One of the best of the many memories of Reusse: Kirby, Jack and the ‘91 world champion Twins

·5 min read

This is an excerpt from the new book on columnist Patrick Reusse's career titled "Tales from the Minnesota Sports Beat: A Lifetime on Deadline," published this month by the Minnesota Historical Society Press and written withthe Star Tribune's Chip Scoggins. It's a book of memories, reflections, opinions and more. Here's one of Patrick's memories, from 1991:

. . .

The emotions were separated by 180 degrees and yet in perfect balance as 55,155 ticketholders made their way into the Metrodome late in the afternoon of Saturday, October 26, 1991.

There was optimism, because only four years earlier the situation had been nearly identical, with the Minnesota Twins trailing their opponents (then the St. Louis Cardinals) three wins to two in the World Series. And those Twins had won the last two games in front of inspired, Homer Hanky–waving mobs to make themselves the champions of Major League Baseball. We still had the mobs in '91, equipped with a fresh supply of Homer Hankies, so why wouldn't the Twins do it again?

Weighted perfectly against that history came the pessimism of history that was less than 48 hours old: The Atlanta Braves—younger, deeper, more swashbuckling than were those Cardinals of '87—had toughed out two wins in Georgia to square the series, then sent the Twins reeling back to Minnesota after a 14–5 beatdown in Game 5.

What the fans and viewers and reporters didn't know is that the Twins had been guaranteed a victory earlier that afternoon.

That came when Kirby Puckett walked into the clubhouse and said, "Climb on my back, fellas. I got this one."

OK, Puckett might have said that 60 or 70 times a season, but this time — Game 6! Puck's Game! — he really, truly meant it.

He tripled home Chuck Knoblauch in the bottom of the first, then scored on Mack's first hit of the series to give the Twins a 2–0 lead. He reached his glove above the Plexiglas wall in left-center field to rob Ron Gant of a homer in the third. After Atlanta tied the game at 2–2 in the top of the fifth, Puckett put the Twins back ahead with a sacrifice fly in the bottom half of the inning.

The Braves tied it up again in the seventh and manager Tom Kelly went with closer Rick Aguilera in the 10th and again in the 11th, as the clock rolled past 11 PM.

The fans were on edge, as were the occupants of the various press boxes. The Star Tribune crew knew the presses had already started to roll for the metro edition. Thousands of newspapers were heading off to be bundled without a final score to offer among our myriad game stories, sidebars, and columns. The tributes to Puckett, already strung together but not finalized, would have a sad ring to them if this game were to be lost.

And then Atlanta manager Bobby Cox brought in Charlie Leibrandt to pitch the bottom of the 11th.

During the mid-inning break, Puckett told Chili Davis that he might bunt to get on base. Chili told him profanely to forget that, ending with something like: "Hit it out and let's go home."

That racing mind calmed when Puckett stepped into the batter's box. My description in the following day's Star Tribune was this: "Leibrandt delivered. The pitch was up. Puckett hitched, pumped his left leg in the manner of that baseball card hero of his, Hack Wilson, and hit a shot toward the glass in left.

"The roar started. It grew and 55,155 customers inside the Dome came to their feet. [Atlanta left fielder] Keith Mitchell ran a pass pattern out there, but it was gone, into the bleachers, into the madness."

The TV viewers were blessed with hearing the grandest epitaph that could be given by a broadcaster when, as Puck's winner headed toward the seats, the great Jack Buck said: "And . . . we'll see you tomorrow night."

Almost an hour later, my all-time favorite quote from a Minnesota athlete came from the official interview room in the Metrodome. The first question asked of Jack Morris was, "Jack, how do you feel about a chance to pitch a Game 7?"

Morris stared for a moment and then said, "Words from the late, great Marvin Gaye come to mind. 'Let's get it on.'"

Perfect.

And Marvin's words were never taken more resolutely to heart than by Morris. It took 10 innings for the Twins to get him a run, but it finally came when Dan Gladden hustled to second base with a broken-bat double, moved to third on a bunt, and scored on pinch-hitter Gene Larkin's fly ball over the drawn-in outfield for a 1–0 victory.

The first pitch of Game 6 was thrown by Scott Erickson at 7:28 PM on October 26, 1991. Gladden stepped on home plate at 11:01 PM on October 27.

Those 27½ hours of high anxiety — whether it was based on "how much more Hanky waving can my arm take?" or the sound of running presses dancing in your head — remain the greatest drama, the greatest competition we've had in our midst in my period of full sports consciousness, which I've decided dates to age eight in 1954.

Yet, to make sure we didn't get too confident in our standing as the envy of America, four days later, on Halloween, it started to snow, and before it stopped, the Twin Cities had received 31 inches.

Ecstasy, followed by days of pushing strangers' cars out of snowdrifts. That's us.

. . .

Read more on Patrick's career in the new book "Tales from the Minnesota Sports Beat: A Lifetime on Deadline," published this month by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.