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Puckett's walk-off etched in Twins lore

Puckett's walk-off homer etched in Twins lore

MINNEAPOLIS -- Leave it to the Twins' most beloved hero to come up with the biggest hit on the biggest stage in baseball.

As Major League baseball crowned a new home run king this week, the memories of other famous home runs come to mind for baseball fans. For many Twins fans, the most memorable home run in club history was the 11th-inning walk-off homer hit by Kirby Puckett in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series.

The Twins were down 3-2 to the Braves in a World Series that had five games decided by a single run, four games decided by the final at-bat and three games that went into extra innings.

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With the game at a 3-3 stalemate, Braves manager Bobby Cox called Charlie Leibrandt in from the 'pen to pitch in the 11th. He threw three pitches to Puckett to run the count to 2-1. Puckett sent the next pitch, a weak changeup, into the seats in left field.

It was the momentum of that long ball that propelled the Twins to prevail in a pitchers' duel in Game 7 and win it all.

Game 7 starter Jack Morris smiled recently when he sat in the same dugout he had occupied 16 years earlier and relived the moment.

"This whole dugout was elevated, literally," Morris said. "All at once, everyone jumped up in the air. And I think if you have a replay of it, probably the whole stadium went up in the air because it was dramatic."

Morris was so excited after Puckett's home run that he wanted to play Game 7 right then and there, conveying the idea to reporters with the words of Marvin Gaye: "Let's get it on." Fueled by the adrenaline from the night before, he came into the decisive game and pitched a 10-inning complete game to win it all for the Twins.

"For me personally, when it happened, it was like total calm and peace came over me instantly because I could pitch tomorrow," Morris said. "That was the coolest thing. Without Kirby doing that, I would have never had a chance to shine."

The effects of the home run didn't end with the '91 Twins. Even current Twins players remember watching Puckett's bash.

Current Twins pitcher and Minnesota native Glen Perkins remembers watching the game as an 8-year-old Twins fan at home with his dad and brother.

"I remember Charlie Leibrandt with his little hitch lobbing it up there and Puckett hit it," Perkins said. "It was a pretty sweet homer. He made that catch the inning before, and then he came up and did that. I think that's something that no Minnesotan will ever forget."

Puckett's late-inning heroics may have come as a surprise to the fans in the Metrodome and at home, but Puckett knew he was going to win it. Manager Ron Gardenhire, who was in his first year as Minnesota's third-base coach at the time, remembers Puckett calling his shot as he was coming off the field after the top half of the inning.

"I just remember I was going on the field and he's coming off the field, and he's going, 'It's over Shooter, it's over.' He always called me Shooter," Gardenhire said. "He saw Leibrandt was coming in, and he'd had some success off him. He was saying, 'It's over.' And when Puck says something, you pretty much go, 'It might be.' And he did. He hit it and I was like, 'Oh my, he just called his shot.'"

Gardenhire, who has a framed drawing hanging in his office immortalizing Puckett's triumphant trot around the bases with his mouth open in a yell and his fist pumping in the air, said that was the most tense set of games he has been involved in.

"It was incredible. I was standing out there at third base, and it was just one of those where every game was so intense," Gardenhire said. "He's coming up and it's just deafening. You can't hear anything; you can't talk to anybody. He gets up and he swings, and he kills it. And I remember going, 'Get out of here, get out of here,' and jumping up and down. It was all kind of a blur after that."

Leslie Parker is an associate producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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