They were outlined not against a steel-gray October sky, but a gray steel SkyDome roof panel. And yet the Minnesota Twins who won the American League pennant in Toronto on Sunday; the Twins who played all of their playoff games beneath the twin peaks of two domes; the Twins who saw only a sliver of moon in three night games last week, and that courtesy of the twin cheeks of a would-be streaker; the Twins, in short, who won this most postmodern of all postseason series four games to one over the Toronto Blue Jays, these Twins have somehow seized space in the musty pages of baseball history.
That they are the first team to go from last in their division to the World Series in one year is an indication of how good they are. That they went, in the words of designated hitter Chili Davis, "from Florida to Oakland to Minnesota to Seattle to California to start the season" is an indication of how bad they were supposed to be. "Even they didn't give a——about the Twins," Davis said of baseball's schedule makers as he sucked on a champagne bottle in the Minnesota clubhouse Sunday night.
Nothing was as it should have been in this American League Championship Series, which is precisely the way things were all season. The Twins lost one of the first two games to the Blue Jays in the Metrodome in Minneapolis, where they never lost in the postseason en route to winning the 1987 World Series. They then won three straight over the weekend in Toronto, where they won only two of six in the regular season. It was an eminently strange series, filled with bagpipes (a pipe-and-drum band performed a bizarre version of Take Me Out to the Ball Game before Game 3, at SkyDome) and Glad bags (the Metrodome's infamous right-field wall) and Rally Rags (a Toronto knockoff of Minnesota's Homer Hankies) and, ultimately, Mike Pags.
While, as we shall see, the Twins had Cinderella, the Jays had mozzarella. Toronto manager Cito Gaston had to visit a hospital in Minneapolis on Oct. 6, three days before Game 1, after being poisoned by a bad pizza. He then foolishly ordered a meatball hero for the series opener: Rather than start his money pitcher (Jimmy Key) or his hottest pitcher (Juan Guzman), Gaston went with knuckleballer Tom Candiotti. The Candyman couldn't. He gave up five runs on eight hits in 2⅖ innings and lost 5-4 to Twins starter Jack Morris before 54,766 boisterous, hanky-waving Minnesota fans.
October 20, 1991
Before the seats filled the next day for Game 2, Candiotti made a call on a cellular phone he cradled on the field while in the middle of a game of catch. Shortly thereafter, the joint was jammed again, but this time the Twins' fans came away disappointed. Rookie righthander Guzman shut out the crowd and nearly did the same to the Twins. With the Blue Jays' 5-2 victory, Guzman had won 11 of his last 12 decisions.
A close-knit team, these Twins are double-knit-tight with their families. Margaret and Charles Pagliarulo flew from Boston to Toronto for Friday night's game, even though Charles requires fortnightly chemotherapy treatments for cancer and even though they knew their son Mike, third baseman for the Twins, would not start against Toronto lefthander Key. "I just told 'em to come up, hang out, mingle" said Pags, who chatted with his father while escorting him around the field before batting practice, providing this most synthetic of series with at least one traditional sight: a father and son in the park playing catch-up.
Another proud father on Friday was Minnesota catcher Junior Ortiz, who regaled listeners before the biggest start of his life with tales of his son, J.J. "For Junior Junior," said Junior Senior. "He's eight or nine years old. I'm not sure."
Ortiz usually starts only on days when Scott Erickson pitches, as Erickson would in Game 3. And on days when Erickson pitches, he phones his mother, Stephanie, to hear her say, "Good luck." Had Erickson, a righthander with a 20-8 record in the regular season, borrowed Candiotti's cellular phone, he could have called the Twins bullpen from the mound in the first inning, when he was lit up like a switchboard. He gave up two runs on three hits and a walk, including a rocket solo homer by Blue Jay rightfielder Joe Carter. That was definitely the night's high point for Carter, who sprained his right ankle while chasing Shane Mack's triple in the Twins' one-run fifth inning and, because he was having difficulty planting on his back foot, was unable to throw out Chuck Knoblauch at the plate in Minnesota's one-run sixth.
As a result, along with everyone else, the Pagliarulos of Medford, Mass., got to see the American League's first extra-inning playoff game since 1986. What's more, with one out and nobody on in the top of the 10th inning and the score still tied 2-2, Charles and Margaret's son made a pinch-hitting appearance. After taking one pitch, Pagliarulo, 0 for 6 in the series at that point, hit rookie Mike Timlin's buoyant sinker over the rightfield fence. It was one of recent history's most dramatic postseason bolts. "It wasn't Reggie Jackson or Kirk Gibson, but it was pretty good," said Pags, who had difficulty finding first base during his home run trot, preoccupied as he was with the question of whether his four-year-old son, Mike, was still awake and watching in Boston.
The scoreboard clocks showed the late hour: 11:59. Twinderella was racing toward home before the strike of midnight. As Pagliarulo crossed the plate, Friday became Saturday, the Twins became 3-2 winners, and the series star became, once again, a career .236 hitter. Pags to riches to Pags again. "You got one hit," first baseman Kent Hrbek told the hero an hour after the game ended. "Big deal. You're holdin' up the bus."
As the Twins bused several blocks to their hotel, Toronto second baseman Roberto Alomar, leftfielder Candy Maldonado and Candiotti walked from the Blue Jay clubhouse determined not to take the ball game home with them, which isn't easy when your mailing address is SkyDome Hotel, built inside the park, overlooking centerfield. These three players reside there during the season, but none of them requires a DO NOT DISTURB sign. SkyDome is, as it would be for Saturday night's Game 4, almost always silent. However, several frugal Torontonians at the game, afflicted with hanky envy, did wave what is sure to become the enduring symbol of these limp Jays and their lame fans: a moist towelette.
Saturday night's performance, in which Toronto was Handi-Wiped off the artificial playing surface 9-3, was an epic of embarrassment for the Blue Jays and their fans: the agony and the apathy. The agony: Carter, valiantly but imprudently offering to DH on his sprained ankle, was 0 for 5 with three strikeouts. He stranded six runners and apparently inspired no-body. "If the man had been in a car crash, broken both arms and come out here clapping his hands, that would have been spiritually uplifting," said Toronto's Mookie Wilson. "But that was not what we needed. We needed hits. We didn't get them."
And the apathy: "I don't pay too much attention to the crowd," said Twins left-fielder Dan Gladden. "But I did notice tonight that everybody left in the eighth inning. The [on-field] security guard told me they were just getting refreshments. Well, there were an awful lot of people getting refreshments."
The pessimistic fans, however, had nothing on the Jays' manager. "It's not over," Gaston said after the game, "until they beat us tomorrow." Could this be? Apparently, yes. The Toronto skipper was throwing in the towelette.
Gaston waited all of two innings on Sunday before becoming the first manager ever to get tossed from a championship series game. He did so for no particular reason, also; he just took to cursing plate umpire Mike Reilly between innings when the Twins led 2-0. The Jays, however, rallied for five runs in the third and fourth innings, so inspiring SkyDome's crowd that one dink ran from the stands in the—what else?—bottom of the fifth and dropped trou in leftfield before hiking up his pants again and getting tackled by members of the grounds crew in shallow centerfield.
Then it was time for the Jays to bottom out. Minnesota tied the score in the sixth inning. In the eighth the Twins' Kirby Puckett, who is approached only by San Francisco's Will Clark as baseball's best clutch hitter, singled in Gladden for the go-ahead run and sent Knoblauch to third.
Two nights earlier, a SkyDome banner had proclaimed the Jays ALOMARVELOUS AND CARTERRIFIC! It kindly ignored the Twins' first baseman, who had been excellent afield but HRENDOUS! at the plate. As he stepped into the box with two on in the eighth on Sunday, Hrbek was hitting .100 (2 for 20) in the series. He promptly got a knock to left center, driving in two runs to ice both the Twins' 8-5 comeback and their second pennant in the last five seasons.
"Even when we lost last year, this team had a lot of dignity," series MVP Puckett said moments later in Minnesota's champagne-soaked clubhouse. "We weren't the Bad News Bears or anything. I'm not going to lie to you and say I thought we would win the American League pennant and go to the World Series. No. I just knew that we wouldn't finish last again." The Puck stopped here and smiled, his team the last to finish in the American League.