The Minnesota Twins had two distinct advantages in this World Series. First, the St. Louis Cardinals were coming off an emotionally draining National League playoff series with the Giants, and half their power supply—specifically, Jack Clark and Terry Pendleton—was crippled. Second, the first two games were in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, where Minnesota's 58-25 regular-and postseason record should have removed any doubts about which team was the underdog.
In fact the Dome itself was the dominant story in the days leading up to the Series, followed closely by the screaming, Homer Hanky-waving crowds the Cardinals would find inside it (see page 51). Several St. Louis players, including the Game 1 starter, rookie Joe Magrane, wore earplugs to block out the noise, and the outfielders practiced locating fly balls against the billowy off-white ceiling by the hour. Though the hype mercifully ended when Harmon Killebrew threw out the first ball Saturday night, the Dome did affect the game after all. Cardinal centerfielder Willie McGee and leftfielder Vince Coleman lost track of fly balls in the ceiling; Coleman thought his actually grazed the canvas. McGee drifted in toward a popup but couldn't hear if second baseman Tommy Herr had called for it. In his confusion McGee dropped the ball. By his own admission, Magrane "messed around too much" in the third inning by making nine consecutive attempts to pick Dan Gladden off first; with his ears plugged, Magrane couldn't hear manager Whitey Herzog and pitching coach Mike Roarke telling him to forget the runner and pitch.
"Hey, everything's different here," said Twins third baseman Gary Gaetti. "The atmosphere isn't like anything in the baseball experience. Other crowds are relatively quiet during uneventful moments. This crowd screams the whole time, so it's more like college basketball in the Carrier Dome or the Notre Dame arena. It's crazy."
But the Dome had only a little bit to do with the Cardinals' losing the opener 10-1. Lefthander Frank Viola had a lot. Had Minnesota not won the American League pennant, Viola would have spent Saturday as best man at his brother's wedding. Instead, he helped the Twins administer what Herzog called "an old-fashioned butt-kicking." After seven Minnesota hitters went to the plate in the fourth inning and produced seven runs, the game was effectively over. "We were not going to score seven runs off Viola," said Herzog, who presumably spent the rest of the game thinking up ways to use his famed managerial genius in Game 2.
Viola was the absolute master of a tattered St. Louis lineup that was without Clark and Pendleton, who had combined to hit 47 of the Cardinals' 94 home runs and drive in 202 runs during the season. The Cardinals faced Viola with a cleanup hitter (Jim Lindeman) who had all of 28 RBIs and with a third baseman ( Tom Lawless) and designated hitter ( Tom Pagnozzi) who, for the season, had 11 hits between them.
For all that, the Cardinals scored first, though through no fault of Viola's. Lindeman led off the second inning with what should have been a routine flyout. But Kirby Puckett, who plays a deep centerfield, broke back and couldn't prevent the ball from dropping in for a double. Another fly and a ground ball brought Lindeman home.
The way Viola was throwing, two runs would have been enough for the Twins. In eight innings, he allowed five hits, ran a count to three balls only once and fell behind 2 and 0 only twice. Of his 100 pitches, 79 were strikes. The St. Louis hitters were stunned by the quality of Viola's changeup. "He perfected that pitch this spring," said his catcher, Tim Laudner, "and it changed him from a good pitcher into maybe a great one." His first time through the Cardinal order, nearly half of Viola's pitches were changeups. "What surprised us was that he threw so many," said St. Louis shortstop Ozzie Smith. The second time around, Viola threw his 90-mph fastball almost exclusively. "They couldn't catch up to it at that point," Laudner said. By the time the Cardinals came up for their third at bats, the Twins led 9-1. "I felt I was totally in control of the game," Viola said.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, seemed to lack confidence even when they had the lead, because Magrane was so out of sync. "Holistically speaking, I put us in a lot of holes," quipped the rookie. Though he didn't allow a hit in the first three innings, he struggled with his control, walking three batters. Then, in the fateful fourth, the Twins knocked him out with a spray of turf hits that might have seemed more appropriate coming off Cardinal bats.
"We carry the reputation of being a free-swinging, go-for-the-downs bunch of hitters," said Minnesota rightfielder Tom Brunansky. "I think that probably got us in trouble on the road during the season. Most of us realized that in the postseason we had to try to hit the ball through the middle. I changed my whole approach. I couldn't have cared less whether I pulled anything. When Gaetti, who's normally a dead pull hitter, homered to right center off Doyle Alexander in the American League playoffs, it carried us right through that series into this one."