Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time - Tim Wendel (2014)
APPENDIX II. GREAT WORLD SERIES MOMENTS
With five games decided by a run, four games coming down to the final at-bat, and three extending into extra innings, the 1991 World Series will be remembered as one of the best played. But was it the best ever? ESPN thought so decades later, and commissioner Fay Vincent agreed soon after the fact. But fans of particular teams can latch on to other memorable Fall Classics.
In Pittsburgh, they will forever cherish the 1960 triumph over the New York Yankees and against Baltimore in 1979. In Cincinnati, there will always be 1975 and the victory against Boston Red Sox, another series that saw five games decided by one run. In New York, there’s the Yankees’ many championships and the Mets’ triumphs in 1969 and ’86.
When you have a dog in the fight, things can become downright personal. I can already hear those in Oakland saying I forgot about the Athletics defeating Cincinnati in 1972 (a World Series with six games decided by one run) or those in Washington remembering when the Senators rallied past the Giants in 1924, with Games One and Seven both going twelve innings and Walter Johnson being the hero.
Perhaps it’s best to focus on particular moments of true greatness in the World Series. “Give me a scene or two the viewer cannot forget,” a Hollywood producer once told me. “The setup, the payoff—all the rest I can finesse. But that big scene? I always need help with that.”
So, with that in mind let’s focus on the unforgettable moments. The ’91 World Series offered two all-time classics, maybe more. Kirby Puckett hit that clutch home run to win Game Six and an evening later Jack Morris pitched into the night and nobody, not even his manager, dared stand in his way. We also had amazing plays at the plate involving David Justice and Mark Lemke. So, how do they stack up against some of the best World Series plays ever?
CHRISTY MATHEWSON’S SHUTOUTS (1905): Against the Philadelphia Athletics, Mathewson won Game One for John McGraw’s New York Giants with a four-hit shutout. Three days later, he pitched another four-hit shutout and on one days’ rest he put up a five-hit shutout. His line for the Series? Three victories, twenty-seven innings pitched, eighteen strikeouts and one walk.
JOHNNY PODRES’ CLINCHER (1955): In Game Seven, the Brooklyn left-hander shut out the Yankees, and the Dodgers were bums no more. In the sixth inning, left fielder Sandy Amoros made a running catch, which started a crucial double play.
DON LARSEN’S PERFECT GAME (1956): Larsen didn’t know he was pitching on October 8, 1956, until he arrived at the ballpark. That was Yankees’ manager Casey Stengal’s way of keeping his pitchers on their toes. Despite a lackluster outing in Game Two against the Dodgers, Larsen made the most of his opportunity by delivering a perfect game. He threw ninety-seven pitches—seventy-one of them for strikes.
BILL MAZEROSKI’S HOME RUN (1960): Despite being outscored 46-17 in the first six games, the Pirates found themselves in a deciding Game Seven against the powerful New York Yankees. Bill Mazeroski made sure they didn’t miss a chance at the remarkable upset when he hit a walk-off homer. No matter that the light-hitting second baseman had only forty-eight home runs in his five-year career. Mazeroski hit one of the biggest ever as the Pirates celebrated their first championship in thirty-five years.
BOB GIBSON’S RECORD SEVENTEEN STRIKEOUTS (1968): When the Cardinals’ staff ace struck out the Tigers’ Al Kaline to tie Sandy Koufax’s World Series record of fifteen K’s, St. Louis catcher Tim McCarver went out to the mound. McCarver wanted to tell Gibson what he had just accomplished, but the Cardinals’ pitcher just told him, “Give me the damn ball.” After briefly acknowledging the cheers from the hometown crowd, Gibson got back to business, fanning Norm Cash and then Willie Horton to win Game One of this memorable World Series.
“That day Bob Gibson was the toughest pitcher I ever faced in any particular game … ,” Horton later said.
CARLTON FISK’S REPLAY FOR THE AGES (1975): Game Six had already been one to remember before the Red Sox catcher led off the bottom of the twelfth inning with the score tied at six-all. Bernie Carbo’s three-run homer had tied it with Cincinnati seemingly poised to capture the World Series. Boston’s Dwight Evans’ great catch at the wall made sure it stayed tied, setting up Fisk’s dramatic shot. His long fly down the left-field line struck the foul pole as Fisk waved it fair, becoming one of the most replayed home runs in baseball history.
REGGIE JACKSON’S THREE HOME RUNS (1977): Some shy away from the spotlight, while others embrace it, and nobody reveled in the attention more than “The Straw That Stirred the Drink.” With the New York Yankees on the verge of defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers for the championship, Jackson made sure the title belonged to Gotham. In the fourth inning, the New York slugger homered off Burt Hooton. In the fifth, he did likewise to Elias Sosa and then Jackson drove the ball an estimated 450 feet off knuckleballer Charlie Hough in the eighth. In the end, it was a performance that even had Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey applauding.
KIRK GIBSON’S IMPROBABLE BLAST (1988): If Gene Larkin was having a difficult time getting around in the ’91 World Series, the Dodgers’ star could barely walk, thanks to an injured right knee and left hamstring. Still, that didn’t stop Gibson from stepping in against Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley in Game One. What’s often forgotten is that Mike Davis, who hit only .196 that season, walked before Gibson came up. It was only Eckersley’s fourteenth walk issued in 1988.
After getting two strikes on Gibson with fastballs, Eckersley tried to end the game with a backdoor slider. But Gibson was ready and jerked the offering down the right-field line to win the game. The next evening, NBC inter-spliced shots of Gibson limping around the bases with shots of Robert Redford from the movie The Natural.
JOE CARTER’S WALK-OFF (1993): The Blue Jays were looking to repeat as World Series champions and Carter made sure they did so. The Blue Jays’ star had often pictured himself hitting the game-winning home run to win the Fall Classic. In this Game Six, against the Philadelphia Phillies, he transformed such dreams into reality. The table was set in the bottom of the ninth when Rickey Henderson walked and then Paul Molitor singled against Phillies closer Mitch Williams. With the count 2-and-2, Carter tagged a lackluster slider, lining it barely over the left-field fence at SkyDome. Carter rounded the bases, running and jumping, as the celebration was on once again in Toronto.
EDGAR RENTERIA’S ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS (1997): The Florida Marlins rallied to tie Game Seven against the Cleveland Indians in the bottom of the ninth inning. They won it in the bottom of the eleventh when Renteria’s single to center field brought around Craig Counsell. In doing so, the Marlins became the first wild-card team to win the Fall Classic.
LUIS GONZALEZ’S BLOOPER (2001): After witnessing the New York Yankees rally to take Games Four and Five, the Arizona Diamondbacks came from behind against closer Mariano Rivera. The deciding blow occurred on Gonzalez’s single over a drawn-in infield, which plated the Series-winning run.
DAVID FREESE’S HEROICS (2011): In a Game Six where the St. Louis Cardinals were twice down to their last strike, Freese did his best impersonation of Kirby Puckett. Freese’s home run in the bottom of the eleventh inning forced a Game Seven, which St. Louis won.