MINNEAPOLIS YZB — MINNEAPOLIS -- When thousands remain frozen in their seats 20 minutes after the end of a game, still raucously cheering the memories of what they have just seen, you know it has been a great World Series.
When the commissioner of baseball says it makes him reminisce about Carlton Fisk's homer in 1975 in the best October game he ever witnessed, you know it has been a great World Series.
And when two wild games in a row end with a catcher and a baserunner sprawled in the dirt around home plate -- and the images of those plays won't leave your brain days later -- you know it has been a great World Series.
There are no hard-and-fast rules, no mathematical formulas that can easily tell you when one World Series somehow becomes more special than all the rest. But this exhilarating, exhausting and soon-to-be-everlasting 1991 World Series has made that leap into baseball's stratosphere.
Because this is a World Series that truly has it all.
It has two teams -- the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins -- who have pulled themselves out of the gutter to do remarkable imitations of the legendary teams of yesteryear.
It has sneaky villains (Kent Hrbek) and improbable heroes (Mark Lemke) and even a perfectly cast ghost from Octobers past (Lonnie Smith).
It has balls soaring into the seats (14 homers). It has this sport's dominating pitchers of yesterday (Jack Morris), today (Tom Glavine) and tomorrow (Steve Avery).
It has stars (Kirby Puckett and Sid Bream) who have played like scrubs. It has longtime scrubeenies (Lemke, Greg Olson and Rafael Belliard) who have played like stars.
It has plot twists that were once almost unimaginable: A pitcher pinch-hitting (Rick Aguilera)? A designated hitter playing the outfield (Chili Davis)? C'mon. Even "Bull Durham" didn't get that nutty.
It has managerial madness you can second-guess all winter (Minnesota's Tom Kelly running out of players, Atlanta's Bobby Cox changing pitching rotations on the fly).
And it has those highlight-film memories that may never go away: The sweet-swinging Aguilera pinch-hitting with the bases loaded on the other side of midnight . . . David Justice tumbling past Twins catcher Brian Harper to reach the plate one night . . . Harper tagging Lemke with everything but the baseball the next.
But what this World Series has going for it most of all is great, classic baseball games that have been so draining and dramatic, it's hard to believe someone didn't make them up.
For instance, it had back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday that were won on the final swing of the bat. Justice scrambled home on Lemke's 12th-inning single in Tuesday's game. Lemke swerved around Harper's tag on Jerry Willard's ninth-inning sacrifice fly in Wednesday's game.
Before those two phenomenal finishes, never before in 88 World Series had there been back-to-back games won on the last swing of the day. Never.
And if you count last Sunday's cliffhanger -- decided in the bottom of the eighth by a homer off the bat of yet another unlikely hero (Minnesota's Scott Leius) -- this Series had three straight games decided in the winning team's last at-bat.
That, too, isn't exactly something that happens every October. In fact, the latest time it had happened in a World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies were playing.
But not in 1983. Or 1980. Or 1950. It had most recently happened, believe it or not, in 1915. Among the people who played in those three games were Grover Cleveland Alexander and an up-and-coming Boston Red Sox pitcher by the name of Babe Ruth.
And it isn't as if this were a great World Series that just popped out of nowhere, either. It is a World Series that is serving as a fitting conclusion to one of baseball's most memorable postseasons, period.
The Braves, who had to survive a tank-emptying stretch drive just to make it into the postseason, now have played an incredible seven one-run games during the playoffs and the World Series. Every one of those games went down to the final pitch.
Only one team in baseball history ever had to grit its way through more one-run games on the way to winning a World Series. And that team was the great 1972 Oakland A's, who somehow lived through nine of them to win their first of three straight World Series trophies.
This series has been so great that even the one blowout -- the Braves' 14-5 rout in Game 5 -- was about as fun as a wipeout can be. But it pales when measured against this World Series' enduring treasure -- the 12-inning carnival that was Game 3:
All those players (23 of them) parading off Kelly's bench . . . The Twins clawing back to get even in the eighth on a pinch-hit homer by Davis. . . . The Braves hanging on by their fingernails, trying to avoid going down, three games to none. . . And finally, the irony of Kelly mocking National League baseball as "rocket science," then crashing on his managerial liftoff.
It was arguably the wildest World Series game played since the unofficial Greatest Series Game of All Time -- Game 6, 1975, Red Sox vs. Cincinnati Reds for 12 even more suspenseful innings. And that, too, is fitting -- because this Series just might be the best World Series played since 1975, bar none.
The day after Game 3, commissioner Fay Vincent ranked what he had seen up there with any other postseason game ever played.
"You know, I told [Braves owner] Ted Turner, 'We've got to keep this going for all it's worth,' " Vincent said. "I think we're on to something. How about we play best of 90 -- 46 wins it?"
Well, there might be nobody standing by Game 90. But you can tell it has been a great World Series when it's the last week of October, and you can't find anybody who wants this season to end.