For 11 innings, Puckett's greatness took center stage
To appreciate the greatness of Kirby Puckett's 12-year career, all you had to see was 11 innings.
The other side of A.J. Pierzynski.
"This isn't the first time he's had that kind of game," Twins manager Tom Kelly said after the game.
He had many games like it, but very few players have ever had a game like that in the World Series or the postseason, especially in an elimination game. It was right there with the best of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, George Brett, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson. It was the kind of unforgettable performance that elevates a player to legendary status. Puckett's career numbers were Hall of Fame material, but Game 6 of the '91 World Series went a long way in getting him into Cooperstown on the first ballot in 2001.
And the best part is, Puckett basically predicted it.
"I went to the clubhouse, and I gathered [everyone] up. I said, 'Everybody together, we're going to have a short meeting,'" Puckett said, retelling the story years later. "Everybody comes in, and I said, 'Guys, I just have one announcement to make: You guys should jump on my back tonight. I'm going to carry us.'"
Then he did.
"We were in a bad way; we needed someone to step forward in a major way," Twins teammate Gene Larkin said. "He told us to jump on his back. Not many guys can talk the talk and walk the walk, but Kirby always could. After he spoke to us, we just knew that Kirby was going to do something special. We've seen him do that many times. That time it was on the biggest stage."
In the first inning of Game 6, Puckett tripled home a run, then scored. In the third inning, with one out and a runner at first, Atlanta's Ron Gant hit a fly ball to deep left-center field.
"I thought it was gone," Puckett said. But Puckett, who was 5-foot-8, scaled the Plexiglas fence in left-center and caught it -- making one of the greatest catches in World Series history.
"If he hadn't made that catch," Larkin said, "we might have lost the World Series in six games."
Puckett hit a sacrifice fly in the fifth to give the Twins a 3-2 lead, but the Braves tied it, setting up the dramatic 11th inning. The Braves brought in left-hander Charlie Leibrandt, a starting pitcher, to work in relief. Puckett hit a 2-1, hanging changeup over the wall in left-center to end the game.
As he rounded the bases, pumping his fist and screaming at the top of his lungs, the Metrodome was almost indescribably loud. The fans chanted "Kirby! Kirby!" He was mobbed at home plate.
"It was so loud in the Metrodome, it was like a plane taking off on the runway," Larkin said.
The Twins won Game 7, 1-0, in 10 innings behind a masterful performance by Jack Morris.
"After Game 6, Jack said something like, 'Now it's my turn to do my job; Kirby did his job,'" Larkin said.
It was one of the greatest Game 7s ever played, but it only happened because of what Puckett did in Game 6. It will forever be known simply as the Puckett Game, and no further explanation is needed. It was the night that a team's best player and leader played his best, and his best was as great as the World Series has ever seen.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Kirby Puckett: 1960-2006
Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett died at the age of 45. He was a 10-time All-Star and won two World Series rings in 12 seasons with the Twins.
• Puckett dead at 45 ...
• Players, fans mourn Puckett
• Twins to honor Puckett
• Stark: Greatness personified
• Gammons: Remembering Puck
• Caple: No one as likable as Puck
• Transcript: 911 call
• Kurkjian: A game for the ages
• Rojas: Big Papi's idol
• Puckett's highs and lows
• ESPN.com voices on Puckett
• SportsNation: Your memories?
• Gallery: Puckett in photos
• Wiley: Trial and error (from '03)
• Hall of Fame:
Election | Induction | Speech
• Career: Highlights | Statistics