The advent of divisional play had been good for Minnesota. When the American League split into an East and West in 1969, the Twins captured the inaugural AL West crown. That was under the guidance of Billy Martin. After a falling out with the front office, Martin was fired. Bill Rigney stepped in as the new manager and the end result of the same. The 1970 Minnesota Twins won another AL West title.
Jim Perry was the ace of the staff. In an era when starting pitchers regularly worked every fourth game, Perry did a complete workload of forty starts. He won 24 games with a 3.04 ERA and, in a close vote, brought home the American League Cy Young Award.
Perry was backed up in the rotation by Jim Kaat, who made 34 starts and mixed in 11 more relief appearances, posting a 3.56 ERA. Bert Blyleven, a future Hall of Famer, was just getting started at the age of 19, and he won 10 games with a 3.18 ERA. Luis Tiant made 17 starts and finished with an ERA of 3.40. Bill Zepp pulled equal time between the rotation and the pen and his ERA was 3.22
The role of closer was very much in its infancy, but another 34-year-old arm, Ron Perranoski, mastered it in Minnesota. He saved 34 games and his ERA was a sharp 2.43. Stan Williams was even better in middle relief, working 113 innings, winning ten games and finishing with a dazzling ERA of 1.99.
All in all, the Twins staff, with no weaknesses at any spot, produced the second-best composite ERA in the American League.
Minnesota’s everyday lineup was anchored by the great Harmon Killebrew. One of the great power hitters of his era, Killebrew posted a stat line of .411 on-base percentage/.546 slugging percentage. The third baseman finished third in the AL MVP voting and was the third excellent 34-year-old on these 1970 Twins.
Tony Oliva played rightfield and his stat line was .364/.514. Cesar Tovar was in centerfield and he hit leadoff, finishing with a 356 OBP and 30 stolen bases. Brant Alyea got part-time work in the outfield and had a stat line of .366/.531. And a kid named Rod Carew played 51 games at different infield spots and racked up a .407/.524 stat line .
There were a number of weaknesses in the Twins’ lineup. But with Tovar setting the table, Killebrew and Oliva cleaning it up, and Alyea and Carew chipping in, Minnesota still finished third in the 12-team American League for runs scored.
The Twins came out strong with a 10-4 start including a series win in Oakland, where the A’s were a contender. They won two of three in Baltimore, the defending American League pennant winner. By Memorial Day, Minnesota was 26-12. They held a narrow half-game lead on the California Angels and were up six games on Oakland.
During the first part of the summer, the Twins continued to play consistent baseball and gradually nudged their lead on the Angels out to four games. The final week of the first half would be out west, with series in Oakland and Anaheim.
Minnesota took two of three in Oakland. A great pitching performance from Zepp keyed one win and five shutout innings in relief from Williams led the way in the other. On Thursday, the road trip continued against the Angels. Light-hitting shortstop Leo Cardenas won the opener when he broke a 2-2 tie in the ninth with a two-run homer. After Kaat took a hard-luck 2-1 loss on Friday, Cardenas came through again on Saturday. A three-hit night keyed a 5-2 win.
Even though the Twins lost on Sunday, they had split the four-game set on the road, gone 4-3 for the week and reached the All-Star break in control of the AL West. Their record was 54-28 and the margins were plus-5 on California and up 9 ½ on Oakland.
The late summer saw some sluggish play. Minnesota went 24-27 in the 51 games leading up to Labor Day weekend. California chopped the lead down to three games and the Twins were heading back to Anaheim for a big series on the holiday weekend.
Oliva stepped up in Friday night’s opener, ripping four hits. Blyleven and Perranoski combined on a shutout and a 4-0 win. On Saturday, Tovar knocked out three hits, Oliva picked him up with three RBIs and Minnesota won 4-3. Tovar kept it right on going into Sunday, with two hits, three RBIs of his own and a home run. The 3-1 win completed the sweep. Minnesota was back to a six-game lead over both California and Oakland.
The A’s got their chance at cutting into the lead when they came to old Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis on September 9. Perry opened the series on Wednesday night by winning #22 in a 3-1 decision. Thursday was a twilight doubleheader, an old-school concept where the first game was played around 5:30 PM, there was just a twenty-minute break between games and one ticket got you in for both.
Oakland sent the young Catfish Hunter to the mound. Tovar led the way in roughing up the future Hall of Famer, with three hits and the Twins won 6-1. Then Oliva got it rolling in the nightcap with an early home run. Kaat cruised through seven good innings and a 7-2 win completed another sweep.
Minnesota was riding high, up 8 ½ on the A’s and 10 on the Angels. The AL West race was all but over. A couple weeks later, the Twins were making the return trip to Oakland with a chance to clinch. A 5-3 win was sealed when Perranoski induced a groundball to short that Cardenas flipped to second baseman Danny Thompson for the forceout. The party could start for the second straight year. Minnesota finished the season with a record of 98-64.
For the second straight year, the party ended in the American League Championship Series. The Twins rematched with the Orioles, but Baltimore was just too good. The Birds had won 108 games and were hungry to atone for an upset loss in the 1969 World Series. Minnesota was swept out of the ALCS, as Baltimore went on to win it all.
1970 was still a tremendous year, but it also signaled a temporary end to the success. Minnesota slipped under .500 in 1971, as Oakland became ascendant and dominated the division for the early part of the decade. The Twins did not make a serious run at first place until 1984. Their next division title came in 1987, the year they finally won the franchise’s first World Series crown.
It isn’t often that a team coming off the first World Series title in franchise history has something to prove. It’s even less frequent that this team could finish a distant second place and still manage to prove that intangible “something.” But that’s exactly how the 1988 Minnesota Twins can be described.
The Twins came out of nowhere in 1987. A franchise that had not finished over .500 since 1979, jumped up and won a division title. It wasn’t the most impressive of division crowns, with 85 wins, but it got Minnesota onto the October stage. And from there, they took off, upsetting more credentialed opponents from Detroit and St. Louis to win it all.
But how good were these Twins? This was still a franchise that hadn’t won 90 games since 1970. Was ’87 just a strange year where they benefitted from a soft division and a hot streak at the right time? In 1988, the landscape of the American League changed and the AL West that Minnesota occupied prior to 1994 became a lot tougher. That kept the Twins out of the postseason. But they were actually better than they’d been a year earlier, and in a roundabout way, validated their title run of the previous October.
Kirby Puckett was the star and the centerfielder had his best season to date in 1988. With 24 home runs and 121 RBIs, Puckett finished third in the American League MVP voting. More power came from the corner spots of the infield. Kent Hrbek hit 25 home runs and posted a stat line of .387 on-base percentage/.520 slugging percentage. At third base, Gary Gaetti’s line was .353/.551 and he homered 28 times.
Dan Gladden played left field and his 28 stolen bases helped spark the lineup, even if his overall production levels were mediocre. Randy Bush was in rightfield and provided a respectable stat line of .365/.434. Gene Larkin handled DH duties and while he didn’t have much power, the .368 OBP was solid. Manager Tom Kelly always got the most out of his bench, and the best example this year was outfielder John Moses, who posted a .366 OBP in just over 200 plate appearances.
Minnesota ended up fifth in the American League for runs scored. The pitching staff wasn’t far behind, coming in sixth in staff ERA. The top of the rotation had driven the previous October’s postseason success. And staff ace Frank Viola got even better in 1988. Viola won 24 games, finished with a 2.64 ERA and won the Cy Young Award.
But Viola’s running mate, future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, was now 37-years-old and Blyleven struggled in 1988. The final numbers were ugly: 10-17 and a 5.43 ERA. Fortunately for the Twins, 24-year-old Allan Anderson picked up the slack, making 30 starts, getting 16 victories and posting a 2.45 ERA.
The back end of the rotation remained problematic and Kelly did his best to work with Charlie Lea, Freddie Tolliver and Les Straker, who were all varying degrees of mediocre. The middle and setup relief crew relied on Juan Berenguer, who finished with a 3.96 ERA and Keith Atherton, whose ERA clocked in at 3.41.
They weren’t bad, but given the rotation depth issues, the Twins could have used a couple more arms in these roles. Because if they could just get to the end of games, Minnesota was in good hands. Jeff Reardon was one of baseball’s best closers and in 1988 he saved 42 games with a 2.47 ERA.
Skeptics of the Twins’ 1987 performance got early ammunition when they lost 11 of their first 16 games. A sweep of Baltimore, who was off to a historically bad start provided a brief respite. But the Twins were still 9-16 in late April and ten games back of the sizzling Oakland A’s.
The alignment of major league baseball prior to 1994 had each league split into just two divisions, an East and a West. Only the first-place team could advance to the postseason. So when we say Minnesota was staring at a 10-game deficit in the AL West, that was even more alarming than it would be today.
It was early May that Minnesota began to play better baseball. By the end of the month, they were starting to roll, with an eight-game winning streak leading into Memorial Day. The Twins’ record at the holiday was 24-22 and they were up to second place. But the A’s had a comfortable nine-game cushion.
Minnesota continued to play well through the early summer months. They chipped away at the divisional deficit and were within six games when they visited Oakland for a four-game set in late June. Gaetti homered twice in Friday night’s opener, an 11-5 win. Saturday afternoon saw a tough 4-3 loss, in spite of two hits apiece from Moses, Puckett and second baseman Steve Lombardozzi.
But a Sunday doubleheader gave the good people of the Twin Cities renewed hope. Gaetti unloaded with three hits, a home run and 3 RBIs in the opener, an 11-0 rout behind Lea. The second game was a high-profile pitching matchup between Viola and Oakland ace Dave Stewart. With the top of the Minnesota batting order—Gladden, Moses, and Puckett—combining for eight hits, and Viola pitching a gem, the Twins won 5-0.
They were back in the race and got as close as 3 ½ games. Getting swept at home by Milwaukee (an American League team prior to 1998, but in the AL East) to end the first half quelled the momentum, but Minnesota still went into the All-Star break with a record of 47-38 and within 5 ½ games of first place.
The Twins came barreling out of the break by taking four of five games from the lowly Orioles. Even though Minnesota lost three straight at red-hot Boston, the Twins still went on to win 17 of the 30 games they played in August. That included sweeping all six from the Tigers, were battling the Red Sox at the top of the AL East.
By rights, reaching Labor Day with a record of 76-60, should have had Minnesota squarely in the pennant race. But Oakland was just too hot. The “Bash Brothers” of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire were taking baseball by storm this year for the first time. Even though the Twins would have been one game up in the AL East, they were 9 ½ back in the AL West.
Minnesota continued to play steady baseball through September. Oakland never slowed down, so this never became a race, but the Twins achieved two moral victories. First, they broke the 90-win threshold and finished with a final record of 91-71. Second, that record would have won the AL East and was fourth-best in the majors.
The Twins might have been stuck in the wrong division for 1988, but their solid performance had given greater weight to that magical World Series run of 1987.
The Twins were in the fourth year of a rebuilding program under manager Billy Gardner. The franchise, after some moderately successful teams in the late 1970s, let their star players—including Hall of Fame first baseman Rod Carew—go elsewhere. The Twins lost over 100 games in 1980. They were on a pace to do the same in the strike-shortened year of 1981. 1982 was only modestly better, with 92 losses. The 1984 Minnesota Twins made a jump to respectability and playing in a weak division, that was enough to make them a serious contender.
Pitching was the key to the Twins’ improvement in 1984, particularly the top three starters in their rotation. Frank Viola and Mike Smithson and John Butcher combined to make 105 starts and all had ERAs in the 3s. The back end of the rotation was a little shaky. The bullpen, with closer Ron Davis being on the erratic side with a 4.55 ERA, was problematic. But the Big Three of the rotation carried the Minnesota pitching staff to fourth in the American League for staff ERA.
Offensively, the Twins got a big year from first baseman Kent Hrbek. With 27 home runs, 107 RBI and a stat line of .383 on-base percentage/.522 slugging percentage, Hrbek finished second in the AL MVP voting.
Tom Brunansky was in right field and he homered 32 times and drove in 85 runs. But the rest of the lineup was spotty. Kirby Puckett was embarking on a Hall of Fame career, but in 1984, Puckett was a rookie enduring his growing pains. Ron Washington provided a .447 slugging percentage at shortstop, but was only a part-time player.
Gary Gaetti at third base, Tim Teufel at second and Tim Laudner behind the plate had some good years over the course of their careers. But 1984 wasn’t one of them. The Twins’ offense finished 11th in the American League for runs scored.
The divisional alignment and playoff format of baseball at the time had each league split into just two divisions, an East and a West. Only the first-place team could go to the postseason. In general, that naturally meant it was more difficult to get to the playoffs than it would be today. But the unique circumstances of 1984 were a boon for the Twins.
They lost the first two games of the season in Detroit. The Tigers were on their way to a breathtaking 35-5 start, and would end up winning 104 games and eventually the World Series. But unlike today, Minnesota and Detroit did not share a division. The Tigers went East, the Twins went West. And no one in the AL West was making a name for themselves in the season’s early going.
Minnesota’s first signs of life came when they swept defending World Series champion Baltimore three straight, scoring 29 runs in the process. In early May, the Twins swept a six-game homestand from the A’s and Angels. Toronto was a problem—the Blue Jays beat the Twins all five times they played in the season’s early going. But Minnesota reached Memorial Day with a 23-24 record.
It was marked improvement from where the club had been in recent years. And while it would have left them in a 14-game hole to Detroit and in fourth place in the AL East, it was good enough to be within a half-game of the lead in the AL West—the division where no one was over .500 and everyone was within four games of each other.
Minnesota lost three of four at home to Kansas City and slipped as low as 28-33 and 4 ½ games off the pace. But on the return trip to KC, the Twins’ pitching came through. Butcher tossed a three-hit shutout and Minnesota only allowed two runs combined in a three-game sweep. They followed that up by taking two of three from the defending division champion Chicago White Sox and closed the first half by winning three of four from the Yankees.
By the All-Star break, the Twins’ record was 43-41. They were only a game behind the first-place White Sox. The AL West was still a packed race, with everyone except Seattle and Texas within four games of the lead.
The late summer opened with a heavy diet of games against Oakland, California and Seattle, twenty games on the road and at home. The Twins played good baseball and won 13 of those games. They took over first place and led by a game and a half. Minnesota continued to gain steam through August and their record reached a peak of 67-59 on August 23. They were five games up on the field in the AL West. The first division title since 1970 was shockingly in sight.
But those pesky Blue Jays were again a problem. Toronto came into Minnesota and won three of four. The Twins lost three straight on the return trip to Canada and dropped a series to the Red Sox in between. By Labor Day, Minnesota still held the lead, but the record was now 69-67 and the lead back to a single game. Kansas City and California were in hot pursuit. Chicago had fallen off the pace.
It was the Twins, Royals and Angels that would fight this race to the finish. And the first big showdown of September started when Minnesota visited Kansas City on Labor Day evening to start a three-game series.
Butcher was outstanding in the opener, working into the eighth inning and winning 4-1. But the bats fell silent the next two nights, with the Twins on the wrong side of two more 4-1 decisions. The Royals and Twins were still in a dead heat a week later when Kansas City came north to Minnesota. California was a half-game back.
Behind three hits from Puckett, the Twins again took the opener, this time 7-3. Viola delivered a gem in the middle game, winning 5-1 with help from an inside-the-park home run by Hrbek and a conventional blast from Brunansky.
Even though another good outing from Butcher went to waste in a 3-2 loss in the Wednesday finale, Minnesota had won a big series. They gave it back with three losses in four games at home to Chicago, needing a 13-inning win to avoid a devastating sweep. But, continuing to put the good people of Minnesota on an emotional roller-coaster, the Twins swept a series from the lowly Cleveland Indians.
When the final week of the season started, Minnesota and Kansas City were both 80-75. California was a game and a half back. The Angels and Royals would open the week against each other, while the Twins paid a return visit to the White Sox.
Minnesota won 8-4 on Monday night, but KC swept a doubleheader—exactly the kind of decisive outcome the Twins didn’t need. Then Minnesota’s pitching, so reliable all year long, gave up 17 runs over the next two nights and lost both games. Kansas City picked up another win over California and finished off the Angels.
On Thursday night, the Twins began their final series of the season in Cleveland. Davis blew a save in a 4-3 loss. Minnesota slipped two back of idle Kansas City who began their final weekend in Oakland.
Over the course of their franchise history, the Minnesota Twins have had some infamous failings in big games, most notably in recent years against the Yankees. But it’s tough to fathom a bigger collapse than what happened on Friday night in Cleveland. After staking Viola to a 10-0 lead…yes, 10 to 0…the Twins lost 11-10. The Royals won later that night in Oakland and wrapped up the division.
It was an extremely disappointing way to end a nice season. The Twins finished 81-81. Yes, the AL East had the top five teams in the American League and that’s why Minnesota could stay in contention to the final weekend, but the .500 finish was an unqualified success after where the organization had been at in recent years.
The more disappointing part is that 1985 and 1986 saw the Twins slip back to irrelevance. But in 1987, with a new manager in Tom Kelly, the core talent that emerged in 1984—Hrbek, Brunansky, Gaetti, Puckett and Viola had more experience, more help and they won the World Series.
The state of Minnesota had been electrified in 1991 when their beloved Twins completed a magical worst-to-first turnaround by winning a dramatic World Series, their second title in five years. The 1992 Minnesota Twins didn’t achieve those same heights—but even though they lost some key performers from that ’91 team, this ’92 edition of the Twins were still a good, solid baseball team that stayed in contention much of the season.
Jack Morris, the veteran starting pitcher who was the hero of the World Series, left via free agency. So did outfielder Dan Gladden, who had scored the winning run in Game 7. The Twins were in a tough division. In the pre-1994 alignment, they were in the AL West. The Oakland A’s had won three straight pennants from 1988-90 and were looking to get back on top. There was no wild-card berth available in this era, so Minnesota had no margin for error.
In the middle of spring training, the Twins made a big move to cover for the loss of Morris. The Pittsburgh Pirates were a regular contender, but starting to dump salaries. They were looking to unload 20-game winner John Smiley. Minnesota picked up the lefty on the cheap.
Smiley and Kevin Tapani would each win 16 games in 1992. Scott Erickson won 13. These three starters all finished with ERAs in the 3s and were the core of a reliable rotation. Bill Krueger was a manageable fourth starter, going 10-6 with a 4.30 ERA.
The fifth spot went back and forth between Willie Banks and 21-year-old Pat Mahomes—and yes, the latter is the father of the current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback who has lit up the NFL and won a Super Bowl.
Manager Tom Kelly had a deep bullpen to rely on. Carl Willis, Tom Edens and Mark Guthrie all had ERAs in the high 2s and all got steady work. The same went for closer Rick Aguilera, who slammed the door on 41 saves. All told, the Minnesota pitching staff ended up third in the American League in ERA.
The everyday lineup was keyed by the great centerfielder Kirby Puckett. A hero of the previous October himself, Puckett had his best season in 1992. His stat line was .374 on-base percentage/.490 slugging percentage, he scored 104 runs and drove in 110. It was enough to place second in the American League MVP voting.
Puckett wasn’t the only outfielder who could hit. Shane Mack got the playing time that opened up with Gladden’s departure and Mack’s stat line was .394/.467. Chuck Knoblauch, the feisty young second baseman had a .384 OBP and stole 34 bases. Kent Hrbek’s power dipped, but the first baseman at least posted a .357 OBP. Veteran DH Chili Davis produced a stat line of .386/.439. Brian Harper’s .343 OBP was respectable by any standard and good for an everyday catcher.
There were offensive weaknesses on the left side of the infield, in right field and with depth. But led by Puckett, the Twins still ranked third in the AL in runs scored.
Minnesota started slowly, losing nine of their first fifteen games. Then they took a home series from Oakland, keyed by a 6-5 extra-innings win in the opener. It got the Twins on track and by Memorial Day, they were at 23-19 and only 2 ½ games off the pace in the AL West. Oakland led the way, the Chicago White Sox were in second and Minnesota narrowly led the Texas Rangers for third.
The Twins more or less held serve in that position until June 19. Then they got hot and ripped off 18 wins in 23 games. That included another series victory over the A’s, this one on the road. And it was capped off by taking three of four from the contending Baltimore Orioles. The winning streak pushed Minnesota into first place at the All-Star break, up 2 ½ on Oakland, 6 ½ on Texas and Chicago fading fast at 9 ½ out.
The Twins were still holding a three-game lead in late July. They went to Oakland, but this time the head-to-head battle didn’t work out so well. Minnesota pitching gave up 26 runs in three games and they lost all three. It set the stage for an August slide where the Twins went 12-17. That included three straight losses in Chicago where they were outscored 33-19. And it included three straight defeats at mediocre Cleveland where the bats went silent and only scored three runs for the series.
By Labor Day, Minnesota was 5 ½ back of Oakland and no one else was in serious shouting distance of the lead. There was still a chance, but the Twins had no time to waste. And there was a series coming up in Oakland in a week that offered a chance to change the dynamics of the race.
The Twins used that week leading up to the showdown well. They took five of six games in series with the California Angels and Seattle Mariners. The only problem was that Oakland played the same two teams and won six of seven. Minnesota was now six out when the head-to-head games began on September 14.
Monday night’s opener saw a pitching gem between Tapani and Oakland ace Dave Stewart. The score was tied 1-1 in the eighth and the bullpens were on. Edens blinked first and gave up the winning run. Minnesota lost 2-1.
Mahomes got the start on Tuesday and was outstanding. But an offense that had generated just eight singles the night before, only got two singles tonight. Another 2-1 loss was the result.
If there was any doubt the AL West race was over, they were put to bed on Wednesday’s getaway day finale. Smiley took a 1-1 tie into the fifth, but gave up three runs and lost 4-2. The only bright side was that Lenny Webster hit a double in the sixth, the only extra-base hit this offense got in the season’s biggest series.
Minnesota still played well for the balance of the season. They won 10 of their final 16 and reached the 90-win threshold. The final 90-72 record was fourth-best in the American League and tied for sixth-best in the majors. In other words, by the standards of what would exist just two years later, it was playoff-caliber.
The bigger problem was that this marked the end of Minnesota’s run of success, at least for a little while. They fell to 71-91 a year later. Winning baseball did not return to the Twin Cities until 2001, when Kelly won 85 games in his final season and set up what would be another good run for the franchise in the early 2000s.
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.
The 1991 Minnesota Twins were like a skilled presidential candidate that knew how to peak every four years and at the time where their advantage would be at its max. They won the World Series in 1987. They were overtaken by the powerful Oakland A’s for the next three years and slid to last place in the old AL West by 1990. But when 1991 came around, the Twins came rising back to the top and they won another World Series title.
Minnesota moved aggressively in free agency prior to the 1991 season. They signed Chili Davis to be the DH and Davis rewarded them with a .385 on-base percentage, 29 home runs and 93 RBI. But the biggest catch on the free agent market was veteran starting pitcher Jack Morris.
Morris had been the staff ace on Detroit’s 1984 championship team and the key to a successful AL East title run in 1987. He had a deserved reputation as a big-game pitcher. His main attribute in the regular season was that he was a horse—35 starts, an 18-12 record and 3.43 ERA. But in the biggest games he could turn it up another notch and what he brought to the Twins would become very apparent at the season’s biggest moment.
Kevin Tapani and Scott Erickson were better starting pitchers during the regular season. Tapani won 16 games with a 2.99 ERA, while Erickson was a 20-game winner with a 3.18 ERA. Rick Aguilera was the closer and saved 42 games and posted a 2.35 ERA. Carl Willis, a future pitching coach, was a solid setup man with a 2.63 ERA. The pitching staff was top-heavy, dependent on three core starters and two primary relievers, but they were good enough to be second in the American League in ERA.
The offense wasn’t bad either, ranking fourth in the AL in runs scored. They did it by leading the league in both batting average and on-base percentage. Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch won Rookie of the Year honors with a .351 OBP and he consistently sparked the attack with his speed. Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Shane Mack and Brian Harper could both get on base and drive the ball for power. Gene Larkin provided quality depth with a .361 OBP off the bench.
Even so, there was nothing early in the season to suggest anything special was in the works. Minnesota was playing sub-.500 baseball as Memorial Day arrived and in a competitive AL West, it was the Texas Rangers who were out to the early lead with the A’s hot on their heels. The Twins were in sixth (Prior to 1994, the AL West also included the Royals, Mariners, Angels and White Sox with the winner advancing directly to the ALCS). On Memorial Day itself, the Minnesota opened a three-game set in Texas by losing 11-4.
It was at this point that the 1991 Minnesota Twins turned it around became the team they’re remembered as. Erickson took the ball on Tuesday and fired eight shutout innings in a 3-0 win. In the Wednesday finale, light-hitting shortstop Greg Gange took Nolan Ryan deep, drove in four runs and provided the necessary support for Morris and the workhorse threw a four-hitter.
The series win in Texas set the stage for a scorching June, where the Twins would win 22 of 28 games and not only move into first place, but lead by as many as 4 ½ games on June 25. They hit the skids in the week prior to the All-Star Break and were back to a dead heat with the Rangers, but Minnesota had positive momentum going.
Texas lost eight of eleven games to start the second half and faded quickly, but Oakland and Chicago stayed on Minnesota’s heels. On the first weekend of August, the Twins played the first of two key series with the A’s, who had spent three years as the gold standard in this division and in all of baseball. Oakland was only three games off the pace, with Chicago two games out.
Morris pitched well in Friday night’s opener, but the Twins offense couldn’t get anything going against reigning Cy Young Award winner Bob Welch in a 3-1 loss. The following afternoon, Minnesota dug, themselves a 5-0 hole. If you peeked ahead to Sunday, Oakland had their own clutch ace, Dave Stewart, in waiting. The race was ready to get even tighter. It was time for another dramatic reversal of momentum.
Harper hit a three-run homer and keyed a stunning seven-ran rally that gave Minnesota a win. They came out the next day and jumped Stewart for three runs in the first inning, got some clutch middle relief work from Willis and took the series with a 6-2 win.
Two weeks later it was A’s and Twins and the Metrodome. Oakland was now five games out and fighting to hold on, while Chicago was still within 2 ½ games.
Friday night’s opener was a 2-2 tie in the ninth when A’s left fielder Jose Canseco hit a two-run blast and Oakland turned the game over to Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley. Minnesota scrapped out two runs to tie the game then won it in the 12th when Knoblauch doubled and scored.
A Morris-Welch rematch was up on Saturday and it didn’t begin well as Morris gave up three runs in the first. Welch imploded quickly though. Knoblauch had three hits, Harper drove in four runs and the result was a 12-4 rout.
The Twins trailed 4-1 on Sunday against Stewart when they unleashed more comeback mojo. They got two in the seventh and Oakland went to the bullpen. In the eighth, a Harper triple started a three-run rally that led to a 6-4 win. Minnesota lost Monday’s wraparound finale, but even in defeat they showed how hard they were going to be to kill. After trailing 6-0, they made a furious rally before coming up short, 8-7.
The Oakland dynasty was all but dead. Chicago was still within 3 ½ games and the prospect of a hot race to the finish loomed. But now it was time for the White Sox to implode. In a schedule stretch against mediocre teams, Chicago lost nine straight. By the time September arrived, the Twins’ lead soared to eight games.
Minnesota stayed in command through the final month and by the time to second-to-last weekend of the season arrived they were in position to clinch. On Saturday in Toronto, Morris threw a complete-game six-hitter and the 5-0 win at least ensured a tie. The Twins lost on Sunday, but thanks to a 26-year-old Seattle Mariners’ lefty named Randy Johnson, who beat the White Sox 2-1, Minnesota was still able to pour the champagne with a full week to go.
It was no coincidence that Minnesota was successful in the four-year cycle that peaked, for them, in 1987 and 1991. Homefield advantage for the postseason in this era was determined by a rotation system. In both ‘87 and ‘91, the AL West had homefield in both the LCS and World Series (We should note in fairness that while the 1987 Twins were a big beneficiary of this, the ‘91 Twins had a superior regular season record to both teams they faced in October).
And they didn’t need homefield to win the ALCS against Toronto. The teams split the first two games in the Metrodome. It was when the series shifted north of the border that the Twins took over. They won all three games in Toronto, including a big late rally to win Game 5 and clinch the pennant.
Homefield was the decisive factor in the World Series with the Atlanta Braves, as home teams won every game. That meant Minnesota was down 3-2 in games when they came home for Game 6, but the closing two games on Saturday and Sunday night would be as memorable as any finish the World Series has ever seen.
Puckett was the hero on Saturday, making a great catch at the wall early in the game and then hitting an extra-inning home run to win it. Sunday’s Game 7 managed to be even better. Morris and young Braves’ starter John Smoltz went toe-to-toe in a tense scoreless duel. The game went to extra innings. Atlanta went to the bullpen, but Minnesota stayed with Morris, who completed a scoreless tenth. The Twins got a run in their half of the inning and were World Series champions again.
Minnesota has produced a number of good teams in the years since 1991. They were re-aligned into the newly created AL Central in 1994 and won it three consecutive years from 2002-04. They had won division titles again in 2006 and in 2009-10. After rebuilding, they made the playoffs in 2017 as a wild-card. But they haven’t hoisted the ultimate prize since that magical time in 1991.
The Minnesota Twins and St. Louis Cardinals were teams built for their homefield. The Twins had power, well-suited to the hitter-friendly atmosphere at the Metrodome. The Cardinals, playing in what was then an artificial turf-covered Busch Stadium with deep dimensions, were constructed on speed. It’s appropriate that when these contrasting teams met in the 1987 World Series it was all about homefield, as home teams won all seven games.
That made the calendar as important as anything else. Prior to 2003, homefield in the World Series was determined on a rotation system and it was the American League’s turn. That left the 85-win Twins hosting the 95-win Cardinals to open and close the Series.
Another advantage Minnesota had was that their top two starters, Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven, were better than anyone St. Louis could answer with. Over the course of a long season, the Cardinals’ depth throughout the roster made them a better team. In a short series, it’s tough to beat a team who has the two best starters on either side.
You can read more about the paths the Twins and Cardinals took to their division titles, as well as a narrative of their LCS triumphs, at the links below. This article will focus exclusively on the games of the 1987 World Series.
One of those starters, Frank Viola took the mound for the Saturday night opener on October 17. Joe Magrane was pitching for St. Louis and was handed an early run. In the top of the second, Jim Lindeman led off with a double and scored on consecutive productive outs from Willie McGee and Tony Pena.
It was still 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth when the Twins’ offense unloaded on Magrane. Gary Gaetti, the third baseman fresh off an MVP performance in the ALCS started with a single. Don Baylor, Tom Brunansky and Kent Hrbek all singled and Steve Lombardozzi drew a walk. Minnesota had two runs in, the bases loaded and none out. St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog had seen enough of Magrane and called on Bob Forsch. Tim Laudner greeted Forsch with an RBI single and then Dan Gladden delivered the coup de grace with a grand slam. It was 7-1 and the Metrodome crowd was blowing the roof off.
Viola coasted home, allowing just five hits in eight innings. The Minnesota offense piled on, with Lombardozzi hitting a two-run shot in the fifth and Gladden driving in another run in the seventh. The final was 10-1.
The Twins had a future Hall of Famer in Bert Blyleven ready to go for Game 2. The Cardinals turned to Danny Cox, who had just pitched a Game 7 shutout in the NLCS. This night wouldn’t go quite as well for Cox.
Gaetti started the scoring with a solo shot in the second and the bottom of the fourth again proved to be the undoing for St. Louis. With one out, Kirby Puckett and Hrbek each singled and Gaetti walked. Randy Bush ripped a two-run double and it was 3-0 with runners on second and third. Brunansky was intentionally walked and it looked the move would pay off with Lombardozzi’s fly out to right was too short to bring in a run. But with two outs, Laudner and Gladden both singled and the lead stretched to 6-zip. Cox was pulled, Lee Tunnell come in and Greg Gagne promptly blooped a double to make it 7-0.
The rout was on again. The Cardinals got a run in fifth, but Laudner homered in the sixth. Blyleven pitched seven strong innings and even though St. Louis scored in the seventh and twice more in the eighth, they were never in the game. The final was 8-4, Minnesota had all the momentum and they were halfway home.
But while the Twins were halfway home, the Cardinals were going home and that was all the difference needed in this World Series. They also had John Tudor, a good veteran lefty who had pitched a win-or-go-home shutout in Game 6 of the NLCS, on the mound.
Minnesota’s rotation quality fell of sharply at this spot, but Lee Straker proved to be outstanding on this night The game was scoreless for five innings and it was the Twins who broke through in the sixth. With one out, Gagne and Puckett were walked and Brunansky picked up an RBI with a two-out single.
In the top of the seventh with the score still 1-0, Twins’ manager Tom Kelly opted to pinch hit for Straker with two outs and no one on base. Kelly turned to his setup man, Juan Berengeur, hoping he could get the ball to their fine closer, Jeff Reardon. It didn’t pan out for Kelly.
The bottom of the seventh started with singles by Jose Oquendo and Pena. They were bunted up Terry Pendleton and driven in when Vince Coleman doubled. Coleman stole third and scored on a single from Ozzie Smith. Berengeur was out, but the damage was done. Herzog went to his own closer, Todd Worrell, to close the last two innings of a 3-1 win.
Viola was back out there for Minnesota on three days’ rest for Wednesday night’s Game 4. Greg Mathews, a steady lefthander for Herzog all year long, pitched for St. Louis.
The Twins missed a chance on the second when they put a man on third with one out before Mathews struck out Hrbek and escaped. The Twins still got a run one inning later with a home run from Gagne. The Cardinals quickly tied it in the bottom of the inning, when Ozzie Smith got a two-out walk, and came around on singles from Tom Herr and Lindeman.
Mathews had to leave the game when he aggravated a quad injury and Forsch came on. It didn’t matter though, because the fourth-inning nightmare was now about to afflict Viola and Minnesota.
Again, a big rally from St. Louis started with Pena and Oquendo, who walked and singled. Tom Lawless, a heretofore faceless utility infielder took Viola deep. After walking Coleman, Viola was pulled with just one out. Dan Schatzeder came on, to no positive effect. Coleman stole second. Kelly decided to intentionally walk Herr and face Lindeman.
This made sense—the intentional walk was used much more frequently than it is today and Lindeman was getting at-bats in this Series because of an injury to the excellent St. Louis power hitter Jack Clark. Lindemann blew up the strategy with a double, McGee followed with a single and the score was 7-1 by the time the inning came to an end.
Minnesota got a run in the fifth and loaded the bases with one out in the seventh. It was their last chance to get back in the game and Herzog brought in Ken Dayley from the pen. He struck out Gaetti, got Brunansky to pop out and then put it on cruise control, locking up the 7-2 win that evened the Series.
Blyleven and Cox met in a Game 2 rematch on Thursday night. After two scoreless innings, the Cards threatened in the third, again with Oquendo and Pena being the instigators. They both singled and Cox bunted them up to second and third. Kelly pulled the infield in, a risky move this early in the game. But the risk paid off. Coleman hit a ground ball to short and Oqunedo was cut down at the plate. Blyleven got out of the inning.
Oqunedo was again thrown out at home in the fifth. With runners on first and third and Cox at the plate, Herzog called for a suicide squeeze. Cox missed the bunt and Oqunedo, off with the pitch, was left in no man’s land. The game stayed scoreless into the sixth.
St. Louis again rallied in the sixth and this time they broke through, thanks to the speed they were built around. Coleman beat out an infield hit and Ozzie legged out a bunt. With one out, Herzog called for a double steal and both runners were safe. After an intentional walk, Curt Ford delivered a two-run single and a Gagne error brought in another run.
Blyleven gave way to Keith Atherton in the seventh, who walked Coleman and balked him to second. Coleman swiped third and then scored on an infield hit, as St. Louis speed now had them comfortably ahead 4-zip.
The Twins started to make it uncomfortable in the eighth. Gladden singled and Gagne bunted his way aboard. After Puckett flied out, Herzog removed Cox and brought in the lefthanded Dayley to face the lefthanded Hrbek. This move worked, with a flyout to center the result, but Gaetti ripped a triple that cut the lead to 4-2. Dayley got Brunansky to end the inning.
Worrell came on in the ninth and walked two batters, giving veteran power-hitter Don Baylor a chance. He popped out to Herr. The Cardinals had completed their sweep of the middle sequence of the Series and were going back to the Twin Cities with a 3-2 lead.
Saturday’s Game 6 started in the afternoon, the last time a World Series game has been played outside of prime-time. Being the Metrodome still meant no one saw the sunlight and the last time a Series game was played outdoors in the daytime was 1984. Tudor would get a chance to clinch a championship for St. Louis, while Minnesota had to rely on Straker.
Herr homered with two outs in the first to give the Cardinals a quick 1-0 lead. But Gladden answered with a triple to start the home half of the first, Puckett tied with a single, moved up on a groundout by Gaetti and scored on an opposite field single from Baylor.
St. Louis quickly tied it back up when Pendleton drew a one-out walk, moved up on a groundout and scored on an Oquendo single. Tudor pitched around a two-base error in the second inning when he picked off Hrbek and kept it tied 2-2 .
Straker continued to struggle in the fourth, giving up a leadoff double to Driessen. McGee singled to center and while Puckett’s strong throw home held Driessen at third, it allowed McGee to take second. The result was that an infield hit from Pendleton and a sac fly from Oquendo produced two runs and a 4-2 Cardinal lead. In the fifth, Ozzie walked, moved up on successive productive outs and scored on another base hit from McGee.
It was 5-2 and the Twins were in trouble. They got it turned around in the fifth. Tudor, who had come apart in epic fashion in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, now began to struggle here. Puckett got it going with a one-out single and Gaetti doubled. Baylor got the Metrodome crowd roaring with a three-run blast to tie it 5-5. After a single from Brunansky, Tudor was out. Reliever Ricky Horton got a groundball out, but Brunansky moved up and then scored on a two-out hit from Lombardozzi.
One inning later, Gagne led off the bottom of the sixth with a single. Forsch came on for Horton face the righthanded power. He walked Puckett and after a passed ball, an intentional walk loaded the bases. Forsch then got Gaetti and Brunansky to pop out. Hrbek was up and Herzog continued to empty the bullpen, calling on Dayley to replicate the matchup that had worked for St. Louis in Game 5. It didn’t work this time—Hrbek unloaded with a grand slam to break the game wide open.
Minnesota added a run in the eighth and Berengeur was brilliant, throwing three innings of shutout relief. The 11-5 win set up a Sunday night Game 7—the third straight year the World Series was going the distance.
Viola got his third start of this Fall Classic, with Magrane on the mound for St. Louis. While Magrane was a respectable pitcher, this was clearly the situation the Twins would have taken had it been offered nine days earlier.
The Cardinals still took the early lead, getting singles from Lindeman, McGee and Pena to open the second inning to go up 1-0. With two outs, Steve Lake added another single for a 2-zip lead.
But Viola got settled in and Minnesota immediately started chipping back. Baylor was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the second, Brunansky singled and then Laudner singled. Coleman made a big play when he threw out Baylor at the plate, but Lombardozzi came up with a clutch two-out hit to make sure the Twins got a least one run.
Gagne beat out an infield hit with one out in the fifth and Herzog decided to go with Cox. Puckett responded with a double to right-center that tied the game 2-2. One inning later, Minnesota took the lead. Brunansky and Hrbek each worked walks to start the bottom of the sixth. Herzog correctly went to his closer at this key crunch point of the season. Worrell issued another walk, but struck out Gladden. He was set to get out of the inning until Gagne beat out an infield hit to bring in the go-ahead run.
With the tension building, Viola was locked in. He went eight innings and allowed just six hits. In the bottom of the eighth, after a one-out single from Laudner, Gladden ripped a two-out double. Reardon had a bit of breathing room at 4-2 when he came on for the ninth.
Reardon got the first two batters and McGee came to the plate. He hit a groundball to Gaetti who threw to first. Hrbek gloved the final out and the party could start in the Twin Cities.
Viola was named Series MVP for his two wins, both of which he was dominant in. His bad fourth inning in Game 4 meant the overall series ERA was a pedestrian 3.72, but Viola was still a worthy choice.
Other notable performances for the Twins came from Gladden, who went 9-for-31 and drove in seven runs. Puckett was steady, with ten hits in 28 at-bats. Lombardozzi was 7-for-17 and had the key two-out RBI hit in Game 7 that got his team on the board. Laudner had seven hits of his own in 22 at-bats, driving in four runs and scoring four more.
On the St. Louis side, McGee had gone 10-for-27 and was the best Cardinal hitter. Dayley had been clutch in relief until the fatal grand slam to Hrbek. For the third time in six years, St. Louis had played a Game 7 in the World Series and for the second time in three years, they lost it.
It was truly Minnesota’s year. They won the pennant in a year where homefield advantage fell their way and with the top of their pitching rotation, they were uniquely built to better in the short-term than over the long haul. Nor were they finished—four years later, when the homefield rotation had again come full circle for the Twins to have the home edge in both the ALCS and World Series, they won it all again.
The Minnesota Twins were an 85-win team, one of the worst to ever reach the League Championship Series round in 1987. The Detroit Tigers had the best record in baseball and were fresh off winning an epic divisional race against the second-best team, the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s natural that the Minnesota-Detroit matchup in the 1987 ALCS was seen as one-sided and destined for a quick ending. That’s what happened, but not in a way anyone anticipated.
Doyle Alexander’s acquisition by Detroit was essential to their survival in the AL East. Alexander had been dominant down the stretch and he would start Game 1. Minnesota, in spite of their flaws, had the advantage of a terrific top-of-the-rotation arm in lefty Frank Viola. As a further aid to the Twins, homefield advantage was set on a rotation basis rather than merit and it was the year for the AL West (where the Twins resided from 1969-93) to host.
Minnesota third baseman Gary Gaetti launched the first blow of the series with a dead-center home run off Alexander in the bottom of the second. Detroit catcher Mike Heath did exactly the same thing in the third inning and the game went to the bottom of the fifth still tied 1-1.
Gaetti led off the inning and did it again, homering to right center. Randy Bush and Tom Brunansky followed with extra base hits and the Twins were up 3-1. After a sac bunt from second baseman Steve Lombardozzi moved Brunansky to third, Alexander struck out catcher Tim Laudner. The Tiger pitcher was poised to escape without further damage before left fielder Dan Gladden lined a two-out single to right.
Viola again let the Tigers answer right back, when Kirk Gibson hit a two-out solo blast and Detroit kept grinding away in the top of the seventh. Larry Herndon, Chet Lemon and Darrell Evans hit consecutive singles to start the inning and the bases were loaded with none out. After a strikeout, Heath lined a single to center. The lead was cut to 4-3 and the bases were still loaded.
Minnesota manager Tom Kelly stuck with Viola, who pulled an escape act. He got Lou Whitaker to hit a grounder to Kent Hrbek at first base, who got the forceout at home. Viola got Bill Madlock to end the inning with the lead intact.
It didn’t stay intact for long though. Viola came back out for the eighth and this proved to be a bridge to far. He walked Gibson and allowed a double to shortstop Alan Trammell. With runners on second and third, Kelly summoned closer Jeff Reardon. He didn’t allow a hit, but consecutive sac flies from Dave Bergman and Lemon put Detroit up 5-4.
There was every reason to think Minnesota was essentially done. They had blown a lead at home with their best pitcher on the mound in a series where they already needed every break. Instead, they came fighting back against Alexander. Gladden singled to left and centerfielder Kirby Puckett quickly doubled him home. It was 5-all and Alexander was pulled for Mike Henneman.
The Twins kept coming. Two walks, one of them intentional, loaded up the bases. Detroit manager Sparky Anderson called for his closer, Willie Hernandez. Like Kelly, Anderson waited too long. Minnesota had acquired Don Baylor for the stretch drive precisely for at-bats like this. He was a veteran that could handle pressure and he was right-handed bat that could handle a lefty like Hernandez. Baylor singled and put the Twins up 6-5.
Brunansky immediately followed with a big insurance double that gave Minnesota an 8-5 lead. It proved important when Detroit put two on with one out in the ninth. Reardon struck out Madlock and Gibson and the Twins had taken Game 1.
There weren’t many pitchers more reliable in a big game in this era than Jack Morris. Minnesota fans found that out firsthand four years later when Morris pitched them to a World Series title. But in 1987, Morris was a Tiger and entrusted with the ball for Game 2.
If Morris did the job, Detroit would have calmed the waters, gotten a split and have three straight home games ahead of them. Minnesota had a tough veteran of their own to counter with in Bert Blyleven. With an ERA a bit over 4, Blyleven wasn’t great, but he was still a future Hall of Famer.
The Tigers got Blyleven in the second. Matt Nokes started the inning with a single and Lemon homered. Pat Sheridan singled, stole second and was bunted to third. There was still only one out and Heath came to the plate. He couldn’t duplicate his success of the previous night and failed to pick up the run and the game stayed 2-0.
Gaetti got the Twins started in the second with a one-out double. Brunansky doubled with two outs to cut the lead in half. Shortstop Greg Gagne drew a walk and the third double of the inning—this one from Laudner down the left field line—scored both runs and the Metrodome crowd was rocking again with their team up 3-2.
Minnesota kept coming in the fourth, again doing the most damage with two outs. After Laudner struck out in a bases-loaded/one-out situation, Morris was in position to escape. Instead, Gladden again delivered a clutch hit, a two-run single to left that extended the lead to 5-2. One inning later, Hrbek homered to make it 6-2. Blyleven stayed in command until allowing a solo homer to Whitaker in the eighth, but there was no real late drama in a 6-3 final.
After a travel day, play resumed on Saturday afternoon in Detroit with the Tigers unexpectedly having their back to the wall. The good news for Detroit was that Minnesota’s key weakness was a lack of depth in the rotation. And the Tiger bats were able to get after Game 3 starter Lee Straker.
Straker flirted with danger in the first when he walked Whitaker and Evans, but nothing came of it. The Twins’ starter wasn’t as fortunate in the bottom of the third. Detroit loaded the bases with a Sheridan double, a Whitaker single and a Gibson walk. With nobody out a groundball force play at second brought in the game’s first run. After a stolen base, Straker balked in a run and Trammell singled in another.
It was 3-0 and after another walk, Straker was gone. Dan Schatzeder came in, but Herndon got him for a two-run double and Detroit was rolling with a 5-0 lead.
Minnesota signaled they wouldn’t go quietly when the light-hitting Gagne homered to begin the top of the fourth. Hrbek worked a one-out walk and eventually scored on base hits by Gaetti and Bush. With the lead cut to 5-2 and runners on the corners with one out, Tiger starter Walt Terrell got Brunansky on a pop up and escape without further damage.
Brunanasky redeemed himself in the top of the sixth with a two-out, two-run blast that made it 5-4. The Twins kept coming in the top of the seventh. Sal Butera and Dan Gladden opened the inning with singles, putting runners on first and third and ending Terrell’s day. Mike Henneman came on in relief. Gagne hit a ground ball to third and pinch-runner Mark Davidson tried to score the tying run. He was cut down at the plate and Detroit hung on to its lead. Puckett fouled out to first, but it was a deep enough pop-out that the runners were able to tag and get to second and third.
Hrbek was intentionally walked to set up Henneman-vs-Gaetti. From the classic righty-lefty standpoint, this was the textbook move, with Henneman a right-handed pitcher while Hrbek batted lefty and Gaetti from the right side. But given how hot Gaetti was in this series, it was a questionable situational move from a future Hall of Fame manager in Anderson. And it didn’t work, with Gaetti singling to right.
The Twins had come all the way back to lead 6-5 and got to within six outs of putting a stranglehold on the series. But in the bottom of the eighth, Herndon led off with a single. Detroit’s desperation was underlined by the fact that Morris, a fast runner, came in to run. It turned out not to matter—after a failed sac bunt attempt, Pat Sheridan homered. The Tigers were back up 7-6 and this time Henneman held the lead.
It was a series again, but even in victory nothing was coming easy for Detroit. They sent veteran lefty Frank Tanana to the mound on Sunday night for Game 4, while Minnesota brought back Viola on three days’ rest.
The Tigers got a soft run out of the gate. Whitaker led off the bottom of the first with a walk and came around on an infield hit from Trammell and an error by Gagne. The Twins got something going in the top of the second when Baylor led off with a single and Brunansky walked, but nothing came of it.
Minnesota muscled up in the next two innings, with Puckett homering to tie it in the third and Gagne’s solo blast in the fourth giving them a 2-1 lead. Puckett then got the top of the fifth started with a single that turned into a three bases after being misplayed by Herndon in the outfield. Gaetti picked up Puckett with a sac fly.
Whitaker got another Detroit rally started with a two-out walk in the bottom of the fifth and then scored on consecutive singles from Jim Morrison and Gibson. Herndon, looking to redeem himself, hit the ball hard…but right at Gaetti and the Twins’ 3-2 lead was preserved heading into the sixth.
Gagne and Gene Larkin chased Tanana with doubles to get the run back and make it 4-2. In the bottom of the inning, singles by Lemon and Darrell Evans ended Viola’s night. Another single, this one from Dave Bergmann cut the lead to 4-3 and left runners on first and second, still with nobody out. Heath bunted the runners up.
Evans, a 40-year-old vet, then made a a huge baserunning mistake. He drifted too far off third and an alert Laudner picked him off. Minnesota clung to its lead and got some insurance in the eighth when an error and wild pitch set up a two-out RBI single from Lombardozzi. Reardon came in on the ninth and after a leadoff single, got Whitaker, then struck out Nokes and Gibson to seal the game.
Minnesota not only held a 3-1 series lead, but they had grabbed a road win and had two more home games in the bank. They also had Blyleven on the mound for Game 5. Detroit went back to Alexander for their final home game on Monday afternoon.
Alexander’s magic from the stretch drive was gone. In the top of the second, Gaetti singled, Bush walked and Brunansky doubled both runs in. He was thrown out trying for third, but the Twins weren’t done. Lombardozzi singled, moved to second on a productive out and scored on a base hit from Gladden. Alexander hit a batter, then gave up another RBI single to Puckett. It was 4-0 and Anderson was forced into his bullpen, bringing in young Eric King with the season on the line.
King did an admirable job in stopping the bleeding and the Tigers got back in the game in the fourth. After a Gibson double and Trammell single, Nokes homered to cut the lead to 4-3.
It stayed that way until the top of the seventh. A one-out single, hit batsman and wild pitch set up a sacrifice fly from Hrbek and Minnesota had some modest breathing room at 5-3. They expanded that in the eighth, now facing Hennenman. Gladden doubled with one out and Gagne drew a walk. Puckett hit a bouncer back to Henneman. He got the force at second, but Gladden went to third where he scored on a fielder’s choice.
The Twins could surely taste the champagne when Berenguer got the first two outs in the eighth. Lemon homered to cut it to 6-4, bringing on Reardon, who ended the inning.
Minnesota delivered the final blow in the top of the ninth. Brunansky homered to make it 7-4. Lombardozzi singled and with two outs, Gladden and Gagne hit back-to-back doubles. It was 9-4 and all but over. Detroit got a run in the ninth, but when Nokes bounced back to Reardon for a 1-3 putout, it was over. The Twins had completed an upset stunning not only in that they won, but had done so in a swift five-game series and won twice in Tiger Stadium.
Gaetti was an easy choice for 1987 ALCS MVP. He went 6-for-20, a solid .300 batting average, but that doesn’t tell the impact of those hits. He homered twice, drove in five runs, scored five more and always seemed to be in the middle of Minnesota’s crucial rallies.
Another notable performances came from Gagne and Brunansky, who each homered twice. On the Detroit side, Lemon was the best in defeat. He went 5-for-18 and hit a pair of home runs. Evans had productive numbers, 5-for-17 and he drew five walks, but getting picked off third in Game 4 was one of the big turning points of the series. And perhaps nothing was more important to Minnesota’s ultimate victory than their pitching holding Whitaker and Trammell, the fine 1-2 punch at the top of the order, to a combined 7-for-37.
For Minnesota, the magic was just starting. They went on to face the St. Louis Cardinalsin the 1987 World Series and rode dome-field advantage all the way to a title, taking a seven-game Series where each game was won by the home team. It was the first two World Series championships in a five-year span.
The Twins’ championship runs are well-remembered, especially for their dominance at home. Less remembered, but just as worthy as a place in the history books, is their improbable upset in the 1987 ALCS.
It been nearly twenty years since the good people of the Twin Cities had experienced postseason baseball. It had been a little longer—22 years—since they had reached the World Series. And they had never seen their franchise win it all. The 1987 Minnesota Twins changed all of that with an improbable run to a World Series title.
There was no evidence coming in that 1987 would be a special season. A .500 finish in 1984 was the only time in the decade the Twins hadn’t finished with a losing record. That included a 71-91 season in 1986. Tom Kelly took over the managerial reins in the final 23 games of that lost year and would become a franchise legend.
Minnesota moved decisively in the offseason. They acquired closer Jeff Reardon in a six-player deal with the Montreal Expos. They picked up outfielder Dan Gladden from San Francisco. By themselves, these trades weren’t game-changers. Reardon saved 31 games—high for the era—but still finished with a 4.48 ERA. Gladden stole 25 bases, but his overall offensive production was modest. But the deals did indicate that the Twins were serious about winning.
The old Metrodome was a haven for the long ball and the offense was built on hitting home runs. First baseman Kent Hrbek went deep 34 times, drove in 90 runs and posted an on-base percentage of .385. On the infield’s opposite corner, Gary Gaetti hit 31 homers and had 109 RBI. Rightfielder Tom Brunansky hit 32 more bombs, drove in 85 runs and his OBP was .352.
And no one was more productive than one of the most beloved players in Minnesota Twins history. Kirby Puckett’s OBP was .367. He hit 28 homers, drove in 99 runs and scored 96 more. He played a sterling centerfield to top it off.
Minnesota’s middle infield wasn’t productive on offense though second baseman Steve Lombardozzi and shortstop Greg Gagne were fundamentally sound on defense. They fit their roles well in an offense that had enough firepower to rank fifth in the American League in runs scored.
The pitching staff had a legitimate ace in 17-game winner Frank Viola, who also finished with an ERA of 2.90. Bert Blyleven, a future Hall of Famer, was 36-years-old and his ERA was 4.01, but he still won 15 games. Above all though, Viola and Blyleven were workhorses. They combined to start 71 games and pitch 518 innings. On a staff woefully short of depth, it was invaluable.
Lee Straker, Mike Smithson and 42-year-old knuckleballer Joe Niekro filled out the rotation, but not particularly well. Straker was respectable, with a 4.37 ERA in his 26 starts, but Smithson and Niekro’s ERAs were in the 6 neighborhood. In the bullpen, Juan Berengeur was respectable, with a 3.94 ERA and he logged 112 innings. But he wasn’t a shutdown guy and along with Reardon was the best the Twins had in relief.
Minnesota opened the season 7-2, including taking five of six games from the Oakland A’s. For the rest of the spring, it was a slow walk backward. They were still 13-9 at the end of April, but when they began play against the stronger AL East in May the result was thirteen losses in 21 games and a 21-22 record on Memorial Day. The Twins were five games back of the Kansas City Royals and in third place.
The schedule still had Minnesota against the AL East coming out of the holiday weekend and they got it going with a sweep of Milwaukee (an American League team prior to 1998) and took two of three from eventual AL East champ Detroit (the AL Central did not exist until MLB went to a three-division alignment in 1994).
In June, the Twins ripped off a 14-4 stretch that included sweeping the Royals in the Metrodome. In Monday’s opener, Gene Larkin ripped a bases-loaded triple in the seventh to break a 2-2 tie. On Tuesday, Gladden had three hits, Puckett two more and Niekro pitched well into the seventh inning. Minnesota won 5-2. In the series finale on Wednesday, after falling behind 3-zip, Blyleven recovered to pitch eight strong innings. In the bottom of the eighth, Minnesota accepted a gift—after two walks loaded the bases, a three-base error by the Royals cleared them and tied the score. Larkin won it in the 10th with an RBI single.
The Twins moved into first place and took a 4 ½ game lead by June 25. They gave some of the lead back by losing seven of eight out of the KC series, part of an 18-game stretch leading into the All-Star break where they went 7-11. But Minnesota still led the AL West by two games, with a 49-40 record at the midway point. Oakland, Kansas City, the California Angels and Seattle Mariners were all in close pursuit, each within 3 ½ games.
Minnesota hosted Oakland in a key four-game series in early August and the Twins offense absolutely unloaded. Hrbek and catcher Tim Laudner each homered in the Thursday night opener, Puckett drove in three runs and Viola pitched seven solid innings in a 9-4. They dropped nine more runs the next night, starting with four in the first. Hrbek homered again, Gagne had three hits and again the final was 9-4 as Niekro went eight innings.
The hit brigade continued on Saturday with another four-run first inning and another nine-run performance overall. Puckett and Gaetti had extra base hits in the big first inning. Puckett went on to a four-hit game that included a home run. Brunansky had three hits. The final of this one was 9-2.
Sunday’s game was finally competitive, but Minnesota still kept hitting. Hrbek blasted a three-run homer early and Brunansky also went deep. The Twins built a 7-3 lead. The A’s cut it to 7-5 and brought Jose Canseco to the plate as the tying run, but Reardon induced a ground ball out to short. The sweep was complete.
Minnesota built a five-game lead, but were subsequently swept by the Tigers and Red Sox. The lead was quickly wiped out and pitching was still a concern. The Twins made a desperate attempt at veteran help when they picked up 42-year-old lefty Steve Carlton. A future Hall of Famer and probably the best pitcher of the 1970s and early 1980s, Carlton had nothing left in the tank. He had won the Saturday game in the Oakland sweep, but otherwise was a disaster. He made seven starts for the Twins and finished with a 6.70 ERA. Viola and Blyleven would have to drive this team to the finish line.
The four days leading up to Labor Day were dramatic, as the Twins won three games in walkoff fashion. When the holiday arrived, they again had breathing room—the record was a modest 73-65, but in the AL West that was good enough to be plus-three on Oakland, with Kansas City and California each 5 ½ games off the pace.
Minnesota played steady baseball in September. The only real scare point was when they lost three straight to the Chicago White Sox, but quickly turned around to sweep the Cleveland Indians. When the final week of play began on Monday, September 28, the Twins had a six-game lead and were poised to clinch when they visited Texas.
Niekro was on the mound and fell behind 3-0 in the first inning. Minnesota tied the game in the fourth with an unlikely three-run blast from Lombardozzi. The second baseman came through again in the eighth with an RBI single. The 5-3 game appropriately ended on a line drive double play—hit at Lombardozzi. Minnesota was AL West champs.
With a record of 85-77, one exceeded by four AL East teams, Minnesota was a heavy underdog against Detroit when the American League Championship Seriesbegan. But a lot of factors worked in favor of the Twins.
For one, the Tigers were drained after an incredible September battle with the Blue Jays for the division title. For another, the primacy of a team’s top two starting pitchers—an area where the Twins could match up with anyone—increases significantly in a short series. And finally, with homefield advantage determined on a rotation basis, Minnesota had the good fortune to win their division in a year where the AL West champ had homefield all the way through the postseason.
Regardless of where the games were played, Minnesota stunned the baseball world with a complete dismantling of Detroit. The Twins took the first two at home, then took two of three in Tiger Stadium to lock up their first pennant since 1965. Gaetti was voted ALCS MVP.
The World Series was a Midwestern affair, as Minnesota met the St. Louis Cardinals. This time, homefield was a big deal. Home teams won all seven World Series games. Viola won two games, including Game 7 and was named Series MVP.
Good times were back for Minnesota Twins baseball and they weren’t done. Even though Oakland took over the AL West for the next three years, the Twins still had a strong season in 1988. And in 1991—when the AL West was again due for homefield advantage all the way through—Minnesota did it again, winning another World Series.
The Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves each finished in last place during the 1990 season. Each engendered a turnaround that led to an improbable matchup in the 1991 World Series. And the Series they played would go down on the short list of the greatest of all-time.
You can read more about the paths the Twins and Braves took through the regular season and playoffs, along with their key players, at the links below. This article will focus in specifically on the games of the 1991 World Series.
Homefield advantage was determined by a rotation system and Minnesota had the good fortune of enjoying that advantage for the second time in five years. In 1987, homefield was decisive in their seven-game triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals. The confines of the old Metrodome would again be friendly to the Twins in 1991.
Minnesota sent their veteran ace, Jack Morris, to the mound for Game 1. Atlanta’s rotation was filled with great young arms, but their drawn-out victory in the NLCS forced manager Bobby Cox to turn to veteran lefty Charlie Leibrandt.
The Twins manufactured a run in the third when Dan Gladden drew a two-out walk, stole second and scored on a base hit by Chuck Knoblauch. In the fifth, they broke out open. Kent Hrbek walked to lead off the inning and Scott Leius singled. Greg Gagne, a shortstop not known for his power, ripped a three-run blast.
It was 4-0, Leibrandt was knocked out and the Twins were cruising. Hrbek homered in the sixth, Morris worked seven solid innings and the final score was 5-2.
Tom Glavine won the Cy Young Award in 1991 for Atlanta, the first big milestone of what would be a Hall of Fame career. But he hadn’t won in a game in the postseason yet. He took the ball for Sunday night’s Game 2 against Minnesota’s Kevin Tapani.
An error by Atlanta rightfielder Dave Justice put leadoff man Gladden aboard right away in the first. After a walk, Glavine got Kirby Puckett to ground into a double play. But on the verge of getting out of the inning, Glavine was taken deep by Chili Davis and the Twins immediately led two-zip.
Justice redeemed himself with a single to lead off the second and came around to score and cut the lead in half. In the top of the fifth, Greg Olsen hit a leadoff double and subsequently scored on consecutive productive outs. It was a 2-2 game and stayed that way to the eighth.
Atlanta looked ready to break through again in the top of the eighth when Rafael Belliard bunted for hit, was sacrificed to second and then Terry Pendleton beat out an infield single. There were runners on first and third with one out and the meat of the order due up. But in a result that would oddly foreshadow Game 7, the Braves missed their eighth-inning opportunity. Ron Gant popped out, Dave Justice flew out and Tapani had survived the eighth.
Glavine wasn’t so fortunate—he gave up a leadoff home run to Leius and the 3-2 score stood. Minnesota had held serve at home and was up two games to none.
Steve Avery had been Atlanta’s hero in the NLCS, spinning two shutouts against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Avery now had a virtual must-win assignment for Game 3, the first World Series game ever played in the city of Atlanta.
That there wouldn’t be another shutout for Avery was established rather quickly—Gladden started the game with a triple and Knoblauch picked him up with a sac fly. But the young lefthander settled in and the Braves went to work against Scott Erickson.
With two outs in the bottom of the second, Olson worked a walk and then scored on consecutive singles from Mark Lemke and Belliard. Justice homered in the fourth and Atlanta had its first lead of this Fall Classic. Lonnie Smith homered in the fifth. That same inning, after two were out, a walk and an error chased Erickson. David West came out of the bullpen and promptly walked two more. The Atlanta lead was now 4-1.
When Avery escaped a sixth-inning jam of first and second with none out, it looked like the Twins would be turned back. But they kept coming. Puckett homered in the seventh. In the eighth, Avery was removed following an error to start the inning. Alejandro Pena came on and the closer promptly gave up a game-tying two-run blast to Davis.
Both bullpens settled down and the 4-4 score held into the 12th inning. In the top of the frame, the Twins put runners on first and second with one out. Kent Mercker came out of the Atlanta pen and struck out Hrbek. Cox, working the right-lefty matchups, went to Jim Clancy.
After Clancy gave Puckett an intentional walk, Minnesota manager Tom Kelly was forced to use his closer, Rick Aguilera as a pinch-hitter for outgoing reliever Mark Guthrie. Aguilera had played in the National League, a key part of the 1986 World Series champion New York Mets, so he was familiar with batting. He hit the ball hard in this spot, but it ended a lineout to center.
Aguilera would be the 13th pitcher to appear in this game and the last. Justice hit a one-out single in the bottom of the 12th. With two outs, he stole second and then scored the winning run on a base hit by Lemke. Atlanta was back in the Series.
The Twins went back to Morris on short rest for Game 4. Atlanta had another great young arm, one destined for the Hall of Fame and fresh off of pitching well in the NLCS. John Smoltz made his World Series debut on Wednesday night.
Minnesota scored first for the fourth consecutive game in this Series. Brian Harper doubled to start the second and Mike Pagliarulo picked him up with a one-out single. Pendleton answered for Atlanta in the third with a home run that tied the game 1-1.
Each team threatened, but came up short in the middle innings, in both instances undone by a play at the plate. Shane Mack for the Twins and Lonnie Smith for the Braves were each thrown out at home. The 1-1 tie persisted into the seventh when Pagliarulo gave Minnesota the lead with a solo blast.
Morris was taken out after six innings in favor of Carl Willis, a quality setup reliever who had been exceptional in the ALCS triumph over the Toronto Blue Jays. Willis was not exceptional here—he gave up a tying home run to Lonnie Smith.
For the third straight game, there was maximum tension in the late innings. It was still 2-2 in the ninth, with Guthrie now pitching for the Twins. Lemke tripled with one out. After an intentional walk, Kelly turned to veteran righthander Steve Bedrosian to get him out of the jam. Atlanta’s light-hitting Jerry Willard delivered a sacrifice fly bringing Lemke in with the run that won the game and evened up the World Series.
There were only two games in this World Series that weren’t nail-biters. The first one had been Game 1 and the other would be Thursday’s Game 5. After Glavine and Tapani matched zeroes for three innings, the Braves’ offense unloaded. Justice hit a two-run blast in the fourth to key a four-run inning. He drove in another run in the fifth. The Twins rallied with three runs in the sixth, but a Lonnie Smith leadoff blast in the seventh jump-started a six-run outburst that put the game away. The final was 14-5. Atlanta was one win from a title.
But that win would have to come in the Metrodome, where the Series would return for Saturday night’s Game 6 and Sunday night’s potential Game 7. The Twins had played ten postseason games here in both 1987 and 1991 and won nine of them. These next two nights would add to that total and each would have their own unique case as a game for the ages.
Avery matched up with Erickson. Minnesota took some pressure off themselves with early when Knoblauch singled in the first and scored on a triple by Puckett. Mack’s two-out RBI single made it 2-0.
In the third inning, Gant ripped a shot into the left-centerfield gap that looked certain to drive in a run. Puckett made a leaping catch off the plexiglass wall and kept it a 2-0 game. His team would need every run they could get (or stop) and Puckett wasn’t done yet.
In the meantime, Pendleton hit a two-run blast in the fifth that tied the game. The Twins got the lead back in the bottom of the inning when Gladden walked, stole second and came around on productive outs from Knoblauch and Puckett. The Braves answered with a run of their own in the seventh. A single, walk and an infield hit set up an RBI groundout from Gant.
The game was again tied. Again were going to the late innings with stomachs churning in the dugouts and in front of TV sets across the country. Each bullpen tightened up, Mike Stanton and Alejandro Pena for the Braves, and Willis and Aguilera for the Twins.
In the bottom of the 11th, Leibrandt came on in relief. Puckett was the first batter he faced. A game-winning home run put the finishing touches on Puckett’s amazing night and this series was going to a seventh game.
Morris made his third start of the series for Game 7. Smoltz was on the hill for Atlanta. The gutsy veteran and the rising young ace would each meet the moment in this decisive game.
Smoltz was in lockdown mode and through seven innings, Minnesota never mounted a serious threat. Atlanta was chipping away at Morris, but the veteran kept the Braves at bay. In the third and fifth inning, the Braves got runners on the corners with one out and Pendleton at the plate. Both times, Morris won the battle with Pendleton and no runs scored.
In the eighth inning, the Braves were finally poised to break through. Lonnie Smith singled to start the inning. Pendleton slashed a double to left center. It looked certain to score Smith, but in a big baserunning blunder, Smith stopped midway between second and third, uncertain as to where the ball was. He made it safely to third, but there were still no runs on the board.
Even so, there was still nobody out and some big hitters due up. Morris got Gant to ground out to first, with no advance from the runners. Justice was given an intentional walk. Sid Bream came up and hit a groundball to first. Hrbek came home with out, got the force and took the return throw for a double play. The Twins had survived and it was still a scoreless tie.
Minnesota finally threatened off Smoltz in the eighth when singles from Randy Bush and Knoblauch gave them runners on the corners with one out. Smoltz departed in favor of Stanton. Now it was the Twins’ turn to miss an opportunity. After Puckett was intentionally walked, Hrbek hit a line drive to short that was caught by Belliard. Knoblauch drifted to far off second and was doubled off.
Another rally by the Twins in the ninth had them on the verge of a title. Davis singled and Harper beat out his bunt. Pena came on from the pen. He got Mack to ground into a double play and kept his team alive.
For a 0-0 game, this was positively action-packed. Morris was still in and completed the 10th inning without drama. Pena came back for the bottom of the inning. Gladden led off with a double and was bunted up to third by Knoblauch. Cox ordered both Puckett and Hrbek intentionally walked to create the double play possibility.
Gene Larkin had provided quality depth to Kelly’s bench all season long. Now it was his time to be a hero. He lofted a fly ball to left. It would have been deep enough to score Gladden on a sac fly no matter what and because the Braves’ outfield was drawn in, it landed for a single. One of the baseball’s great World Series and one of its greatest games was over, 1-0 for the Twins.
Morris was an easy choice for World Series MVP. In this three starts, he had worked 23 innings and posted a 1.17 ERA, capped off by a ten-inning shutout in Game 7. As heroic as Puckett’s Game 6 had been, he only hit .250 for the series. Knoblauch’s .308 batting average for the seven games was the only offensive performance of note for the Twins.
Pendleton had a good series for the Braves, going 11-for-30 with two home runs. His key failures to drive in a run against Morris in Game 7 do stand out, but it also has to be said that if not for Lonnie Smith’s baserunning blunder, Pendleton would have driven in the winning run in that game and a serious candidate for series MVP himself. Smoltz had been brilliant, pitching over 14 innings and allowing just two runs. Stanton’s bullpen efforts deserve kudos, as he tossed 7 1/3 innings over the course of five games and did not allow a run.
In the end, the 1991 World Series was Minnesota’s moment, but the Twins have not been back to the Fall Classic since. October of 1991 proved to be just the beginning for Atlanta. They would be back in the World Series again in 1992, 1996 and 1999 and in between, they won it all in 1995.
The 1987 World Series brought together two teams from the Midwest, and for the third straight year, the Fall Classic went seven games.
The Minnesota Twins were far from a great team, but they were the best in an exceptionally balanced AL West. In a seven-team division where everyone won at least 75 games, the Twins’ 85-77 record was good enough to get them into the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1970.
No one expected Minnesota to do much with the heavily favored 98-win Detroit Tigers, who had survived a dramatic AL East race with the Toronto Blue Jays. Detroit had the better team, but the Twins’ pitching staff had an ace in Frank Viola and a high-quality #2 in Bert Blyleven. And homefield was decided by rotation between East & West, not merit, and it was the West’s turn.
The Twins were well-suited for their home park in the Metrodome. The ball jumped out and they had four power hitters—Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Kirby Puckett and Tom Brunansky—who combined for 125 home runs.
Minnesota trailed Game 1 by a 5-4 count in the eighth, but Puckett doubled in the tying run and Minnesota broke the game open 8-5. The rest of the American League Championship Series went surprisingly easily, as Minnesota took Game 2 behind Blyleven and eventually wrapped it up in five games.
The St. Louis Cardinals, with the same speed-oriented lineup that came within two outs of the 1985 World Series title, had gotten back on top of the NL East and then won a seven-game National League Championship Series over the San Francisco Giants. St. Louis was as well-built for their spacious ballpark, with its artificial turf as Minnesota was for theirs. The Cardinals liked to run and Vince Coleman led the way with 109 steals.
The homefield rotation that also decided World Series’ schedules came up in Minnesota’s favor. The Twins hosted the first two games and their offense blasted out 18 runs in Games 1 & 2, and Viola and Blyleven staked them to a 2-0 series lead.
St. Louis got a great outing from John Tudor in Game 3, but still trailed 1-0 in the seventh. But a pair of singles and a sac bunt set up a two-RBI double from Coleman, who later came around to score and the Series was back on. The Cardinals’ crushed Viola in Game 4 with a six-run fourth-inning and then beat Blyleven 4-2 in Game 5.
But in a series with an NBA feel to it, with home teams controlling everything, Minnesota had the last two back in the Twin Cities. They trailed 5-2 in the fifth, but a Puckett base hit, a Gaetti double and a home run by DH Don Baylor put it back to even. Minnesota added another run that inning, and then in the sixth, Hrbek hit a grand slam to break it open. We were going to a Game 7 of the World Series for the third straight year.
Viola got the ball for the third time and though St. Louis touched him for a pair of early runs, the lefty settled in and the game was tied 2-2 after five. In the sixth, the Twins used three walks and an infield hit to get the lead run. Viola worked eight strong innings and would be named series MVP. Minnesota added an insurance run and they finally closed out a 4-2 win that brought the Twin Cities its first World Series championship
It was just over two years ago that the Minnesota Twins unveiled their new ballpark. After spending 27 years playing in the awful indoor facility that was the Metrodome, the Twins moved outdoors and into Target Field. I had the good fortune to not simply see this ballpark for the first time on Friday night, but to get a free tour thanks to a family connection. TheSportsNotebook goes on a brief walkthrough not simply the Twins’ park, but the team’s heritage and its culture…
The city of Minneapolis made personal history for me on Friday night. There have been several places where I’ve been to two different parks—Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati come to mind. But never have I have been to three different parks for one team. I was at the Old Met in 1977, the place the Twins used to share with the Vikings back in the glory days of the NFL franchise when cold weather gave Bud Grant’s Vikes the late-season edge they needed to win four NFC titles in eight years. It’s surely noteworthy that since moving to the Metrodome in 1982 the Vikes haven’t been back since. Their fortunes are the mirror image of the Twins.
While the baseball franchise won consecutive division titles in 1969 and 1970 under the leadership of feisty manager Billy Martin and won a pennant back in 1965, the 1970s were mostly hard times, with the lone source of excitement being Hall of Fame first baseman Rod Carew’s run at .400 back in ’77. That was the year I made it out to the Old Met and saw the Twins lose, ironically to the Orioles—I say ironically because it was Baltimore who swept them out of the ALCS in 1969-70. I was also in the Dome in 1982 to watch Oakland and Rickey Henderson, who was on his way to a single-season stolen base record of 119. Rickey didn’t do anything when I was there. But the Twins, though it took a few years to get started, began doing plenty of their own.
What the Metrodome took from the Vikings in homefield advantage it gave to the Twins, and by 1987 the baseball team had a breakthrough year. The 87-75 record seems modest, but the AL West (the division the franchise resided prior to the creation of a Central Division in 1994) was balanced top-to-bottom and all seven teams won at least 75 games. Despite being an underdog in the ALCS to the Detroit Tigers, the homefield edge of the raucous Dome with its waving white handkerchiefs and the way balls flew out of the park helped the Twins grab the first two games and then they finished off the favored Tigers in five. The homefield advantage was even more pronounced in the World Series, as Minnesota won a seven-game series over St. Louis by taking all four games under the Dome.
Major league baseball awarded homefield advantage at this time on a rotation system, so four years later it had again cycled around to the AL West to have the edge in both the LCS and World Series—it took the 1994 creation of the Central Division and the accompanying three-division alignment to expand the postseason. In 1991 the Twins followed the same model—get momentum in the ALCS with two quick wins, this time over Toronto, and finish the job on the road. Then they win on an all-home-team World Series.
The 1991 Series against Atlanta is on the short list of the greatest ever played. In Game 6, Kirby Puckett, arguably the franchise’s greatest player (only Harmon Killebrew is a credible alternative) first made a spectacular catch in centerfield, then hit a game-winning home run in extra innings. One night later Jack Morris pitched one of the World Series’ most epic games, tossing 10 shutout innings and Minnesota finally won 1-0. As our group of Wisconsin residents toured the stadium and saw the World Series trophies, the guide launched a pre-emptive shot in the sports rivalry that exists between the two states, calling them Minnesota’s answer to the Super Bowl trophies that exist on the other side of the border. The two championships are part of a long track record of success—the Twins would win divisions again in 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2009 in the Metrodome and their ’02 division title is one that deserves a further look.
Major league baseball was talking about contraction as a red-hot labor dispute built up through the summer. Commissioner Bud Selig wanted to reduce the number of teams by two. The Montreal Expos—now the Washington Nationals—were one team that was logically on the chopping block. Less logical was the Twins as the American League team put on death row. Owner Carl Pohlad apparently wanted out of the business about as much as Michael Corleone wanted out of the mafia in Godfather III and used his connection with Selig to push contraction. But just when Pohlad thought he was out, a vibrant protest from both Minnesotans and nationwide pulled him back in.
It’s not that contraction per se was a bad idea. But why was Minnesota singled out? This was a team with a consistent record of supporting its team so long as the product was viable. No one was suggesting this was St. Louis or Boston when it came to being a baseball town and no one compared Twins’ fans to Cubs’ fans when it came to blind loyalty. But if you were going to have a league with 28 teams in it, it was incomprehensible that the Twin Cities should not be one.
Particularly when the city of Oakland was so haphazard about supporting a team that was clearly a contender. The A’s were in the midst of a 2002 season that would ultimately be enshrined in the movie Moneyball, as general manager Billy Beane received correct praise for producing a winning team on a limited budget. But compare Oakland to Minnesota. The Twins’ budget wasn’t exactly overflowing, yet they won the division titles mentioned, and they beat Oakland in the very year Moneyball was set!And in a year where they were under threat of contraction! No disrespect to Oakland, but for some of us, it was GM Terry Ryan and the Twins who ran the best operation in baseball through the ‘00s.
The rest of the tour allowed us to get a good look at the facilities, which are in line with the other new ballparks that have popped up in places like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati, all of which I’ve seen, and San Francisco and Texas, which I have not. The Twins wisely visited the other stadiums which fall into an artistic class I’d call “cutting-edge traditional”, with their old-timey feel and the use of modern amenities. The architectural job was frankly amazing, as the park had to be dropped into a tight area of downtown, with rail tracks nearby and little room to move. You get a nice view of the Target Center, where the Timberwolves play their NBA games (the NHL ‘s Wild are across the river in St. Paul) and the agricultural firm in the background of leftfield, right behind the Budweiser sign has a definite Midwestern flair to it.
There’s nothing more Midwestern than friendliness and there was one instance where the good people of Minnesota went to an extreme. At a booth, which you see in the accompanying photo below at right, they include a jersey of Aaron Rodgers. What the ?$%*&#@!!! Seeing the jersey of the Packer quarterback on sale in Minnesota is up there with seeing a Derek Jeter jersey being sold in Fenway Park or a LeBron James full-sized portrait on sale in Cleveland. There’s a time to put friendliness aside and get in the business of dispensing irrational sports venom.
The game itself was a stroke of good fortune as it proved to be one of the better baseball games I’ve ever seen. Brewers-Twins isn’t going to electrify a national audience, but it packed Target on Friday night (with locals still providing about 75-80 percent of the crowd). Francisco Liriano took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. After two walks the first hit was a dead-center line drive home by Ryan Braun that suddenly put Milwaukee up 3-2. Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe hit two home runs and the game was tied 3-3 in the ninth. With a man on, two outs and two strikes, Milwaukee catcher Martin Maldonado, the ninth-place hitter, hit a two-run shot that stood up and the Brewers won 5-3.
It was a great game on a perfect evening in what is the latest jewel of baseball’s treasure chest of cutting-edge traditional ballparks. Minnesota has already won one division title in the new place, in the opening year of 2010. After a rough year in ’11, they’re retooling with some younger pitching and hoping the new place brings more fond memories to the fans and perhaps a third World Series trophy. The latter can’t be underestimated—because if the Series is Minnesota’s answer to Wisconsin’s Super Bowls, the Twins still need two more to pull even. But if nothing else, they have a much better place to watch the games.