Invariably, when a stranger learns of my ink-turned-Internet-stained professional life (and we're on the brink of something like tonight's Stanley Cup finale between the Penguins and Red Wings), the question gets asked: "What's it like covering a Game 7?''
A Game 7 isn't just approached and played out differently than the games that precede it, it sounds different. Or rather, it SOUNDS DIFFERENT!!!
Noise at a Game 7 is punishing, unforgiving and rarely relenting. Neil Young's Crazy Horse crew could have worked in chapels compared to the decibels cranked out by the crowds, the P.A. systems and no doubt the thundering beat of 50,000 or so racing hearts -- ba-bum, Ba-BUM, BA-BUM!
My Game 7 experience is skewed by the site of two unforgettable instances. I've covered seventh games across various sports, from the Trail Blazers blowing a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Lakers in the 2000 NBA Western Conference finals to Bruce Sutter fanning Milwaukee's Gorman Thomas with two out in the ninth in front of 53,723 at Busch Stadium during the 1982 World Series. I watched Kevin Garnett celebrate his 28th birthday with 32 and 21 points against Sacramento in the 2004 playoffs, worked Michael Jordan's final Game 7 (he played in three) and witnessed the NHL and NBA championships being decided in seventh games held eight days apart in 1994.
None of those venues were as noisy, though, as Minneapolis' Metrodome for Game 7 of the '87 and '91 World Series. The Twins' victories over St. Louis and Atlanta, respectively, came in the first and second Series played indoors, the result of the first and second Series in which the home teams won all seven games. That was no coincidence: The tsunami of sound was just part of the Twins' Dome-field advantage in those October classics, along with the spongy, pale-green plastic turf, underwater lighting and the aforementioned gray, inflatable roof.
Too bad, in a way, because the ballpark overshadowed a lot of individual highlights and games. Not too bad, though, because without it, Minnesota still might be waiting for its first major championship since the George Mikan days.
Game 7 in '87 was basic baseball at the end of a series sloshed on home-field advantage. The Twins outscored the Cardinals 18-5 in Games 1 and 2, got outscored in the middle three at Busch 14 -5, then cracked open Game 6 -- before all those fluttering Homer Hankies -- with Kent Hrbek's grand slam to win 11-5. Twenty-four hours later, it was 2-2 through five until Twins shortstop Greg Gagne beat out a two-out, bases-loaded infield hit that pushed across the deciding run. Minnesota added one for a cushion in the eighth and closer Jeff Reardon went 1-2-3 through Tommy Herr, Curt Ford and Willie McGee.
If that Series was more heartwarming -- the core of that Twins club had started as rookies and lost 102 games -- the one four years later was heartstopping and nervewracking. Five games were decided by a single run, three went into extra innings, and two more were tied into or through the eighth. Game 7 was all of the above, scoreless through seven, then eight, then nine. Jack Morris was locked in against John Smoltz, a showdown between two generations of Hall of Fame-worthy starters until Atlanta manager Bobby Cox pulled Smoltz after 29 batters and 105 pitches.
Known as a Worst-to-First Series (the Twins and Braves had finished last in their divisions in 1990), it is also remembered as the Series that made daily newspapers feel as obsolete as they would when the Internet wave descended a few years later. In the press box, profanities and pounding fists grew pandemic, moving across by time zone -- Eastern sportswriters through Central into Mountain -- as lengthy games killed deadlines for stories and box scores.
At 36, Morris was Deadwood's Al Swearengen on the mound, from the steely squint and nasty mustache to his, uh, affable personality. As an Atlanta full of baseball fans grew to hate a man they never met, Morris had his toughest confrontation of the night: Fending off Twins manager Tom Kelly's notions about calling on his bullpen, Morris breezed through the ninth and 10th innings on eight pitches each.
Dan Gladden's leadoff double in the 10th off Alejandro Pena and subsequent move to third on a sacrifice led Cox to intentionally walk Kirby Puckett and Hrbek. Then pinch-hitter Gene Larkin smacked the first pitch he saw into left-center. Morris, racing with the other Twins to the center of the diamond, was an easy choice for Series MVP after arguably the best Game 7 pitching performance ever.
In both clubhouses, there was some of that what-a-shame-either-team-had-to-lose talk you sometimes get with Game 7s. Not from Morris, though.
"Days like this,'' he said, "are what make all the rest of the [stuff] you endure in life worthwhile."
There's your Game 7 for you.
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