Any Minnesota fan alive on October 26, 1991, remembers the bottom of the 11th inning. It lasted four pitches.
Kirby Puckett’s dramatic home run, scored by Jack Buck’s equally famous call, has lived on in baseball lore ever since. Twenty-eight years later, the Minnesota Twins are in the postseason with the squad and the Bombas - might be catchy to combine them together, those - to make a deep playoff run. But in every round of the playoffs, there comes a chance for one player in a clutch moment to chance the course of the series. Just ask Juan Soto.
In the 2019 postseason, with the chips down and the buffalo empty, which Twin might we most want to see up to bat? Who are Kirby’s Clutch Candidates? (I’d do that spelling thing with the K substituted for the C, but then I wouldn’t be able to abbreviate.)
Here are five candidates. (Stats from FanGraphs.)
The man we call “Boomstick” was central to the Twins’ lineup, nestled comfortably into the third spot in the order, and central to their success. Not only was Cruz a much-welcomed power addition to the lineup, leading the “Bombas Who Bomba At Midnight” with 41 such spheres sent into the stands, he was among Minnesota’s best batters, sporting (heh) a .311/.392/.639 slash line. In clutch situations, Cruz delivered as well, topping the team with a 1.000 bases-loaded OPS and a 3.62 WPA, half a win more than the next Twin. No matter the situation, every fan should be excited to see Cruz at the plate this October.
Arguably the Twins’ MVP before injuries took him out of the lineup for a big chunk of September, Kepler put up a 3.01 WPA and slashed .252/.336/.519. His breakout season included improved hitting against left-handed pitching and a move to the top of the lineup, where his power threat manced opposing pitchers. Kepler’s clutch moments this season have included a 13th-inning game-tying home run and a 17th-inning walk-off single, both in the same game against the Boston Red Sox.
He’s not the player you’re looking for if what’s needed is an out-of-the-park four-bagger, but Arraez’s hitting took the Land of 10,000 Imitation Fargo Accents by storm, and the rookie second sacker slashed .334/.399/.439 with a 1.85 WPA while becoming an everyday player. While his health is unknown due to an ankle sprain suffered in the final regular season series, Arraez can be trusted to put the ball in play and put it where fielders can’t get to it. He might be the most likely candidate for a Gene Larkin clutch moment. (And Larkin was also injured... hmm.)
The American League’s starting shortstop in the 2019 All-Star Game, Polanco put up a season worthy of a rising star: .295/.356/.485 slash line, 1.77 WPA, and durability that saw him play in 153 of the Twins’ 162 games. Though he’s not the most powerful hitter (22 bombas; no slouch) nor the Twin with the best average or OBP, Polanco has become a reliable piece of the Twins’ lineup, and another player who can be counted on.
Mitch Garver & Miguel Sano
The final spot goes to a player associated with the most-remembered part of Puckett’s blast: that it was a blast. In fact, it goes to two players, so I suppose there are six candidates. Of Garver and Sanó, neither is a bad selection; though Garver put up a slightly better slash line (.273/.365/.630 versus .247/.346/.576), both put up a home run approximately every three games (31 in 93 for Garver, 34 in 105 for Sanó), and their WPAs are nearly identical (1.29 for Sanó, 1.27 for Garver, sandwiching Eddie Rosario’s 1.28). Both players can put the ball out of the park whenever the situation calls for it, and both have already done so in clutch situations. Garver’s three run home run on September 7 helped the Twins extend the AL Central lead over Cleveland, and Sanó’s grand slam swung not just a September 14 game but the race for the AL Central. (And both of these bombas were struck off a pitch from Indians reliever Nick Goody.) Clearly, either can be counted on to give the Twins momentum when needed.
Puckett wasn’t the only Twin who came through in the clutch in the 1991 World Series. For the Jack Morris clutch candidates, we will see you tomorrow night. (Well, tomorrow afternoon. Or even morning.)
Which hitter will provide us with a "Kirby Puckett" moment in 2019?
This poll is closed