October 23, 1991
World Series, Game Four
Twins Lead Series, 2-1
Twins: Dan Gladden (LF), Chuck Knoblauch (2B), Kirby Puckett (CF), Kent Hrbek (1B), Brian Harper (C), Shane Mack (RF), Mike Pagliarulo (3B), Greg Gagne (SS), Jack Morris (P)
As the apparent bitterness between Minneapolis and Atlanta grew, in no small part due to the vilification of the opposing city from radio talk shows, so did the intensity of the 1991 World Series. Game Two and Three had already been decided by one run, Game Three had gone to extra innings, and Game Four would be no less thrilling.
Adding to the drama was the pitching matchup, with the 36-year old Jack Morris taking on 24-year old John Smoltz, who was as close to the beginning of his career as Morris was to the end of his own. Smoltz, who had been traded to Atlanta in August of 1987 by the Tigers in return for veteran Doyle Alexander, was from Detroit and grew up idolizing Morris as the guy who ended up spending 14 seasons for Smoltz' hometown team. Had the Tigers held onto Smoltz, he would have debuted in '88 alongside his childhood hero in the Detroit rotation.
For the fourth time in as many games, the Twins scored first when Mike Pagliarulo's one-out single brought home Brian Harper after he'd led off the inning with a double. Morris got around a pair of base runners in the second, but Atlanta tied it up at 1-1 when Terry Pendleton hit his first post-season homer with two out in the third.
At that point, Morris almost let the game get away. Ron Gant singled, stole second, and took third on a wild pitch. After Morris gave in and walked Justice, Sid Bream dribbled a weak grounder to the left of the pitcher's mound, and Morris threw him out to keep the game tied at one after three innings.
Minnesota left runners on the corners in the fourth and the Braves wasted a one-out double from Mark Lemke in the fourth.
The Braves would threaten again in the fifth, when Lonnie Smith led off with a single and promptly stole second base. Pendleton followed with a deep fly ball to center field, and Smith held up thinking he'd need to tag up before taking third. But the ball bounced behind Puckett, who had misjudged the ball, and Smith got a late start. Puckett's relay hit the infield Smith was already around third, and Knoblauch made a perfect throw to Harper at the plate. Harper turned, braced, and was bowled over by Smith.
It was a brutal collision, but Harper popped up immediately, showing the ball and then walking up the line to ensure that Pendleton wasn't going to try and score, too. After Morris walked Gant, an 0-1 delivery to Justice bounced away and Pendleton got his chance to score - but Harper's quick reaction allowed him to tag the runner as he was about to cross the plate, and for the second time in the inning Atlanta wasted a fantastic scoring opportunity.
Minnesota took the lead again in the seventh, when Mike Pagliarulo delivered his second home run of the post-season. The Braves answered again, this time immediately, with Smith's solo homer off Carl Willis in the bottom half of the inning. It was still tied 2-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth, thanks to Mike Stanton who was filling in for the injured former Twin Juan Berenguer, when, for the second night in a row, you wouldn't have believed the ending if you'd seen it in a movie.
Tom Kelly stayed with Mark Guthrie to start the inning, in spite of the fact that he'd thrown 37 pitches less than 24 hours prior as well as ten pitches in the eighth. Rick Aguilera had thrown just 17. And so, with one out, Lemke spanked a triple right into the middle of the left-center field gap. The Tomahawk Chop was in full force, and Kelly had Guthrie intentionally walk Jeff Blauser to set up the double play.
Kelly then went to Steve Bedrosian. Bedrosian had thrown 25 pitches the night before, but just as importantly as the fact that he hadn't been a particularly accurate pitcher during the season or in the playoffs was the fact that, once again, Kelly passed over Aguilera.
In his heyday, Bedrosian was one of the better relievers in baseball. He closed some games for the Braves in the 80s, and led the league with 40 saves for the Phillies in 1987. But in 1990 and 1991, he hadn't been the same guy.
Jerry Willard was the pinch hitter for Bobby Cox's Braves, and he took a pair of very uncomfortable looking swings on offerings from the 33-year old bearded Twins reliever. For a moment it looked good. And then, on a 1-2 pitch, he lofted a fly ball to Shane Mack in right field.
The ball was more shallow than it looked like it would have been off of the bat, but Lemke tagged, put his head down, and went for home.
Mack's throw wasn't perfect but it was close. Harper took the ball a foot or two up the third base line, braced himself for the collision, and Lemke made a move around the catcher. They collided, and Harper held onto the ball...
...but home plate umpire Terry Tata called Lemke safe.
Bedrosian and Harper were irate. Under most circumstances, if there is contact and the catcher holds onto the ball, the runner is out. That's exactly what happened. But Tata also saw that Harper never applied a tag. The only contact Harper and Lemke made was with their shoulders. and it wasn't the same kind of hard collision that Smith initiated at the plate earlier in the game. Tata made the right call, and the Braves won it for the second night in a row with one final play.
In less than 24 hours, especially since Game Three had ended after midnight, the feather-hitting Mark Lemke had been the catalyst for winning two World Series games. Now the series was tied at 2-2, and Minnesota's advantage was gone.