MINNEAPOLIS — He was lumbering around the base paths, his arms raised in triumph, taking the bags the way a Mack truck might take speed bumps. What could possibly interrupt Kent Hrbek now? Three Twins were waiting for him at home plate, the three he had just knocked in with a grand slam, and the Metrodome was an ocean of noise, music, pulsating madness. Here, in a single thunderous moment, had been the collision of World Series destiny versus World Series defense. Want a hint?
Destiny was the one who weighed 250 pounds.
Twins win. We go to Game 7. Was there ever a doubt? Forget that Ken Dayley, the St. Louis pitcher standing glumly on the mound, watching Hrbek’s parade, hadn’t surrendered a left-handed home run in two years. Forget that Hrbek did it on the first pitch. Forget that the Cards had once held a 5-2 lead in this game — and a 3-2 lead in the Series. Forget it, chuck it. Toss it in a bucket. This is the Metrodome, where “sedate” means you don’t use both hands when you scream. No way the Twins lose this one.
“What were you thinking as you ran around the bases?” someone asked Hrbek, whose sixth-inning slam turned a 6-5 game into a 10-5 blowout (final score 11-5) and ensured that, yes, the Twins would hear one more national anthem this season.
“I was thinking,” he said, a smile coming across his beefy face, “that I wished I could go around the bases twice instead of just once.”
Well. Once was enough for the Cardinals. Did Minnesota really do this Saturday afternoon? Eleven runs? Fifteen hits? A two-run homer by Don Baylor? A 4-for-4 day by Kirby Puckett? To paraphrase Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz,
“Toto, we’re not in St. Louis anymore.”
Not even close.
“They seemed to know every pitch before it came in,” lamented Whitey Herzog, the St. Louis manager, who probably didn’t enjoy dinner too much Saturday night. After all, one of the few things he had going for him was that the Twins’ big bats had been unusually silent. Particularly those of Kirby Puckett, Tom Brunansky and Hrbek — a slump that helped the Cardinals win three straight in St. Louis.
On Saturday, however, the above-mentioned trio was a combined 6-for-12, with six RBIs.
“I had been pretty frustrated,” Hrbek, the meaty, 6-foot-4 first baseman, admitted in the clubhouse afterward. “Following my third at-bat, when I flied out, I came back to the dugout and threw my helmet and my bat. That’s the way I get. I’m emotional.
“But Roy Smalley said to me, ‘Hey, you’re swinging the bat good. Don’t worry about it.’ And when I got up there against Dayley (a lefty who had entered to face the left-handed hitting Hrbek) I knew he usually throws me a fastball first pitch. . . .
He did again. Out it went. Someone said the decibel meter — used to measure the noise level inside the Metrodome — was busted by the reception after Hrbek’s ball cleared the center field wall. No surprise.
“It’s impossible to explain how good that felt,” said Hrbek, who has hit more home runs in this park than anybody. “All my friends and family were in the stands. I’ll never forget that. I was pretty excited going around the bases.”
We noticed. It’s hard to miss a behemoth pumping his fists from base to base, particularly when it’s such a good story: a homegrown hero, a guy who watched the Twins as a kid, a guy who ultimately came to play for them after being drafted in the lowly 17th round, a guy who will long be remembered here by the image of him spritzing champagne over the cheering crowd after the Twins captured the American League pennant. Unless this new image — stomping on home plate and slamming five with his RBI’ed teammates (slamming, not slapping) — should replace it.
“Whew,” said Hrbek, between endless questions from reporters. “Whew.” Someone passed him a beer. He took a gulp. Above his locker was a collection of toy dinosaurs, for Tyrannosaurus rex, or T-Rex, a nickname.
“My monsters,” he noted.
Call his homer the monster mash.
And call today the final chapter of a rather remarkable World Series story. True, these are not the most popular teams in baseball. But the resiliency of both in the face of disaster (remember, St. Louis was down, two games to none, at one point) has been something to see. The Cards, playing without any power hitters of their own, had a nice lead halfway through the game Saturday. But what the Twins did was take the notion of defeat, grab it by its neck, and say: “HA!” And then stomp that sucker flat.
You name it, Minnesota overcame it. John Tudor, Cardinals ace? He was history by dinnertime. The Cardinals’ speed? Hey. They can speed all they want when the Twins score 11 runs. Even Minnesota’s mistakes weren’t enough to sink its ship. The starting pitcher, Les Straker, lasted less time than any Twins starter this series. Greg Gagne stranded four men in his first three at-bats. Puckett made a rare overthrow of the cutoff man, which eventually led to a run.
And Hrbek? He may have been the guiltiest of all. In the second inning he was picked off second base — maybe the dumbest play of the Series — killing a scoring chance. But being blue means never having to say you’re sorry. At least in this town.
“I was watching Ozzie (Smith, the shortstop),” Hrbek admitted. “The guy is so sneaky, you know. And then I saw Tudor spinning and throwing (to the second baseman) and it was all over.”
“You felt like you made up for it with the home run?” someone asked.
Hrbek gave a look that answered the question. No words necessary.
Call it the monster mash, a ballyard smash. The were partying late here Saturday night, looking for the quickest way to pass the hours until this evening, when, for the sake of everyone’s hearing, this World Series must end one way or another.
And who knows how? St. Louis is in a bind with its pitching. The Twins have their best in Frank Viola. The crowd will be simply beyond imagination. And this entire city now thumps with the belief that the Big Glory is possible for its eclectic bunch of no-names — a Bruno, a Kent, a Kirby, a Gary, a Venezuelan, a Panamanian, a 37-year-old manager — possible, and more than possible. Destined. Simply meant to be.
And when think about it, and you massage your head and rub your eyes and try to get the hearing back in your left ear, you realize, and this is the scariest part:
They may be right.