Surprising Twins have Cards on ropes as Series shifts to St. Louis
Only the wearer knows exactly where the shoe pinches. Maybe so. But it's not like that at all so far in the 1987 World Series, where everyone can see how much the St. Louis Cardinals miss the power bat of injured first baseman Jack Clark. Starting tonight, Games 3, 4, and 5 (if necessary) of the Series will be played at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Zeroing in on the absence of Clark isn't meant to take anything away from the play of the magnificent Twins, who have outscored the Cardinals 18-5 in winning the first two games in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. In this Teflon Jungle, the lights can make a routine fly ball disappear on outfielders for seconds at a time. Anyway, the Twins particularly seem to like the fourth inning - a frame in which Cardinal pitchers have coughed up a total of 14 runs.
Overall, Minnesota has been getting great pitching and great defense to go along with a lot of hitting. In fact, the Twins by jumping off to an early lead have succeeded in getting themselves woven into the fabric of the American Dream.
Meanwhile, without Clark, who hit 35 homers and 23 doubles, scored 93 runs, and drove in 106 runners during the regular season, Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog has been hard pressed to get anything consistent going with his offense.
Herzog's cleanup hitters in the first two games of the Series were rookie first baseman Jim Lindeman and shopworn veteran Dan Driessen. Lindeman hit only eight home runs during the regular season, while Driessen started the year at Louisville. Also unable to swing the bat properly for Whitey because of injuries are center fielder Willie McGee (105 RBIs) and third baseman Terry Pendleton (96).
``If we get good pitching, we've got a chance to beat the Twins, who hit the ball very well,'' Herzog told reporters before the Series began. ``But if we don't, we're going to be in trouble, because we probably aren't going to score many runs ourselves. Basically, we can't afford to have any of those Minnesota sluggers ripping home runs against us.''
Whitey was referring primarily, of course, to Twins like like Kent Hrbek (34 home runs), Tom Brunansky (32), Gary Gaetti (31), and Kirby Puckett (28). And ironically, only Gaetti of this quartet has lived up to his long-ball billing, with a double and a homer, while the three others are all still looking for their first extra base hits. But while holding the big bombers somewhat in check, the Cardinal pitchers haven't had the same success elsewhere in the lineup, giving up home runs to catcher Tim Laudner, who batted .191 during the regular season, plus light-hitting second baseman Steve Lombardozzi, and outfielder Dan Gladden.
This is obviously not the same Twins ball club that rookie manager Tom Kelly took to spring training back in March, or the one that logged only 85 wins (the smallest total of all four division champions) during the regular season. That team had question marks; won only 29 games all year on the road; and didn't seem to have enough catching or starting pitching to be considered a serious contender.
But that probably changed for good in the American League playoffs when underdog Minnesota went into Detroit and won two games in Tiger Stadium. The Tigers were a veteran ball club. They had won the World Series as recently as 1984 and, except for their bullpen, had pretty good pitching. But it took the Twins only five games to make them look like imposters.
Victories like that build confidence, and the Twins are hitting, fielding, and pitching now like a team that truly believes it can win.
To try to get the Cardinals back in this Series, Herzog will pitch left-hander John Tudor tonight. Tudor missed three months of the season following a freak dugout accident, but still posted a 10-2 record. John is a finesse pitcher who has to be hitting his spots and staying ahead of the hitters in the count to be effective.
Tudor won two games for St. Louis against the Kansas City Royals in the 1985 World Series, but was the losing pitcher in the deciding game. But John generally is extremely tough to beat in Busch Stadium.
Kelly, for the first time in this Series, will be gambling with his starting pitcher, a well-worn minor leaguer named Les Straker. The 28-year-old right-hander, who pitched 10 years in the minors, was 8-10 in his rookie big-league season with one of the highest earned-run averages on the club. Chances are Kelly will be more than satisfied if he can get five decent innings from Straker.
If Minnesota should somehow win Game 3, Kelly plans to pitch 42-year-old knuckleballer Joe Niekro in Game 4. If the Cardinals win, however, Tom will bring back left-hander Frank Viola, who handled St. Louis so easily in Game 1 of the Series.
Viola and Game 2 winner Bert Blyleven had a combined 45-28 record this season, so if the Series tightens up, Kelly wants to be able to get five starts out of this pair.
Minnesota has also been fortunate in having to use ace reliever Jeff Reardon for only one inning so far in this Series. Reardon, like the Cardinals' Todd Worrell, had more than 30 saves this season.
Former Cincinnati Reds star Joe Morgan, now a broadcaster, summed up the current Series up this way: ``The pressure in a World Series often changes from day to day, depending upon the situation. However, if the Cardinals win tonight, they are right back in it.''
I'd be tempted to believe that - if Herzog wasn't playing with a deck of Cards minus the Jack of Hearts!