There has been much talk about this years’ World Series. It has been the greatest, most competitive World Series since back-to-back historic matchups a decade ago in 2001 and 2002. As far as the greatest? Most lists and pundits agree on the Top 5 all-time, and most have a consensus choice around 1991, twenty years ago. This series featured my hometown team and was probably the greatest moment of my childhood! Since no one ever talked about Minnesota, as a kid I was beside myself that my team had won in 1987 and was there again in 1991. The joy and childhood innocence shielded me from understanding just how horrible these Twins teams actually were in comparison to other championship teams . Regardless of their talent, they arguably played the greatest Fall Classic ever. Most everyone knows about the “Worst to First” storyline in 1991. Prior to 1991, no league champion had ever finished the previous season in dead last — but both the Twins and Braves achieved the feat…in the same season. 5 games were decided by one-run, 4 were decided on the last at-bat, and 3 went into extra innings. This year featured equally impressed historic feats. We have a giant among men, a comeback (or a choke, depending on your view, I guess) that I would not believe in a movie, and a number of close heart stoppers.
Both series went seven games, so let’s take a quick look game-by-game:
1991: Twins: 5, Braves: 2
2011: Cardinals: 3, Rangers: 2
Both starters of Game 1 in 1991 were previous champions and had won in the last 3 years. These were two true aces in Jack Morris and Charlie Leibrandt. The game was close until the Twins broke it open 4-0 in the 5th.
In 2011, C.J. Wilson and Chris Carpenter do not present a historic matchup of aces. Regardless, this game stayed close throughout with no runs scored in front 1/3 and the back 1/3. In the middle, the Rangers were able to tie it, but never take the lead.
Verdict: Both games were great openers. Draw.
1991: Twins: 3, Braves: 2
2011: Rangers: 2, Cardinals: 1
In 1991, Kent Hrbek proved that you can physically assault a player to get an out. The innocence of youth is beautiful as I was too young to understand that this was my first example of how awful referees and umpires can be in professional sports. The call was voted as one of the worst calls in baseball history by both SI and ESPN.
Aside from that, this was a great game: 2-0, 2-1, 2-2, 3-2 were the only scoring changes in the contest. Through 34 half-innings, no team had scored more than 2 runs in a frame.
This year, a very similar pitchers duel between two relatively unknown pitchers (to a casual fan). The game was scoreless through six, and St. Louis held the lead until the 9th. In the 9th, the Rangers played some scrappy small ball to score two and then hold the Cards in the 9th to steal a game on the road.
Verdict: Even more even than Game 1. Only difference is the road win. Draw.
1991: Braves: 5, Twins 4 (12 innings)
2011: Cardinals: 16, Rangers: 7
This was a great game with Scott Erickson and Steve Avery battling in a pitchers duel. This was in the traditional era without interleague play and Manager Tom Kelly was clearly affected by the no-DH rule (possibly for the entire three games in Atlanta). But in this game in particular, he used his entire bench through 12 innings.
The winning run was a great play at the plate, but with Kelly’s managerial blunder, the outcome was likely decided. Still, this was the first of four games where the winning team scores the winning run in the 9th inning or later.
It is hard not to agree that Albert Pujols displayed “the greatest individual hitting performance in World Series history” . Pujols went 4-for-5 with 3 HR and 5 RBI. He went absolutely stupid. Most of the time in judging the greatest games or series, they are usually judged on competitiveness. However, this cannot be ignored.
Verdict: 1991 was a great game. 2011 was historic. Pujols reigns.
1991: Braves: 3, Twins: 2
2011: Rangers: 4, Cardinals: 0.
A game that ended 3-2 without a crooked number every placed in the box score, despite 15 hits between the two teams. For the second night in a row, the game was won on a split second play at the plate. Through 72 half-innings of baseball, both teams had still failed to score more than two runs in any single frame.
Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli provided the offense while Derek Holland blanked the Cardinals in a near complete game, allowing only two hits. This game was 1-0 until the Rangers gave some breathing room in the 6th.
Verdict: 1991 was a gem of a game that is overshadowed by Game 6 & 7.
1991: Braves: 14, Twins: 5
2011: Rangers: 4, Cardinals: 2
This was the only blowout game in 1991, and was also the only time either team scored 3 or more runs in an inning — with the Twins doing so in the 6th (3) and the Braves in the 4th (4), 7th (6), and 8th (3). While it was a blowout, it wasn’t until the six runs put up in the 7th that the game was finally put out of reach. The first 3 innings went scoreless, and in the 6th inning the score was 5-3. There was no individual performance that puts this in the league of Pujols’ Game 3. Just a team collecting 17 hits and beating the other one.
St. Louis scored two right away and should have scored more. Texas spent the rest of the game chipping away at the lead, scoring in the 3rd, tying it in the 6th, and finally scoring two in the 8th. St. Louis couldn’t come back in the 9th.
Verdict: 2011 was the essence of hard work and competition the entire game.
1991: Twins: 4, Braves: 3 (11 innings)
2011: Cardinals: 10, Rangers: 9 (11 innings)
This game is pretty much known for Kirby’s catch against the Plexiglass in the 3rd and his home run to win it in the 11th. He hit the home run against Leibrandt, who had not pitched since being benched after his Game 1 loss. The Twins got out of a huge jam in the 7th inning that easily could have lost them the Series.
Twice, the Rangers had two outs and were one strike away from winning the World Series.
Twice, the Cardinals came back from a two-run deficit, in the 9th and 10th inning.
Cardinals are the only team to every score in the 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th inning.
Nearly right away it was being called the greatest game every played .
To be fair, Game 6 in 1991 was unbelievable and historic. These are two of the greatest games ever, but…
Verdict: …I don’t argue with “this has never happened before” in sports. Solid rule.
1991: Twins: 1, Braves: 0 (10 innings)
2011: Cardinals: 6, Rangers: 2
Much like in 1991, the 2011 World Series went into Game 7 being discussed as the “best ever” . Jack Morris’ performance is an example of pure excellence. If a single performance can put a player in the Hall of Fame, this would be the first beneficiary. Morris threw over 120 pitches through 10 innings of a scoreless game.
The decision to intentionally walk the two stars – Puckett and Hrbek – may have been the death kneel, as the scrappy Gene Larkin – a career .266 hitter who only played 7 seasons of MLB – came in for a pitch-hitting World Series winning base hit.
This year, it started close and it looked like another scoring fest with both teams scoring twice in the 1st inning, a World Series first. Texas was then shutdown for the next eight innings, with St. Louis continuing to score. Even when it was close, it didn’t seem close.
Verdict: I would argue 1991 Game 7 vs. 2011 Game 6. But why do it? Just enjoy them.
There are many authorities on the subject. Obviously, 2011 has not had time to age like fine wine yet, but ESPN ranked 1991 as #1 all-time when they ranked every World Series ever played on its 100th anniversary. On other lists and moments, 1991 is never not present   .
As a fan, it doesn’t really matter. After a decade of awful championship series, I’m just glad that these two teams that were being ignored going into it have re-energized the Fall Classic. As an analyst, I cannot get past 5 games being decided by one-run, 4 games being decided on the final at-bat, and 3 games going into extra innings. With 69 innings in total, 1991 remains the longest seven-game World Series ever.
This is a great quote from ESPN’s Jim Caple, “had the 1991 World Series been played in New York or Boston or down the block from Doris Kearns Goodwin, it would be regarded as the best series of all time, hands down” . While St. Louis is not NY or BOS, they still rank 2nd all-time in World Series titles and Texas is still Texas.
Game 6 this year will be one of the greatest games ever played. It should also be the greatest comeback and/or the greatest choke in baseball history. The whole game was unbelievable. Game 7 started to look promising, but St. Louis had control of the game, and home field advantage (the last 8 teams with home field have won Game 7). With Carpenter on the mound, Game 6 was the climax of this series.
In 1991, Game 6 was not as good as this year and it may not even have been as good as Game 6 in 1992. The difference is that Game 6 was a setup, it was like the second movie in a trilogy. When you look at 1991, Game 6 is so epic, Puckett’s performance so important, because of what happened the next day in Game 7 to conclude an entire series where neither team seemed to be able to get further than one run ahead of each other.
Long live, 1991.
Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals!
2011 World Series Champions!