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'87 Twins: Sweet Music , Page 2

Two aces were not uncommon

Because Niekro was the best pitcher MacPhail could pry from another team without affecting the farm system, the Twins rode to the World Series on the arms of Blyleven and Viola, which gave Cardinals' manager Whitey Herzog something to whine about.

Herzog trashed the Twins' division during spring training, saying "maybe no one will win the A.L. West." He complained before the World Series that the Twins record at the Metrodome was 56-25 because the team was built for the park. Well, Whitey knew how it was done: he built his Cardinals for Busch Stadium, where speed mattered.

Herzog griped that the Twins could not have finished first in any other division in baseball, and that the series would be no test of two teams because the Twins could rely on essentially two starters.

Indeed, the Twins could. But it wasn't unusual.

Blyleven and Viola started five of seven World Series games and nine of 12 post-season games, accounting for seven of the team's eight post-season victories.

1987 Minnesota media clubhouse badge

Yet Herzog had relied heavily on his 1-2 tandem of John Tudor and Danny Cox in the '85 Series, and the two would have stood out on Herzog's '87 starting staff except Cox missed some starts and Tudor suffered a broken bone in his right knee, missing two months of the season.

Yes, the Twins' top two pitchers had a .593 winning percentage in '87 and the rest of the team's starters were at .418. But the 10 teams in the five preceding World Series all had two horses on their pitching staffs with winning percentages that dwarfed the other starters. For example, in '86, Roger Clemens and Oil Can Boyd had a .740 percentage; the other Red Sox starters were at .468.

It was common for two horses to lead a team to the World Series - which usually spelled drama.

A 28-year-old rookie

At 28 years, 10 days, right-handed, Lester Straker of the Twins became the oldest rookie to start a World Series game in two decades when he took the mound for Game 3 in St. Louis. The Twins had won the first two games at home.

Straker was born about 500 miles northeast of what would become fellow Venezuelan Johan Santana's hometown. Straker's journey to the big leagues was potholed with shoulder injuries, elbow injuries, chicken pox and most significantly a knee injury. He kept at it because his wife Thibisay had a beer commercial life view. She kept telling him "you only go around once" so stick with baseball.

He was shutting out the Cardinals on a sub-50 degree night and on the verge of putting the Twins up three games to none when manger Tom Kelly pulled Straker after six innings with a 1-0 lead. The Cardinals scored three runs off Juan Berenguer in a third of an inning, won the game, and then the next two.

But Straker was a sprinter. Opponents had batted a whopping .420 against him from the seventh inning on, and his ERA in that part of the game was over 10. More than delighted with six innings of shutout ball from a pitcher Herzog had scoffed at, Kelly made his move, lost, then shrugged off the post-game national criticism with his typical indifference.

Sweet Music

As with most championship teams, the Twins had their share of quiet contributors like Les Straker.

Rookie Gene Larkin came up in mid-May and knocked in 28 runs, but 10 either won the game or gave the Twins a lead. Catcher Tim Laudner batted .191, but Minnesota was 49-30 when he started. Randy Bush, the team's top pinch hitter, replaced the injured Hrbek at first base late in September and the team won five of six.

Yet who knows if the Twins would have been '87 World Champs if Kathy Viola hadn't contacted a bowling alley employee about his bed sheet before the first and last games of the '87 World Series.

Mark Dornfield's bed sheet sign with Frankie "Sweet Music" Viola splashed across it first dangled from the right-field upper deck in 1984. Viola was 7-0 with two no decisions in 1987 with the banner, and 4-3 without it.

Dornfield had no tickets to either World Series Metrodome game that Viola started, but the Violas ensured he got a pair so that banner would fly.

On October 25, Viola allowed six hits and two runs in eight innings. When Reardon saved the game in the ninth Viola was 17-0 in his career with that bed sheet hanging over his shoulder.

More importantly, the Twins had thrown a blanket over Minnesota's runner-up legacy.

Baseball Essays

Kent Hrbek's champagne toast