'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
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
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
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.
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
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