During the summer of 1991, I was five years old. As such, my days were largely spent playing with my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sewer set, watching WWF tapes from the local video store, and trying to beat that damn castle maze level at the end of Super Mario Bros. on the NES. Besides those popular early-90s childhood pastimes, however, I also harbored a burgeoning love for baseball.
A year earlier, my Dad had introduced me to such wonders as the Metrodome, Kirby Puckett, & Dome Dogs. On August 16, 1991, we returned to the Dome as part of the 50,019 paying customers that Friday night to see the hometown crew open a wraparound (Fri-Mon) series against the division-rival Oakland A’s (these of course being the AL West years). While obviously a strong ball club at 68-48, the ‘91 Twins squad at that point sat just 1.5 games atop the Chicago White Sox. Anyone’s division to win, in other words.
Yet, it was Tony LaRussa’s Athletics—defending a three-year run of AL pennants—that seemed a bigger threat lurking just four games back. These were the Bash Brother A’s of Canseco, McGwire, Henderson, Steinbach, & Baines vintage, capable of pummeling opposing pitching staffs into complete and utter submission.
The Twins got on the board first as we filed into our upper-deck seats, with Shane Mack doubling home Brian Harper in the second inning and Chuck Knoblauch’s sacrifice fly plating Dan Gladden in the 3rd to grab a 2-0 advantage.
In the top of fourth, Jose Canseco (more from him shortly) tagged Twins starter Kevin Tapani for a long home run to CF. Two batters later, a Jamie Quirk single scored Harold Baines to knot things at 2-2.
Somewhat oddly, the top of sixth was a CTRL-C, CTRL-V situation: A Canseco HR off Tap, followed by a Quirk hit, this time bringing home Mark McGwire. 4-2 West-Coasters.
The deficit remained two runs heading to the bottom of the ninth, when A’s closer Dennis Eckersley jogged in from the exposed visitors bullpen down the right field line. For those who may not remember Eck, the closest comp I have to offer is “Mariano Rivera in a playoff game”. The previous year—1990—Eckersley had saved 48 games in 73.1 IP with a microscopic 0.61 ERA, good for an almost unfathomable 603 ERA+. He was as close to “lights out” as it got.
But of course, this was the Metrodome, where the Twins always seemed to draw some mojo from its mysterious power to confound opposing fielders. To that end, Chili Davis lined a ball into the right field corner that looked to be a sure single—maybe two bags—but no more. That is, until Canseco played the sphere like Delmon Young tending his hibachi grill. With the baseball pin-balling around the RF corner—and an overzealous fan (not me, I swear!) unfurling a roll of what looked to be toilet paper onto the field—Chili chugged into third and quickly scored on a Harper groundout.
Still down a run, the Twins continued the onslaught: pinch-hitter Randy Bush doubled and was immediately pinch-ran for by Scott Leius, who touched the dish on a Mike Pagliarulo single. Tie game!
In the extra frames, Steve “Bedrock” Bedrosian & Rick Aguilera kept Oakland to goose-eggs. Then, in the bottom of the 12th, Knobby doubled off Gene Nelson. After a Kirby Puckett infield single (yes, you read that correctly), Kent Hrbek tapped a little squibber juuuuust out of the pitcher’s reach, allowing Chuckles to fly home and send my Dad and I (and the other 50,017) into a frenzy. “Twims Wim!”, in Twinkie Town vernacular.
Here’s the entire sequence in all it’s lime green, field-turf glory:
After that energizing victory, the Twins would go on to take 3-of-4 from the A’s (essentially knocking them out of the race) and pull away from the Pale Hose to clinch the division. The rest, as they say, is history.
Coming up in part two of Remembering 1991 Magic: To quote infamous plutonium thief Dr. Emmitt Brown...