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1991 Baseball Season

Not since 1890 had a major league team leapfrogged from the cellar to a pennant the following year, but in the 1991 baseball season, two clubs pulled off this astounding feat. The Atlanta Braves vaulted from the worst record in the majors in 1990 to the National League pennant, and the Minnesota Twins scrambled out of the American League West basement to snatch their second American League flag in five years.

Atlanta overcame a 9-1/2-game deficit to beat out LA in the National League West. Bobby Cox's Braves boasted the best starting rotation in the majors, headed by Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine (20-11, 2.55 ERA) and 21-year-old Steve Avery (18-8). Providing the offense were David Justice, Ron Gant, and free-agent third sacker Terry Pendleton. A dismal .230 hitter in 1990, Pendleton won the 1991 batting title (.319) and also captured the league's MVP Award.

The Twins had two key free-agent acquisitions -- DH Chili Davis and Minnesota native Jack Morris. Both, like Pendleton, were coming off sub-par years. In 1991, however, Morris rebounded to win 18 games, and Davis paced the Twins with 29 homers and 93 RBI. When manager Tom Kelly also got 20 wins from Scott Erickson, 42 saves from Rick Aguilera, the usual fine season from Kirby Puckett, and a surprise contribution from Rookie of the Year second sacker Chuck Knoblauch, Minnesota reeled off 16 straight victories and was never caught.

Yet all the accolades in 1991 did not belong to the two flag winners. Julio Franco, with a .341 average, became the first Texas Ranger to win a batting title. Two other Rangers, Ruben Sierra and Rafael Palmeiro, joined Franco to give Texas a trio of 200-hit men. Meanwhile another Ranger, the unstoppable Nolan Ryan, notched his seventh career no-hitter.

Other American League honors went to Tiger Cecil Fielder, a repeat homer and RBI champ; BoSox fireballer Roger Clemens, winner of his third Cy Young Award; and Oriole Cal Ripken, who parlayed one of the greatest offensive seasons ever by an American League shortstop (.323 average, 34 homers, 114 RBI) into his second MVP Award.

In July, two Montreal Expos hurlers, Mark Gardner and Dennis Martinez, no-hit the Dodgers twice in three days. Martinez's no-hitter was a perfect game, though Gardner lost his no-no in the tenth. Cardinal reliever Lee Smith set a new National League saves record with 47, although he could not help his club stall the Pirates, runaway winners in the National League East.

The Pirates' outstanding outfielders -- Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Andy Van Slyke -- fizzled in the NLCS, allowing the Braves to triumph in seven games. Minnesota, in contrast, needed just five frays to dispose of the Toronto Blue Jays, perennial late-season floppers.

The 1991 World Series was a true fall classic -- perhaps the greatest of all time. The Twins took the first two in Minnesota, winning game two 3-2 on a Scott Leius homer in the eighth. The Braves, inspired by their fans' "Tomahawk Chop," then swept the next three in Atlanta. They won game three 5-4 on a Mark Lemke single in the 12th, then captured game four 3-2 when Lemke tripled and scored in the ninth. Atlanta blew out the Twins 14-5 in the fifth contest.

The Twins, though, got revenge in the Metrodome. In game six, Puckett broke a 3-3 tie with an 11th-inning solo homer. In game seven, Morris and John Smoltz pitched a nail-biting 0-0 gem through nine-and-a-half innings. But in the bottom of the tenth, Minnesota's Gene Larkin singled home Dan Gladden with the Series-winning tally.

Morris's complete-game 1-0 triumph earned him the 1991 World Series MVP Award. Meanwhile, the Twins had won their second fall classic in five years without winning a single Series game on the road.

The next page provides headlines and summaries for some of the top stories of the 1991 baseball season.

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