The Twins played 12 games to win a World Series for the first time in 1987. First, they upset Detroit 4-1 in the ALCS, and then went seven games to defeat St. Louis in the World Series.
They used three starting pitchers in the two postseason series: Frank Viola (five starts), Bert Blyeven (four) and Les Straker (three). Viola and Blyleven were tasked with getting deep into games, even though Viola started three times on three days’ rest and Blyleven did so twice.
Viola pitched 31⅓ innings, Blyleven pitched 26⅓ and Straker contributed a modest 11⅔ innings in his three starts.
This left 34⅔ innings to be covered by the bullpen. Jeff Reardon took care of 10 of those in eight appearances, and Juan Berenguer handled 10⅓ innings in seven appearances. Lefthander Dan Schatzeder was also vital with 8⅔ innings in five appearances. The remaining small dose of innings went to Keith Atherton, Joe Niekro and George Frazier.
The Twins won the World Series with two workhorse starters who pitched on short rest five times, and with three main pitchers for the bullpen work.
The 1991 Twins also played 12 games to win the World Series. First, they knocked off Toronto 4-1 in the ALCS, and then went seven games to defeat Atlanta in the World Series.
Manager Tom Kelly used the exact same formula with his starters: Jack Morris started five games, Kevin Tapani started four and Scott Erickson three. Morris pitched three times on three days’ rest and Tapani did so twice.
The innings were not as evenly split at the top, one big reason being Morris’ 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the World Series (as you might recall).
Morris pitched 36⅓ innings in the two rounds, Tapani pitched 22⅓ and Erickson pitched 14⅔.
There were four extra-inning games among the 12 played in 1991, causing the Twins to pitch 113⅓ innings in the postseason compared to 104 four years earlier.
This led to 40 innings of work for the bullpen. Closer Rick Aguilera pitched 8⅓ innings in seven games. Carl (Big Train) Willis took the Berenguer role and pitched 12⅓ innings in eight games. Lefthander Mark Guthrie worked 6⅔ innings in six games and Steve Bedrosian 4⅔ in five.
David West had a vital long relief effort vs. Toronto, and Terry Leach got some key outs in two World Series appearances.
Add it up and the Twins twice made it through 12 postseason games with a limited amount of pitching. That was less the case for much of 1991, until Erickson (a 20-game winner) ran into elbow discomfort and toughed it out in October. The six solid innings he worked on short rest in a potential Game 6 elimination gave an emotional charge to that second World Series comeback.
Watching the pitching zaniness of this 2017 postseason caused me to look back at 1987 and 1991 to confirm this:
Kelly had the benefit of several stouthearted pitchers and still had to work some magic to get through those two championship battles.
What would have happened if the Twins didn’t get rid of those two outstanding clubs from the AL East, Detroit and Toronto, in five games? That could have meant another short-rest start for Viola in ’87, and another for Morris in ’91.
We’re not trying to diminish anything here. Nobody is going to go back and try to take away those 20 championships that the New York Yankees won before 1969, when a team finishing first went directly to the World Series.
There were two rounds of playoffs for the Twins in 1987 and 1991, and best-of-five Division Series were added in 1995.
Today, managers involved in an October run have gone to four-starter rotations. Most also start with eight relievers and good intentions to use all of them. By the start of the World Series, they won’t touch a couple of them other than in a blowout.
I don’t know how manager Kelly and his stout-hearted hurlers could have made it through a third round of the postseason. I do know this: Kelly wouldn’t have been so crazed about getting the next out to hook a starter in the fourth inning if he gave up a leadoff single.
Paranoia such as we’ve seen in recent autumn baseball was not part of his managerial makeup.