MINNEAPOLIS — In winning their first American League pennant in 22 years, it may have been a loss that counted most toward success for the Minnesota Twins.
With baseball's best home record and one of its worst on the road, the Twins won the first two playoff games from the Detroit Tigers at the Metrodome.
A great boost, said Gary Gaetti, the Twins third baseman and playoff Most Valuable Player, who hit two homers in Game 1. But it could almost have been anticipated. The Twins would learn a thing or three, their skeptics said, when the Tigers got them in their park for Games 3, 4 and 5.
"They've got to play in Detroit now," Tigers' Game 2 loser Jack Morris said. "We've got them in our backyard."
The Tigers came away with a 7-6 victory in Game 3 on Pat Sheridan's two-run homer in the eighth inning, but it was not the kind of victory they needed. Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson had said the Twins' roll was broken, but it wasn't--only temporarily slowed.
Detroit led 5-0 at one point, but the Twins came back with two runs each in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings to go ahead 6-5 against Walt Terrell, who was 13-2 at home this year.
"That loss was the key point because we were down 5-0 and took the lead and lost on Pat Sheridan's homer," said Tom Brunansky, who had two homers and four doubles in the series. "It's the first road game for us in the series and we lose, bringing up all the doubt about us on the road.
"But what we did was rally together and say, 'Hey, we were down 5-0 against Walt Terrell in their park where this guy almost never loses, and we nearly won. If we can do that, we can do anything.' "
The rest is history. The Twins, who have the worst road record of any pennant winner in history, 29-52, won the next two games at Tiger Stadium and will begin their first World Series since 1965 Saturday in Minneapolis. Their two closing victories were only their 10th and 11th on the road since the All-Star break.
"That loss was my fault," said Twins reliever Jeff Reardon, who gave up Sheridan's homer. "But I know it made me and the whole team better. And I think it will pay off for us having won two of three in Detroit before we go to the World Series."
Reardon had a win, a loss and two saves in the series and helped provide the Twins with one clear area of superiority over the Tigers--the bullpen.
Reardon pitched 5 innings as Minnesota's starters failed to finish a game. He gave up three runs for a playoff earned-run average of 5.06, but two of the runs were on the one swing by Sheridan. Juan Berenguer worked six innings, with one save, allowing one earned run for a playoff ERA of 1.50.
Bert Blyeleven won Games 2 and 5, working 13 innings while giving up six earned runs for a postseason ERA of 4.05. Frank Viola also pitched twice, winning Game 4 while allowing eight earned runs in 12 innings for an ERA of 6.00.
Neither was spectacular, but they got the Twins to their bullpen.
"I think we pitched pretty good baseball this week," Twins Manager Tom Kelly said.
Low key, even tempered and a friend to his players, Kelly was given much credit for keeping this high-spirited, emotional club on the right track this season. With interviewers, he was boring, particularly contrasted with Anderson, but that probably was just what the Twins needed.
"I hate to be redundant or blase," Kelly said after the Twins had won the pennant, "but we do the best we can day in and day out."
Kelly credited Gaetti's two Game 1 homers off Doyle Alexander with getting his club started in the right direction. It made the other Twins believe that "if Gary can hit the ball out of the park off Doyle Alexander, then maybe the rest of us can get something going, too."
Gaetti wound up the series batting .300 with a double, two homers, five runs-batted in, five runs scored and a couple of defensive plays at third base that inspired his club.
Gaetti helped save a run in the eighth inning of Game 2 when he made a sliding stop to his right of a grounder hit by John Grubb. Gaetti made a strong throw to Kent Hrbek, but it was wide to the right of first. Hrbek dove and, fully extended on the ground, he caught the ball in the tip of his mitt, while the tip of his toe touched the bag.
Of all that Gaetti did, however, the play he called on the pickoff of Darrell Evans Sunday in Game 4 may have been the most important.
Big hitters hit homers, and Gaetti had 31 of them during the season. It comes natural, without thinking. The pickoff didn't.
The Twins led, 5-2, in the sixth inning of Game 4. the Tigers already had scored a run in the inning off Viola, who was now out of the game. Evans was at third and Dave Bergman at second with one out. On Berenguer's first pitch to Lou Whitaker, Twins catcher Tim Laudner backhanded a low-inside pitch and made a perfect throw to Gaetti, who tagged out Evans.
Two pitches later, Berenguer threw a wild pitch that would have scored Evans. Instead, Bergman moved to third and Jim Morrison flied out to end an inning that began with three consecutive singles but ended with just one run scored.
The pickoff was made on a play called by Gaetti, who remembered Evans as a player who tended to wander off the bag. That Gaetti had the presence of mind--while the game was coming unraveled in front of 51,939 screaming fans at Tiger Stadium--speaks more eloquently to his contribution than any of his teammates could.
"Day in and day out, all you have to do is write his name in the lineup and forget him," Kelly said after that last victory Monday. "He never lets the guys get down. In the dugout, he was always pushing. 'Score more runs, score more runs. Let's get going.'
"He's the catalyst on this ballclub."