October 22, 1991
World Series, Game Three
Twins Lead Series, 2-0
Twins: Dan Gladden (LF), Chuck Knoblauch (2B), Kent Hrbek (1B), Kirby Puckett (CF), Shane Mack (RF), Scott Leius (3B), Greg Gagne (SS), Junior Ortiz (C), Scott Erickson (P)
Braves: Lonnie Smith (LF), Terry Pendleton (3B), Ron Gant (CF), David Justice (RF), Sid Bream (1B), Greg Olson (C), Mark Lemke (2B), Rafael Belliard (SS), Steve Avery (P)
Game Three was one of the more dramatic games of what was already a dramatic series, and certainly enables the 1991 World Series to be considered one of if not the best Fall Classics in the history of the game. After Hrbek's and Gant's fiasco at first base in Game Two, he and his family both received death threats. It was the first World Series game to be played in the south apparently, and southern hospitality was not on anyone's mind. During introductions Hrbek waived to the Atlanta crowd as the booed him ceaselessly, later doffing his cap as they continued.
Scott Erickson was getting his first start of the series, still paired with his black socks as well as preferred battery mate Junior Ortiz, and getting the start for the Braves was lefty Steve Avery. Avery was hot during the second half of the season and was known for his tenacity on the mound as well as his presence, and during the NLCS didn't allow a single run to the Pirates. Erickson was just 23, Avery just 21.
The Twins drew blood early, with Dan Gladden's triple into the right-center field gap that Ron Gant and David Justice each thought the other would have. Chuck Knoblauch did his job and brought Gladden home for a very early 1-0 lead. Hrbek, batting third, endured chants of "CHEA-TER, CHEA-TER, CHEA-TER" through his first plate appearance, but the Twins didn't score again in the inning.
Atlanta responded with a two-out rally from the bottom of their order in the second, with Greg Olson working a free pass and then moving up on a single by Mark Lemke. Rafael Belliard delivered with a single, and the game was knotted up at 1-1 after two innings. But Lemke and Bellard, who were both awful hitters in 1991 and in their careers, both had a fantastic World Series - leading my dad to nickname Lemke "The Little Puke." It's still a joke when I talk to him about baseball.
In the bottom of the fourth David Justice led off with a home run to put the Braves ahead for the first time in the series. Erickson was aggressive with Sid Bream, the next batter, but he doubled. Atlanta was picking up Erickson pretty well by this point, and the only strikes he threw the rest of the inning were balls in play. He managed to survive, inducing three groundouts to leave the Atlanta first baseman on second.
But he wouldn't get out of the fifth. Lonnie Smith launched a solo homer with one away, and after a walk, wild pitch, and a Knoblauch error Atlanta had runners at the corners and two out. David West relieved Erickson and walked Bream on five pitches. With the bases loaded he did the same favor to Olson, walking in a run and giving Atlanta a 4-1 lead.
In the top of the sixth the Twins led off with back-to-back singles, including an appearance from pinch-hitting Gene Larkin. It was Tom Kelly's first move to his bench. But Avery buckled down to get the next three batters.
It wasn't until the seventh when Minnesota would start to close the gap. Kirby Puckett's solo shot brought the team to within two, and in the top of the eighth pinch hitter Brian Harper reached on an error to chase Avery from the game. Kelly went again to his bench, right away, bringing out Chili Davis this time to hit in the pitcher's spot. Alejandro Pena, in the midst of a long and distinguished career as a relief pitcher, let a 1-1 delivery catch too much of the plate. Davis turned and pulled the ball on a sharp line drive over the left field wall, tying the game at four all.
Knoblauch and Hrbek would each single with one out, but Puckett and Mack both went down swinging.
In the bottom of the eighth, Kelly not only burned through both of the pinch hitters he'd brought in in the top of the inning, but he also sent rookie Jarvis Brown out to play right field for Shane Mack (whose spot had been taken by Carl Willis in a double switch). That wasn't a bad decision in itself, considering that Davis had played all of three innings in the outfield all season, but the move left Kelly with just half of his: Al Newman, Mike Pagliarulo, Paul Sorrento, and Randy Bush. Bush had recorded 193 innings in right that season, but clearly he was being saved for an opportunity to pinch hit.
Willis did his job and sent the Braves down 1-2-3, and sure enough Kelly proceeded to use two of his remaining four position players in the top of the ninth. Pagliarulo led off and struck out, and Bush did the same for out number three. Willis once again kept the home team at bay, for a second inning, and Game Three went to extra innings.
In the top of the tenth, Minnesota wasted another scoring opportunity when a Gladden single and Puckett walk put two on with two out. Sorrento, Kelly's penultimate bench player, pinch hit for Willis and went down swinging. His liberal use of his bench would haunt Kelly later in the game, lending gravitas to his earlier interview where he said that managing without the designated hitter was akin to rocket science.
Mark Guthrie took over and gave the Twins two more scoreless innings, pushing the game to the twelfth. After Mark Wohlers got Bush to pop out to shallow center, Gladden's single set up Lemke and the Braves for what should have been an inning-ending double play. Instead Lemke booted the ball, and Minnesota had runners on the corners with one away.
But Kent Merker came on and stuck out Hrbek, to the delight of the Atlanta faithful. First-year Braves manager Bobby Cox then elected to intentionally walk Puckett, loading the bases for the pitcher's spot in the lineup. Kelly chose to go to Rick Aguilera to hit for Guthrie, as he had burned through Al Newman in what was a very odd decision to pinch hit for Pags in to lead off the eleventh inning.
When it comes to which pitcher is going to hit in a certain situation, in some sense it's a matter of pick your poison. But Aguilera had at least pitched in the National League earlier in his career, and his 160 plate appearances probably looked preferable to Guthrie's zero. Aguilera did hit the ball hard, but right to Gant in center to end the inning and end the threat.
In the bottom half of the inning, a single by Justice was sandwiched by a Gant fly out and a Bream pop out to second base. On an 0-2 pitch Justice stole second, and as a result Aguilera nibbled with Olson and lost him to a walk.
That brought up Lemke, with two on and one out. Lemke, who had nearly been the catalyst for a Game Three loss in the top half of the inning, lined a 1-1 pitch over Gagne's glove at short. Justice rounded third and booked it for home. Gladden came up throwing and was on target, but Justice's slide helped him beat the tag and the Braves won it, 5-4, on a walk-off single from the unlikeliest of places. Well, unlikeliest of non-pitcher places.
The game was a learning experience for Kelly, who had burned through his eight-man bench as well as his entire six-man bullpen. He revealed later that if the game had continued, he'd have been forced to put Gladden on the mound.
Game Three broke the record, at the time, for the longest World Series game at four hours and four minutes. Innings wise, it was the longest World Series game in 14 years.
Both teams were exhausted after this one, emotionally, physically, and in terms of personnel that were used. Little did we know at the time that three of the series' final four games would also be decided by one run.