pendleton. He was playing up looking for the bunt and only had time to stick his glove out to his side to snag it. Saved a sure double.

The announcers are just randomly chuckling at nothing now. This series is getting to everybody. And there’s still a long way to go.

Knoblauch walks.

BRAVES FANS ARE DOING THE WAVE. IN THE WORLD SERIES! Granted, I’d rather sit through nine innings of the wave than nine seconds of the Chop, but still. Doing the wave in the eighth inning of a tied World Series game should be grounds for losing all your remaining home games for that series.


Mike Stanton pitching.

Bobby Cox says it didn’t matter if Stanton faced a lefty or a right. But Puckett batted .406 against lefties this year.

Puckett flies to right. Two outs.

.406 is still less than a 50 percent success rate, after all.

Knoblauch steals second.

No throw on that play, because Stanton kicks his leg to eye level. He’s practically begging runners to steal on him.

Hrbek strikes out, catcher to first. Three outs.

Ugh, I can’t breathe.

Bottom 8 – Twins 2, Braves 2

They showed Pendleton getting his leg stretched out after coming off the field. He was reacting as though his leg was getting chopped off. If I remember right, he was hurt during the 1987 World Series, too. Just has bad luck against the Twins, I guess.

Gant grounds to third. One out.

Every batted ball makes me flinch even today, 25 years after this game happened.

Mark Guthrie pitching.

Kelly brought in Guthrie to face the two lefties, Justice and Bream. Justice at this point was a career .311 hitter against lefties, and Bream was likely to get pinch-hit for. So.

Justice strikes out.

Brian Hunter hitting.

Hunter flies to right. Three outs.

Just don’t listen to me.

Top 9 – Twins 2, Braves 2

Hunter playing first.

Here’s half-Series MVP Brian Harper leading off the ninth. Somehow, he does NOT look like he has a concussion or any other sort of injury from that collision. If I had been catching on that play, I’d STILL be hurt. (Mostly because I was 10 in 1991, but still).

Harper flies to right. One out.

Justice again looked awfully awkward running after that, and he made a nice sliding catch there.

They do an extreme closeup of Sid Bream methodically taking apart a baseball in the dugout. He even used his teeth to really get in there. But really, the players are handling this Series perfectly fine. Everything’s fine.

Mack flies to right. Two outs.

Zero. For. 15.

Scott Leius hitting.

Seems controversial to take out Pagliarulo, who was 3-for-3 with a home run, but Kelly knew what he was doing. Pagliarulo’s 1991 slash line against lefties was .188/.316/.250, while Leius’s was .305/.427/.445 

And plus also, they just replayed Leius’ home run in Game 2, which came off lefty Tom Glavine. So yah, make that move.

Leius lines to left. Three outs.

Buck originally called that ball a base hit before it hung up just enough for Smith to catch it, because baseball is cruel and I hate it and this game is dumb.

Bottom 9 – Twins 2, Braves 2

Leius playing third.

Olson grounds to short. One out.

Gagne never looked better than when he was going to his right to field a grounder. So smooth.

Lemke triples to left.

Did I mention I hate Mark Lemke? I imagine 25 years ago I was making guttural noises, or saying stuff like “come on!” or spilling my Shasta all over myself. Now, I can appreciate the unlikeliness of such an unknown player being a hero in the World Series. But I still hate him.

Sneaky move by Kelly there. He told Guthrie to walk the next batter, wait for Cox to announce a pinch-hitter, THEN switch pitchers again to make Cox make another move. All of this, again, is being predicted perfectly by Tim McCarver. He’s still saying stupid crap, but he’s also doing a good job of telling us what the managers are thinking in this series.

Blauser walks intentionally.

Francisco Cabrera hitting.

Steve Bedrosian pitching, batting seventh.

Al Newman playing third, batting ninth.

Jerry Willard hitting.

Four player moves between pitches! A double-switch and a double pinch hitter. It reminds me of a line I heard Bob Costas say once: “If you’re keeping score at home, stop!”

(Yes, I kept score at home.)

OK, Jack Buck, take it away:

"That’s gonna be a winner for Atlanta! The runner tags at third. Here’s the throw from Mack. HERE’S LEMKE! He is … ou … SAFE! SAFE! SAFE! SAFE! They called him safe, and Atlanta wins, and we’re tied two games apiece.”

So. Yah. Good ol’ Jack really butchered that call. I know Game 3 was never ending, and this one was tight throughout, but he made two pretty bad mistakes in the ninth inning here. That’s a great World Series moment kinda ruined by his call.

A very good picture of the final run.
Note Harper's glove not touching Smith
Secondly, both Bedrosian and Harper were absolutely, 100% adamant that Harper tagged Lemke there. They are livid, screaming at the umpire. Unfortunately, the camera shot CBS showed for the live shot was from the first base side by the Braves’ dugout, so we didn’t get a great view of the actual play at the plate. The next two replays, still from the first base side, showed it better: Harper tagged Lemke with his elbow, not his glove. Considering everything involved, that was an incredible call to get right in that spot. Replays showed it clearly; I don’t know how the umpire could have seen that so well at full speed.

And poor Harper. After two brilliant plays earlier in the game, it ends on one where he couldn't quite get it done.

Oh, I forgot:

Willard flies to Mack, two outs, Lemke scores. Braves 3, Twins 2

So here we are. Four games into the World Series, now tied 2-2. The game-winning run in each of the last three games came in the home teams’ final at bat. Jack Buck is exhausted and not seeing things correctly, the players are openly gnawing on baseballs in the dugouts, and I probably have an ulcer.
And there are still three games to go.

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