Friday, September 29, 2017

The Greatest World Series Game Ever Played?

Well, it's actually happened.  The Minnesota Twins, the consensus pick last spring for the team least likely to succeed, are heading for the post season playoffs. How unlikely is it that the Twins have done this?  Back in March ESPN convened a panel of "experts" to predict who would win the various divisions of baseball, and who would prevail in the "wild card" race, that system by which the two other teams with the best records also get a long shot chance to go on.

Of the 35 purported baseball sages, exactly zero picked the Twins to win their division or to qualify by the wild card route.

From here my team has a difficult path to follow.  A one game "no tomorrow" contest between the two Wild Card teams....and the Twins have never played well against the vile New York Yankees.  And should they somehow manage to win they then get to face the Cleveland Indians who have been on an epic tear the last two months of the season.  

So while the Twins' career in post season play is perhaps going to be short, it is worth remembering that no team, no team ever, has made the playoffs a year after a 100 plus loss season.  Their turn around has been magical.

Will the Twinkies actually get all the way to the World Series?  Long odds....but remember that at the beginning of the season they were given only a 5% chance of accomplishing what they have already, implausibly, done.

The last time the Twins went to the World Series was in 1991.  26 years ago.  And I was there for what some regard as the greatest World Series game ever.

The Twins limped home from Atlanta down 3 games to 2 in the best of seven series. There was again, no tomorrow.  You lose, you're done.

With due respect to the team effort, it was one man, one irrepressible, pudgy man who carried the day.  Kirby Puckett.

Here are two video clips that sum it up.  I cannot to this day watch them without strong emotions.  It is a better view than we had from the second deck out in left field, but we saw this happen in front of us in exhilarating, deafeningly loud real time.

In the third inning with a runner on first base Puckett somehow climbs the outfield wall to pull in a line drive that would certainly have given Atlanta the lead.  The runner on first was so sure this was going out of the park or perhaps ricocheting off the wall for a double that he was already past second when he had to put on the brakes and beat a hasty and undignified retreat.  Puckett darn near threw him out in what could have been the greatest double play in World Series history.  Note how the Atlanta runner is cursing his base coach for sending him!

The game remained tied at the end of nine innings.  And so it was left to Puckett to deliver the winning run.....and in dramatic style.

I am of course remembering it from the perspective of a fan who was there.  This was in the old Metrodome, a hideous carbuncle of a stadium built for football.  Its only saving grace was that the acoustics were superb.  The entire game you were immersed in the tense hum of the crowd.  And when Puckett saved the game in the third inning and then won it in the eleventh the roar actually was deafening.  My ears were ringing for hours afterwards.  They ring to this day but of course power tools and age probably account for that.

Was the 1991 Series the Best Ever?  Given the media infatuation with Big Market Coastal teams you won't find many experts who pick it.  But as I said at the top of the page, those experts are often wrong.

It was the defining moment for Kirby Puckett.  He was a player beloved by the fans, a man who came up out of the housing projects of Chicago to play Major League baseball at its most sublime.  One of my sons who watched games with me as a baby had as his first word "Kerrbeee".  

When you link a video you get a freeze frame image.  Let's keep that image.  Kirby Puckett pumping his fist, uniform stretched taut over his rather nonathletic frame. I always thought he looked like a sausage.

The bad times are still in the future.  Four years later he was hit by a pitch, fracturing his jaw.  The next spring he developed glaucoma in the eye on that side, losing the sight in it and of course ending his career too young at age 36.  In retirement his weight got out of control, his health declined and he died of a stroke in 2006. Assorted allegations of personal indiscretions dogged his later years.

I know that our heroes are collectively and individually, mere mortals with all the flaws attendant to same.  Let that temper our adulation of them.  But never let it rob us of our enjoyment for those rare, magical moments......

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