Monday, September 22, 2014

Game 7: Exciting World Series Finales (1991)

October 27, 1991
Minnesota Twins vs. Atlanta Braves
Metrodome, Minnesota 

The '91 World Series was selected by ESPN as the greatest ever. A total of 69 innings were played, setting a record for the longest 7-game Series in history. Five of those games were decided by a single run as the home team prevailed in each contest. With a Game 5 loss at Atlanta, the Twins (formerly playing as the Senators) set an all time record for futility. It was the club's fourteenth consecutive defeat on the road--the longest streak of any major league franchise.

In addition to one of the greatest Game 7 pitching duels in history, the Series became known for a handful of odd occurrences. As the Twins continued their winning ways at home, the fan noise in the Metrodome soared to unprecedented levels. At several points, the decibel level was equivalent to a jet taking off at close range. Numerous fans reported headaches and temporary hearing loss. Controversy surfaced in the third inning of Game 2 when Ron Gant got hung up between first and second after lining a 2-out single. He became entangled with Kent Hrbek, who appeared to literally pick Gant up and pull him off first base while applying the tag. Umpire Drew Coble called Gant out and the play killed a Braves rally. Hrbek became a villain in Atlanta, receiving a death threat and getting booed loudly by fans. In Game 3, Minnesota's Tom Kelly faced the ultimate manager's nightmare when a series of substitutions and slick double-switches left him without any available players on his bench or in his bullpen. He was down to his last pitcher in the twelfth when Atlanta broke through with the winning run.

The Twins appeared to have momentum on their side after Kirby Puckett's eleventh inning homer gave them a 4-3 victory in Game 6. Puckett won the game almost single-handedly for Minnesota, driving in 3 runs and scoring twice. He also made a spectacular catch in center field. "It's so draining, these one-run ballgames," he said after the game. "I think I'll be sick all winter."

The seventh contest featured a rematch between Game 4 starters Jack Morris and John Smoltz. The two squared off for seven-plus scoreless innings. Smoltz was pulled in the bottom of the eighth with one out and runners on the corners. Reliever Mike Stanton was ordered to walk Puckett to load the bases. He then disposed of the slumping Kent Hrbek, who lined into an inning-ending double play. In the bottom of the ninth, Stanton pulled a muscle in his back while fielding a bunt and was replaced by Alejandro Pena. Pena worked a scoreless ninth though he would eventually be charged with a loss.

In the tenth inning, Twins starter Jack Morris refused to come out of the game. He retired the side in order, finishing his night with 126 pitches. In the bottom of the inning, left fielder Dan Gladden led off with a bloop single and moved to second when the ball took a weird hop. He was sacrificed to third by Chuck Knoblauch. Puckett was intentionally walked along with Hrbek, who was hitting just .115 in the Series. Atlanta skipper Bobby Cox was hoping for a force play at the plate. Summoned to pinch-hit, Minnesota's back-up catcher Gene Larkin (nursing a knee injury) had his moment in the sun, sending Pena's first pitch over a drawn-in outfield for a Series-clinching base hit.

Morris's 7-hit shutout earned him World Series MVP honors. It was the first time a pitcher had worked 10 innings since Tom Seaver did it in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series. "This is something you dream about," Morris told the press. "I remember as a kid I used to throw Wiffle balls to my brother in the backyard. He used to be Mickey Mantle. I pretended I was Bob Gibson."  

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