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Peter Gammons
July 04, 1988
Once 12 games out, the world champion Twins moved within four of first by winning three of four from the Athletics
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July 04, 1988

Mighty Minny Recovery

Once 12 games out, the world champion Twins moved within four of first by winning three of four from the Athletics

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"We are a reflection of the manager," says Hrbek. "We play for the man because almost everyone in this room thinks he's the best. He understands us and how to get us to play hard every day."

"This team is different than any I've been around," adds reliever Jeff Reardon. "We play hard, we have fun. Sort of like a hockey team. Just watch [Kirby] Puckett, Gladden, Gaetti, Hrbek and the rest of those guys go at it every night. And that's all the manager asks. I come in with the bases loaded, he hands me the ball and just says, 'Do the best you can, have some fun,' and walks away. There have been some rough moments this year, but he's never wavered."

It was rough earlier in the season primarily because three members of the 10-man pitching staff" were senior citizens. But that was before the Twins released Steve Carlton, Joe Niekro and Tippy Martinez and worked young lefthander Allan Anderson and former Montreal Expo righthander Charlie Lea—who has finally recovered from the shoulder surgery he underwent in 1985—into the rotation. Meanwhile, the bullpen began to gel around Reardon, who through last weekend had been successful in 15 straight save opportunities and, with 20 saves in all, was second in the league behind Oakland's Dennis Eckersley, who had 23.

A particularly rough moment came on April 22 when the Twins traded rightfielder Tom Brunansky to the St. Louis Cardinals for second baseman Tommy Herr. The deal was unpopular with the Minnesota players because Brunansky had been one of them since 1982 and had hit .259 with 32 homers and 85 RBIs last year. Things got even worse when Herr arrived in the Twin Cities. "The first thing he said was that he didn't like it here and wanted to go back to the National League at the end of the season," says one Minnesota player. "If they're so much better where he came from, how come they've lost the World Series four of the last five years? Now, he's pulled a muscle and says he can't play."

Herr is something of a loner, and he had trouble fitting in with the Twins, who believe in togetherness. This is a team on which two of the biggest stars, Gaetti and Hrbek, still share a room on road trips, even though on most teams players of their stature have provisions for single rooms written into their contracts. "Kent was one of the first guys I met in pro ball," says Gaetti, who first played with Hrbek on the Elizabethton (Tenn.) Twins in the Appalachian League in 1979. "This big load came into the room and bellowed, 'I'm Herbie.' Except for one year in the minors, we've been together ever since."

During spring training in 1981, Gaetti and Hrbek roomed above Kelly, who was then manager of the Class AA Orlando Twins, in a Melbourne, Fla., motel. Late one night Kelly thought his roof was falling in. "I knocked on their door and called for a timeout," says Kelly. "They'd had a few beers and were playing pro wrestling. The next day I held them after practice and hit them ground balls for hours. They were dying, but they would never give in."

Kelly hates to see Gaetti out of the lineup, "because he is so intense he spends most of his time screaming at the other team." Gaetti is also well-read and active politically. He often wears a button on his cap supporting the families of Vietnam MIAs and POWs, a cause he says he became fervently involved in "after seeing a couple of movies and reading several books on the subject and realizing how tragic it is for the families that still don't know if their husbands and fathers are alive."

Hrbek remains good ol' Herbie. When busloads of Minnesota fans showed up at the Twins' hotel in Kansas City in late May, Hrbek sat in the bar and drank beers with them. He, too, is unhappy when he's out of the lineup. "I can't stand watching baseball," he said before Friday's game. "I've got to play. But the way I feel right now, if I were a horse, they'd shoot me."

"What do you mean, 'if you were a horse'? " said Bush.

Though Kelly and La Russa played down the significance of last weekend's series, they lined up their rotations so that the league's winningest pitcher, Minnesota's Frank Viola, 11-2 coming into the series, would go against Oakland's Dave Stewart, who was tied for second in wins with a 10-5 record, in the final game of the doubleheader Sunday. "Some managers would split up the aces," said La Russa. "But that's not the way we go at one another."

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