91/19 World Series, Game 7: Metrodome Madness Goes Extra Innings
For the legendary manager of the 1991 Twins, the first one he pulled out was announced just hours before the first pitch was thrown. With his options limited for starting pitchers, he would turn to rookie lefthander Denny Neagle, who in game three had looked like an ace while holding the 2019 Twins scoreless through seven innings.
He began this one with a quick one-two-three inning, needing just seven pitches to retire Jorge Polanco, Luis Arraez, and Nelson Cruz. His offense then immediately got to work for him in the bottom half against Baldelli’s big-blind check move of Michael Pineda, who was on the losing end in Game 3.
Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, as he had also done to lead off their third matchup, ambushed Pineda with a bunt on an 0-1 pitch. It got past Pineda, and since Miguel Sano was playing in at third base, he was unable to cut it off in front of Polanco at short, who’s throw to first was a step late.
Going back to the well for perhaps the coaching move of the series, Kelly again had Kent Hrbek batting second, and once again he rewarded his manager’s faith by launching the first pitch he saw into the first rows of seats above the baggy in right field. It was his sixth home run of the series, and 15th RBI for the ’91 team.
In the second inning it was Baldelli’s turn to play his cards right, and since his team was known as the Bomba Squad and had just set the Major League record for home runs in a season, it was a bit of a bluff that paid off big. The inning started with back-to-back four pitch walks to Mitch Garver and Sano, then Max Kepler, C.J. Cron, and Eddie Rosario all followed with hard hit singles that put them out front 3-2. Neagle struck out Byron Buxton in his attempt to limit any further damage but followed that up by walking Polanco as the lineup turned over, again loading the bases. Luis Arraez then clubbed an opposite field double that scored two more and brought Kelly out of the dugout, his first trick having failed.
“Yeah, the greenhorn didn’t get the job done,” the skipper would pan at the podium after the game when asked about the decision to start the rookie. With a smirk he continued, “It was Gardy’s idea with the options we had, I don’t think he’ll ever trust a rookie again.”
Nelson Cruz and Garver added two more singles and two more runs to the tally before lefty David West was able to shut it down. In the inning, twelve men came to bat for the 2019 team, and seven had crossed the plate. Baldelli’s team took the second inning pot with three walks, five singles, and Arraez’s double instead of any Bombas.
“It was a little different than how we did it throughout the season, but we’ll take ‘em how we can get ‘em,” Baldelli exclaimed in the locker room after the game. “We needed all those chip shots!”
The ’91 Twins were able to get a few of those runs back in the following innings, as Mike Pagliarulo snuck a fly-ball just inside the foul pole and over the baggy in right for a two-run homer in the bottom of the second. Kirby Puckett led off the third with a ball that ricocheted hard off the folded-up seats above the baggy in nearly the same spot. Pineda’s night was over a batter later, after surrendering a single to Shane Mack. Baldelli then called upon Ryne Harper again, who allowed just one run over the next three innings, providing a good counter.
Reliever West got the ’91 Twins into the fourth inning but was lifted after a two-out walk put runners on the corners for the 2019 squad, and Kelly again reached up his sleeve by bringing in his closer, Rick Aguilera, earlier than he ever had to try and squash any further rallies.
This gamble paid off and by the time Aguilera was out of gas, Kelly’s team had reclaimed much of their chips at the table. He retired the first nine hitters he faced, five of them on strikeouts, and although he was clearly unhappy when Kelly came out to get him after allowing his first hit - a single to Miguel Sano in the seventh —it was clear to his manager he had given him all he had.
“You saw Aggie want to tear my head off when I went out there to get him,” Kelly said about the extended mound meeting before he finally got the ball out of Aguilera’s glove. “He still hasn’t spoken to me, but that’s the type of competitor he is. He would have stayed out there until he could only lob it underhand if I let him.”
Kelly maybe should have let him lob a few over, as Mark Guthrie proceeded to allow a double to Kepler that scored Sano after a passed ball put him in scoring position, and the 2019 Twins got a needed insurance run for an 8-6 lead.
In the bottom half of the inning, Hrbek and Chili Davis drew a pair of walks, and with two outs Harper lined a shallow single into center field. Ignoring the stop sign from his third base coach, the hulking Hrbek took a gamble of his own rounding third and luckily caught Byron Buxton by surprise. His double-pumped throw to home came in off target and Hrbek’s headfirst flop beat Garver’s diving tag attempt to the plate to make it 8-7.
“I’m sure you can tell I’ve never slid headfirst in my life,” Hrbek quipped post game, the road rash on his cheek and chin still red and covered in dirt. “There was no way I was gonna be able to stop at third there with the momentum I had built up.”
The teams traded zeroes in the eighth inning, but it wasn’t due to lacking drama. The Bomba Squad got a single from Jorge Polanco in the top half that prompted Kelly to bring in Kevin Tapani. Luis Arraez then singled on a 3-2 pitch, and after an intentional walk to Nelson Cruz to load the bases with one out, Tapani stared down the highest Leverage Index situation of his career. He rose to the challenge, striking out both Garver and Sano to keep his team within one.
In the bottom half a leadoff single from Pagliarulo prompted Baldelli to turn to Tyler Duffey, who induced a double-play ball, bringing Kent Hrbek to the plate down one. He was right on a couple 95 MPH fastballs up in the zone, fouling them straight back, before sending the third one deep into center field. Off the bat it didn’t seem like it was going to get out with that low of a trajectory, but surely it was going to land for extra bases.
That was until platinum glove center fielder Byron Buxton turned on the afterburners to run it down at a full sprint speed of 33.4 feet-per-second, a Statcast era record, just short of the warning track before crashing into the wall just shy of where the baggy rises in right-center. Kepler helped him up off the track with a strong slap to his backside, his jaw on the turf in bewilderment.
“Didn’t get enough air under that one” said Hrbek in his presser, shaking his head. “That kid is #^&@-ing fast.”
Buxton would make noise from the batter’s box in the ninth as well, the adrenaline likely still coursing through his veins. After two one-out singles from C.J. Cron and Eddie Rosario, Buxton sent a grounder up the middle past a diving Greg Gagne to score Cron who beat Puckett’s throw to home with a foot first slide through Brian Harper’s legs as he fielded the hop over the plate. Kelly then brought out Jack Morris from the bullpen, looking to keep his team as close as he could, and Black Jack did his thing in striking out Ehire Adrianza and Arraez to keep the game within two.
In the bottom of the ninth Baldelli couldn’t have felt better about sending out his season long bullpen weapon and closer, Taylor Rogers, looking to complete a 3-1 series comeback and hoist the trophy with all the state of Minnesota.
“That’s the situation you dream about as an MLB closer,” Rogers remarked to Fox Sports North’s Marney Gellner in the clubhouse. “You just hope it goes a lot different than it did.”
That’s because after Rogers got both Puckett and Mack to ground out to start the inning, Chili Davis’ solo home run into left opened the portals of doom with two outs for the 2019 squad’s best reliever. Brian Harper followed with a single to left, then Gene Larkin’s double down the left field line scored him all the way from first to tie the game at nine and send the Homer Hanky faithful in the stands into pandemonium.
When Rogers stepped back onto the mound to face Greg Gagne, the decibel meters at field level in the Metrodome were registering a constant 130+ decibels, equivalent to a F-16 taking off from an aircraft carrier, and this beat writers glass of [not water anymore] was rumbled off my workspace in the press box.
Gagne tried to channel the energy in the stadium and took a big cut at the first pitch fastball from Rogers, sending it toward center field. It had the height but fell harmlessly into Buxton’s glove in center for the third out and a brief reprieve from the overwhelming noise inside the homer dome, so this one was going to extra innings.
Nelson Cruz got things started in the tenth by crushing a 3-2 pitch 108.1 MPH to deep center that Puckett couldn’t catch up to, resulting in a double and the go-ahead runner in scoring position. Garver moved him 90 feet away with a fly ball to the warning track in front of the baggy, then Sano stepped into the box with one out. For all the earlier excitement in the game, this at-bat would prove anti-climactic, as a 1-2 slider in the dirt bounced and was deflected by Harper towards the visitors’ dugout, allowing Cruz to scamper home for a 10-9 lead. Sano struck out and a fly ball from Max Kepler ended the inning, but the ’91 team now had work to do.
After blowing the save in the ninth, Baldelli stuck with his closer to start the tenth, as the left-handed hitting Pagliarulo led off. Pagliurulo grounded out before Chuck Knoblauch lined a single into right field to put the tying run on base. Even though the next hitter was left-handed and his name was Hrbek, Baldelli wanted a fresh arm to face the Bomba Squad’s killer in the series. He went to Trevor May and the noise started creeping upward in the dome again as three straight balls made the count 3-1 to the slugger. May’s next pitch perhaps surprised Hrbek a bit, coming in a little softer than his normal mid-90’s heat at 88 MPH, and he was only able to send a can of corn out to center for the inning’s second out. That brought up Kirby Puckett, and he kept the rally alive with a single into left field, putting Knoblauch in scoring position for Shane Mack as perhaps their last hope.
On a 2-2 pitch, he smashed a ground ball at 107 MPH the other way that looked like it would get past C. J. Cron at first base with the aid of the turf, but his reactionary dive allowed him to get just enough glove on it. As he pushed himself up off the turf he looked into his glove just to make sure the ball was in there, then put his hands up in the air in celebration as he stepped on the base for the game’s final out.
“I kind of panicked for a split second when I saw the ball in my glove, it just happened so fast,” Cron said of his game saving play. “I didn’t even feel the ball hit my glove, so I didn’t think I had it, then it’s like ‘where do I get an out?!’” he laughed.
Luckily for him, that out was just a few feet away, and he and the rest of his teammates could get to celebrating their series comeback from 3-1 and holding off the onslaught that was Kent Hrbek’s series MVP winning performance. It was only the second time a losing player has ever won the award in a World Series.
“He can have it, my goodness” Rocco Baldelli remarked in the champagne covered clubhouse media-scrum after hearing about the award. “I don’t know who the heck else you could give it to after what he did this series, but I think my guys are fine with the other trophy!”
It was then that Hrbek barged into the visitor’s clubhouse, exclaiming “Who’s got a beer for me?!” while unceremoniously dropping that MVP trophy into the nearest garbage can. He had to duck a bit as cans came flying at him from every direction, but he joined in on the celebration all the same.
You can find the box score and pitch-by-pitch results for Game Seven attached below. If you would like to learn more about Out of the Park Baseball 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:
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