Had the 2010 Series gone to seven games, Game 7 would have been played last night in San Francisco. Game 7’s in every sport offer the prospect of high drama, but very seldom live up to the expectation. By most baseball observers, the 1991 Game 7 at the Herbert Hoover Metrodome is held up as one that did live up to the hype, and also as the greatest World Series Game 7 of the last quarter century. There was another Game 7 four years earlier in the same building, and although not even close to as well pitched a game as the 1991 version, it was every bit as dramatic. Let’s take a look back at the other Metrodome Game 7 – 1987’s final baseball game.
Prologue and the early innings
This series is memorable for many because it was the first one where the home team won every game. This isn’t surprising when you consider: Minnesota had the majors’ best home (56-25) and worst road records (29-52), so of course they won the first 3 games in Minnesota and lost all 3 in St Louis. Rookie Joe Magrane had started Game 1, not surviving the fourth. Frank Viola would win the Cy Young the following year, but during the 1987 World Series, he was unhittable in Game 1 and back in the dugout before the fourth inning ended in Game 4. Could the rookie hold off the veteran who had only lost once at home since May 23rd?
Things started great for St Louis. Jim Lindeman, Willie McGee, and Tony Pena all singled to start the second, with Pena’s knock driving in the game’s first run. Two outs later catcher Steve Lake got his only hit in his only start of the series, driving in McGee to make it 2-0 Cardinals. Minnesota’s first two hitters reached in the bottom half of the frame – Don Baylor via HBP (naturally), Tom Brunansky with the more conventional single to left – but when Vince Coleman threw out Baylor at the plate trying to score on Tim Laudner’s base hit, it appeared Magrane would wriggle out of the jam.
Nope. Steve Lombardozzi, who hit .412 in this series, singled to score Brunansky. 2-1. Magrane got Dan Gladden to pop out and end the inning.
The Fateful Fifth Inning
After Lake’s RBI single, Viola settled right down, and the next 10 Cardinals failed to get the ball out of the infield. No really – 5 strikeouts, 3 groundouts, a pop out, and a foul out. Magrane worked around a Lindeman error in the third, and a walk to Laudner in the fourth, to enter the fifth still leading 2-1. After retiring Gladden on a ground out, he allowed a single to Greg Gagne, and St Louis manager Whitey Herzog felt Magrane had done all he could. Whitey replaced Magrane with Danny Cox, who had thrown 7 shutout innings two days before to win Game 5. This set up one of the more unique sequences in baseball history.
- Kirby Puckett hit the first pitch Cox threw off the right-center field wall, scoring Gagne and tying the game.
- Gary Gaetti worked a full-count walk.
- The Twins then attempted to double steal. Puckett was cut down at third while Gaetti stole second.
- Baylor followed that play by singling to left. Coleman fired another strike to the plate and threw out his second runner of the game at home ending the inning.
So Danny Cox would be credited with two outs in an inning where he didn’t retire anybody – every hitter reached safely before outs were recorded on the basepaths. And Vince Coleman demonstrated, once again, you don’t run on Vince Coleman (to be fair, Coleman had 16 OF assists in 1987, his career high). But with that sequence the momentum shifted decidedly to Minnesota, and their crowd re-emerged as a factor for the rest of the game.
In the sixth, Tommy Herr became the first Cardinal baserunner since the second when he singled with one out, but was eventually picked off by Viola. Cox started the bottom of the six by walking Brunansky and Kent Hrbek (still had not retired anyone), prompting Herzog to replace him with Todd Worrell. Worrell got Laudner to foul out to Lindeman at first. Twins manager Tom Kelly surprisingly pinch hit for the hot-hitting Lombardozzi with Roy Smalley III, but it worked out when Smalley walked. Worrell struck out Gladden swinging with the bases loaded, then worked the count full to Gagne. Gagne sent that 3-2 pitch at third baseman Tom Lawless, but Lawless couldn’t do anything with it. Tom Brunansky scampered home to give the Twins the lead. Worrell struck out Puckett to end the inning.
The Cardinals would not quit. Pena doubled with one out in the seventh, and stole third with two out, but Lawless’ fly ball landed harmlessly in Puckett’s glove ending the inning. Minnesota got a huge insurance run in the eighth thanks to Gladden’s two-out double to right-center, which scored Laudner from first. Jeff Reardon put all those years of futility in Montreal, where his teams were always close but never quite good enough, to rest by retiring the Cardinals in order, giving the Twins franchise their first World Series victory since 1924.
This was the zenith of Whitey Herzog’s career. He would not return to the playoffs. The Cardinals as a franchise would not get a shot at redemption until the MV3 2004 team. It has been 23 years, but still one can only wonder what might have been had Terry Pendelton not suffered a ribcage injury that prevented him from playing third base in this series. That’s not intended to be a knock on Lawless, but Pendelton did win the NL Gold Glove in 1987. Of course, being able to put Jack Clark on the field and in the lineup would have helped out too – he didn’t play a single game in the World Series.
My appreciation of this game has grown. How many games see multiple runners getting thrown out at the plate? Do pitchers often come in, let every hitter they face reach but get credit for recording 2 outs? Do teams routinely attempt a double steal in the playoffs? At the time I was a 17-year old kid 3000 miles from home and depressed; this game made me miserable. But now – this was a great game. Too bad more fans don’t remember it.