MINNEAPOLIS — At 8:57 p.m., local Thunderdome time, the St. Louis Cardinals found out what all the fuss has been about.
You've heard of barn raisings. Well, this was a Dome raising. If the Minnesota Twins' home park had collapsed upon the 55,171 fans here Saturday night to open the World Series, would Dan Gladden have had to fill out an accident form for his insurance company?
"All I did was hit a grand slam homer and suddenly there was this nuclear hankie explosion," Gladden said. "It's not my fault, honest. Do my rates go up?"
Hopefully, Joe Magrane still had his earplugs in place, even though he had been off the mound and in the showers for a couple of batters. The sound level here routinely reaches 100 to 110 decibels, somewhere between a jackhammer and the China Syndrome. If Magrane should have to pitch again for the Cardinals this Series, it would be nice if he could still hear his name during the introductions.
At 9:02, the Cardinals had been introduced to the crowd that ate Detroit. Now, they would learn about The Roof. It leaks. It falls down. It has holes in it just large enough to swallow a Dave Kingman popup and keep it up there forever.
But most of all, The Roof makes baseballs disappear until they take their first 30-foot high bounce on the chemical grass.
As Willie McGee, Vince Coleman and Ozzie Smith, three of the planet's best chasers of flying objects, looked at each other and shrugged, Gary Gaeti trotted into second with a standup popup double. Oh, so that's The Roof.
People say bad things about the Gopher Dome. They're spoilsports. This is what college basketball has been like for years. Sit at courtside for Notre Dame-Indiana or North Carolina-Duke and the volume is perhaps slightly more painful than it is here.
That's why they freeze the shooter and wave towels en masse in the last two minutes: to rattle opponents. It works. For baseball players, however, the experience is unique and decidely unpleasant. The sound gets in and around you and makes you feel as if you need to be reintroduced to your own central nervous system.
When the score reached 10-1 this evening, after the mighty Steve Lombardozzi (16 career homers) hit a home run even longer than the mighty Gladden (24 career homers), it appeared that the Cardinals would just as soon have made the requisite 27 outs as quickly as honor permitted, then retire to some quieter place. Like, maybe, under a mattress in the hotel closet.
After this evening, one thing is clear. The Twins have a serious attendance problem during the regular season. Not the fans. The players. These nine guys can't show up with much regularity or they'd have won 137 games, at least. Maybe "Bruno" and "G-Man" just get weekend passes from the correctional facility. This Murderer's Row can't possibly have been intact all season.
Actually, the Twins were healthy all year, yet eighth in the American League in runs scored. So, what's going on here? Mass hypnosis? Soul selling on a previously unsuspected scale?
Is it possible the Twins have honed a form of psychological warfare that's traditional to indoor sports like hockey and basketball but foreign to baseball--the total immersion sports event? Tens of thousands of hankies seem silly, but do they have subliminal impact?
No team has used rock 'n roll as aggressively as the Twins. People don't listen to Prince doing "Let's Go Crazy" this loud in the privacy of their homes. When the theme from "Star Wars" lifts the joint as Gladden rounds the bases, the impact is similar to Pauley Pavilion going dark for spotlight introductions of John Wooden's UCLA Bruins.
"It's just like a crazy college basketball game. It's impossible to communicate. You can barely think. From the sixth inning on, it's a steady scream," Kent Hrbek said. "Tonight (Saturday), they actually let out a breath after we got ahead 9-1."
Perhaps this level of sustained hysteria could only be achieved in a city so homogeneous and content with itself. "The town has gone absolutely bananas," Hrbek said.
Statisticians have long known that home field advantages are far more pronounced in indoor sports than in any outdoor game. That the Twins could be 56-25 at home and 29-52 on the road suggests that this small Metrodome, far cozier and noisier than Houston's Astrodome, is the first true example of baseball played under the conditions of maximized psychic hostility that's only possible in a claustrophobic setting.
"I don't think a crowd can get much louder," said the Cardinals' Smith. However, teammate Terry Pendleton added, "Their bats got us, not their fans. From what I was told, I thought this crowd would be something you could not stand. It's bearable."
But it's also a bear.
This was a so-called "must" game for the Twins with ace Frank Viola working against a rookie with nine career wins.
Now, Sunday may come close to being mandatory for the Cardinals.
Danny Cox is easily the best-suited St. Louis pitcher to face the Twins: right-handed, allows few homers, likes turf surfaces, thrives in big games, actually pitches better on the road.
Also, in Game 2, the Cardinals can at least put a major league team on the field with Dan Driessen at first, Jose Oquendo at third and either Curt Ford or Jim Lindeman in right field. It's hard to believe Tom Lawless (three runs batted in the last two entire seasons) and Tom Pagnozzi (48 career at-bats) actually started the World Series opener.
The Cardinals had few consolations after this drubbing. However, history does make one calming point. Only three previous Series openers have been routs of this magnitude--1945 (9-0), 1959 (11-0) and 1982 (10-0), that last when these very Cardinals were the losers. In all three cases, the victim came back to win Game 2 and eventually the whole Series.
On the other hand, they played outdoors back in those days.