Braves fall, 1-0, in 10th to end a series too good -- too exciting -- to forget


October 28, 1991|By Mike Littwin | Mike Littwin,Sun Staff Correspondent

MINNEAPOLIS -- Someday, they'll exhale. Someday, days or weeks from now, the players and fans and everyone else who was there in the MonstroDome will recover from this hold-your-breath Series and break into a winter-warming smile.

It was that good. It was that wonderful. It was that dramatic.

It was hero Gene Larkin, whose 10th-inning, bases-loaded single, to score a guy who'd reached on a broken-bat double to make this a 1-0 memory.

It was Jack Morris come home, simply refusing to lose, refusing even to give up a run. It was a fastball, a forkball and guts.

It was a third extra-inning game in this Energizer-battery Series, and the first time since 1924 any seventh game had gone past nine.

It was Lonnie Smith forgetting to run.

All in all, this worst-to-first Series was much too much to take.

Of course, it didn't require a genius, only a historian, to know this Series would not go gently -- or quickly -- into that domed night.

This was the Series that stayed. Certainly, the Twins had a pitcher who knows something about staying power. Morris, who's 36, who came home to Minneapolis this season as a free agent, was, if nothing else, too mean to lose a seventh game.

The Braves countered with young John Smoltz, whose career turned around when he consulted a shrink in midseason and who grew up in Detroit with Jack Morris for a hero. Morris is a hero still, coming off two subpar seasons in Detroit to win 18 games here, two more in the playoffs and now two in Series.

"Tom told me I was out of the game after the ninth," Morris said. "I told him I've got a lot left, and tomorrow we don't play."

Smoltz left in the eighth, Morris not at all, and even the Dome, where the Twins have yet to lose a Series game, bowed to them. They owned the place, giving us the great finish the great Series deserved. Twins manager Tom Kelly said it would have taken a shotgun to get Morris out of there.

The Series had everything but a goat, and then along came Braves DH Lonnie Smith. He had singled in the eighth, when Terry Pendleton mashed a double to the gap. Smith rounded second and stood there, the only time this Series stood still. If he'd run, even if he'd tripped, he could have scored, and the Braves would be world champions. He watched, as we all watched, and the game played on, as the inning ended with a nifty, first-to-home-to-first double play started by Kent Hrbek.

Then Hrbek, oh-for-his-last-15, got his shot in the bottom of the inning. With Twins on first and third, Braves manager Bobby Cox boldly walked Kirby Puckett, a hero type, to get to Hrbek. Or was it so bold? Hrbek gently lined into a double play. And the game played on.

Come on. This Series had everything you'd want -- and maybe even ratings to prove it. The Series wasn't simply wonderfully dramatic; it was also wonderfully eccentric. Start with the MonstroDome and take it through tomahawk chops and hankies and Jane Fonda and American Indian protesters. Not to mention the making of Mark Lemke into a folk hero. Or the wrestling hold Hrbek put on Ron Gant or the death threats that followed Hrby to Atlanta.

And then there were the games. You almost forgot Fonda's two-handed, more-bop-than-chop moves when you saw the games. You forgot almost everything. Twins catcher Brian Harper said that, somewhere along the line, the entire Series became a blur. It put you in mind of Tug McGraw's old line about the 1980 playoffs -- like touring an art museum on a motorcycle.

The moments sure run together, although one stood out: You had Puckett's sudden-death homer in Game 6 evoking Carlton Fisk's homer and putting the stamp of greatness on the Series. I heard someone say Puckett's catch that same night was better than Gionfriddo's, but it was a Series in which you couldn't help getting carried away.

You had snapshots: Smith colliding with Harper, Lemke sliding around Harper, Aguilera pinch hitting, Lemke everywhere, Smith's three home runs, Lemke's three triples, Charlie Leibrandt's anguished face as he watched Puckett's home run.

Maybe you weren't up for all these moments. This Series was the insomniac's best friend. You had to wait for the midnight hour for the runs to come tumbling down. There was, of course, the 12-inning game that introduced us to Lemke and turned this into a competitive Series. There was the 11-inning game that reintroduced us to Puckett and put the Twins in a position to win. There was the 10-inning closer.

There were five one-run games in all. There have been as many -- five in '75, which many people count as the best Series ever. It had the Red Sox and it had the Big Red Machine and it had the inning game ended by Fisk. There have been more -- six one-runners in '72, and I bet you can't even remember who played (answer: A's and Reds; Gene Tenace hit four homers).

But no Series ever had endings like this one -- with the four games closing out on the last swing.

What the Series missed was a Kirk Gibson limping out of the dugout or young Bobby Welch battling Reggie or Maz beating the Yankees with a homer in the final at-bat. But it missed little else.

"It was a classic," Morris said. "It was a flat-out, beautiful ballgame."

You watched it. You couldn't help yourself.

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