MINNEAPOLIS — It was the World Series to end all World Series, except this one wouldn't end.
They played 12 innings in Atlanta on Tuesday. They played 11 innings here on Saturday. They played six games to a 3-3 standoff, half of them decided on the final at-bat, and when the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins gathered Sunday for Game 7, knowing that the rules allowed for no more, both refused to leave because both refused to surrender a run.
After nine innings, the Metrodome scoreboard glistened with sameness. Eighteen big zeros--nine on top, nine on bottom. Sunday was heading for Monday, October was heading for November, but no one was heading for home--either in the stands or on the field.
A winner was declared, just minutes before midnight, with one out in the bottom of the 10th inning. A winner was declared, finally, for the slimmest, simplest of reasons.
Lonnie Smith stopped.
Jack Morris didn't.
Forty-five years after Johnny Pesky held the ball, a World Series was decided because Lonnie Smith held at second. Smith, Atlanta's leadoff hitter, makes his living running, but when Atlanta needed him to run the most--carrying with him the first and only potential run of regulation--he didn't.
Smith was on first base with no outs in the top of the eighth when Terry Pendleton hit his gapper between Twins' left fielder Dan Gladden and center fielder Kirby Puckett. It was bound for the wall, obvious to everyone in the building, except Smith, who stutter-stepped at second, waited briefly on the dirt and then restarted his engines, which took him to third base standing up.
He could have been at home plate.
He should have been at home plate.
"He didn't run and held up," said Braves Manager Bobby Cox, as perplexed as anyone. "Why he held up, I don't know."
It kept a scoreless game in the same condition and when Morris lied, begged, borrowed and stole his way out of the inning, Smith and the Braves found themselves in a proverbial mess:
He who hesitates has a good chance at a loss.
Morris, meanwhile, kept running and running. On what, no one really knew. Morris is 36 years old and Sunday marked the 40th start of his 14th major-league season. Before Sunday, he had pitched 273 innings, the most in the majors. He pitched nine more, each of them scoreless, and when they weren't enough, Morris told his manager he wanted more.
This didn't jibe with Tom Kelly's line of thinking. "I thought nine innings was enough," Kelly said. "What more do you want? The guy poured his guts out. At the end of nine, I said, 'That's enough, Jack.' "
Who's in charge here?
Here's a clue.
"I told Tom 'I've got a lot left and tomorrow we don't play,' " Morris said. He told Kelly to keep closer Rick Aguilera on ice, presumably next to the champagne. "I'm fine, I'm fine," Morris repeated over and over.
Kelly threw up his hands.
"I said to (pitching coach) Dick Such, 'He says he's fine,' " Kelly said. "Dick said let him go. And I said, what the hell, it's just a game."
Morris called his spot--and neatly removed Kelly from one. Morris stomped out to pitch the 10th inning and it might have been his best.
Jeff Blauser fouled out to catcher Brian Harper, inches in front of the backstop.
Smith, given a moment for a reprieve, didn't take it. He struck out.
Pendleton, deprived of the potential game-winning hit in the eighth, grounded out to shortstop.
The game-winning hit was coming, only now from the other dugout.
The deciding rally began with a broken bat. Of course. It had been a Series of inches and splinters, so why change now? Gladden's busted bat sent a bloop into left-center field that Brian Hunter couldn't catch and then couldn't glove on the hop. Center fielder Ron Gant had the play backed up, but Gladden had already seen opportunity knock and was storming through the door. Never breaking stride, Gladden slid into second ahead of the bouncing relay.
A single became a double and soon the Braves' backs were against the Hefty Bag. After Chuck Knoblauch's sacrifice moved Gladden to third, Cox had no hand to play but to intentionally walk Puckett, The Reason There Was A Seventh Game, and Kent Hrbek, the still-sleeping giant best not to wake.
With the bases loaded, that brought up rookie Jarvis Brown, who had pinch-run for Chili Davis in the ninth. In other words, that meant a pinch-hitter--and, surprise, surprise, Kelly still had one left.
Gene Larkin took the final swing of the 1991 baseball season. A .270-hitting career part-timer with 19 RBIs during the regular season, he fit this World Series to a tee. After Mark Lemke, Jerry Willard and Scott Leius, why not Gene Larkin?
Larkin hit the ball as hard as he had to--far and high. As soon as it was airborne, Gladden thrust his right fist above his head. He knew the rest.
When the ball caromed well beyond the reach of Hunter, who'd been positioned barely 10 yards behind shortstop Blauser, both of Gladden's fists were in air. Gladden tagged and jogged home, where he was escorted by Morris, still running on Adrenalin, running side by side, beckoning Gladden to "C'mon! C'mon!"
At long last.
It was a lot to go around.
By that much, the Minnesota Twins became champions of baseball for the second time in five years. No, this wouldn't be 1987 all over--1987 was a blowout compared to this one. Those Twins hammered St. Louis in Game 7 that year. The final score was 4-2.
"To sit down there and make these decisions," said a brain-fried Kelly in the aftermath, "they don't pay you enough."
But on afterthought, the decision-making process was simple--and one that should be memorized by future generations of Atlanta Braves.
Don't stop. Run.