DOWN TO THE LAST PITCH. By Tim Wendel. Da Capo Press. 271 pages, $25.99.
It wasn't the best-played World Series - so many mistakes - but it was perhaps the most exciting. Five games were decided by one run. Four came down to the last at-bat. Three went into extra innings.
When the 1991 World Series finally ended with the Minnesota Twins outlasting the Atlanta Braves in a 1-0 victory over 10 innings of Game 7, the players were reluctant to leave the Metrodome field.
Braves third baseman Terry Pendleton hugged Twins outfielders Kirby Puckett and Shane Mack, and Twins manager Tom Kelly chatted with Braves outfielder Ron Gant. It was a show of respect for each other, and the unprecedented moment. And Tim Wendel effectively builds personal stories, culture and pitch-to-pitch drama into a fortnight chronology.
This World Series was unique from the outset to pinch-hitter Gene Larkin's championship-winning hit off Alejandro Pena. Both teams finished last in their respective divisions the season before, and the "Worst to First" World Series remains the only one to go into an extra inning in Game 7.
Wendel, a veteran baseball writer and author of the excellent "Summer of '68" cultural depth of the 1968 season, uses each of the seven games as chapter titles full of background material. The technique works splendidly in this classic tale of an authentic Fall Classic. Through the critical pitches of Game 7, we are well aware that Braves starter John Smoltz, the son of a polka enthusiast, reluctantly gave up life with an accordion to pursue pitching and that Twins starting pitcher Jack Morris is notoriously grouchy.
During a gem of a 1-0 Twins victory, Smoltz is relying on help from a sports psychologist and Morris is fighting cantankerousness that vindictive sports writers remember when casting Hall of Fame votes. Wendel provides insight into stars such as Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Tom Glavine and Gant.
Nitpicky: A box score would have been nice at the end of each chapter, and also a longer "Aftermath" chapter that looked at the likes of Larkin and Pena.
But Wendel is good at orchestrating the crescendo. The unprecedented drumbeat - literally for Braves fans manning kettle drums at the games held in Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium - builds to the ear-splitting sounds of Game 7 inside the Metrodome. As Wendel emphatically points out, the 1991 World Series was so captivating, the losing city celebrated with a parade and over 750,000 people attended in Atlanta.
Reviewer Gene Sapakoff is a sports columnist for The Post and Courier.
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