The Boys of Fall: Ranking the Twins 1991 Pitchers
Image courtesy of Minnemom, Flickr1991. Whitney Houston, jean shorts, and the Minnesota Twins pitching staff. In the eyes of many Twins fans, the pinnacle of Twins pitching may have coincided with the franchise’s most recent World Series Championship.
The ‘91 had the full package. While Jack Morris will always be remembered for his Game seven heroics, the team may not have made it there if not for stellar seasons by fellow starters Scott Erickson, Kevin Tapani, and rock-solid Rick Aguilera in the bullpen.
The world was not yet plagued by the bane of existence in 1991; that wasn’t until 1997. On the bright side, I spent more time in college watching 1991 game reruns than I did doing homework (my apologies to the Concordia College WIFI operators).
Let’s take a look at some of the key components of the 1991 pitching staff, how they contributed, and who was perhaps the most valuable?
Tapani was an absolute workhorse for the Twins in the 1991 season, pitching 244 innings in 34 starts; the most of his career. Coming off a successful campaign in 1990 where he finished fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting, Tapani stormed through 1991 with a 16-9 record and team-leading 2.99 ERA.
Tapini finished the season 7th in Cy Young voting, just three spots behind teammate Jack Morris and five behind Scott Erickson. The Des Moines native (and now Minnesota resident) didn’t necessarily pitch his best baseball in the 1991 postseason. In the ALCS against Toronto, Tapani went 0-1, starting games’ two and five. Tapani lasted 6 1/3 innings in game two, giving up four runs on eight hits and two walks in a 5-2 Blue Jays win. The series decider wasn’t much different for Tapani, who gave up five runs on eight hits in four innings. The Twins rebounded and won game five 8-5 thanks to three run innings in the sixth and eighth frames.
Tapani reset in game two of the World Series, mounting a stellar eight inning performance that knocked off Tom Glavine’s Braves by a score of 3-2. He wasn’t as lucky in game five. After a scoreless three innings the Braves teed off on Tapani, putting up a four-hole and taking him out of the game.
While Tapani’s postseason numbers didn’t reflect his gem of a regular season, it’s important to remember that 1991 was only his second full season in the league! All in all, not too bad of a campaign for a young buck.
Kevin Tapani wasn’t the only young star on the Twins ‘91 rotation. A young man by the name of Scott Erickson mounted a career season in 1991 just one year after breaking into the Major Leagues.
A 1989 Twins draft pick out of the University of Arizona, Erickson rocketed through the minors and made his MLB debut after just 27 minor league starts. At just 23 years old in ‘91, Erickson led the league with 20 wins and finished the season with All-Star honors and was runner-up in the Cy Young race only to Roger Clemens.
In a season where he started 32 games, the young righty crafted a 20-8 record with a 3.18 ERA. Similar to Tapani, Erickson’s 1991 postseason didn’t necessarily correlate with his electric regular season. Erickson started game three of the 1991 ACLS against Toronto, receiving a no-decision in a four inning outing where he gave up two runs on two hits. Minnesota won that game in 10 innings.
Erickson’s World Series starts were both competitive, as the Long Beach, CA native earned no decisions in game three and game six. Erickson was in line for a game six win after pitching a solid six innings, giving up only two runs on five hits. Yet after a Mark Lemke single, Erickson was removed in the seventh. Later on in the inning Ron Gant singled off of Twins reliever Carl Willis to tie the game and rid Erickson of a win.
While Erickson’s leash may have been shorter than Morris and Tapani’s, the young star rose to the occasion and pitched well enough to put his team in a position to win two of the three playoff games that he started. Erickson went on to have a long career with multiple teams. There’s no doubt that the highlight of it was his outstanding performance in the 1991 regular season.
There’s a short list of Minnesota Twins relievers that have been as dominant as Rick Aguilera was for the ‘91 Twins. Finishing the year tied for fourth most saves in the league with 42, Rick was a 1991 All-Star who finished 18th in the American League for MVP voting.
That’s right. The San Gabriel, CA native was the lead vote receiver for relievers and the only pitchers he finished behind were Roger Clemens (10th and Cy Young), Jack Morris (13th), and Scott Erickson (17th). Pitchers don’t win the MVP and the thought of a reliever even being in the top 20 is rare. Aguilera was special.
Similar to Morris, Aguilera’s most valuable asset to the ‘91 Twins was his postseason dominance. In the ALCS he was nearly perfect, racking up three saves and giving up only one hit.
Aguilera continued his dominance in games one and two of the World Series, racking up two more saves. His only falter of the postseason came in game three when he faced the heart of the Braves lineup in the bottom of the 12th. After giving up a single and stolen base to David Justice, Mark Lemke singled to left to score Justice and walk off the Braves.
Aguilera would cancel out his one loss on the postseason a few days later in game six thanks to a stellar 11th inning and a guy named Kirby Puckett.
Aggie may not have gotten the hype of Morris, Puckett, or Hrbek. Yet his success on the bump late in games played a crucial role in the Twins putting together a stellar season.
While John Scott Morris’ time in Minnesota was brief, his 1991 game seven performance cemented his legacy in Twins and baseball history for an eternity. It’s important to remember that while his name is associated with the postseason, the guy had a pretty damn good 1991 regular season, leading the team with 163 strikeouts to top off an All-Star season that landed him fourth in Cy Young voting.
Morris’ most valuable asset may have been his consistency in the 1991 postseason. In a rotation filled with young stars and a lack of solidity at the bottom, Morris was a seasoned veteran.
In five postseason starts Morris was a stellar 4-0 with a 4.05 ERA in the ALCS and 1.17 ERA in the Fall Classic. The only start he didn’t win still consisted of a six inning outing in game three of the World Series where the vet gave up one run on six hits.
1991 wasn’t Jack Morris’ best season; but it would be difficult to not call it his most iconic. The hometown kid comes back to his own backyard to guide a young pitching staff to a title, capped off with the master himself sealing the deal. It doesn’t get much better.
So, what’s the order? They’re all valuable in unique ways but if I had to order them based on the value they provide to the Twins winning a World Series, I’d do this:
4. Scott Erickson (Although he arguably had the best season)
3. Kevin Tapani
2. Rick Aguilera
1. Jack Morris
Think I completely missed the ball on this one and that I’m some young punk who doesn’t know what a World Championship team looks like? Drop a comment below!
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