- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Before the bottom of the 12th, Braves catcher Greg Olson told Lemke, a career .225 hitter with a dwarflike presence at the plate, that Lemke—a.k.a. Lumpy, a.k.a. the Lemmer—would get the game-winning hit that inning. Olson is a Minnesota native who spent 13 days with the Twins in 1989, during which time he was given the T-shirt, emblazoned with a caricature of Puckett, that Olson wears beneath his uniform to this day. Lemke, having no such talisman to draw upon for strength, pretended not to hear his teammate's prediction. "But I said to myself, 'Ehhhh, I don't think so,' " said the Lemmer later. This recollection came, of course, shortly after Lemke had singled to drive in rightfielder David Justice, who scored inches ahead of Gladden's throw and Harper's tag.
With Lemke's late game-winner, bedlam and then bedtime ensued in Atlanta. The Braves were 5-4 victors, and Lemke, at his locker, looked longingly at a bottle of Rolaids the size of a sweepstakes drum. "I get big-time heartburn," he said as just one of several cardiologically concerned members of the Braves. As Justice put it: "If we win the World Series now, I think you're going to see some guys have heart attacks in here. I really do."
Eighteen hours later, as baseball commissioner Fay Vincent settled into his special overstuffed, faux-leather easy chair along the first base line and prepared to take in Game 4, he needed only a reading lamp and a stand-up globe to look completely at home. And that was all an observer needed to do on this night: Look at home, to the thick and transfixing traffic at the plate. It was there, in the fifth inning, that Harper tagged out Lonnie Smith in a bone-rattling collision and, moments later, put the touch on Terry Pendleton as Pendleton tried to score on a not-wild-enough pitch that bounded in front of home plate.
In the top of the seventh, Minnesota's Mike Pagliarulo hit a solo homer to break a 1-1 tie. In the bottom of the seventh, Smith did the same to retie things. Stomach linings could be heard eroding throughout the stadium before Lemke, who wears a PROPERTY OF UTICA COLLEGE INTRAMURALS T-shirt under his uniform, slugged a one-out triple in the bottom of the ninth. One batter later, Willard emerged from the dugout to pinch-hit.
Willard's parents, Faye and Jerry Sr., had arrived two days earlier from Port Hueneme, Calif. They had driven three straight days to Atlanta, only to see their son sit on the bench during the most populous World Series game ever played. Coach Cox, why don't you play my son? You play all the other kids. On this night, however, Willard would heroically fly out to shallow rightfield, just deep enough to allow Lemke to tag up from third and slide past Harper, who appeared to tag him out as the two made contact. In fact, Harper never laid the leather on the Lemmer, and another page in the epic was turned. "Same two teams here tomorrow," Skip Caray dryly told his radio audience as he signed off following Atlanta's 3-2 win.
Game 5 was a godsend for both teams, though Minnesota wouldn't acknowledge that at the time. The Braves' 14-5 tomtom drumming of the Twins at last broke the skein of hypertense games that had endangered the central nervous systems of all those who had been watching them. On the Atlanta side, Smith tied a Series record by homering for the third consecutive game. On the Minnesota side, Kelly removed oh-fer rightfielder Shane Mack from his lineup and rendered him Mack the Knifeless as well. "We hid the razor blades," said Kelly of Mack, who was so disconsolate after the benching that "he was ready to cut his throat."
After the Twins had taken their Game 5 punishment, Atlanta fans stayed at the stadium to send off their team, and the players enthusiastically embraced the crowd in this love-in. The Braves were fully expected to return from Minneapolis with a world championship, what with Avery pitching on Saturday against Minnesota starter Scott Erickson. The former was so cool that when former President Jimmy Carter introduced himself in the Atlanta clubhouse following Game 5, Avery responded, "Howyadoin'." The latter, meanwhile, had posted a lukewarm 5.19 ERA in the postseason. And yet....
Erickson allowed only five hits in six innings in Game 6, though various Braves scorched balls right at Twins infielders or launched missiles that landed millimeters foul. But give the Twins credit. "If you got any pride at all, and your back's against the wall, you're going to fight your way out," said Puckett, who was raised in the crime-infected Robert Taylor Homes on Chicago's South Side and who fought his way out of Game 6 with two fists. Said the man afterward, "I'll get my rest when I'm dead."
Twins reliever Rick Aguilera picked up the win, just as he had in the dramatic sixth game of the 1986 Series as a member of the New York Mets, cannibalizing the Red Sox and Bill Buckner. What is it about Game 6? Boston's Carlton Fisk hit his unforgettable body-English home run off Cincinnati's Pat Darcy in the 12th inning of Game 6 in '75. And while the Red Sox went on to lose Game 7, they are as inextricably linked to that Series as are the Reds. The same unforgotten status would be bestowed upon Sunday's loser, no doubt. "Whatever happens tomorrow," Puckett said haltingly on Saturday, "it's been a great Series. I mean, I want to win. But if we don't, I'm just honored to be a part of this."
Morris would concede no such thing. "In the immortal words of the late, great Marvin Gaye," he said on the eve of Game 7," 'Let's get it on.' " And that they did, the Braves and the Twins. Morris outlasted the 24-year-old Smoltz. On this night it appeared he would have outlasted Methuselah.