MINNEAPOLIS -- Gene Larkin had spent the previous inning getting ready to hit in case he was called upon, but when manager Tom Kelly took him aside and told him he was going to pinch-hit with the bases loaded and one out in the 10th inning of a scoreless Game
MINNEAPOLIS -- Gene Larkin had spent the previous inning getting ready to hit in case he was called upon, but when manager Tom Kelly took him aside and told him he was going to pinch-hit with the bases loaded and one out in the 10th inning of a scoreless Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, it all sunk in for Larkin.
Larkin, a left-handed hitter brought in to face Braves right-hander Alejandro Pena, knew he was headed for the biggest at-bat of his life with a chance to be forever etched in Twins history.
"I was mentally prepared before the inning started, but when you get the call in that situation, your heart begins to a race a little bit," Larkin said. "From the walk from the on-deck circle to the batter's box, I was literally shaking. Not sure if you could see that on the highlights. It wasn't a smooth walk to the batter's box, let's put it that way."
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But once Larkin began to dig in at the plate, he felt a sense of calm buoyed by his belief that Pena wouldn't be able to strike him out. He was looking for a pitch he could drive -- preferably up to avoid grounding into a double play -- and jumped on a first-pitch fastball, driving it over left fielder Brian Hunter's head to score Dan Gladden from third to clinch one of the more memorable Game 7s in World Series history. That was the game in which Jack Morris pitched 10 shutout innings for the Twins.
"I was fortunate Pena went up and away with a fastball, and I put a pretty good swing over it and put it over the left fielder's head," Larkin said. "He was playing in, so as soon as I made contact with the ball, I knew it was hit hard enough to get the job done to score Danny Gladden from third base."
Once Larkin realized his drive to left would win the game, he raised his hand in celebration on the way to first base and joined his teammates to revel once he reached first. Larkin was mostly a role player during his seven seasons with the Twins from 1987-93, but he joined Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Greg Gagne, Randy Bush, Al Newman and Gladden as the only Twins players to be part of the 1987 and '91 World Series-winning teams.
"I just wanted to get to first base as quickly as I could and kind of absorb the moment and jump into everyone's arms," Larkin said. "Half the guys went to home plate to jump on Danny, and half the guys went to first to jump on me. Obviously, it was a thrill of a lifetime and something you dream about when you first pick up a ball in the backyard."
Larkin, 55, said he appreciates his role in baseball history as one of the game's unlikely postseason heroes and that fans still approach him to talk about it, especially in October.
"I tell people this all the time, the game is so weird in that I was a below-average Major League player, but was put in such a big moment for myself and for the team, and for me to help the team win in a seventh game was a tremendous, tremendous thrill for me," Larkin said. "During World Series time, people always remember it and come up to me in public and want to talk about it more. But it's good. I'd rather be the guy who got the hit than the guy who struck out and didn't get a hit."
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.