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Baseball Playoffs : American: Detroit vs. Minnesota : A Twins' Secret Is Out: They Have Themselves Quite a Player in Gaetti

October 08, 1987|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS — The Metrodome computer kicked out the information that the home runs had traveled 408 and 390 feet, respectively.

They had also gone a long way toward:

--Propelling the Minnesota Twins to an 8-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers in the opening game of the American League playoffs Wednesday night.

--Providing overdue recognition for Gary Gaetti, who has gone without it through most of his six seasons as the Minnesota third baseman.

Happy about the win, the Twins may have been happier yet for Gaetti, who rocked the seemingly invincible Doyle Alexander for those solo home runs in the second and fifth innings, becoming the first player in playoff history to hit homers in his first two at-bats.

"Everybody in the nation knows who Kirby Puckett is," pitcher Frank Viola said, alluding to the Twin center fielder, "but I don't know how many people really know how good Gaetti is. Other than Wade Boggs, I don't see any third baseman who's close."

Calvin Griffith, the former owner who watched the game from a private box, emerged to call Gaetti the best third baseman in Minnesota history and one of the best he's ever seen.

"There aren't any better anywhere," Griffith said. "His defense is the equal of anybody who has played third base, and you've just seen what he can do with the bat. He drives in the runs when you need them."

Gaetti, 29, drove in 109 runs during the regular season, 108 last year and never fewer than 63 since becoming a regular in 1982. He hit 31 homers this season and 34 last year. He won a Gold Glove for his fielding last year and went 47 straight games without an error en route to finishing second among American League third baseman in fielding percentage this season.

Gary who?

"The people who need to know, the people I need to impress, know who I am," Gaetti said. "My family. The owner and general manager who sign the checks. My manager.

"Anything else is gravy. It's nice to be recognized, but I don't get into Gary Gaetti.

"We've never won; we're not in a big market. There's been no reason to be noticed.

"Now if people start talking about the Minnesota Twins, that's what's important. Now if there's a chance for that individual attention as well . . . well, that's what I mean about gravy."

They don't need a ladle in the Twin Cities. They know who Gary Gaetti is. He is even writing a daily column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune on his postseason views.

Well, Dennis Bracken is writing it, but the thoughts are Gaetti's. In the debut piece Wednesday, he reported that when he returned to his subdivision from a Tuesday workout, he found a large sign that read: "Twins Are No. 1, Go G-Man." He found that the street on which he lives, Ellie Lane, had been renamed "Gary and Debbie Lane" in his and his wife's honor for the day. He found that every neighbor in a three-block radius was there to wish him well. He reported that he had never been so touched, that he wanted to embrace every one of those neighbors.

And what will his readers learn this morning? Gaetti stood at his locker and said that he had experienced a restless night and a long day during which it had been "hard to control his heart rate." He said, however, that except for a few more seats and a lot more hype, the game itself--the playing of it--was no different than any other, which was the best part of it.

Almost the best, anyway.

"The day that the Twins brought me up (after he had been drafted out of Northwest Missouri State in 1979) was the biggest of my career," he said, "but this was the most exciting. What was I thinking, going around the bases? I wasn't thinking, I was feeling. I was happy. I was elated. I have a hard time right now remembering any of it."

He hit an outside fastball on a 2-and-2 pitch for a 1-0 lead in the second. He hit a slider "right in my womp-'em zone" on the first pitch of the fifth, breaking a 1-1 tie and igniting a three-run assault in that inning.

"I didn't go about it any differently tonight than I normally do," Gaetti said. "I jump on the first good pitch I see. I swing hard in case I hit it. The thing about Alexander (who had been 9-0 as a Tiger and 2-0 against the Twins this season) is that you really have to concentrate. He doesn't give you that many good pitches. He really knows how to pitch.

"I have to think that what I saw tonight were mistakes. I have to think he thought I was guessing and that he was thinking more about pitch selection than location. I'd have to look at the film, but his location wasn't good."

Mike Henneman's wasn't any better when he walked Gaetti during the decisive, four-run rally in the eighth. Minnesota Manager Tom Kelly seemed as impressed with the walk as with the home runs, since the walk loaded the bases.

"It was a good-hitting situation but he took a big walk for us," Kelly said. "It was disciplined hitting. Usually in a big inning you find one key walk, and that was it."

The walk may have been big, but the home runs had to be bigger. Gaetti admitted that they may have provided the Twins with hope against a pitcher who "generally shuts us down." He also said the Twins knew they could come back, which they've been doing all season, but they now also know they can play amid the pressure.

"I just don't want to read too much into one win," he said.

Maybe that's because he can remember seasons here of 91 and 92 and 102 losses. But he said this wasn't the time to discuss the dichotomy between past and present. Nor the time to talk about Gary Gaetti. For once, people from all over the nation will be.

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