Cool of the Evening


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The '87 Twins' home opener was just another day at the yard for Kirby Puckett, as Jim wrote that April.

One great moment is all fans need

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kirby Puckett showed Minnesota Tuesday night a baseball game needs only one great moment, and that moment will bring fans back for another game.

After nine innings of largely pedestrian opening-night play by Oakland and Minnesota, Puckett slapped awake 43,548 fans at the Metrodome.

The Minnesota center fielder giddy-yapped to right-center 408 feet from home plate, tapped the pocket of his glove once, leapt, and pulled in a ball off the bat of the inning's lead-off batter, Mickey Tettleton. Besides Puckett's outstretched arm, the only thing between the ball and the top of the fence was three feet of air.

The Twins then pulsed to life and ripped Bill Krueger for three hits and won 5-4 in the bottom of the 10th.

It was a delicious kill for the fans, who were essentially assured the A's had nowhere to turn after Steve Lombardozzi led off the bottom of the 10th with a single, and Puckett drained a double down the right-field line.

"We came into the dugout and the guys were going crazy," first baseman Kent Hrbek said about Puckett's catch. "It was like we had already won the game."

"I didn't feel that way," manager Tom Kelly said, "but it's nice to know they did."

It was Hrbek's drive into the gap of a shallow outfield that produced the winning run. It was his third run batted in of the night. The other two came on infield outs.

Kelly and some of his players actually felt a twinge of remorse for A's manager Tony LaRussa and his team.

First, LaRussa had lost Curt Young after seven innings. The lefthander allowed a double by Lombardozzi, a home run by Puckett and a triple by Gary Gaetti on three successive pitches in a three-run bottom of the third. When he left with a blister on his pitching hand, he had retired 14 batters in a row, seven on strikeouts.

"You've got to feel bad for Curt Young," Gaetti said. "He pitched a great game and then he has to leave with a blister. He was still throwing the ball well."

If that weren't enough, LaRussa had the unenviable decision of pitching to Gaetti or Hrbek in the 10th with runners on second and third and one out.

He did what the book says: He walked Gaetti to set up a force out at each base. Kelly said considering Gaetti drove in 108 runs last season, he would have done the same.

But that brought up Hrbek.

In the past decade, only five players have driven in more than 35 percent of runners in scoring position. Hrbek is one of them.

"Tom came up to me before I went out there," Hrbek said, "and just said, 'Don't try to be Superman.' I just wanted to get the ball out of the infield."

As Hrbek's hit screamed up the gap in left-center, left fielder Jose Canseco just turned and looked. He was walking off the field before the ball bounced near the warning track.

Kelly couldn't say enough about Young, but said he was the only one in the dugout who didn't get excited over Puckett's catch.

"I've seen it before," he said. Kelly, who was a little nervous before his first opening day as the Twins' manager, was dead-panning a bit after a trying game. Still, he insisted he didn't get off the bench when Puckett raced for the ball to make a catch fans have also seen before.

"I was playing deep, so I knew I had a chance," Puckett said. "I looked at the wall once, then just went up."

"What can you say when he makes a play like that?" Gaetti asked. "It just picked us up."

Essays index

1987 Twins; Sweet Music