The Minnesota Twins had won a World Series in 1987, but the ensuing years saw them fall badly off the pace. The Toronto Blue Jays were as consistent a contender as there was in baseball in the late 1980s and early 1990s. From these different starting points, the Twins and Blue Jays each won their division and faced off in the 1991 ALCS.
You can read more about the regular season paths each team took to reach the postseason, and the players who made it possible, at the links below. This article will focus specifically on the games of the American League Championship Series itself.
On a Tuesday night in the old Metrodome, Jack Morris took the ball for Minnesota against Toronto knuckleballer Tom Candiotti. The Twins got after Candiotti right away. Dan Gladden and Chuck Knoblauch led off the first inning with singles. A one-out sacrifice fly moved Gladden to third and Knoblauch stole second. Chili Davis then delivered a two-out RBI single for a 2-0 lead.
Minnesota kept it going in the second. Shane Mack beat out an infield hit, stole second and scored on a base hit from Greg Gagne. Gladden and Knoblauch each singled again and it was 4-0. In the bottom of the third, Davis walked, stole second and scored on a two-out RBI double from Mack. Candiotti was gone and the lead was 5-zip.
Toronto got great relief work from David Wells and Mike Timlin, and their offense started chipping back. They got a run in the fourth. With one out in the sixth, Devon White, Roberto Alomar, John Olerud and Kelly Gruber all singled in succession. Suddenly the lead was cut to 5-4 and there were runners on first and second. Minnesota manager Tom Kelly summoned Carl Willis from the bullpen.
Willis retired all seven batters he faced and get the ball into the hands of closer Rick Aguilera, who got the final four outs and held on to the 5-4 lead and the Game 1 win.
The Blue Jays turned to Juan Guzman for a Game 2 they realistically needed to win. They got him early support, touching Twins’ starter Kevin Tapani for a first-inning run. Devon White started that rally and he did it again in the third, when a leadoff double started that rally that ended when Gruber hit a two-run single to right.
Guzman pitched around some trouble in the first when he walked a couple guys and allowed a run in the third when a wild pitch let Knoblauch get to second where he scored on a base hit by Puckett. But otherwise, the 3-1 lead stood into the sixth when walks again got him in trouble.
Knoblauch and Chili Davis each drew free passes. With two outs, Puckett singled to score a run. Guzman was out and Toronto manager Cito Gaston went to his closer early. Tom Hehnke came on to end that inning and the Twins never threatened again. The Jays touched Tapani for two more runs in the seventh to secure their 5-2 win.
Homefield advantage had been vital to Minnesota in their 1987 World Series title run, as they had gone 6-0 in the Metrodome. The Game 2 loss in this ALCS meant they had to get at least one win on the road. It turned out, the Twins would do a lot more than that.
It didn’t look like the weekend was going to be a Twins-fest when Toronto’s Joe Carter hit a solo home run in the first inning of Friday night’s Game 3. And then that was followed up by a walk, an infield hit and an RBI double from Candy Maldonado. It was 2-0, but Minnesota’s 20-game winner Scott Erickson turned out to be done giving up runs for the night.
Jimmy Key pitched well for the Blue Jays and the 2-0 lead stood to the fifth when Mack tripled and scored. In the sixth, Knoblauch doubled and Puckett picked him up with a single that tied the game. It stayed 2-2 into extra innings and both starters were out.
Timlin was on for Toronto facing Minnesota third baseman Mike Pagliarulo. After a disappointing season following his free agent signing, Pagliarulo made up for it. He homered to right. Aguilera closed the game out and Minnesota had reclaimed homefield.
The pressure was on the Blue Jays for Saturday night with Morris on the mound. Toronto threatened early. They got on the run in the second, and one inning later, put runners on second and third with one out. Carter was at the plate. Morris got the big strikeout, escaped the inning and the rest of the evening went Minnesota’s way.
Puckett homered off Todd Stottlemyre to start the fourth and the game was tied. Davis hit a one-out double. With two outs, Mack walked and Pagliarulo singled in a run. After a hit batsman, Gladden ripped a two-run single, it was 4-1 and the rout was on. Minnesota added two more in the sixth. Morris went eight strong innings. The final score was 9-3.
Candiotti would get a chance to redeem himself in a must-win Game 5 in the late afternoon on Sunday. It didn’t begin well. Puckett homered in the first. In the second, Davis singled and then moved up to third as a couple knuckleballs got away. A base hit from Mack made it 2-0 and the Twins put runners on second and third with one out. Candiotti got Greg Gagne to pop up and kept his team in the game.
The Toronto offense awoke against Tapani in the third. Singles from Manny Lee, White and Alomar brought in one run. Carter doubled to tie it. Olerud drove in a third run with a productive out and the Blue Jays had the lead. That lead was extended to 5-2 in the fourth. After two were out, Lee and Mookie Wilson singled putting runners on the corners. Wilson stole second and Alomar drove in both runners with a single.
In the top of the sixth, Mack and Pagliarulo each singled, and Candiotti was removed for Timlin. Gagne popped up, but a Toronto error let a run in. Knoblauch blooped a double to right, two more runs scored and the game was tied.
Ward came on for Timlin and the 5-5 score held until the eighth. Ward got the first two Minnesota batters out. Then the final blow came from the Twins. Gladden singled and Knoblauch walked. A base hit from Puckett brought in Gladden with the lead run. The throw to the plate let Knoblauch and Puckett each move up a base. Kent Hrbek went the other way with a single to left center that provided two insurance runs.
It was 8-5 and all but over. Willis handled the Toronto half of the eighth with ease. Aguilera closed out the ninth, with Alomar’s fly ball to Gladden triggering the celebration in the Twin Cities.
Puckett was named 1991 ALCS MVP. He went 9-for-21, homered twice and drove in five runs, including the one that clinched the pennant. Also worthy of mention are Knoblauch, who batted .350 for the series and the relief work of Willis and Aguilera. They combined to pitch 8.2 IP of shutout ball and were vital to three of the four wins.
Toronto was hurt most by Candiotti not pitching deep into either one of his starts. Offensively, Olerud, Lee and Maldonado combined to go 7-for-55. Alomar was the bright spot, with his nine hits for the series.
Good things were ahead for both franchises. For Minnesota, that was immediate—they won a thrilling seven-game World Series from the Atlanta Braves and had their second championship in five years. Toronto wouldn’t have to wait very long for their vindication—they made it back and won the World Series in 1992. Then they did it again in 1993.