1991 World Series
After finishing last in the 1990 season, the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves both rebounded to the top of their respective leagues for a trip to the Fall Classic. Both clubs were filled with soon-to-be familiar names and were evenly matched on both sides of the ball. As with the '87 contest, the Twins still had a definite advantage over visiting teams thanks to the "baseball purist's nightmare" known as the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome. The trendy, but unpopular indoor stadium was notorious for deafening crowd noise as well as the inability to carry a long ball and most teams dreaded playing there.
Charlie Leibrandt was given the start for the Braves in Game 1, but fell 5-2 thanks to a strong seventh inning effort by Jack Morris. A three run blast by Greg Gagne and a bases-empty bomb by Kent Hrbek (that landed in the upper decks) backed up the thirty-six year old workhorse. Minnesota rookie Scott Leius was the hero in Game 2 after a clutch, tie-breaking homer in the eighth, but the most memorable play of the outing came on a controversial call by umpire Drew Coble. As Atlanta's Ron Gant attempted to retreat back to first (after knocking a third inning single) Hrbek caught the throw from pitcher Kevin Tapani and proceeded to "muscle" Gant off the bag while applying the tag. Despite a heated debate by Braves manager Bobby Cox, the call stood as the official believed it was the runner's own momentum that had carried him off of the base. The result was a 3-2 win that put the Twins up two games to none and left Atlanta praying for an advantage of their own back at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
As the Series moved outdoors to the park of the National League champions, Twins manager Tom Kelly was quoted as saying that "managing without the designated-hitter rule was right up there with rocket science". The over confident skipper would regret his off-hand remark as he demonstrated his lack of both scientific and mathematical skills in Game 3. By the bottom of the eleventh inning, the visiting team had used all of their positional players during the 4-4 stalemate and were forced to employ bullpen pitcher Rick Aguilera (as a pinch-hitter) with a bases loaded, game-winning opportunity in the twelfth. The reliever nailed a high fly ball, but it was easily caught to retire the side. The Braves, realizing that their opponents were fresh out of fresh players, ended the struggle with Mark Lemke delivering a two out single to score David Justice, who had singled and stolen second. The Atlanta 5-4 victory was the first of four games in this Series to end with the winning team scoring the deciding run in the ninth inning or later.
Lemke was on the front page again after Game 4 when he tripled with one out in the ninth and then broke through the 2-2 tie after beating the tag at the plate by Brian Harper on a Jerry Willard fly ball to right. The second baseman was a respectable .234 hitter in the regular season, but had blown up as a .417 slugger in this Series. After squaring it up with their 3-2 victory, the Braves went out and played hardball in Game 5. Justice blasted a homer and drove in five runs and Lonnie Smith and Brian Hunter also homered as the Braves toasted the Twins 14-5. It was Smith's third home run in as many nights and the veteran substitute (in place Otis Nixon who was suspended with drug problems) showed he still had what it took to play in the major leagues. The Twins, on the verge of elimination, managed to force a seventh outing in Game 6 after Kirby Puckett drilled an eleventh inning home run off Charlie Leibrandt, who had just entered the game back at the Metrodome.
Game 7 matched Detroit native John Smoltz against his hometown hero Morris who had been a longtime Tiger standout. The Braves' twenty-four year-old prodigy idolized his pitching opponent and the two would come together for one of the most intense battles ever witnessed on a World Series diamond. Both aces were in peak form and held a 0-0 tie going into the eighth. Smith (playing with a record fourth team in Series play) led off Atlanta's eighth with a single to right and Terry Pendleton followed with a double to deep left-center. The Twins' middle infielders (still waiting for the cut-off) acted as if they had the ball and held Smith at third preventing the tiebreaker.
While the Braves fans agonized over the base running error, Atlanta nonetheless was in an enviable position with two runners on, no one out and the power-hitting Ron Gant at the plate. However, Gant proceeded to ground out to Hrbek, with Smith still holding. Dave Justice was the next batter, but Kelly called for an intentional walk against the cleanup man. That decision filled the bases and sent Sid Bream up to the plate. Bream followed Gant's lead and slapped a weak grounder toward Hrbek who threw the ball home for a force-out, then took the return from Harper for a double play.
Atlanta returned the favor in the bottom of the inning as Minnesota had runners at first and third with one out and Kirby Puckett due up. Mike Stanton was called in to replace Smoltz and was ordered to walk the lumber-wielding outfielder. With the bases loaded, Hrbek tapped a soft line drive up the middle, but Lemke snared the ball and stepped on second to double up Chuck Knoblauch. Chili Davis singled and Harper threatened to score in the ninth as he pushed a bunt past Stanton and first baseman Bream for a hit. Alejandro Pena was brought in from the bullpen and induced Shane Mack to ground into a double play, issued an intentional walk to Mike Pagliarulo and then struck out pinch-hitter Paul Sorrento. The "marathon man" Morris continued to dominate the Braves going into the tenth and retired the side with no incidents. Anxious to finish the affair Dan Gladden started the Twins' half of the inning with a double and was sacrificed to third by Knoblauch. Intentional walks to Puckett and Hrbek followed, loading the bases with one out in the 0-0 standoff. Pinch-hitter Gene Larkin finally sealed the 1-0 victory with a long-drive over Atlanta's infield that crowned the Twins as World Series Champions for the second time in five years. Although they were winless on the road they remained unbeaten in the Metrodome, which had evolved into the "tenth player" on the team.