MINNEAPOLIS — Mr. Twin, Bert Blyleven, met Mr. Almost Twin, Jack Morris, in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series Thursday night, and the result was almost too much to believe.
Blyleven, the only current Twin to have played on the last Minnesota playoff team of 1970 and the only man alive to surrender 50 home runs in one major league season, was thrown into the Metrodome against Morris, a man previously unbeaten in the state of Minnesota, and--stunningly--beat him.
Blyleven's 6-3 victory over Morris and the Detroit Tigers left this playoff series in a state of disarray. The Twins, voted Most Likely To Be Swept in the postseason class of 1987, own a 2-0 lead over the Tigers and are in position to do the sweeping.
"The ball is in our court now," said Blyleven, who limited Detroit to 7 hits in 7 innings. "The adrenaline is pumping and it's going to take us into Detroit. I think we'll win it there."
Who'd have thought it? Granted, the Metrodome brings out the best in the Twins, and Game 2 brought out the largest baseball crowd in Minnesota history--55,245 more screamers who went above and beyond the indoor sound barrier. But the Tigers had baseball's best regular-season record in 1987, swept Toronto to win the AL East last weekend and opened the playoffs with two of the league's finest starting pitchers, Doyle Alexander and Morris.
Alexander the Undefeated (9-0 as a Tiger) fell Wednesday night, and Morris, the St. Paul native who was 11-0 in his home state, did likewise Thursday night. Morris allowed just six hits in eight innings, but four went for extra bases--doubles by Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky and Tim Laudner in a three-run second inning and a home run by Kent Hrbek in the fifth inning.
However, were it not for a sudden case of cold feet in the Twins' front office last December--and we're not talking about Minnesota winters--Morris and Blyleven might have been teammates. As a free agent last off-season, Morris campaigned for homecoming, but negotiations between the Twins and the pitcher broke off, sending Morris reluctantly back to Detroit.
Morris imagined how nice it must be to be the benefactor, rather than the brunt, of the Metrodome's roaring thunder revue.
"That was the most amazing crowd I've ever seen, even though they were not cheering for me," Morris said. "That's got to help the home team, because it's so inspiring. Unfortunately, I'm not on the home team."
So not only could Morris not join the Twins. In his most significant appearance against them to date, he couldn't beat them, either.
Blyleven, a symbol of both Minnesota's baseball team and stadium, was the perfect author for this latest unlikely chapter. Like the Twins, Blyleven has slummed around since the high of 1970--he had career detours to Pittsburgh and Cleveland--and since his return in 1985, he is a major reason why this place is known as the Homerdome. Blyleven helped launch a record 50 home runs in 1986 and came back to serve up 46 in 1987.
Ninety-six home runs in two seasons takes some doing, even with the air conditioning blowing out.
And in Game 2, Blyleven gave up two more home runs--a two-run shot by Chet Lemon in the second inning and a bases-empty homer by Lou Whitaker in the eighth. But this game was only an upset, not a miracle.
The surprise was that Blyleven kept the damage to a minimum. Those were the only runs he allowed. He struck out 6 and walked just 1, retiring 15 of 16 batters in one stretch.
"The only problem Bert had was that he got a little emotional early on," said Laudner, his catcher. "It took a little time to calm himself down. I give him credit for getting himself back in the game."
Blyleven accomplished this by talking to himself in a language that is unprintable in either English or Dutch.
"A lot of four-letter words," Blyleven said. "I expect perfection out there, and a lot of times, the way I get under control is to get mad at myself."
Blyleven fell behind, 2-0, on Lemon's home run but straightened out, coincidentally or not, as soon as his teammates scored three runs in the bottom of the second inning.
Gaetti, the two-home run star of Game 1, got the inning started with a double high off the blue vinyl covering in right field and scored on a double by Brunansky. After Greg Gagne walked, he and Brunansky scored on a double down the left-field line by the .191-hitting Laudner.
Minnesota added to its lead with some rare daring in the fourth inning. With one out and designated hitter Randy Bush on first base, Twin Manager Tom Kelly flashed the steal sign--not once, but twice. Bush proceeded to steal second and third against Detroit catcher Mike Heath. Owner of 10 stolen bases in 1987, this marked the first time in Bush's career that he had stolen more than one base in the same game.
Kelly called it "more an element of surprise than anything." How surprising was it? "Well, he (Bush) very rarely gets to second base," Kelly quipped.