25 years ago today, Kirby Puckett became a World Series hero
It's a call burned into the memories of every Twins fan, and a lot of other fans too.
"Into deep left center ... for Mitchell ... annnnd we'll see ya ... tomorrow night!"
Those were the words of broadcaster Jack Buck as Kirby Puckett's game-winning home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series sailed over the plexiglass wall at the Metrodome, the latest incredible theater in a series that provided the best of it that baseball has to offer.
The Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves were unlikely World Series participants in 1991. Both had finished in last place in their respective divisions the year before, only to turn it dramatically around.
The series had gone according to form over the first five games, with the home team winning all of them, when the squads returned to the Metrodome on Oct. 26, 1991, for Game 6. The Twins needed a win to force Game 7, and Puckett tried to rally the crew in a clubhouse speech before the game. "Everybody comes in," he recalled years later, "and I said, 'Guys, I just have one announcement to make: You guys should jump on my back tonight. I'm going to carry us.'"
It didn't take long for him to deliver on that. A Puckett triple in the first inning scored rookie Chuck Knoblauch. Puckett later scored on a Shane Mack single. It was 2-0 Minnesota after one.
In the top of third, the Braves started off with batter Lonnie Smith getting hit by a pitch. Terry Pendleton then grounded into a fielder's choice for the first out. Next up was the dangerous Ron Gant. He uncorked on a Scott Erickson pitch and lifted one deep to left-center. And then Puckett did this:
The highlight-reel grab likely kept the Braves from scoring a run that would've proved crucial later. If nothing else, it turned a "runners on second and third, one out" threat into a much more benign "runner on first, two out" situation. A David Justice groundout later and the Twins were out of the inning still up 2-0.
Still, the Braves hung in there, rallying to tie the game and the teams went to extra innings at 3-3. In the bottom of the 11th, Charlie Leibrandt came on in relief of Alejandro Pena. The leadoff man was Puckett, and he turned a 2-1 pitch into an all-time World Series highlight:
I may be 100 percent biased as a Twins fan, but that is a perfect playoff baseball moment -- the stakes, the star, the swing, the celebration, the classic call from Buck.
We did indeed see everyone again the next night. The Twins would win Game 7, 1-0 in 10 innings, a duel that deserves its own post. The series is often ranked among the top two or three of all-time, thanks to the three extra-inning games, five one-run games and the fantastic final chapters. Without Puckett's catch-and-homer heroics in Game 6, it may well have gone differently for both teams.
That was the last glory moment for the Twins, who've fallen into irrelevancy in recent years after a brief upswing a few years back. The Braves too have fallen on hard times, though they got their World Series title four years later. Puckett's career came to an abrupt end in 1996 when he was diagnosed with glaucoma, and he died 10 years later after suffering a stroke. A 10-time All-Star, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.