Kirby Puckett’s historic night powers the Twins to a win in Game 6 of the World Series

Written by: Alex Coffey

Kirby Puckett sprinted, leaped and extended his glove two feet above the Plexiglas fence in left-center field – right over Tony Oliva’s retired No. 6 – to rob Ron Gant of the Braves of an extra-base hit, before a Game 6 World Series crowd of 55,155 at the Metrodome.

As a 5 ¼ ounce white and red sphere was bounding his way with reckless abandon, the last thing on Puckett’s mind on Oct. 26, 1991 was that he would one day be joining Oliva’s No. 6, along with Rod Carew’s No. 29, Harmon Killebrew’s No. 3 and Bert Blyleven’s No. 28. But that was what was so brilliant about the Twins’ No. 34 during that Game 6 in the 1991 World Series – the simplicity with which Puckett viewed his Hall of Fame-caliber plays.

As starting pitcher Scott Erickson pumped his fist in exhilaration, Puckett fired the ball to first base, holding back a less-than-enthused Terry Pendleton from making a mad dash around the bases.

After he made that miraculous catch to keep the game scoreless in the third, Puckett received all sorts of comparisons to baseball legends – notably Willie Mays – but wouldn’t tolerate any of it.

“I don’t care about any of that,” Puckett told the Washington Post. “I just want to win. I knew he didn’t hit it out. I just went for the ball.”

The baseball world caught another glimpse of his razor-sharp focus on winning in the bottom of the 11th inning. Facing Atlanta southpaw Charlie Leibrandt, the odds were stacked against Puckett, as he had struck out twice against the left-handed pitcher in Game 1. Up to this point, Puckett had recorded only three hits in 18 at-bats, totaling to a batting average of .167.

“Usually, I’m a free swinger – I just get up there and forget,” Puckett recalled to the Post after the game. But instead of swinging for the fences, he patiently waited – for a changeup, above the waist on a 2-1 count – which he promptly launched to the same spot he robbed Gant of his hit.

By the end of the night, Puckett had recorded three RBIs – two more than he had hit for the entire series up until that game. With his walk-off home run and leaping grab in the third inning, he had given the Twins exactly what they needed – a Game 7. With the series now tied at three games apiece, and a final game to be played in Minnesota’s beloved Metrodome, a World Series win didn’t seem too far out of reach.

Similarly to how they won the 1987 World Series, the Twins rallied back when they were down three-games-to-two, winning Games 6 and 7 to clinch the 1991 World Series title. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

“When he made the catch and when he hit the home run, you could tell the whole thing had turned,” Atlanta Braves starter John Smoltz recalled to the media, after the game. “His name just seemed to be synonymous with being a superstar.”

Per Smoltz’s prediction, the Twins took Game 7 in dramatic fashion – after 10 shutout innings from Series MVP Jack Morris, with Smoltz matching him for more than seven innings – Gene Larkin ended it with a fly ball to deep left-center field, driving in Dan Gladden. With five out of the seven games decided in the eighth inning or later, the 1991 World Series was seen as one of the most exciting ever. And much of that excitement, stemmed from the relentless drive of the Twins’ centerfielder.

It’s so draining, these games we’ve been playing,” Puckett told the Post after hitting his walk-off home run. “I think I’m going to be sick all winter. But, I’ll tell you – this was a game I will never forget.”

Alex Coffey was the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame

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