MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins are the champions of the world. They defeated the Atlanta Braves, 1-0, in 10 innings last night at the Metrodome to win the 88th World Series, and they did it the old-fashioned way.
They stole it.
Rookie second baseman Chuck Knoblauch fooled Lonnie Smith into slowing down at second base on an eighth-inning double by Terry Pendleton, which saved a run and put the Twins in position to win Game 7 on a long fly-ball single by pinch hitter Gene Larkin in the bottom of the 10th.
Dan Gladden led off that inning with a broken-bat double to left-center field, setting off a chain of events that climaxed with intentional walks to Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek and the one-out, bases-loaded fly ball by Larkin that cleared the drawn-up Braves outfield and gave the Twins their second world title in five years.
Just another in a series of fantastic finishes -- the difference between champagne and sympathy not clearly defined until baseball's two last-to-first league champions had played into extra innings for a record third time. But it probably shouldn't have gotten that far.
The Braves looked as if they might be about to break open another tense game in the eighth when Smith opened the inning with a soft single to right and Pendleton sent a drive up the alley in right center. Smith was off on the pitch and almost certainly would have scored, but Knoblauch dropped to one knee and made like he was fielding a ground ball.
If he had been a mime, Smith would have stopped and dropped a quarter into his hat.
Instead, Smith slowed up just long enough to realize that he would have to stop at third on the play, but Twins starter Jack Morris, the World Series MVP, still was in a very dangerous situation.
No problem. He got Ron Gant to bounce weakly to first and intentionally walked David Justice to load the bases before getting Sid Bream to ground into a first-to-home-to-first double play.
Morris, whose reputation as a big-game pitcher preceded him, turned in another outstanding postseason performance, going the distance and giving up seven hits.
Braves starter John Smoltz also pitched a tremendous game, giving up six hits over 7 1/3 innings before leaving with runners at first and third and one out in the eighth. Left-hander Mike Stanton came on to pull another great escape, getting Kent Hrbek to line softly into an inning-ending double play, but the Twins kept at it until they won their eighth straight World Series game at the Metrodome.
Shades of 1987.
The Twins won all four games at home and lost all three on the road, just as they did in the 84th World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. This time, they took each of the final two games to the limit, winning them both on the last pitch.
The entire Series -- with the exception of the Braves' 14-5 victory in Game 5 -- had been played out the same way. In three of the first six games, the deciding run was scored in sudden death, most recently on Kirby Puckett's dramatic home run in the 11th inning of Game 6. Four of the first six were decided by one run.
The Twins appeared to have everything going for them when they left the Metrodome after Game 2. They won the first two games, the first on a three-run home run by Greg Gagne and the second on a tie-breaking eighth-inning homer by platoon third baseman Scott Leius.
But the Braves had an unknown soldier of their own. Second baseman Mark Lemke drove in the winning run with a two-out single in the 12th inning of Game 3 and scored the winning run after delivering a ninth-inning triple in Game 4. He also played a major role in the Game 5 blowout, with two more triples and three RBI.
The momentum had swung back to the Braves in a big way, but the ghost of World Series past appeared to be smiling on the Twins, who had come back to the Metrodome down three games to two in 1987 and stunned the Cardinals.
Nothing happened in Game 6 to dispel that notion. Puckett turned in one of the greatest all-around single-game performances in World Series history. He played a role in all four Twins runs and made a spectacular leaping catch against the wall to rob Ron Gant of a run-scoring extra-base hit.
If the Twins expected Puckett's home run to have some carry-over effect, they were to be disappointed in the early innings. They managed a couple of singles in the second inning, but the Braves mounted the first serious threat in the fifth. They put runners at first and third with one out and the heart of the order coming up, but Morris got Pendleton on a pop fly and struck out Ron Gant looking at a full-count fastball.
Smoltz had been in this position before. Lest anyone forget, he was the one who shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates in the decisive game of the National League Championship Series. It wasn't the seventh game of the World Series, but players contend that there is more pressure in the playoffs.
Smoltz didn't seem to notice. He pitched a six-hitter to lead the Braves into the Series, then gave up one run over six innings in his first appearances against the Twins in Game 4. Smoltz entered last night's game on an 8-0 roll that dates back to Aug. 20.
Morris was making his third start of this World Series and fifth of the postseason, but his experience under postseason pressure includes appearances in the playoffs and World Series of 1984 and the ALCS in 1987.