MINNEAPOLIS — Champions of their own little world they call the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the Minnesota Twins today are champions of a significantly larger world, the one populated by Giants and Tigers and Cardinals.
Incredibly, after a mere 85 regular-season victories, after finishing with the ninth -best record in the major leagues and after winning just nine road games following the All-Star break, the Twins are World Series titlists--proving just how far mediocrity can rise if you play enough games in your home park and your opponent loses enough starting players before Game 1.
The injury-ravaged St. Louis Cardinals finally succumbed Sunday night, losing Game 7, 4-2, with their backs to the Metrodome wall. Out of pitchers, out of home-run hitters and out of luck on two costly umpires' decisions at first base, the Cardinals went down for the final time beneath the Teflon sky, buried by the pitches of Minnesota's Frank Viola and Jeff Reardon.
Without two of their big hitters, Jack Clark (torn tissue in his right ankle) and Terry Pendleton (pulled rib-cage muscle), the Cardinals managed just six hits against Viola, voted the Series' most valuable player, and Reardon, the bullpen savior imported from Montreal for precisely this moment--at least in Minnesota General Manager Andy MacPhail's wildest dreams.
"We didn't have much of a lineup," said Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog, whose club won 95 games during the regular season, 10 more than the Twins. "The way we were all crinkled up, I'd like to see how we might have played at full strength. I'd like to have seen Clark hit in this dome. He might've hit it through the roof."
Instead, the Twins owned the dome, which is more incubator than baseball stadium, a controlled environment where swarthy, big-legged sluggers with eye-chart names--Hrbek, Gaetti, Brunansky--thrive. How much does this quarantine tank mean to the Twins? Well, in 83 previous seasons, no World Series had ever featured seven victories by the home team, which makes this one a first.
St. Louis won every game played at Busch Stadium and Minnesota won every game played at the Metrodome. The difference was in in the scheduling--four of the seven games were played in the Metrodome.
"They play awful good in this ballpark," Herzog said. "It's just unfortunate that we had to play four of the games here."
And for the Cardinals, it was another case of unfortunate umpiring around first base. The last time St. Louis went to the World Series, in 1985, the Cardinals lost Game 6 when first-base umpire Don Denkinger called Kansas City's Jorge Orta safe instead of out, preserving a Royal rally that ultimately led to victories in the final two games.
Banking on the power of negative thinking, or perhaps just preparing for the worst, one St. Louis fan showed up Sunday with a sign bearing the message Denkinger Lives .
And indeed he did, or at least the spirit of '85 lived in the person of Lee Weyer.
Weyer made a pair of controversial decisions in back-to-back innings that cost the Cardinals a runner and set the stage for the Twins' game-tying run.
In the fifth inning, Weyer called Minnesota's Greg Gagne safe on an infield single when it appeared--and television replays confirmed--that the throw had beaten him. Gagne grounded the ball to first baseman Jim Lindeman, who flipped to pitcher Joe Magrane, racing over to cover the base.
Magrane grabbed the ball but couldn't immediately grasp the location of first base. He groped and missed with his right foot and then tried again with his left. On the second try, it appeared as if Magrane beat Gagne, but Weyer disagreed.
Gagne then scored on a double by Kirby Puckett and Minnesota had erased a 2-1 deficit.
In the top of the sixth, Viola picked St. Louis baserunner Tommy Herr off base, triggering a rundown. Only the Twins got their throws mixed up and Herr seemed to sneak back to the base ahead of Viola's tag. Also, it appeared Twin first baseman Kent Hrbek blocked Herr, which would have made Herr safe because of interference.
Weyer, again, saw it differently, thumbing Herr out. Lindeman followed with a fly ball to right and the inning was over for the Cardinals.
Afterward, Weyer explained both calls to reporters, conceding that the Herr play was "very, very close" and that he didn't see all of it.
"I got blocked out of the play," Weyer said. "Hrbek ran right in front of me as I was going to call the play. I didn't see (Viola) touch the bag. The replay showed it was very, very close."
And the Magrane play?
"The black shoe (Gagne's) hit the bag before the red shoe (Magrane's)," Weyer said. "He (Magrane) might have hit the bag later, but the black shoe hit it first, that's for sure."
To several Cardinals, memories of '85 came rushing back.
"Eighty-five was the first thing I thought of," said Pendleton, who watched both calls from the dugout.