World-Class Series

October 29, 1991

Orioles fans, who remember 1989, understand the wild implausibility of a team going from last place one season to first the next. Those Orioles came, perhaps, within one bounced curve ball of that worst-to-first feat. This year, it was finally accomplished for the first time, not just by one team, but by two, the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins.

It seemed that postseason play could not provide as compelling a story as the regular season wins by the Braves and Twins in their respective divisions. But it did. When the Twins also won their league playoff, it seemed the drama couldn't get any better. But it did. The Braves won their playoff in seven tense games, and it seemed there couldn't be a tighter series. But there was. The Braves and Twins went to a seventh World Series game, and it didn't seem like the last game could sustain the suspense of the first six. It not only sustained the suspense; it was heightened.

What made the series so gripping, besides the evenness of the competition, was the continual parade of unexpected heroes. There have been World Series in the past dominated by a single gigantic figure -- Roberto Clemente or Brooks Robinson. And there have been Series in which a single ordinary player, such as Billy Hatcher last year, rose to extraordinary heights. In this World Series, heroic hits came from Scott Leius, Mark Lemke, Jerry Willard, Greg Gagne and Gene Larkin, an all-star team of non-stars.

The Braves, it appears, would have won the final game in the eighth inning had not Lonnie Smith -- a pro since 1974, a major leaguer since 1978 and in his fourth World Series -- been fooled into a base-running mistake by Chuck Knoblauch, a pro since 1989 (and a kindergartner when Smith broke into baseball).

By the time the Twins eked out a 10-inning, 1-0 win behind gritty 36-year-old Jack Morris, the World Series was already being called one of the best ever. In a sport where memory and history are so central, this is no small claim, but it is justified. While millions of kids have dreamed of dramatic hits that win the World Series, this one had four games, including the final two, decided on the last swing of the bat. Let's pause to savor those magical moments before the arbitration season begins.

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