MINNESOTA, MN - APRIL 12: Kirby Puckett, Jr., son the late Minnesota Twins of Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, looks at a statue of his father after it was unveiled prior to a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins during the Twins home opener at Target Field on April 2, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien /Getty Images)
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As we sit on the precipice of the sixth game of what has been a very good 2011 World Series, I feel it's only appropriate that we take a look back at what might be the greatest moment in Minnesota Twins history. . .which, ironically enough, also took place in a Game Six.
The year was 1991, exactly twenty years ago tonight, when the Atlanta Braves, who went from worst-to-first from 1990 to 1991 much like the Twins did, brought a 3-2 series lead into the Metrodome in the hopes of closing out the Twins and winning their first World Series title since moving to Atlanta from Milwaukee. The Braves were coming off of three consecutive victories in Atlanta, including a 14-5 thumping of the Twins in Game Five. The Braves sent left-hander Steve Avery, who had gone 18-8 during the regular season and had been named the MVP of the National League Championship Series, to the mound. The Twins countered with right-hander Scott Erickson, who had gone 20-8 during the regular season en route to being voted runner-up for the American League Cy Young Award.
The Twins got to Avery first, as Chuck Knoblauch reached first on a one-out single in the bottom of the first inning, and Kirby Puckett brought him home with a triple to make it 1-0. After Chili Davis was retired, Shane Mack singled to bring home Puckett and give Minnesota a 2-0 lead after one inning.
It stayed that way until the top of the fifth, when National League MVP Terry Pendleton hit a two-run homer off of Erickson to make tie the score at two. The Twins pulled ahead in the bottom of the inning, when Dan Gladden walked to lead off the inning and stole second base. Gladden advanced to third on a fly ball by Knoblauch, and came home on Puckett's sacrifice fly to make the score 3-2.
After Erickson gave up a single to Mark Lemke to start the top of the seventh inning, he was lifted for Mark Guthrie. With one out, Guthrie threw a wild pitch to allow Lemke to move to second, and a walk to Lonnie Smith and a single by Pendleton loaded the bases. Guthrie was then lifted for Carl Willis, who got Ron Gant to ground into a fielder's choice, but Lemke came in to score and tied the game at three.
The score remained that way through nine, and into the bottom of the eleventh, when the Braves brought in one of their starters, left-hander Charlie Liebrandt, from the bullpen. With Avery, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine comprising the Braves' post-season rotation, Liebrandt had been used out of the bullpen by Bobby Cox during the playoffs. Puckett led off the bottom of the eleventh for Minnesota.
What happened from there will forever be a part of Minnesota sports lore.
There's a reason that Liebrandt is, to this day, known south of the Mason-Dixon line as Charlie "F'ing" Liebrandt. That 2-1 pitch to Kirby Puckett is that reason.
Jack Buck gave us one of the single greatest calls in World Series history, Kirby Puckett gave us one of the greatest memories in Minnesota sports history, and the greatest World Series in the history of baseball was pushed to a seventh game.
Exactly twenty years ago. It makes you wonder where the time has gone, doesn't it?