In MonstroDome, Braves getting swallowed whole

MIKE LITTWIN

October 27, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

MINNEAPOLIS -- You've seen the banners, and this time they've got it right: There's no place like Dome.

The MonstroDome wins again. The Braves had their ace pitcher and they had the Lemmer and they hit shot after shot against the Twins starter and none of it mattered.

This one's going seven, and do not bet against the Twins here.

Do not. Do not. Not if you care about history, or about your money.

Jack Morris, the pitcher you want throwing a seventh game of a World Series, pitches for the Twins against John Smoltz. That's a fairly even match played on a neutral site. But they're playing this one under the roof and not the sky. You know the stat: In two World Series at the Dome, the Twins are 7-0.

In '87, they came home, down, 3-2, to the Cardinals, to get the title. No wonder they were talking about deja vu all over again.

They have the Dome, which is the baseball version of "Jaws." No one gets out alive.

The star last night was Kirby Puckett, who homered in the 11th to win the game, but the real star was the house of horrors.

In the Dome, the Twins, who had lost three in Atlanta, came to life. Puckett was rediscovered in the very first inning back, smashing a run-scoring triple. And he scored on a single by Shane Mack. Let me say that again -- Puckett scored on a single by Shane Mack. That's the same Mack who hit .310 during the season and was oh-for-the-Series. Mack got a single, then a double, and you know he was glad to be in the Dome.

The Dome was there for Kent Hrbek, too, as he dumped a pop fly to left field that Brian Hunter lost in the clouds that do for a ceiling here. It's a fun house, not a ballpark. It's an arcade. But you knew that. And maybe you knew that Puckett, Hrbek and Mack were a combined 6-for-52 coming into the game.

The Braves countered with Lemke, of course. They were not going to hold down the Lemmer. Mark Lemke, the people's choice, got his second hit of the night to lead off the seventh, taking a fortunate Scott Erickson out of the game, and setting up the tying run. Lemke got there on a walk, infield hit and infield out. That's sort of the same way the Twins manufactured their third run -- a walk, stolen base, two fly balls.

Erickson, the 20-game winner, was staked to a 2-0 lead. Erickson would have been lucky to have survived a 12-0 lead. He had no fastball, and the Braves started to pick up his breaking ball, which they hit hard and right at somebody. This is a great baseball cliche, but there it was. The balls were at somebody, or they were just foul.

Take the third inning, when a would-be shot by Terry Pendleton landed inches off the left-field line. He was followed by Ron Gant, who hit a ball to the center-field wall and into the glove of a leaping Puckett. This was how Erickson survived. But the important thing was that the Twins were making the plays.

Manager Tom Kelly hasn't known quite what to make of Erickson in this postseason. This was his third start, and he still hadn't flashed anything like 20-win form.

"Scotty needs to go ahead and throw the baseball like he knows how," Kelly said the other day. "He just needs to rear back and fire. You may never get another chance to pitch in the world Series."

It was being conceded that Erickson had a tired arm, but the coaching staff didn't let it go at that. The coaches were saying he was too emotional in his start during the playoffs and not emotional enough in his first Series start. Last night, his emotions seemed OK. His pitching suffered, however.

And yet, he lasted into the seventh inning, leaving with a 3-2 lead and a chance to win.

The Braves put their young ace up against the Dome, and they played even. Steve Avery lasted six innings and left with the game tied, 3-3. That was not what the Braves had in mind.

It was Avery who had beaten the Pirates twice by 1-0 scores and brought comparisons with Koufax and Carlton, who seem to be safe for now anyway.

He isn't the same pitcher going on three days' rest. In the regular season, he was 0-1 with a 4.58 ERA the four times he tried it.

Now, he's done, and it's up to Smoltz to keep the Braves from being swallowed alive by the Dome. I think I already saw the movie.

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