Friday, June 15, 2007

History Repeats Itself

Back on October 27, 1991, the Twins and Braves played the final game of a series at the Metrodome. Two great pitchers faced off and a pitcher's duel ensued. In that late October game, which happened to be the deciding Game 7 of one of the greatest World Series of all time, Atlanta starter John Smoltz pitched his heart out and delivered 7 1/3 shutout innings only to watch the game slip away with a late walk-off hit for the Twins. Smoltz was dominant, pitching into the eighth inning and never allowing the Twins to mount a significant threat, but in the end he found himself in the dugout watching his hard work go to waste as unlikely hero Gene Larkin knocked in the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning to clinch a World Championship for the Minnesota Twins.

Last night's sweep-clinching victory for the Twins was astonishingly similar in some ways to that incredible ballgame, which took place over 15 years ago. Last night, the Braves' starter was Tim Hudson. Like Smoltz, Hudson delivered 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball, allowing just two hits and a walk while inducing 15 ground balls from the Minnesota lineup. Unlike Smoltz, Hudson left the game with a lead, 2-0, but Hudson would similarly have to watch that lead turn into a loss as the Twins rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth to capture a 3-2 victory.

The improbable rally began when Luis Castillo singled against Braves' closer Bob Wickman to lead off the ninth. In the next at-bat, Joe Mauer grounded out to short, with Castillo moving up to second safely because he was stealing on the pitch. Up next was Michael Cuddyer, who stepped up and delivered a game-breaking triple down the left field line. Aaron Gleeman poked fun at me last year for chiding Cuddyer's inability to deliver meaningful hits early in the season, and I can look back now and say it was fully deserved. The statements I made back then have subsequently proven to be some of the dumbest I have made in my life, as Cuddyer has stepped up again and again in clutch situations to deliver huge hits. I don't recall many that were as big as last night's; by tripling in Castillo, Cuddyer was able to cut the Twins' deficit to one while putting himself on third base representing the tying run with one out. Justin Morneau came up and hit a grounder to first which was mishandled by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, which brought Torii Hunter to the plate with runners on the corner and one out. Hunter's task was to hit the ball out of the infield, but he did almost exactly the opposite by tapping a slow dribbler to third. Fortunately, Atlanta third baseman Yunel Escobar's throw to the plate sailed high, allowing Cuddyer to score the tying run while Morneau moved to third and Hunter moved to second.

And then it was up to another scrappy bench player to come through with the winning hit. Mike Redmond may not have been as unlikely a hero as Gene Larkin, but he delivered in similar fashion, smashing a line drive to left field for a game-winning base hit. While the stakes were much lower in this mid-June interleague game, Redmond's teammates rushed the field with the type of excitement and joy on their faces that came across those of the 1991 team when Dan Gladden hopped gleefully across home plate with the winning run.

For his part, Johan Santana wasn't exactly in Jack Morris form, but he pitched well enough to keep his team in the game and make possible their late comeback. The Braves handled Santana in much the same fashion as many other opponents have this year; working deep into counts and forcing him to throw a fairly high number of pitches. The Braves drew three walks off Santana and forced him to throw 109 pitches over seven innings despite the fact that he allowed just two runs on five hits. Still, Santana was effective, striking out nine and pitching around the walks to piece together a good outing. Santana did surrender a home run, marking the 11th time in 14 starts this year that he has allowed at least one, but as long as he continues to uphold a 3.19 ERA and .225 BAA, you won't find me complaining.

I wasn't old enough to truly appreciate the magic that took place back in '91, but I do remember that series helping to spark my love of baseball, and games like last night's are the reason that love continues to exist.

9 comments:

ubelmann said...

It's funny. You sit around and watch a ton of baseball games all year, including a number of lost causes, just in the hopes that something crazy happens. Then, every now and then, something crazy happens, and all that time spent seems worthwhile.

Well, it at least seems worthwhile right now. :)

Anonymous said...

Nick,

Great Blog site - always informative.

But last night had nothing in common with '91, other than some superficial similarities (opponent, location). Games 6 and 7 were the two most exciting, haeart-stopping baseball games the Minnesota Twins have ever played. Game 6 was such a roller coaster, in fact, that many fans will tell you THEY were wiped out before Game 7 even started.

A mid-June game between two .500 teams may generate some excitement, but at the end of the day that is all last night's game was: a mid-June game.

Again, great site. Thanks.

Nick M. said...

I think its likely that Nick wasn't making a literal comparison. Instead, he's reflecting on how hard it is to ignore those special games from 1991 when crazy things happen against the Atlanta Braves in Minnesota again.

Anonymous said...

Prior to last night, the Twins were 0-27 when trailing after eight innings. In other words, they were due.

It was all quite improbable and I think the Braves kicked the game away as much as anything. Poor positioning on Cuddyer's play turned a double into a triple. Morneau's "hit" was actually an error. Cuddy was dead to rights at the plate, but was bailed out by an errant throw.

The Twins should have lost 2-1. No matter how gift wrapped that win was, however, I'll take it.

Anonymous said...

The comment directly above was me.

SBG

Nick N. said...

But last night had nothing in common with '91, other than some superficial similarities (opponent, location).

The similarities I pointed out between last night's game and Game 7 out may have been superficial, but they existed nonetheless, which I found at least a little interesting. It was the last game of a series between the Braves and Twins, it was played at the Metrodome, it was a pitcher's duel, and Atlanta's pitcher delivered 7 1/3 dominant shutout innings only to watch his team lose on a walk-off hit to left by a Twins' backup. The two games had all those things in common, and even if they were superficial, I think they were kind of cool.

Obviously, the situations were wildly different. The point that I was trying to drive home is that really great and exciting things can happen in baseball, be it on a smaller scale (last night) or on a much larger scale (1991). It is because of those things that I watch the games.

Anonymous said...

I am just a bit hesitant to compare any game to Games 6 or 7. Like I mentioned, Games 6 and 7 are the Holy Grail in the Twins pantheon. I too get a kick out of beating the Braves in the Dome, and this series certainly brought back some fond '91 memories.

But to date, this new generation Twins team ('01 to '07), which has had more regular season success than any Twins team from other eras, has not delivered in October. Until they do, they will remain a distant second fiddle to Hrbek, Gaetti, Puckett, Viola, Morris, et al.

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