As the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals will end an unbelievable World Series with a Game 7 tomorrow night, it's impossible not to be reminded of perhaps the greatest World Series ever played.
The year was 1991. Both teams were wrapping up worst-to-first seasons, but in vastly different ways. The Atlanta Braves had to scratch and claw their way to a division title, finally clinching on the next-to-last day of the season. The Minnesota Twins, however, ran away with the division title, winning by a very comfortable eight games. So, on the 20th anniversary of that incredible series, it seems only fitting to reminisce on a painful yet memorable beginning of a legendary Braves dynasty.
It's not very difficult to figure out why this series is widely regarded as the greatest of all time. Not only were five of the seven games decided by one run, but four games were walk-off victories. It also was the longest seven-game World Series ever played, with three of the games needing extra innings to determine a winner.
Game 1 was fairly unexciting, as the Twins claimed a 5-2 victory over the Braves. The series would take a dramatic turn in Game 2, during which one of the most notorious plays in Braves' history took place. Down by a run in the third inning, Ron Gant hit a single that would have put runners on first and third with two outs. Gant took a big turn around first base and tried to race back to first. After putting his foot on the bag, Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek lifted Gant's leg off of first base with his glove hand, and the umpire infamously and inexplicably called Gant out on the play, ending the Braves' scoring threat. The Braves would go on to lose 3-2 in that heartbreaking game, as that play still haunts Braves fans to this day.
The Braves would win Games 3 and 4 in Atlanta in dramatic fashion, as Mark Lemke would be the hero in both games. Lemke drove in David Justice, who had hit a home run earlier in the game, with a game-winning single in the bottom of the 12th inning in Game 3. Lemke, after hitting a one-out triple, scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly by Jerry Willard in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 4. After two heart-pounding games, the Braves won a very uneventful Game 5, blowing out the Twins 14-5 to send the series back to Minnesota with a 3-2 lead.
The 21-year-old Steve Avery started Game 6 for the Braves. Avery pitched fairly well, but Kirby Puckett was the hero for the Twins. Puckett hit a run-scoring triple and robbed the Braves of a run with a leaping catch against the wall, but he would save his biggest heroics for extra innings. In the bottom of the 11th inning, Puckett drilled a walk-off home run off of Charlie Liebrandt, sending the World Series to a Game 7.
The stage was set for the greatest Game 7 in baseball history. John Smoltz started for the Braves and pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings, but he did not deliver the best pitching performance in this particular game. That honor goes to Jack Morris, the Twins starter who pitched ten clutch scoreless innings in Game 7.
While the Braves escaped a couple of jams unscathed, it was the Braves' half of the 8th inning that would go on to haunt the hearts of Braves fans. With no outs in the 8th inning, Terry Pendleton laced a double on a hit-and-run play with Lonnie Smith on first base. Smith should have scored on the play, which would have given the Braves a 1-0 lead, but he hesitated at second base and only managed to make it to third. After a Gant groundout and an intentional walk to Justice, Sid Bream grounded into an inning-ending double play. Unfortunately for Smith, that base-running blunder went on to define his series, despite the fact that he hit three home runs throughout the seven-game set.
The Twins would go on to win it off of Alejandro Pena in the bottom of the 10th inning, when Gene Larkin hit a single to drive in Dan Gladden with the winning run.
The Braves played admirably throughout the miracle season and World Series, and they would go on to win 14 consecutive division titles along with a World Series victory in 1995. However, that heartbreaking loss in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series is not easily forgotten, and Braves fans will feel the sting for a long time.
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