Hours after he had hoisted the World Series MVP trophy above his head, Frankie Viola was still in front of his locker, draped in a soaking Wet LET'S ALL BE PART OF A MIRACLE AT FIFTH AND CHICAGO T-shirt. From out of a circle of reporters came a hand, followed by a voice. "I'm Bill Guilfoile from the Hall of Fame," the voice said. "I was wondering if we could have one of your caps in Cooperstown."
Viola stared at the man behind the hand. Guilfoile repeated the request. "Me?" stammered Viola. "Cooperstown...? Hat?" Viola produced a handful of caps from his locker. "You can have whatever you want. Cooperstown? Awesome." A long time would pass before Viola would come down from the clouds. "One day you're just another player," he said, "the next someone wants to hang your hat in the Hall of Fame."
Long Island Frankie, the 27-year-old St. John's alum, was the guy in spring training who said, "It's time for this team to put up or shut up, or when the season's over, some of us will be gone." Then he went out, curbed his infamous temper and had the best season (17-10, 2.90) of his six-year career. Before pitching the playoff opener against Detroit, Viola had said, "Pressure on me? Are you kidding? We weren't expected to be here. We'll just be having fun from here on in." And the Twins did just that.
While the Cardinals, for the second time in three years, played more to not lose than to win, the Twins clearly enjoyed having nothing to lose. Viola hadn't lost a game in the Metrodome since May 22, going 9-0. "Hey," he said in defense of his home park, "no one hated this place more than I did four years ago. But I learned to use it to my advantage. I love watching other teams get unnerved by the place." Indeed, the Cardinals seemed more concerned with the park's lighting, ceiling, noise and short fences than they were with the Twins themselves. "As the season went along, we used that to such an advantage that by the playoffs we believed we couldn't lose here, and when you feel that way, you play that way. Look at the playoff and series record." Minnesota's postseason performance at home: six wins, no defeats.
Viola overpowered the Cardinals 10-1 in Game 1. St. Louis knocked him out early in the Twins' 7-2 loss in Game 4, and when the Cardinals had completed their three-game sweep in Busch Stadium, some doubted whether Viola would get another start. Not Viola. "We're the favorites," he said, "because we're going home. I can't wait for my turn in Game 7."
Viola had missed his brother John's wedding because it coincided with Game 1, but when John and his new bride, Donna, finished their Caribbean cruise, Frank had airplane and Game 7 tickets waiting for them.
He fell behind 2-0 in the second inning. "In the first game, I had tunnel vision," Viola explained afterward. "I lost the tunnel when I got beaten. But after those two runs in Game 7, I found it again. I realized they were sitting on my changeup, which had been so good in Game 1, and I went with my fastball." Thereafter the Cardinals chased whatever Viola threw. He faced 20 batters after the second run scored and retired all but two. He was not bothered when Twins were thrown out on the bases or when a bad call went against Minnesota. "We lived by aggressiveness," said Viola. "When we got burned, we said, 'That's our best, go try it again.' "
Let the record show that when the World Series returned to Minnesota for Game 6, the Cardinals, needing one victory, could not get it from their best pitcher, John Tudor. When the Twins went to Game 7 with their best, Frank Viola pitched as if it were St. John's versus Yale all over again. "I'm not going to explain all this," Viola said after it was over, "only enjoy it."