Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Reliving 1991 - Game 6: Kirby Puckett, Hall of Famer

So, Atlanta happened. The Twins took a 2-0 series lead down to Georgia, played two of the best World Series games ever and a third that was competitive as late as the seventh inning stretch, then came home trailing 3-2. They had to win twice at the Metrodome, and their Game 6 starter, Scott Erickson, did not exactly inspire confidence.

But the Twins had two things going for them. The first was the the best home field advantage in baseball - entering Game 6, they had never lost a World Series game in the Metrodome, and were 9-1 all time in the postseason there.

The second thing they had was Kirby Puckett. Puckett was already in the discussion of the game's best players before the 1991 World Series, but had been mostly quiet over the first five games. Before Game 6, with the season on the line, he famously told his teammates to jump on his back that night, that he was going to carry them. And over the next 11 innings, he did exactly that, coming as close as any player ever has to winning a World Series game by himself. In the process of single-handedly forcing a Game 7, Puckett transformed. He was no longer All Star Kirby Puckett; he was now Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.

Aside from all that, the best thing about Game 6? No more Tomahawk Chop.

Anyway, if you want to follow the play-by-play, it's here; video of the game is here.


Top 1 - Braves 0, Twins 0

Scott Erickson pitching.

Erickson, who has struggled so badly in the second half of the season that Tom Kelly genuinely worried about starting him tonight, has never pitched a game on three days of rest in his Major League career. There's a lot of angst in me right now, and the game just started.

Of his first three pitches, two made Lonnie Smith duck out of the way, including one that McCarver said "was between his helmet and his head." I don't know either.

Lonnie Smith grounds to third. One out.

Terry Pendleton is up, and they mention, again, how he played against the Twins in the 1987 World Series. Just like that series, he has a leg injury. I wonder if he hates the Metrodome.

Terry Pendleton singles to right.

Tim McCarver: "One thing Tom Kelly wants of Scott Erickson is for him to throw the ball." This game's gonna be a McCarver classic, isn't it.

Ron Gant grounds to first, unassisted, Pendleton to second. Two outs.

David Justice walks.

He wasn't trying that hard to get Justice out since first base was open, but I still don't like the Braves having two runners on in the first.

Sid Bream lines to left. Three outs.

Runners were going on that pitch, and that was a loooong run for Gladden. Bullet dodged.

Bottom 1 - Braves 0, Twins 0

Steve Avery pitching.

Avery completely dominated the Twins in Game 3. If it hadn't been for Bad News Bears-style outfielding on the first batter of the game, he would have entered the sixth with a perfect game. But, the Twins did get two on him that game, including one in the first. You'd think they have to get at least one in the first tonight, if only for their own confidence.

Dan Gladden grounds to first. One out.

Gladden just isn't hitting this series. Like all the Twins outfielders, really.

Chuck Knoblauch singles to right.

Knoblauch, on the other hand, has been pure clutch. Where would the Twins have been without him so far?

And now the man of the hour is up. The blue of his socks is showing, which usually meant he had big things planned...

Kirby Puckett triples to left, Knoblauch scores. Twins 1-0.

And it begins. A 15-hopper down the third-base line that just kept on bouncing and bouncing. Hunter misplayed the hop in the left field corner, and that was all she wrote. Puckett promised to deliver, and he did, giving the Twins the lead.

And now the crowd is loud, and Chili Davis is up, and things are looking good for the Twins.

They show Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone in the dugout. He is decidedly NOT rocking back and forth like he would later in his career. That adds credence to my theory that this series broke him, causing him to rock continuously forever after.

Chili Davis flies to right. Two outs.

Oh, good, it's Shane "0-for-15" Mack at the plate. He's just the man to drive home Kirby.

Shane Mack singles to left, Puckett scores. Twins 2-0.

Of course.

His bat broke right at the knob and flew almost all the way to third base. It actually hit Kirby. But the hit fell cleanly, and the Twins have a 2-0 lead on a pitcher they could barely touch in Game 3.

Scott Leius singles to left, Mack to third.

That one was a straight-up pop up, but because the outfielders were so deep (because they just saw how fast the ball moved on Kirby's triple), it fell in.

And now Kent Hrbek, who has also been pretty bad, can break the game wide open.

Kent Hrbek grounds to first, unassisted. Three outs.


Top 2 - Braves 0, Twins 2

Ok, Scottie, the Twins gave you a two-run lead. Try not to blow it.

Brian Hunter lines to third. One out.

Full extension leap for Leius, and he caught it at the absolute height of his jump. Awesome play.

Greg Olson grounds to short. Two outs.

Weird, the Twins didn't walk Olson. I don't know how to react to that.

And now booing from the crowd, which means Mark Lemke is up. Or, as Jack Buck called him, "the reMarkable Lemke."

Hyuck. Hyuck.

Mark Lemke singles to center. 

Why does Lemke not want us to have nice things?

Rafael Belliard strikes out looking. Three outs.

Bottom 2 - Braves 0, Twins 2

Junior Ortiz lines to third. One out.

Ortiz was out so quickly he didn't give me a chance to complain about how he was in the lineup instead of the genuinely good Brian Harper, who was hitting quite well in the series. I would have continued on this particular rant, but McCarver and Buck are astonished at that call - that ball bounced a clear two feet in front of Pendleton, but the umpire called it an out anyway. Didn't really matter, though - Pendleton threw anyway and got Ortiz easily.

Greg Gagne grounds to third. Two outs.

The umpire did not call this one a catch.

Gladden grounds to short. Three outs.

Pretty sure that was a three-pitch inning. (NOTE: It was a five-pitch inning). Good bounce-back inning for Avery.

Top 3 - Braves 0, Twins 2

Smith hit by a pitch.

Erickson threw two pitches close to him in the first inning, then hit him that time. I'm pretty sure that was a purpose pitch in retaliation for Smith running over Harper in Game 4. Or perhaps to back him off the plate after Smith homered in all three Atlanta games. Or perhaps it wasn't a purpose pitch at all.

Ortiz just threw behind Smith at first and almost picked him off. So THAT'S why he's in the lineup.

They keep showing Ortiz shaking his head "no," telling Erickson to do the same. Very strange that catchers think that helps their pitcher. Like Pendleton will approach this pitch any differently because Erickson shook his head no?

Ooof. Pendleton just lined one down the left field line that was called foul, and it was ... (waiting for the replay) ... wow. Foul by mere inches. Watching it live, it looked like it landed right on the line, but watching it down the line, it was clearly foul.

Pendleton grounds into a fielders choice, Smith out, first to short. One out.

And now, Kirby's second Moment.

Gant flies to center. Two outs.

Those six words do not do that play justice, of course. Those six words describe the greatest defensive play in Twins history, and one of the best defensive plays in World Series history. It was the play that cemented Puckett's place as one of the best defensive center fielders of his time and helped enhance his already-impressive legacy.

And no, Kirby didn't take a home run away from Gant there. The wall was 13 feet high at that point, so he couldn't have. But somehow, seeing him hanging there on that plexiglass makes it more impressive than a more traditional home run robbery. It makes his leap seem superhuman.

Also impressive was his throw. As soon as he landed, he uncorked a throw back to first base to try to double off Pendleton, who had rounded second by the time the ball fell into Kirby's glove. Puckett got the throw there on one hop, and if it had been on line, it would have been a double play.

Justice grounds to first, unassisted. Three outs.

An inning doesn't have to have any scoring to be a huge inning. That was an example. Pendleton missed a run-scoring double by six inches, and the Gant missed an extra-base hit by the length of one Kirby. What could have been a disaster for the Twins ended up being just another zero on the linescore.

Bottom 3 - Braves 0, Twins 2

Knoblauch grounds to short. One out.

Puckett's up. "Doesn't it seem like whenever a guy makes a great play in the field, he comes up the next inning?"

(I don't know if anybody says that anymore. I hope not.)

Puckett strikes out. Two outs.

He didn't get a hit this time because the Twins did not need him to get a hit. There would be a time for that later.

Uh oh. Mazzone's rocking in the dugout. Slowly, but it's still there. Did it start this game?

Davis flies to right. Three outs.

Top 4 - Braves 0, Twins 2

Random stress check: Stress is a 4 out of 10. They're leading, and Erickson hasn't been in a ton of trouble, and it seems like Kirby's got this one. I'm doing ok. To be fair, though, I'd rather the Twins were leading the series, but you take what you can get.

Bream walks.

Stress level 6.

Hunter lines to short. One out.

Better. But that's another hard-hit ball by the Braves. And he's at 60 pitches or so (God forbid the announcers/producers give us an exact count). Stress level is still 6.

Olson strikes out. Two outs.

And now Mark Lemke is up, so my stress level is up to an 8. I think my stress level would increase if he walked into my living room today.

Lemke grounds to short. Three outs.

Bottom 4 - Braves 0, Twins 2

Mack doubles to right.

And now Mack has woken up for the series. Two straight hits for him, with that one causing ripples in the right-field baggie.

And Tim McCarver says it's time for a "curtain call." Because it's the curtain in right field. You know he's been sitting on that one all series.

Leius grounds to third. One out.

That was almost a Metrodome chop. Bounced straight up in the air and just hung there like so many hits did. I'm surprised Pendleton had time to throw out Leius.

Hrbek to second, Mack to third on error by left.

The Metrodome strikes again! Hunter in left field looked down to make sure Belliard wasn't going to crash into him, then looked up and lost the ball, having it fall behind him. I think that's twice this series the Twins got on base specifically because of the Metrodome's roof.

So, good: The Twins have runners on second and third, with one out.

Bad: Junior Ortiz is up.

Ortiz strikes out looking. Two outs.

Gagne grounds to second. Three outs.


Top 5 - Braves 0, Twins 2

McCarver's blaming Hunter's play on the fact that the Braves couldn't work out in the Dome the night before because of a football game. The announcers sure happily ate up that Bobby Cox-provided excuse, huh?

Belliard singles to third.

Another Metrodome chop. That one ended up as a hit because Belliard is fast.

Smith grounds into a fielders choice, Belliard out, third to second. One out.

Should have been two. Looked like Knoblauch bobbled the ball trying to get it out of the glove. Of course, McCarver gave credit to the sliding Belliard, who had zero to do with it.

Pendleton homers to center. Braves 2, Twins 2.

Not ideal.

Fail to get the double play, the next batter homers. Of course. And now Erickson isn't pitching from ahead anymore.

Also, Pendleton has six hits in his last 10 at bats. If he gets going, the Twins are in trouble.

Gant grounds to short. Two outs.

And now Justice parks it off the upper deck facade in right. But it was foul by inches. Erickson is increasing my stress level.

Justice grounds to second. Three outs.

Knoblauch playing shallow right on that one.

Bottom 5 - Braves 2, Twins 2

Now would be a good time for the Gladdenstache to do something productive.

Gladden walks.

Thank you, Dan Gladden. A 10-pitch at bat that turns into a leadoff walk absolutely counts as "productive."

Gladden steals second.

Not gonna lie, he looked out. The throw bounced there, so maybe it bounced just high enough for Gladdenmullet to slide under it.

And yes, Dan Gladden, that also counts as productive.

Knoblauch flies to right, Gladden to third. One out.

Knoblauch did his job, moving Gladden to third. And he took a seven-pitch at bat. Avery has needed 17 pitches so far this inning.

Puckett flies to center, Gladden scores. Two outs. Twins 3-2.

For the second time tonight, Puckett gives the Twins the lead. And he's saved at least one run with his glove. Not bad so far.

(He's not done.)

Davis strikes out looking. Three outs.

Top 6 - Braves 2, Twins 3

Bream flies to third. One out.

Bream is 2 out of 18, as Buck just got done saying. Glad it's not just the Twins hitters who are being terrible this series.

Smith flies to second. Two outs.

And Gagne cut in front of/almost ran over Knoblauch, because Metrodome, and I had to take a deep breath there. As did 55,000 people inside the Dome.

And the first pitch to Olson goes behind him. Olson glares at Erickson. Erickson looks at his hand as if he couldn't believe something like that could happen. And maybe Erickson was right - he didn't seem to have a ton of control over where the ball went.

Olson flies to center. Three outs.

Erickson's first 1-2-3 inning of the night. And it also has to be his last inning. The Twins got 6 innings out of him, and he only gave up 2 runs. Thank you, and good night.

Bottom 6 - Braves 2, Twins 3

I just saw now that there's a guy in the Twins dugout wearing Zubaz, and he's now my hero.

Mack leads off. He's got two hits tonight, and now he's having a great at bat here. Although,

Mack grounds to first, pitcher covering. One out.

Don't slide into first, kids.

(He was probably gonna be out anyway, but still)

Leius singles to center.

Leius was the Twins' other rookie infielder in 1991. He was almost as good as Knoblauch this series.

They just showed a sign: " 'Days' of our 'Leius' Fan Club." That's so far beyond a stretch that I don't know the proper metaphor to use.

Hrbek grounds into a double play, first to short to first. Three outs.

Hrbek is another player who has been anonymous this series. Aside from pulling Gant off the bag, that is.

Top 7 - Braves 2, Twins 3

Tom Kelly doesn't agree with me that Erickson should be done. He's out there to start the 7th, against Evil Mark Lemke.

Lemke singles to center.

"Isn't he something?" asks Jack Buck. Yes, Jack, he's something.

Tommy Gregg hitting.

Mark Guthrie pitching.

So Erickson came out for one batter in the 7th. Seems weird, but Kelly was forcing Cox into a move. Cox used the lefty pinch hitter, so Kelly went with his lefty reliever, forcing Cox to waste his batter.

Jeff Blauser hitting.

So the Twins took out one pitcher (probably tired pitcher), and forced the Braves to take out two batters. Good move, TK.

Blauser strikes out. One out.

And really, Tommy Gregg couldn't have done that? Three pitches, three strikes.

Lemke to second on wild pitch.

Blauser just got scolded for not being able to advance the runner. Now there's a runner on second with one out, just as if Blauser had moved him over. So it worked out anyway. Or something.

Lonnie Smith is up; he's the first non-Yankee to hit a homer in three straight World Series games. So of course, he's spent three pitches trying to bunt the runner over to third even though there's already one out.

Smith walks. 

That walk sucked for a couple reasons. First, Smith was trying to bunt all at bat. Just let the guy bunt! Also, the go-ahead run is now on first, and both runners that are on base have good speed.

Plus, Pendleton is up, and he is red hot.

Pendleton singles to second, Lemke to third, Smith to second.

Ugh. That was off the end of bat, and it couldn't have been rolled out there any better. Perfectly between Guthrie, Hrbek, and Knoblauch. Nobody had a prayer.

And now the bases are loaded, and this is dumb. It's dumb.

Carl Willis pitching.

I'm chewing a pen right now. This happened 25 years ago and I'm chewing a pen.

"The World Series might be on the line right here." YOU THINK, JACK?!?!?

Gant grounds into a fielders choice, Pendleton out, short to second, Lemke scores, Smith to third. Two outs. Braves 3, Twins 3.

Willis got exactly what he wanted there: A ground ball. Problem was it was hit too slowly for a double play or for Gagne to get the out at home. He tried for two, and he and Knoblauch damn near turned it, but Gant beat it out. And we're tied, and the inning isn't over yet, and there is stress.

Greg Olson is in the dugout hiding in a towel, looking like he wants to throw up. The guy next to him (Blauser, I think) is looking down running his hand through his hair like he just got fired. People are not handling this well.

Justice strikes out. Three outs.

That was the biggest out in the series so far. It will be eclipsed approximately 1,000 times over the next two days.

Bottom 7 - Braves 3, Twins 3

Blauser playing short.

Mike Stanton pitching.

Brian Harper hitting.

Double good! The Twins got Avery out of the game, and they got Harper into it. Anything they gained on defense with Ortiz (and today anyway it wasn't much), they lost twice over on offense. I'm glad Harper's bat is in the lineup.

Harper strikes out. One out.

No, seriously, he's good.

Gagne singles to right.

Lemke acted like he didn't see that ball right away. He looked like he was trying to get out of the way rather than stop the ball. Strange, since it was nowhere near the roof.

Jack Buck: "Stanton can pick them off, but baserunners are 10-for-10 stealing against him. So they either read him, or they don't."

Gladden grounds into a double play, short to second to first, Gagne out at second. Three outs.

A double play on a 3-0 count. Naughty, Gladdenmullet.

A fan watching Game 6. He is 31 years old. 
Top 8 - Braves 3, Twins 3

Harper catching.

Bream flies to center. One out.

I can't imagine watching this live. Is this how people got ulcers? This is far more excruciating than I remember. And I'm not taking liberties with this to make this more interesting. This is genuinely stressful.

Hunter pops to first. Two outs.

Olson grounds to short. Three outs.

Bottom 8 - Braves 3, Twins 3

Knoblauch, Puckett, and Davis are up this inning. This is their chance. Stanton is still in for Atlanta, and he's still good, but maybe he's tired because he's already thrown one inning?

Knoblauch flies to short. One out.

They provide a flashback to Carlton Fisk's Game 6 home run in 1975, complete with dramatic music. And they show that clip with Puckett about to come to the plate. It's like they were trying to predict something.

Puckett singles to right.

Maybe a bit early on the prediction. But another hit for Kirby. He promised he'd deliver, and so far he has.

Chili is up. Two pitches to him so far, two swings attempting to launch a ball into orbit. I see what he's trying to do here.

They keep bouncing between Gardy giving signs at third to Olson looking in the Braves dugout for the sign from Cox, so Olson giving the sign, to Kirby wiping sweat off his head at first. Now they're showing fans in the crowd looking genuinely upset. I think everybody involved in this game has lost it. It's all too much.

Davis flies to center. Two outs.

The Twins dugout: Knoblauch appears to be crying into a towel; Erickson is staring off into nothing, eyes unfocused; Hrbek has dark circles on top of the dark circles under his eyes; and Morris is sitting right on the end, closest to home plate, completely chilling out. Waiting his turn. Hoping it comes.

Puckett steals second.

Sheesh, is there anything else he needs to do to win this game? Get a single now, Mack!

Mack flies to left. Three outs.

Broke his bat again. Hunter had to run about 30 yards to catch that in front of him. Dang.

Top 9 - Braves 3, Twins 3

Lemke flies to third. One out.

They got Lemke out! Like, for real! It counts!

Blauser singles to center.

That's the first baserunner off Willis. Somehow he's been on the mound since coming in with the bases loaded in the 7th. Aguilera is warming up furiously now to save the day if needed.

Willis keeps throwing over to first on Blauser, who is virtually no threat to run. I wonder if he's just killing time to get Aguilera in there.

Smith grounds into a double play, short to first, Blauser out at second.

That was ideal.

Bottom 9 - Braves 3, Twins 3

Alejandro Pena pitching.

Mike Pagliarulo hitting.

Time to be a hero again, Pags. You've done it twice already in the playoffs.

Pagliarulo strikes out. One out.

Just blew him away. All power.

Hrbek's up. I'm now chewing on one of my daughter's toys.

Hrbek strikes out looking. Two outs.

Hrbek threw his bat aside like he drew the walk, and ... well, it looked pretty good.

Harper grounds to short. Three outs.

You know what this series needed? More extra innings! Here we go.

Top 10 - Braves 3, Twins 3

Pagliarulo playing third.

Rick Aguilera pitching.

They're showing the crowd again. Many of them look like they'd rather not be there. The only person who looks relaxed is Atlanta pitcher Marvin Freeman, who is not on the postseason roster; he is listening to a headset provided by the camera men. I don't know what he is listening to. Jack Buck thinks he's listening to him and keeps trying to talk to him, but there's no answer. Nobody knows anything. Nothing makes sense.

Pendleton singles to center.

Pendleton just got his fourth hit of the night. I don't like him very much.

Gant lines into a double play to short, Pendleton out, short unassisted. Two outs.

Wow, that's about as fast as you can kill a rally. That happened so fast that my hair didn't get a chance to turn gray.

Twins with an interesting shift on Justice now. Hrbek is right on the line, at the very back of the infield; Knoblauch is in shallow right; and the third baseman and shortstop are playing him pretty much like normal. That leaves a gaping hole up the middle.

Justice flies to third. Three outs.

Justice did not hit it into the gaping hole up the middle.

Bottom 10 - Braves 3, Twins 3

Charlie Liebrandt is warming up now for Atlanta. He doesn't look like he wants to be warming up. I like that.

Gagne flies to second. One out.

Gladden grounds to second. Two outs.

Knoblauch grounds to short. Three outs.

I wish the Twins hadn't forgot how to hit.

Top 11 - Braves 3, Twins 3

Buck says that Mark Lemke will bat if anybody gets on base for Atlanta, which is as good a reason as I've ever heard for a pitcher to get a 1-2-3 inning.

Bream singles to right.

Bream is so slow. He hit that into the corner off the right field wall and could only get a single. Sure, Mack made a good play on it, but it wasn't THAT good.

Keith Mitchell running.

In the Braves dugout, Greg Olson appears to be choking John Smoltz, which is an interesting way to react to having the potential World Series-winning run on base.

Mitchell caught stealing, catcher to second. One out.

Remember when Harper couldn't throw, and was considered a defensive liability? But no, it's a good thing Ortiz was in the game earlier.

Hunter pops to first. Two outs.

For some reason this play was not shown on the DVD. It was just straight up skipped. I even played it back to make sure I wasn't going through stress-related memory loss. Did it actually happen? If I didn't see it, was it real? Maybe he actually homered, and it's a vast conspiracy to trick us into thinking this game turned out differently. I'd believe anything at this point.

Olson flies to third. Three outs.

Bottom 11 - Braves 3, Twins 3

Mitchell in left.

Hunter at first.

Charlie Liebrandt pitching.

And now, here it is. The moment Puckett was actually referring to when he told his teammates to jump on his back.

Imagine this, though. A player has been the best and most popular player on your team for years. You are in a position where you absolutely need a win or your season is over. You need a leader, so you naturally turn to him. It's a team game, but it's his team.

That's why Kirby has a statue outside Target Field. That's why he's in the Hall of Fame. Kirby Puckett was not a perfect man, not by any stretch. But when the Twins fans needed a hero, they naturally turned and pointed to the man who most closely fit that definition and asked him to be that hero. And he did it. I don't pay much heed to miracles or jinxes or anything in between, but Kirby Puckett in Game 6 was the closest thing to a religious experience I've ever seen on an athletic field. And I know I'm not alone.

Puckett homers to left. Twins 4, Braves 3.

And we'll see you tomorrow night.

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