Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Puck n' Pags

Like a lot of Americans, I remember exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing the moment that I didn’t see and didn’t really care that Kirby Puckett hit that walk-off homer (before EspyTime and Karl Ravech invented the term “walk-off”) in Game 6 of the ’91 World Series.
I was coverin’ a ballgame.
Another vintage football game at Cupertino High.

Ever since Kirby Puckett passed away at the age of 45 yesterday, a lot of Americans are having flashbacks to how Puck made the ’91 Series the greatest ever played.
I couldn’t agree more.
That ’91 Series had an extra-special specialness.
I mean, who could forget Game 4? That was the classic game in which Mike Pagliarulo (remember how we called him “Pags”?) went 3 for 3, only to have it all go for naught when Jerry Willard hit that walk-off sac fly in the bottom of the 9th.

America couldn’t stop buzzing about how Pags hit that RBI single in the top of the second for a 1-0 Twins lead … only to have Atlanta counter with the tying run in the bottom of the third. Then, after Pags went yard (a year or two before Berman or Ravech invented the term “went yard”) in the top of the seventh, Lonnie Smith struck back in the bottom of the seventh with a game-tying solo blast.
2-2 … back n’ forth … wow!
Even before the end of Game 4, it was … BY FAR! … the best Series ever.

And then came the 9th inning … when, with two outs in the top of the frame, Twins manager Tom Kelly played the percentages and had Scott Leius pinch-hit for Pags against lefty Mike Stanton.
Classic chess match!

Once Stanton retired Leius, that set the stage for the bottom of the 9th when, with one out, Mark Lemke tripled, forcing Tom Kelly to intentionally walk Jeff Blauser to set up the double play.
Leave it to Bobby Cox to pull an ace out of his sleeve – and that ace was Francisco Cabrera, who was announced as the pinch-hitter, but then was called back to the dugout when Kelly replaced southpaw pitcher with righty Steve Bedrosian and – here’s the fun part – Kelly pulled “A DOUBLE SWITCH!!!!!”
He had Bedrosian in the game batting in the number 7 spot in the order and he put Al Newman in at third base (replacing Leius, who had replaced Pagliarulo) and penciled him in to bat in the number 9 spot, which would’ve been the second batter if there was a top of the 10th.

Thanks to Jerry Willard, there was no top of the 10th in this roller-coaster ride of cloak n’ dagger, cat n’ mouse, check-and-check-mate, mind-boggling labrynth of double-switches.
Willard -- the guy who’d been part of the Von Hayes, 5-for-1 deal nearly a decade earlier … the same Jerry Willard who’d had a total of 23 ABs with three teams in the five seasons of ’87 thru ’91 – “rose to the occasion,” as they say, and, on baseball’s grandest stage … with the Twins holding a 2-game-to-1 series edge … well, Jerry Willard hit that unforgettable fly ball to RF which Shane Mack played kinda poorly despite the fact that he was playing shallow and had to retreat a few steps.

You don’t forget a Jerry Willard walk-off, sac fly. And you don’t forget a Brian Hunter solo dong which gives the Bravos a 14-4 lead in the top of the 8th in Game 5 … a shot over the fence and a shot in the arm which will surely propel the Braves to the world title with Avery and Smoltz on the hill for Games 6 and 7 in the HomerDome, right?.
I heard that Hunter homer on the car radio moments after my softball game.
Like I said, you don’t forget a Brian Hunter homer you hear on the radio moments after your own softball game.
You just don’t.

Without a doubt, that ’91 World Series was definitely the best World Series of 1991, no doubt about it.
It ranked right up there with the ’87 World Series when Puck & Co. (sorry, no Pags on that team) stole our hearts with that 7-game triumph over the Redbirds.
In case you still haven’t exhaled since watching that riveting 6th inning of Game 7 when the game was tied, 2-2, I’ll re-create that magic here:
Bruno and Herbie drew walks off of Danny Cox … Todd Worrell replaced Cox and coaxed Tim Laudner into a foulout … Danny Cox was ejected from the Cards dugout … Roy Smalley pinch-hit for Steve Lombardozzi and drew a walk which loaded the bases … Al Newman pinch-ran for Smalley (ANOTHER Al Newman sighting, no way!) … Greg Gagne tapped a single to third … it’s 3-2, Twins!!!!
Puck then struck out to end the threat.

The Twins won, 4-2, in a real heart-stopper of a Series. In fact, the starting lineup that Whitey Herzog fielded for the Redbirds for that Game 7 – Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith, Tommy Herr, Jim Lindeman, Willie McGee, Tony Pena, Jose Oquendo, Tom Lawless, Steve Lake – wow, you really couldn’t find a more murderous Murderer’s Row, could you?
Those nine players combined for 32 homers during the regular season – and, just to demonstrate how accomplished they were as batsmen, be aware that only four of them hit more homers than Redbirds pitcher Bob Forsch (who had 2 in ’91) and only one (the Wizard of Oz) had a higher batting average than Bob’s .298.

In all fairness to the Cards (the team that I was rooting for … not hardcore “rooting,” mind you), Jack Clark (35 HRs, 106 RBI) was injured and had one PH AB in the NLCS … and then Terry Pendleton was injured in the World Series.
Dan Driessen batting cleanup?

But, before we begin lobbying for Whitey Herzog’s induction into the Hall of Fame (where he belongs because he was 17 times the manager Lasorda was), let’s remember who we’re saluting:

For it was less than one week after Puck’s mighty Game 6 walk-off clout (before Ravech invented the term “walk-off”) that the current (and only) Mrs. PF7 and I had our first date, unofficial as it may’ve been.
Regardless of the conditions of our initial tryst, whether it’s senior citizens, smokers or non-smokers, young lovers, ambitious businessmen … we all realize that Puck represented what it took to bring us together as a nation … to get people to connect … to help us to look inside ourselves and realize that a really super-mediocre World Series, such as the one in ’91, was something special and indellible.

I don’t know if the stories are true about his brutality toward women … at least, not until that Emmitt-sez-put-Michael-in-the-Hall voice goes off inside my head: “This is NOT the Hall of Fame of Life!”
Damn straight!
It’s Al Newman goin’ into the game as a defensive replacement and batting in the No. 9 spot in case there is a top of the 10th in the Greatest World Series Ever Played … and it’s about Al Newman pinch-running for Roy Smalley in the Second-Greatest World Series Ever Played.

Thank you, Puck, for making me remember Al Newman.
I vow to have my greatest Al Newman softball season ever …

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