A look back at the ’91 World Series

Tanner Jones, Opinion Editor

This season, the Minnesota Twins have fired their general manager, traded their sole All-Star, and have put up the worst record in the American League. But 25 years ago, in 1991, the story of Minnesota baseball was a lot different. Four years removed from the club’s first world championship, the Twins were again vying for a postseason bid. And this time, as the Twins lineup ensured, it wouldn’t be so much of a crap shoot. Along with Minnesota’s ’87 stars, including Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, Lou Gehrig Award recipient Kent Hrbek, and “dazzle man” Dan Gladden, the ’91 roster introduced soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Chuck Knoblauch, and five-time All-Star Jack Morris.

Chock full of star power, the Twins dominated the regular season and finished 95-67. With the AL West clinched, the team moved on to the pennant race and again won with ease in a quick 4-1 victory against Toronto. However the World Series, pitting Minnesota against the Atlanta Braves, would prove a greater challenge than anyone expected. So, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Twins’ most memorable victory, Zephyrus will take you through ’91s seven games. A series that has been dubbed, by Sports Illustrated and ESPN, “The greatest of all time.”


Game One—Twins Win

In the scope of the entire series, Game One was an outlier. Pitching was mediocre, each team committed an error, and the Twins took the game with nine hits and five runs, dwarfing the Braves’ respective six and two. Had it not been in the World Series, Game One could be seen as relatively uneventful and typical ballgame.


Game Two—Twins Win

The Twins squeaked out a 3-2 win in a tight, defensive, and controversial matchup. Down by two runs in the top of the third, with two outs and one man on, Atlanta Brave Ron Gant knocked the ball to shallow left. Seeing Dan Gladden’s wild throw from left field to third, Gant rounded first and attempted to advance. However, upon pitcher Kevin Tapani’s successful recovery of the ball, Gant returned to first, entangling himself with Twin Kent Hrbek, and was called out. Gant claimed, and video evidence seems to concur, that Hrbek pulled Gant off the base to end the inning. This call, which potentially took a run, and a game, from Atlanta has been dubbed by ESPN “one of the 10 worst [calls] in baseball history.” Furious Atlanta fans booed Hrbek in his later appearances in the series, some even sending him hate mail and death threats. In the end, the Twins left for Atlanta up 2-0 in the series.


Game Three—Braves Win

Game Three, the first world series game ever to be played in the Deep South, pitched Minnesota’s Scott Erickson against Atlanta’s Steve Avery. In twelve innings, and four hours and four minutes—a record length—Atlanta eked out a 5-4 victory amidst double switches and substitutions. In the twelfth, forced to send their closer to the plate, the Twins stranded three, and allowed a fatal two-out single to score David Justice. Having emptied his bench and expired his bullpen, Twins manager Tom Kelly later said that if the game had gone on any longer left-fielder Gladden would’ve had to pitch, and closer Aguilera would’ve been moved to the outfield.


Game Four—Braves Win

The next night, October 23, 1991, Atlanta again put up a fight. Ace Jack “Black Jack” Morris took the mound, only allowing one of seven hits to cross the plate before being relieved in the seventh. Unfortunately Atlanta’s pitching was equally tough, and by the top of the ninth the game was tied 2-2.

In the bottom of the ninth, with one out and two men on, Steve Bedrosian took the mound. His first opponent Jerry Willard flew out to right field, causing Mark Lemke to tag up and make a break for home. In a nail-biting play, Lemke slid around Minnesota’s catcher Brian Harper and was called safe with the winning run. Lemke, having already won Game Three just after midnight, became the first and only ballplayer to win two World Series Games in one day.


Game Five—Braves Win

Tied two and two after Game Four, Glavine and Tapani again faced off to reprise their Game Two roles. Six innings in, the Twins trailed 3-5, but after the bottom of six a combination of poor defense and hot bats turned the game into a blowout. Atlanta extended their lead and won a staggering 14-5.


Game Six “The Puckett Game”—Twins Win

The Twins returned to Minnesota disheartened, and one loss away from a second-place title. But back at the Metrodome, a field where the Twins had a 90% postseason win rate, Minnesota again had the advantage. In the bottom of the first, the Twins’ promised starpower came to fruition and a combined Knoblauch-Puckett force gave Minnesota an early 2-0 lead.

But Atlanta, one game away from their first world championship since 1957, wouldn’t back down. In the top of the third, with a man on first, Ron Gant hit to deep center vying to score Terry Pendleton. To Gant’s and Atlanta’s dismay, Kirby Puckett went after the ball, and in a breathtaking 11-foot catch against the plexiglass, Atlanta was robbed of the run.

It wasn’t until the fifth that Minnesota’s shutout broke down, and shortly thereafter the game was tied 3-3. Innings eight, nine, and ten proceeded scoreless. And by the bottom of eleven, the Twins were eager to get men on base. Kirby Puckett, whilst on deck, confided in teammate Chili Davis that he intended to bunt for a hit. Davis however didn’t take to Puckett’s plan, and reportedly said, “Bunt my a**! Hit it out and let’s go home.” Puckett did just that. After taking three pitches, he hit a dramatic game-winning walkoff to left-center ensuring a seventh game and a chance for the Twins to win the series.


Game Seven “The Morris Game”—Twins Win the World Series

In perhaps the greatest defensive battle of all time, neither the Twins nor Braves could put a run across through nine. Three times manager Tom Kelly approached the mound intending to pull starter Jack Morris, but Morris refused to be relieved and went on to throw an unprecedented 126 pitches through 10 innings. Only once since has a World Series pitcher thrown both the first and last pitch, and never since has it happened in Game Seven. Largely thanks to Morris, the Twins entered extra innings with the Braves shutout; the game remained tied 0-0.

To lead off the bottom of the tenth, Dan Gladden smacked a bat-breaking single to left, ready to be brought home by the due-up duo of Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek. Caught in a predicament and eager to end the inning, Atlanta decided it best to intentionally walk the pair, causing a force at every base. By this point the Twins had run out of players, and Kelly—out of options—played utility man (and future Edina Legion Baseball Coach) Gene Larkin. Larkin, who had been nursing a hurt knee, stepped up for just his 255th plate appearance of the season. On his first pitch, Larkin lifted a game-winning single to deep left, Gladden scored, and the Twins won the world series.


Four games were decided on the last pitch, dozens of records were broken, tradition and common sense were defied, and each of ‘91s seven games included players and moments that would go down in baseball lore forever. Here’s hoping the Twins—25 years later—can bring back some of the magic.