Twins' power makes waves in opener, 5-2 Gagne's 3-run HR in fifth beats Braves' Leibrandt

October 20, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins had appeared almost docile during the first two games of the American League playoffs, leaving room to wonder if the Metrodome had lost its magic. But the Atlanta Braves soon found out that nothing had changed since the last National League team passed through here in 1987.

The dome-maniacs don't have quite the same lung power anymore, but the Twins have a way of joining together with the fans to make an evening at "The Hump" a powerful experience.

Greg Gagne and Kent Hrbek showed why they call it the Homerdome and Jack Morris pitched seven strong innings, as the Twins took Game 1 of the 88th World Series last night with a 5-2 victory.

It was not a good day to be a Brave, at least not an Atlanta Brave. Outside the ballpark, demonstrators protested the club's alleged disrespect for American Indian culture. Inside, a noisy sellout crowd of 55,108 cheered the Twins to their eighth victory in nine postseason games at baseball's Monument to Monsanto.

Morris gave up two runs on five hits over seven-plus innings, finally leaving after he walked the first two batters in the eighth. Mark Guthrie and Rick Aguilera did the rest, combining for two innings of one-hit relief to give Morris his third victory in three 1991 postseason starts.

Braves starter Charlie Leibrandt did not fare so well. He gave up four runs on seven hits over four-plus innings, three of them on a home run by Gagne, the No. 9 hitter in the batting order. Hrbek added a 440-foot upper-deck shot off reliever Jim Clancy in the sixth.

Gagne, who hit three home runs during the Twins' amazing 1987 postseason, jumped on a high fastball and drove it into the

left-field bleachers. He is not known as a power hitter, and he was not trying to hit a home run, but he knows when to step out of character.

"The at-bat he hit the home run, he was just trying to hit the ball in the hole and he hit it out of the ballpark," manager Tom Kelly said, "so I don't know if he knows what he's doing. But he smoked it. No doubt about that."

Hrbek had been held to three singles during the five-game ALCS, but he finally broke out with a double and a homer, which does not bode well for the Braves.

"In the clubhouse, he told everybody to get on board, he was going to carry the club tonight," Kelly said.

Hrbek wasn't so quick to take credit for that prediction.

"What he didn't tell you is that I said exactly the same thing before every game in the playoffs," Hrbek said.

The Braves had heard all the horror stories about the Metrodome. This is where the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals came to die in 1987. This is where the decibel level is supposed to rival that of a jet taking off in your living room. This is the place where the sky is the same color as the baseball.

"I guess it is a little harder to play here," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, "but I don't think it had a bearing on this ballgame."

The Metrodome might represent all that's wrong with modern baseball, but the Twins took the lead the old-fashioned way in the third inning. Dan Gladden drew a two-out walk, stole second and scored when rookie Chuck Knoblauch poked a single through the right side of the infield.

Knoblauch, whose consistent performance during the regular season should net him the American League Rookie of the Year award, continues to be a significant offensive threat in the postseason. He singled in each of his first two at-bats last night on the way to his fourth multiple-hit performance in six postseason games. He also stole two bases.

It wasn't until the fifth that Cox's controversial decision to start Leibrandt came into serious question. The veteran left-hander pitched with runners on base in every inning, but he appeared to have the situation under control until the bottom third of the Minnesota lineup ganged up to run him out of the game.

Hrbek led off with a double and Scott Leius followed with a single before Gagne launched his 380-foot shot to left that gave the Twins a four-run lead.

Cox and pitching coach Leo Mazzone spent much of the past two days defending the decision to go with Leibrandt, even though he won 15 games during the regular season and it was his regular turn to pitch. Everyone had expected 20-game winner Tom Glavine to to be the Game 1 starter, but he will take the mound tonight against Twins right-hander Kevin Tapani.

Glavine would have been working on normal rest, but Cox and Mazzone opted to go with a four-man rotation and give him an extra day off.

"It's Charlie's turn," Mazzone said before the game. "We've done that all year, and we're not changing it. Charlie's had a good year. He's been consistent for us all year. It's Charlie's turn. Charlie starts."

It made sense for a number of reasons. Glavine has pitched a lot of innings this year. Leibrandt was the only Braves pitcher with any experience at the Metrodome, though some of the experiences have not been good. He probably would have started one of the first two games regardless.

But Cox may have surrendered a psychological advantage when he went for the least imposing of his four starters. The Twins had spent the past few days marveling at a string of tremendous performances by the Braves young starters, none of whom they had seen firsthand. They had to be relieved to see Leibrandt, who as a member of the Kansas City Royals gave up three long home runs in one inning in his most memorable start here (1987).

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