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Scott Ostler

Words of Warning for NL Champions

October 13, 1987|Scott Ostler

DETROIT — Dear To Whom it May Concern (Giants or Cardinals):

A bit of advice, to whichever team wins over there, whatever you do, don't let anyone talk you into opening the World Series in Minneapolis.

What do you mean, it's already decided? Appeal the decision. Ask for a new coin flip. Demand a neutral court.

These Minnesota Twins are going to be tough enough to handle as it is. You let them open the Fall Classic in their Teflon-topped Taj Mahal, like they did against the Tigers, build up a head of steam, and this group could be trouble.

They got so full of themselves by winning the first two games of this American League championship series at home that they just kept right on rolling. They trashed the nice little mom-and-pop ballpark, Tiger Stadium, winning the series, 4-1.

As Tiger Bill Madlock said so eloquently: "They beat the (stuffing) out of us, what the hell."

And Sparky Anderson, Tiger manager, said: "I got my brains beat out."

Which helps explain a couple of Sparky's moves the last two games, but that's another story.

The story here is the Twins, who were supposed to dance a couple rounds with the Tigers, like a good sparring partner, to get Detroit ready for the World Series. It was a mismatch, all right. Very one-sided. But the Twins did all the big hitting. The Twins made all the big glove plays.

How do the Twins feel now? Are they in a crazed state of euphoria, underdogging their way to the World Series?

"Our battle cry all year," said Twin utility man Roy Smalley, "has been to keep on an even level. (Twin Manager) Tom Kelly has made that a way of life."

This is not good news, National Leaguers. There's nothing more dangerous than a good team riding a tidal wave of non-emotion. How can you deal with a battle cry of "Keep on an even keel!"?

The Twin manager, you're guessing, is a real ball of fire. Know what Tom Kelly does before every home game? He sorts the clubhouse mail. No, I'm not kidding.

Why does he sort the clubhouse mail? Because he did it once and the Twins won that game. Besides, he's the wild kind of guy who likes to sort mail. He probably sneaks in the shower room when nobody's looking and folds towels.

It's that kind of group. Sure, the Twins squirted a little champagne in their clubhouse after Monday's clincher. That's the way they've always seen it done on TV. But they probably all went out after the game for malts.

"We finally did it, man, thank God!" Kirby Puckett said. "We gave him (Kelly) 100%, that's all he asked."

Seems fair.

Puckett is the guy who plays center field, the one who looks like a normal-sized fellow who fell into a trash compactor.

This is a team, not a beauty contest. Their middle relief ace, Juan Berenguer, has baseball's foremost boiler, a pot belly as big as his smile. He shut down the Tigers in three games, then Monday, his third appearance in three days, he got touched for a home run, by Chet Lemon.

When Kelly took Berenguer out, Juan tipped his cap to the hostile crowd and laughed all the way back to the dugout.

"He (Kelly) ask me today, 'You want to go in there?' I say, 'Why not?' "

But why smile after the homer, Juan?

"Sooner or later, someone gonna catch me one. I like it when somebody hit me hard, not a little (cheap) hit like (Kirk) Gibson. I like it when they hit it hard, it's more better. I said to myself, 'I did the best I can.' "

That's a big speech for Berenguer, who rarely talks with us press guys. The Twins are a fairly modest bunch. But don't be fooled.

They have a third baseman, Gary Gaetti, who was the series MVP, and a shortstop, Greg Gagne, who could have been.

Both of them are fairly quiet. Mostly they just field and hit. They each hit two homers in the series, and on defense they're tough little guys, the kind that would keep a pack of cigarettes rolled in their T-shirt sleeves.

The Twins have a right fielder, Tom Brunansky, who hit .412 for the series, drove in 9 runs. You remember Tom--the guy the Angels couldn't use? Some day he may be old enough to try it with the Angels again. This week he was busy quietly killing the Tigers.

The only noisy one on the club is Bert Blyleven's wife, who communicates by blowing a police whistle at full volume. You'll hear from her.

All in all, this club has a dangerous blend of youth and inexperience. And talent. And confidence.

These aren't the old Twins, representing Loserville, USA. They even have newly designed uniforms this year. All these kids know about Minneapolis is that it's where Wheaties are made. They don't know about past athletic failures.

They're especially tough in their Metrodome. You play them there, fellas, you've got bubble trouble.

But I'll let you go, I know you've got business to finish up.

I've got to get going myself. The geese and ducks have already headed south. A chilly wind is blowing in off the lake. They're boarding up the windows at Tiger Stadium.

Winter is knock-knock-knocking on Detroit's door. The Twins are leaving, too, domeward bound. They'll be waiting for you.

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