Sunday, April 27, 2014

Review: Down to the Last Pitch (2014)

By Tim Wendel

Sometimes luck isn't on the fan's side when it comes to watching a great sporting event. The problem, for the most part, is that rarely you don't know one is coming except in certain situations. Plenty of people watch the Super Bowl, but sometimes an earlier playoff game is the classic.

In my case, I missed the Duke-Kentucky NCAA basketball classic from 1992 because I was at the movies. And for whatever reason, I didn't see much of the 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves. I caught the last half of Game Seven, but that was about it.

In the former case, I've read a book on the basketball game called "The Last Great Game." In the latter case, Tim Wendel comes to the rescue with his book on that series called "Down to the Last Pitch."

As time has gone on, the luster of the series has grown. The Braves and Twins had been doormats in the immediate past, and didn't expect to do anything in 1991. That made their rise that much sweeter to the cities involved. Most of the games were close, there was controversy along the way, and some great players came through with terrific performances.

Capping it all was the play of Kirby Puckett in Game Six - great catch, walk-off homer, etc. - and the pitchers' duel between Jack Morris and John Smoltz in Game Seven. It took extra innings for someone to come up with a run to win the game. The Series is part, but only part of the reason why there is a statue of Puckett outside of Target Field in Minneapolis.

As you'd expect, Wendel talks to plenty of the participants from that series, and does good research on some of the others. Puckett, for example, died a few years ago, and is still beloved by his teammates from that era. You'd expect Puckett to be a star in such a setting; Mark Lemke of the Braves was a much more unlikely hero.

Wendel offers a few surprises along the way here. He doesn't write much about the regular season, even though the seasons had plenty of drama under the circumstances. He spends more time writing about the game as a whole at that point, nicely putting the World Series into a larger context. For you younger fans out there, plenty has changed in less than a quarter-century.

The story also comes off as a personal one for Wendel, who started writing for USA Today's Baseball Weekly - just out that year. He learned to have a national perspective on the game, and it shows up here. I love the story he has about trying to interview Rickey Henderson for a cover story. Henderson was definitely one of a kind.

This goes by rather quickly at only 202 pages plus a pair of appendixes. Therefore, I found myself wishing there was more to read. How often does that happen? But what's there is worthwhile.

The usual full disclosure here: Tim has been a friend of mine since college. He's been a good resource when I've written books of my own. He's in all of the credits of my books, and I'm in the credits of some of his (that's me, right before Johnny Bench here). Therefore, this book doesn't get a rating. But - I've read all of his nonfiction books and enjoyed all of them. "Down to the Last Pitch" carries out its mission of reviewing this great matchup quite nicely.

Learn more about this book.

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