Welcome, America, to Humpball and Hefty bag doubles, and remember that a ball off the speakers is in play. Yes, for the first time in its 84-year history, the World Series goes indoors. And now meet the team that plays inside the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the American League champion Minnesota Twins.
"Before the playoffs, the only guy anyone had heard of was Kirby Puckett," said pitcher Frank Viola after the Twins beat Detroit in the ALCS, four games to one. "Now people ask, 'Where have these guys been hiding?' " Now everyone knows that playoff MVP Gary Gaetti is one of the best-fielding-and-hitting third basemen in the game, that Tom Brunansky is an All-Star caliber slugger, that shortstop Greg Gagne is so accomplished that many scouts call him the most underrated player in the league, that Viola himself is the major leagues' winningest lefthander over the last four years. The Twins may not have gotten to the playoffs in style, but they certainly left them that way.
While the Tigers came in with all those familiar faces and the best record in baseball, Minnesota was—well—the Western Division team whose 85-77 record would have placed it fifth in the East. Only one team, the 1973 Mets, had ever won a pennant with a worse overall winning percentage. As it was, the Twins had the worst ERA (4.63) and road record (29-52) of any first-place finisher ever. They had won nine road games since the All-Star break.
Then there's the matter of taking any team seriously that makes its living in the Metrodome. Humpball is the name of the game played there. The rightfield "wall" is actually a tarpaulin we'll call the Blue Monstrosity. It looks like the world's largest Hefty bag. The lighting is too dim to read by, and the ceiling looks like a quilt pieced together from mainsail remnants. But as Game 1 began, it was evident that these Twins were not at all identical to the ones who couldn't win a game during Minnesota's last playoff appearances, in 1969 and '70. These Twins beat Detroit's unbeatable Doyle Alexander. The Tigers had not lost in Alexander's 11 regular-season starts, and only twice was he behind. But on this night Gaetti put him behind twice in the first five innings, homering in the second and again in the fifth. "Doyle had an unusual inning," Gaetti said. "When he's wild, he throws pitches in the strike zone, and that's what he did." In a span of six batters, the Twins hit for the cycle, scored three runs and took a 4-1 lead.
One of the Tigers' many advantages was supposed to be their experience. "They know what they can do, and we don't until we do it," said Minnesota rightfielder Brunansky. They found out after the Tigers went ahead 5-4 in the eighth after stopper Jeff Reardon had replaced Viola. "The mark of this team has been to come back," Reardon said. "I don't care whether it's March, July or October." So they came back. Dan Gladden led off the bottom of the eighth with a single. One out later, Puckett sent a drive into left centerfield that got by Kirk Gibson for a double, scoring Gladden to make it 5-5.
Manager Sparky Anderson, whose Big Red Machine in Cincinnati lost the 1973 playoffs to those 82-79 Mets, brought on Mike Henneman to walk Kent Hrbek intentionally and pitch to Gaetti. Like most relievers, Henneman prefers not to come in and avoid the strike zone on purpose, but that's what Sparky wanted. So after issuing Hrbek his pass, Henneman unintentionally walked Gaetti. In came Willie Hernandez to pitch to the lefthand-hitting Randy Bush. Instead, out of the Twins dugout strolled the image of experience, pinch hitter Don Baylor, who promptly ripped a single through the shortstop hole for the go-ahead run. Brunansky hit a two-run double, and Minnesota had come back for an 8-5 win, its first in the postseason since Oct. 13, 1965.
Having foiled Doyle, the Twins next ended Jack Morris's 11-game Minnesota winning streak in Game 2. Again the Tigers took the lead when Chester Lemon crushed a two-run homer off Bert Blyleven. Again the Twins were unfazed. They responded to Lemon's homer with a three-run rally, started by Gaetti's Hefty bag double and culminated by a two-run double off the bat of .191-hitting catcher Tim Laudner. Minnesota's lead had grown to 6-3 when former Tiger Juan (the Bandido) Berenguer came on in the eighth to strike out four of the last five Detroit batters.
"We're being asked millions of questions about being kids that no one knows," Brunansky said as the series moved to Detroit. "But there are some very good players here." Why, then, were they only 85-77? In a word, pitching. Minnesota was 45-28 when Viola and Blyleven started, but its No. 3 man is twice-released righthander Les Straker, who was 8-10. Now in Game 3 Straker was both wild and unlucky. Down 1-0 with runners at second and third in the third inning, Straker leaned over to take the sign from catcher Sal Butera and moved his left shoulder slightly. "Balk!" screamed Alexander from the Tiger dugout. On the next pitch Straker made the same movement, home plate umpire Drew Coble called the balk and waved in the second run. Alan Trammell then blooped a single, and before the inning was over, Walt Terrell, winner of 11 straight decisions at Tiger Stadium, led 5-0.
But these were the new Twins. Gagne and Brunansky tagged Terrell for homers, and when Gaetti singled in two runs off Henneman in the seventh, Minnesota had fought back again to take a stunning 6-5 lead. Reardon came on in the eighth, as sure a bet to save the win as there is in the league. With one out and one on, he faced a slumping Pat Sheridan, who had six hits in his last 66 regular-season at bats and one RBI since Sept. 9. Sheridan, a lefthanded batter, had been a student of Harry Walker, the dean of the opposite-field school of hitting, and for most of the year had tried to send everything to the left side. Before Sheridan faced Reardon, teammate Jim Morrison told him, "Forget Harry Walker and look for a pitch to pull." Reardon threw an inside fastball, and Sheridan pulled a two-run shot into the upper deck in rightfield. The Tigers won 7-6.
"This has been a great series," said Gaetti. "It's more fun than I imagined." What, them worry?
But the Tigers were revived and, with Frank Tanana ready for Game 4, seemed to have a clear pitching advantage. Minnesota manager Tom Kelly had to bring Viola back on three days' rest. But Tanana did not have his best control. "I couldn't get the low strike called," he said and left trailing 4-2 in the sixth, thanks to homers by Puckett and Gagne, four walks, a wild pitch and three hit batters.
Detroit fans will long wonder what went through the minds of the 40-year-old Darrell Evans and his manager in the latter innings of Game 4. Lemon and Evans knocked out Viola with singles, and when pinch hitter Dave Bergman lined a single off reliever Keith Atherton, it was 4-3, and as Gaetti would say, "We were in big trouble. We had to do something to get us out of it." After Mike Heath bunted Evans and Bergman into scoring position, they tried the hidden-ball trick on Bergman. He didn't budge. When Berenguer came in from the bullpen, Gaetti had another idea.
"I know Evans," said Gaetti. "He could see that our infield was playing back. He naturally wanted to get an extra half-step lead in case the ball was hit on the ground. Laudner and I have been playing together for seven years. He knows to look at me in that situation to see if I put on a play. Which, with a lefthanded hitter [Lou Whitaker] up, I did. I tried to warn the third-base umpire, Joe Brinkman, but he didn't hear me." But Brinkman saw what happened well enough. As Berenguer released his first pitch, Gaetti broke for the bag. Evans said, "The pitch was low. I was thinking it might be in the dirt, and I might have a chance to score on a wild pitch. Had the pitch been high, I'd never have taken that extra half step." Laudner came up firing, and Gaetti slapped the tag on the stunned Evans.
Berenguer still wasn't out of it. He walked Whitaker, which gave Anderson the chance to use lefty Matt Nokes—he of the 32 homers—for DH Morrison against a pitcher whom lefties hit much better than righthanders. Anderson let Morrison bat, and he flied out to end the inning. Berenguer got the Twins to the ninth, and this time Reardon did close the victory, 5-3.
Minnesota was even more dominating in Game 5, as Brunansky hit a two-run double to key a four-run second inning that knocked out Alexander once again. Nokes's two-run homer off Blyleven cut the lead to 4-3, but then Blyleven settled down until relief came. First there was southpaw Dan Schatzeder, who got the three lefties at the top of the Detroit order on 12 pitches in the seventh. Then came Berenguer and finally Reardon, while the Twins locked it up with single runs in the seventh and eighth, and three more in the ninth for a 9-5 victory.
More than an hour after the last out, Gaetti finally fought his way through the crowd of reporters and well-wishers in the tiny visitors' clubhouse. "I had hoped this could be a special moment with my teammates," he said, clutching the MVP trophy. "We grew up together. Now, everyone is horning in on us." Welcome, Gary, to the World Series.