Paul Sorrento 1990 Topps Traded – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for April 11, 2017

IMG_9708The setting is Portland, Oregon. The time is just before the 1991 baseball season.

Paul Sorrento, a top prospect for the Minnesota Twins, is sent down to start the season at Triple-A Portland despite having a tremendous season there in 1990. Depressed that he couldn’t make the roster of the last-place Twins, he goes to a fortune teller.

SORRENTO: I need to know, am I going to finish this season in the majors?

The Fortune Teller looks into her ball.

FORTUNE TELLER: I see…I see you in a very strange place in the fall.

SORRENTO: Where?

FORTUNE TELLER: It is a building. It has a canvas roof and something that looks like a blue trash bag covering up folded up seats.

SORRENTO: The Metrodome! So I am going to be in Minnesota. When?

FORTUNE TELLER: It looks like the fall.

Sorrento shakes his head.

SORRENTO: Man, I have to wait to be a September call-up?

FORTUNE TELLER: No. Not September. It is October.

SORRENTO: October? That’s impossible, the Twins were in last place last year.

FORTUNE TELLER: But I hear people saying a phrase over and over again. “Worst to first.” And “Fall Classic.”

Sorrento’s jaw drops.

SORRENTO: The Twins are going to the World Series?

FORTUNE TELLER: Yes. And you are there.

SORRENTO: What happens?

FORTUNE TELLER: I hear people say it is amazing series. Maybe the best ever.

SORRENTO: Do the Twins win?

FORTUNE TELLER: I see…I see a celebration. Someone has won the game for them.

SORRENTO: Did the Twins win?

FORTUNE TELLER: I see a crowd waving handkerchiefs indoors.

SORRENTO: Holy Crap! That’s a Twins win!

FORTUNE TELLER: Yes. I hear the two words: “Game” and “Seven.”

SORRENTO: Wow.

FORTUNE TELLER: And “series-ending pinch hit”.

SORRENTO: Who? Who is it?

FORTUNE TELLER: It is all unclear. There are no names on the back of the Twins’ uniforms. The numbers are hazy.

SORRENTO: What do you SEE?

FORTUNE TELLER: I see someone throwing a ball. Then he is walking away. He looks sad. He has a name on his back.

SORRENTO: That’s the pitcher. What is his name?

FORTUNE TELLER: Peña.

SORRENTO: Peña. Who got the hit?

FORTUNE TELLER: He is standing on the left side.

SORRENTO: Yes?

FORTUNE TELLER: It is very unclear. I hear a phrase. “Seldom-used first baseman.”

Sorrento covers his mouth.

SORRENTO: Oh my God. Tell me more!

FORTUNE TELLER: What does “playing time blocked by Hrbek” mean?

SORRENTO: It means me! Tell me anything more!

FORTUNE TELLER: I’m losing the image. I hear fragments. “Unlikely hero.” “Game Seven.” “Pinch hitting for the pinch runner.” “Series-ending pinch hit.” “Native Northeasterner.”

SORRENTO: That’s me! I was born in Somerville, Massachusetts! I’m a native Northeasterner! I hit on the left side of the plate! I’m a first baseman whose playing time is blocked by Kent Hrbek! I’m going to win the World Series on a hit off of Peña! That must be Alejandro Peña of the Mets.

FORTUNE TELLER: Mets… I don’t hear Mets. Perhaps Atlanta?

SORRENTO: Atlanta? That’s not likely. One last-place team going to the World Series is one thing. Two?

FORTUNE TELLER: Once again. It is cloudy.

Sorrento leaves and finds it amusing, but stops believing once the opponent is revealed to be Atlanta.

During the year, the Twins surprise everyone and surge past Oakland into first place. On July 1, Sorrento is called up to the bigs. But his playing time is blocked by Hrbek, and he is sent back down. On Aug. 28, the surprising Atlanta Braves acquire Alejandro Peña to be their bullpen closer for the stretch run. This catches Sorrento’s attention. Was the fortune teller onto something?

Sorrento was recalled for the stretch run and added to the playoff roster. Sitting on the bench, he kept wondering, “Would I come up against Alejandro Peña with the World Series on the line?” But he brushed it aside as coincidence. Who can believe a fortune teller?

He struck out as a pinch hitter in Game Three of the ALCS against Toronto and celebrated with the team two days later as they clinched the pennant. He looked around at all the veterans on the team. Puckett, Hrbek, Pagliarulo, Gagne, Davis, Harper and Gladden… could SORRENTO become the biggest hero of them all? When Atlanta became their National League opponent, Sorrento got spooked. Peña was the closer. Was it all coming together?

Sorrento made two pinch-hit appearances in the World Series but wasn’t a factor in the first six games. Then came Game Seven. Hrbek got the start. Sorrento looked around. Hankies waving. Could this be what the fortune teller saw?

The game was scoreless through six, then seven. After eight innings, it was clear that the Twins could only win with a game-ending hit. Mike Stanton had relieved John Smoltz. There was no way Sorrento, a left-handed hitter, would pinch hit against Stanton.

The ninth inning began with a leadoff hit by Chili Davis. The run that would win the 1991 World Series was on base. Whomever could knock in that run, represented by pinch runner Jarvis Brown, would be the hero.

Brian Harper bunted off Stanton, who injured himself on the play. Bobby Cox replaced Stanton with Alejandro Peña. Sorrento froze. There were too many coincidences. His moment of glory could be coming.

Shane Mack hit into a double play and third baseman Mike Pagliarulo was walked to pitch to Al Newman, who had pinch run for Randy Bush in the eighth.

Minnesota manager Tom Kelly looked down the bench and called, “Sorrento! You’re batting for Newman!”

Sorrento had the biggest grin in Minnesota. He knew what was going to happen. It was foretold.

Up he strode to the plate and looked up at the waving hankies and the baggie over the right field seats. Here he was, the Native Northeasterner seldom used first baseman who was blocked by Hrbek, in Game Seven pinch hitting for the pinch runner and facing Alejandro Pena. Now all that was left was to deliver the series-ending hit and become the unlikely hero. He was remarkably calm at the plate. Fate was going to deliver this hit.

The count got to 0-2, but there was a grin on his face. Pena threw the 0-2 pitch. Sorrento gave a mighty cut, the cut that would end the World Series and put his name among the great heroes of the game.

But he missed. It was a strikeout. The game went into extra innings.

Scott Leius went into shortstop. Sorrento’s game and season were over. Slumped on the bench, he wondered, “What the hell happened? Everything was aligned perfectly.” Looking up in the 10th inning, he saw the Twins rallying. With the bases loaded and Peña on the mound, it was Brown’s turn to bat. He was the pinch runner from the earlier inning. Instead, Kelly called over to Gene Larkin to pinch hit.

Sorrento nodded. Larkin was a seldom-used first baseman. He was blocked by Hrbek. And here he was pinch hitting for the pinch runner in Game Seven against Alejandro Peña. On the first pitch, Larkin drove a ball to left field for the series-ending pinch hit to make him an unlikely World Series hero.

Sorrento celebrated with his teammates and made his way over to Larkin.

SORRENTO: Geno. I need to ask you something.

LARKIN: What?

SORRENTO: Where were you born?

LARKIN: What?

SORRENTO: I just need to know.

LARKIN: Flushing, Queens. I’m a Native Northeasterner. Why do you ask?

SORRENTO: I know a fortune teller in Portland that you should see.

(This was originally posted in 2011 by me on Hardball Times.)

Greg Gagne 1987 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for March 20, 2017

The 1980’s were a strange time for the New York Yankees. They did not win a World Series in a decade for the first time and they had a hard time developing a new young core.

Sure Don Mattingly and Dave Righetti came of age in that decade. But young pitching stars like Jose Rijo and Doug Drabek were shipped off as were young bats like Fred McGriff and Willie McGee for veterans who did not help their cause.

George Steinbrenner’s impulsiveness was always in the way.

With Bucky Dent, hero of 1978 fading, the Yankees also had a revolving door of shortstops. As always, the team coveted proven veterans in place of young up and comers.

Greg Gagne was a young prospect in the Yankees farm system from Massachusetts. At the start of the 1982 season, he joined the parade of talented future big leaguers who would be dealt away. He was sent to the Twins for Roy Smalley, an established big leaguer.

By 1985 he was the starting shortstop of the Twins at age 23 while the Yankees were still struggling to fill the void in the infield.

Steady but hardly spectacular, Gagne provided some pop at short in an era where they were expected to field and not hit much. He would smack double digit homers and get his share of doubles and triples as the Twins formed a slugging team that resembled a beer league.

He hit a pair of inside the park homers on October 4, 1986, being just the second person since 1930 to achieve that feat.

In 1987, the Twins shockingly made the post season. Gagne homered twice in the ALCS win over the Tigers, posting a 1.187 OPS. He also homered in the World Series against St. Louis and the Twins won the franchise’s first World Series title since they were the Washington Senators in 1924.

Former Yankees Joe Niekro and George Frazier were also on that team. Also on that team? Roy Smalley, who was reacquired by Minnesota. Being a Twin was an easier path to a World Series than being a Yankee.

That was the case in 1991 when the 29 year old Gagne was once again starting in the World Series. (The Yankees had not appeared in a Series at that point since dealing away Gagne. )

He hit a key homer in Game 1 of the World Series, helping give the Twins the win over Atlanta. The two would play one of the great World Series in baseball history with the Twins coming out on top.

He bounced between the Royals and Dodgers between 1993 and 1997, making the post season again with Los Angeles in 1996.

That was the year the Yankees finally DID win a World Series title. They did so with a lot of homegrown players including a young shortstop named Jeter.

Maybe they would have made it back to the World Series sooner if they held onto a few of their homegrown players.

I’m just saying.

Sully Baseball Podcast Rewind – May 17, 2016

larkinapphoto

AP

On May 17, 2013, Gene Larkin’s humility is off the charts. Meanwhile I admire the evolution of instant replay.

Enjoy this Podcast Rewind

Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – May 17, 2013