91/19 World Series Game 3: Kelly's Bold Moves Pay Off in Pivotal Win
Neagle worked into the seventh inning, holding the hosts scoreless. He demonstrated extraordinary pitch efficiency, and fearlessly faced down the gauntlet of right-handed sluggers slotted into the middle of Baldelli’s batting order. Whether 20-game winner Scott Erickson will recover smoothly from the affront of having a pitcher without a big-league win slotted into the rotation ahead of him remains to be seen, but for one night, Kelly’s decision to avoid Erickson’s contact-heavy profile against the record-setting 2019 offense worked.
In the first game of the set played at chilly Target Field, Baldelli called upon Michael Pineda, looking to sustain the momentum the team won when José Berríos led them to a Game 2 victory. No sooner had Pineda taken the mound, though, than Kelly’s ambush lineup went to its work.
Leading off again, Chuck Knoblauch caught the 2019 Twins napping with a drag bunt toward third base, taking advantage of Miguel Sanó playing too deep and of Pineda’s tendency to fall off the mound toward first base at the end of his delivery. Pineda got to the ball, but had no chance to throw out Knoblauch at first base. It’s hard to blame Sanó or Pineda for being ill-prepared; Knoblauch didn’t manage a single bunt hit during the 1991 regular season. Still, the tactic seemed to fluster Pineda, and because of Kelly’s new lineup construction, he had no time to recover. On a 1-0 pitch, Kent Hrbek blasted his third home run of the series, into the planters just above the right-field wall.
A batter later, Shane Mack fell behind 0-2 to Pineda, but spoiled a pitch, worked his way back to a full count, and then launched a home run into the bullpen beyond left-center field. In a blink, it was 3-0 in favor of Kelly’s agents of chaos, and those who had raised an eyebrow at Kelly’s unusual sequence of pregame decisions were left to semantic arguments. Mack is just maturing into a full-time player, rather than the potent but platoon-protected bench bat he’d been in the past, and in the vast majority of his starts in 1991, he batted either sixth or seventh. He only started twice in the cleanup slot during the regular campaign.
Kelly has already written Mack into that spot three times in this series, all against right-handed starters, and it’s paid off, thanks in large part to the trickle-up effects of moving Knoblauch and Hrbek to the top of the order. Mack’s thump has rendered Dan Gladden’s absence almost an afterthought, and as the series shifted to the smaller left field of Target Field, it became a less nervous swap for Kelly and his staff.
Pineda’s slider was erratic, and his fastball command was loose. As tends to happen on his bad nights, he was largely in the zone with his heat, but unable to locate to the quadrants for which he was aiming. The 1991 Twins ignored the slider, teed off on fastballs, and squared him up repeatedly. In the second, only a pair of stellar plays by Byron Buxton in center field—cutting off a Mike Pagliarulo line drive toward the gap in right-center field to hold him to a two-out single, then making a diving play on a similar liner from Knoblauch to retire the side—kept the visitors from extending their 3-0 lead even further. In the fourth, right fielder Gene Larkin led off with a double, and two batters later, Knoblauch brought him home with a single up the middle, a sharp grounder that squeezed between the shifted Jorge Polanco and Luis Arráez.
Meanwhile, Neagle cruised. The rookie defused the vaunted Bomba Squad like a seasoned special agent, a dour expression masking any jitters about pitching on such a grand stage in the same city where he pitched collegiate ball. Even when C.J. Cron dented the chain link of the fence in left-center with a leadoff double in the third inning, Neagle kept his jaw set and took care of business. He got a lazy fly ball from Eddie Rosario, a breaking ball worming its way to the end of his bat, and then struck out Buxton after a tough at-bat. A fastball on the hands of Polanco induced a pop-up to Knoblauch, and the 2019 club’s rally died without so much as advancing Cron.
Baldelli hasn’t managed with tremendous urgency to this point in the series, and that became particularly pronounced in the middle innings of Game 3. He lifted Pineda in favor of Ryne Harper, who delivered a clean inning as a good matchup for the right-handed Kirby Puckett and Mack. The next pitcher out of the bullpen, however, was Matt Magill, and Baldelli would leave his fringy pensman in to throw 47 pitches over 2 ⅔ innings.
Baldelli also slotted Arráez into the second place in the order against the left-handed Neagle, a gamble that briefly seemed poised to pay big dividends. In the bottom of the sixth, after Neagle had retired 11 in a row, he came back to the top of the order for a third trip through. Polanco drew a two-out walk, and then Arráez doubled over the shallowly-positioned Mack and Puckett, to the gap in left-center field. Polanco held at third on the play, and Neagle then walked Nelson Cruz. Brian Harper and pitching coach Dick Such visited the mound, but Kelly elected to give his young starter a chance to work out of the jam again.
That brought up Mitch Garver, who worked a 2-2 count, then crushed a ball on a high arc toward the left-field bleachers. Lady Luck didn’t attend the poke in its flight, however, as Mack hauled the ball in with his back to the wall in straight-away left field. A would-be game-tying grand slam became the final out of the inning, and the game seemed to slip out of the 2019 club’s reach for good.
It took just two batters for Kelly’s band of assassins to stomp on the throats of their wounded opponents. Magill’s second inning of work began with a Hrbek single past Arráez, despite the shift that had Arráez positioned about 210 feet from home plate in straight-away right field. Then, Puckett swatted a fly ball to the same spot as Garver, with an identical exit velocity of 99.4 miles per hour off the bat, but landed it in the second row of the bleachers, just beyond Rosario’s best Spider-Man impression at the left-field wall.
Each side kept their best bullpen powder dry, thanks to Kelly’s profound faith in Neagle, and thanks to the hole in which Pineda put the 2019 team early. Baldelli seems unable to keep up with Kelly’ uncharacteristic, counterintuitive, highly modern tactics, and the power of the 1991 team has caught its more famous slugging counterpart off-guard. It will be interesting to see whether Baldelli turns back to Jake Odorizzi, on short rest, in order to avoid falling behind 3-1 in Game 4. In the meantime, fans of the 1991 Twins will savor the feeling of having dodged a bullet on Garver’s drive, and of having outsmarted the notorious innovators of the 2019 team in order to put two quick runs on the board in a key game.
You can find the boxscore and pitch-by-pitch results for Game One attached below. If you would like to learn more about Out of the Park 21, please click on this link. If you would like to try it, you can also download it for 10% off the regular price using the code TWINSDAILY. Finally, be sure to go back and see the recaps for:
Mnnesota 2019 Twins @ Minnesota 1991 Twins Game Log Game 3.pdf 578.16KB 106 downloads
MLB Box Score, Minnesota 2019 Twins at Minnesota 1991 Twins Game 3.pdf 807.8KB 124 downloads
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