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Fisk waved it fair





Wednesday, November 19, 2003
1991 World Series had it all
By Jim Caple
Special to ESPN.com


In the greatest World Series in history, a future Hall of Fame player won Game 6 with an extra-inning home run. And I'm not talking about Carlton Fisk.

How good was the 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves? Kirby Puckett pumping his fist as he circled the bases after his 11th-inning home run off Charlie Leibrandt was one of the greatest moments in World Series history and it wasn't even the most memorable performance of the series. That honor belongs to Jack Morris, who topped Puckett the very next night by pitching a 10-inning, 1-0 shutout to win Game 7 a couple miles from his boyhood home.

Manager Tom Kelly planned to take Morris out after the ninth inning, only to have Morris talk him out of it. What the hell, Kelly said. Go ahead. It's only a ballgame.

He was wrong about that. This wasn't just a ballgame. This was special. This was history. This was baseball at its delicious best, capping off a series so good that it should have been played inside Cooperstown instead of inside the Metrodome.

The 1975 series had the better cast, with four future Hall of Famers (Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez), plus Pete Rose, but it couldn't compare to 1991's plot, the most improbable script that didn't originate with someone at Industrial Light and Magic.

You want tense? Three games went into extra innings. Three games ended with the winning run scoring on the final pitch. Four ended with a team scoring the winner in its final at-bat. Five games were decided by one run. By the time it ended, no one in Minnesota or Atlanta had a centimeter of cuticle remaining.

You want controversy? Kent Hrbek auditioned for the WWF when he lifted Ron Gant off first base and tagged him out, resulting in cheers in Minnesota and a death threat in Atlanta.

You want drama? Puckett, a Minnesota icon who will be voted into Cooperstown this winter, had a game for the ages in Game 6. He scaled the plexiglass in left-center to rob Atlanta of a home run, drove in two runs, scored another and stole a base -- and then hit a home to win the game in the 11th. Morris returned home at age 37 as a free agent, won Game 1, left with the lead in Game 4 and stomped to the mound inning after inning to win Game 7. A young John Smoltz and Tom Glavine made their postseason debuts on their way to becoming a part of October as traditional as department store Christmas decorations.

And best of all, the series didn't involve a single New York team, instead bringing together the previous season's last-place teams, the first time even one team had gone from worst to first in modern major-league history. Rather than leave fans nationwide despising the victors and thinking their favorite teams could never compete against the Yankees' riches, it left fans with the most important feeling of all: hope.

That, and cardiac arrest.

Had the 1991 World Series been played in New York or Boston or down the block from Doris Kearns Goodwin, it would be regarded as the best series of all time, hands down. Instead, Ken Burns devoted nine episodes to his baseball documentary and never mentioned Morris' 10-inning masterpiece. Apparently, either Buck O'Neill wasn't available or there wasn't enough banjo music for Morris' shutout.

Prior to the first pitch of Game 7, leadoff hitter Lonnie Smith walked up to the plate and shook hands with Minnesota catcher Brian Harper. More than a sign of friendship, it was an acknowledgement that the two had been part of something bigger than either player. That they were part of the best World Series ever played.

Even if the networks executives disagree.

Jim Caple is the national baseball writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has a website at www.seattle-pi.com.





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