The Winning Teams: 1987

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This is part four in a series examining every Twins team that has made the playoffs. Whether the current version of the Twins is 20 games over .500 or stuck in last place, fans can always hold onto memories of successful teams past.

Previous articles in the series: 1965, 1969, 1970

Willie McGee slapped a sharp grounder to the left side of the infield. Third baseman Gary Gaetti cut in front of shortstop Greg Gagne, scooped up the ball, took a few quick steps toward first base, and then fired the ball across the diamond. Kent Hrbek caught it and leaped joyously into the air.

After 26 long years, the Minnesota Twins finally earned a World Series trophy.

In 49 of America’s 50 states, if you mention the year 1987, people might think of Ronald Reagan – either for his popular presidency or for the Iran Contra scandal, which dominated the news that year. Maybe they’ll think of the Iran-Iraq War, which entered its seventh year in ’87, or of Margaret Thatcher, who won a third term as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Trivia buffs might tell you that 1987 was when The Simpsons first appeared as a short on The Tracy Ullman Show. And movie lovers will think of such classic films as Ernest Goes to Camp, Fatal Attraction, and Wall Street. For many, 1987 was notable for a disaster on the real Wall Street: the October 19th Black Monday stock market crash.

But for Minnesotans, all of those stories took a back seat to the Twins. Baseball fever swept the state, and the home of the Twins filled to the brim with excited fans. The team responded to the hometown excitement with an incredible 56-25 home record, compared to a pitiful 29-52 road mark.

1987 Twins at a Glance
Record 85-77, first in American League West
Heavy Hitter Kirby Puckett, .332/.367/.534, 28 HR, 99 RBI
Ace Pitcher Frank Viola, 17-10, 2.90 ERA, 251.2 IP
All Star CF Puckett
Clinched Pennant September 28, with 5-3 win over Rangers
Postseason Results Defeated Tigers in ALCS, 4-1Defeated Cardinals in World Series, 4-3

The Twins managed to eke out wins by relying heavily on just a few star players. On offense, Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek, and Tom Brunansky hit a combined .285 batting average, with 125 home runs, 383 RBI, and a stellar .512 slugging percentage. By contrast, the entire rest of the team hit a meager .245 with only 71 homers, 350 RBI, and a woeful .373 slugging mark. On the mound, Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola went 32-22 with a combined 3.47 ERA. And it’s a good thing they managed those competent numbers, because the rest of the team went 53-55 with a 5.29 ERA. Much like a badly-written sitcom, the Twins tried to compensate for their weaknesses with a series of superstar cameo appearances. 38 year old slugger Don Baylor came over from Boston in a late-season trade. On the mound, the team acquired a pair of 42 year olds: Steve Carlton, a future first ballot Hall of Famer, and Joe Niekro. None of the aging greats made a huge contribution to the Twins’ success, though earned a place in team history when he was suspended for 10 games for allegedly altering baseballs with an emery board.

Aside from the parade of former superstars, what most stands out about the 1987 Twins is that they were not a very good team. They had an unimpressive 85-77 record, and they finished 10th in the American League in both hitting and pitching. In fact, they are considered by many to be the worst team ever to win the World Series. Of course, Twins fans should not feel embarrassed by this. Their weak regular season performance makes their postseason run all the more impressive.

The Twins barely won the division championship, clinching the title with five games remaining, and then losing all five. Their opponent in the ALCS was the Detroit Tigers, who had won 98 regular season games. Unlike the Twins, who were mostly playoff neophytes, the Tiger roster was full of playoff experience, as they had won the World Series just three years before. But the Twins seized control of the ALCS with two quick victories at home. The Tigers rallied to win Game 3 in Detroit with two 8th inning runs, but the Twins recovered to take Game 4 by a 5-3 score and Game 5 in a 9-5 triumph. They earned their first World Series berth in 22 years.

Like the Tigers, the NL Champion St. Louis Cardinals looked much tougher than the Twins. They had won 95 regular season games, and their recent playoff experience consisted of a World Championship in 1982 and another Series appearance in 1985. But the Twins had a huge advantage. Back in 1987, home-field advantage alternated between leagues. In odd numbered years, the AL team opened at home, which meant that St. Louis had to endure the raucous Metrodome crowds.

Minnesota took full advantage and gave the crowds plenty to cheer about. Game 1 was a 10-1 Twins victory, highlighted by Dan Gladden’s grand slam in the seven run 4th inning and a strong pitching performance by Viola. In Game 2, the Twins took advantage of another huge 4th, scoring 6 runs en route to an 8-4 win. When the series shifted to St. Louis, though, the story was completely different. After scoring 18 runs on 21 hits in the first two games, the Twins only managed five runs on 18 hits in the next three, all Cardinal wins.

But the last two were in the Metrodome, and the Twins were unbeatable there. Twins starter Les Straker only lasted three innings in Game 6, but the bats more than made up for it. The Twins pounded out 11 runs, and Kent Hrbek made them the first team since the 1956 Yankees to hit two grand slams in a world series. Game 7 also started on a bad note, as the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead in the second. But Viola shut down the Cardinals the rest of the way, and the Twins hitters chipped away with a Steve Lombardozzi single in the 2nd, a Puckett double in the 5th, a Greg Gagne single in the 6th, and a Gladden double in the 8th. By the time Viola turned the ball over to closer Jeff Reardon in the 9th, the Twins had a 4-2 lead. Reardon shut the door, and the Twins finally reached the top of baseball’s mountain.

Like so many other Minnesotans, I became a baseball fan, and a Twins fan, in 1987. I suppose that makes me a bandwagon fan, but to be fair I was only 7 years old, so please cut me some slack. Since I was so young, my own memories of that series are a bit hazy, as was my understanding of the actual rules of baseball. I mostly remember being excited that everyone else was excited. So I would like to invite anyone who is reading this article to post your memories of the 1987 World Series in the comments below. Did the 1987 Series make you a Twins fan for life? Or were you already a long-suffering die-hard? Either way, I’d love to hear your story, and I’m sure all our other readers would as well.

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Tags: Frank Viola Kirby Puckett Minnesota Twins The Winning Teams

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