Leius, the most unlikely, plays likeliest hero


October 21, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

MINNEAPOLIS -- Scott Leius, of course.

We should have known.

This is the way you watch the World Series: You pick the most obscure player on the field and just wait. The game will come to him.

I don't have to tell you. This is a story as old as the curveball, as endearing as a double in the gap.

This year, it was Scott Leius' turn to thrill and amaze -- in instant replay, in reverse angle, in perpetuity. Of course.

The Minnesota Twins, as we know, have sluggers throughout their lineup. They're a scary group, playing in a scary dome, where they are a career 6-0 in World Series play, a very scary number. They can't lose this World Series if they never lose here.

And they won't lose this World Series if more of this Scott Leius happens.

You never heard of him, I suppose.

What can I tell you? No one ever heard of him, except the roto-geeks who've heard of everybody and probably know that Leius, who plays third base for the Twins against left-handed pitchers, hit five home runs this season and never hit more than eight in any of his minor-league seasons.

And yet, he comes up to lead off the eighth inning, with the score tied, with Tom Glavine having retired 17 of his past 18 batters, and the very loud, very excitable, extremely nutty Twins fans hoping he might get a base hit. And boom.

It's 3-2, Twins beat Braves, and the Twins leave home with a 2-0 lead in the Series.

Not that it's over. The Braves will come back with Steve Avery tomorrow, and Avery, from what I'm hearing, is only the greatest pitcher in the history of the game. And the next day, they come back with John Smoltz, who was 12-2 in the second half of the season and 2-0 in the playoffs and is the hottest pitcher in baseball, including the greatest pitcher in the history of the game.

So, the Braves could get back in it in front of their chop-happy fans.

They might have been a little more in it last night if they hadn't gotten hammered by Drew Coble, who doesn't even play. He umpires. You've seen the play by now, I know. This play got more air time than the Clarence Thomas hearings. It's pretty simple: First baseman Kent Hrbek tackled Braves runner Ron Gant and now leads the Series in sacks. Gant, who had singled, came back to the bag after his base hit just before the ball came to Hrbek, who, with all 253 pounds of him, lifted Gant off the bag and tagged him out. It would have been first and third with two out and the Braves with a great chance to get back in the game.

Bad calls happen -- although rarely this bad -- just the way Leius happened. (By the way, Leius is 26, single, lives in Mamaroneck, N.Y., calls the actor Matt Dillon his friend and is a rookie who came up as a shortstop and who hit .286 in 199 at-bats.)

The day before, it was shortstop Greg Gagne, who has never hit more than seven homers in a season, who hit the big three-run homer to put the Braves away. Gagne knows all about unlikely home runs. He has four in 19 postseason games. That may not be Reggie Jackson-like, but a couple more at the right moments and you can get to be Bucky Dent.

Not that the big guys had disappeared. In Game 1, Hrbek had homered, and last night it was Chili Davis with a first-inning, two-run homer that had the Braves playing catch-up for most of the game.

They did catch up, but then they ran into Leius.

"It's not surprising to see Scottie pop one for us," Twins manager Tom Kelly said in what was definitely a minority opinion.

Leius came to spring training with no assurance of making the team. And, in fact, he probably stuck only because Mike Pagliarulo, a free-agent acquisition, had a slow start. The Twins figured they needed some help at third, and Leius got a shot.

"We wanted to keep him, but we were having a hard time finding a spot for him," Kelly said. "When Pags slumped, we figured we'd better try a platoon system."

Against the Braves, with their left-handed pitching, Leius was going to play. He singled and scored a run in the first game. You might expect that. You don't expect the home run, particularly the way Glavine was pitching. He had allowed only two hits to that point. He had struck out the two previous batters. He was showing why he was a 20-game winner.

And then, Leius showed why it was the World Series.

The most amazing part to Leius came after the home run. After all, he had hit home runs before. But never one where the fans screamed his name, demanding a bow.

"I didn't know what was going on," he said. "Puck [Kirby Puckett] had to tell me to go out."

He went out. The fans went nuts. And, an inning later, everyone went home with Scott Leius' name on their lips.

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