Wednesday, October 26, 2011

20 years later, Puckett's performance hard to top

The famous line "And we'll see you tomorrow night" was spoken by Jack Buck on this day 20 years ago. It was the last words of an evening that would become the signature moment for a future Hall-of-Fame player. With the Twins on the brink of elimination, Puckett provide the lift the team needed to make it to a decisive Game 7.

The Twins returned to the Metrodome after some tough games in Atlanta. Game 3 and Game 4 were heartbreaking endings for the Twins with the Braves winning one game in extra-innings and the other game ending with a walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth. After those two losses, the Twins were in a hurry to get home and that showed up in the results of Game 5. A 14-5 blowout loss on the way out of Atlanta set the stage for the dramatic ending in Minnesota.

A disheartened team needed something to pick them up before the start of Game 6. Puckett was the clear leader on the team and he gathered his teammates around him in the clubhouse before the game to give the speech of his lifetime. Years later he recalled his speech as, "Guys, I just have one announcement to make: You guys should jump on my back tonight. I'm going to carry us."

After his famous pre-game speech, Puckett wasted little time in making his mark on the game. In the first inning of Game 6, Puck tripled in his first at-bat to drive in a run and two batters later he would score on a single off the bat of Shane Mack. The Twins were on top 2-0 and Puckett was at the heart of both of the runs.

The top of the third inning would provide the next magical moment in Mr. Puckett's opus. With a runner on first, Atlanta's Ron Gant hit a fly ball to deep left-center field and it looked like it was clearly going to be an extra-base hit. The 5-foot-8 center fielder for the Twins climbed the Plexiglas wall and came down with one of the best catches in World Series history.

The Braves would not go away and they tied the score with a two-run home run from Terry Pendleton in the top of the fifth inning. In the bottom of the inning, the Twins and Puckett were quick to get the lead back from Atlanta. A deep sacrifice fly to center field allowed Puckett to drive in Dan Gladden from third base. Three runs for the Twins in the game and Puckett was directly involved in all of them.

The game would remain close and the Braves tied the score at 3-3 in the seventh inning with a Gant ground out. The next inning Puckett would try to rally the Twins again and with one out in the eighth, Puckett singled to right field. One batter later, he would steal second base to get into scoring postion and give Mack the chance to drive him in the go-ahead run. Mack did not come through and Puckett, representing the game winning run, was left on the field.

The game would enter extra innings before Puckett could get another chance to play the hero. As the top of the 11th inning was about to begin, Charlie Leibrant was warming on the mound and Puckett was taking his practice swings next to Chili Davis. He told Davis an elaborate plan to get a bunt single, steal second on the next pitch, and then let Davis drive him in with a hit. As the story goes, Davis turned to Puckett and told him to end the game himself.

Puckett listened to Davis and he capped one of the greatest performances in World Series history with a walk-off home run in the eleventh. His defense gem earlier in the game had saved at least one run from being scored. He had driven in three of the Twins four runs and he had scored the other run for the team. It was a performance for the ages...

The next night would be one of the best Game 7s in the history of sports but none of those events could have occurred without the bat, glove, and heart of Kirby Puckett. To many, it is the best World Series in history and Puckett molded his legendary legacy on the field that October night.

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