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At Last, Twins Shake the Image of Losers

November 01, 1987|RICHARD JUSTICE | The Washington Post

MINNEAPOLIS — Since the day they clinched a division championship in Texas a month ago, they'd talked about shaking the image of losers.

They denied it time and again, yet they kept coming back to it. Players mentioned it, front office people mentioned it and fans and the media mentioned it. The Minnesota Twins hadn't been to the World Series in 22 years, hadn't had a single other winning season this decade and were generally regarded to have backed into first place in a weak division.

It was the Minnesota Syndrome. The Vikings had lost four Super Bowls. The North Stars has never won much of anything. Humphrey had lost, Mondale had lost.

So in the chilly early hours last Monday as fans jammed onto Hennepin Avenue slapping hands and hanging out of car windows, the temporary madness that comes with a World Series championship must have been especially sweet for the Minnesota Twins.

"I can't express my feelings," Twins outfielder Tom Brunansky said. "What this means for the team, the community is something. We came a long, long, long way since 1982 and this moment is so enjoyable. I never will forget it, not for the rest of my life. Now, it's finally off our shoulders."

Certainly, the '87 Twins won't be remembered as a great team. They gave up more runs than they scored, something no other Series winner had ever done. They also had the fewest regular-season victories (85) and the highest ERA (4.63) ever for a World Series champion. And they're the first team to win a World Series without winning a road game.

The St. Louis Cardinals may forever wonder if they're living under a curse, having had to play the 1985 Series without leadoff man Vince Coleman and this one without half their infield (Jack Clark and Terry Pendleton). For five months this season, the Cardinals were the best team in the game. But after Clark tore up his ankle on Sept. 9, they almost needed a miracle to hold off the New York Mets in the NL East.

"I still don't know how we did it," Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog said. "A lot of things happened to us, and they contributed to the Twins' winning. But that doesn't mean I don't respect the world champions. I tip my hat to them."

There were easy answers to the Twins' beating the Cardinals. They out-homered them, 7-2, outscored them, 38-26, and out-defensed them (six errors to three). They also had the home-field advantage, with Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 played in the Metrodome and Games 3, 4 and 5 played at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals didn't win any of the games in the Metrodome, and the Twins didn't win in St. Louis.

"They play like hell, especially in this ballpark," Herzog said.

If he sounded relaxed, he should be. When spring training begins, his offense will be the best in the game and his pitching staff will be talented and deep. If they can get past the Mets in their own division, the Cardinals ought to be back in the Series in another year or two. They're already the closest thing to a dynasty this decade (three pennants, two more than any other team), and with young pitchers Joe Magrane, Greg Mathews and Cris Carpenter, they have a chance to dominate into the '90s.

Meanwhile, the Twins face a struggle. Their everyday lineup is solid and their infield defense is outstanding. But after World Series MVP Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven, the starting pitching is thin, and even with the addition of closer Jeff Reardon, the bullpen is short of middle relief.

No matter. The Twins celebrated into the early hours of this morning and will be honored with a parade Tuesday. By opening day next spring, they'll be outfitted with the rings worn by World Series champions.

"Unbelievable, unbelievable," center fielder Kirby Puckett said. "The feeling is indescribable. No one can take this away from us. We've overcome a lot of adversity all year. No one thought we could win the division, but we did it. I think we surprised everyone but ourselves."

One of his teammates, catcher Tim Laudner, sat in a corner of the home clubhouse Sunday saying over and over, "World champions, world champions, world champions. I love everybody. World champions!"

It was especially sweet for first baseman Kent Hrbek, a native of St. Paul who spent many of his boyhood hours watching the Twins lose at the old Met. It was Hrbek who twice led a delegation of players back onto the field at the Metrodome Sunday night for an emotional recognition of around 40,000 fans who remained in their seats almost an hour after the clinching victory.

"It's the best feeling in the world," Hrbek said. "I don't even know why I went back out there. The fans wanted us out there, and they deserved it. This is my home, and there was a time when good players didn't think they'd stay with the Twins because you wouldn't get paid. I think everyone's proud to wear this uniform now."

They won it with no dominant performers, with no great flurry of speed or power, only with a lot of players throwing in a couple of things each day. Specifically:

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