Mike Pagliarulo And The Gift That Keeps On Giving

The one ingredient that has always made baseball magical is the unexpected.

Sometimes the unexpected takes the better part of three decades to arrive.

With nary a hit to show for six at-bats in the 1991 American League Championship Series, and four seasons removed from a career-best 32 home runs, Mike Pagliarulo got the call to pinch-hit with one out in the top of the tenth in Game 3 of the series, knotted at 2-2.

It wasn’t only that Pagliarulo had collected just six home runs through the regular season for the Twins, it was that he’d only managed 35 altogether since those 32 bombs four seasons prior. So when Minnesota manager Tom Kelly sent him to the dish to bat for third base platoon-mate Scott Leius, the hope was that Pags would just get on base to set up the top of the order.

Mike Timlin was on the hill for the Jays, a man who would record the save to give Toronto its first title the following season, which would go with seven career postseason appearances and three additional championship rings to follow.

Having never lost at the Metrodome in the postseason (7-0), the Twins were reeling from  Game 2 defeat at the hands of the Blue Jays, the most talented team in the league, and the scale of momentum threatened to swing in Toronto’s favor for good.

But it wasn’t their time. Not yet. Once again, America’s Pastime was sprinkled with a bit of that special ingredient: The unexpected.

Pagliarulo drilled Timlin’s second offering just over the right field wall at SkyDome to put the Twins in front, a blow that for all intents and purposes deflated any and all momentum Toronto had built, and set up a road sweep that gave Minnesota its second pennant in five years.

It was a surprise to Twins fans, and certainly a shock to everyone north of the border. Make no mistake, Pags’ blast was the turning point of the series, and ensured that Minnesota would be the first team in major league history to go from worst to first.

Pagliarulo was one of a handful of players that most believed had nothing left in the tank. While Jack Morris and Chili Davis found career revivals under the Teflon Confines, Pags platooned with Leius, helping to form a bench along with Randy Bush, Al Newman, Gene Larkin and Junior Ortiz that remains near and dear to every Twins fan old enough to remember.

So when I strode over to the modest sporting section at Goodwill in Winona, Minnesota this past Friday night, there was still a bit of magic left from that October evening nearly 27 years ago.

Having already perused the DVD section, I was about set to exit stage left, but the old player in me likes to pick up a bat whenever possible, particularly of the wooden variety. The first seemed to have been through one too many battles, the second was a miniature, leaving one last selection. A two-toned black and tan, I slid it out of its holder and thought the weight and feel were good, so I took a stance and gave it one easy swing before turning it over in my hands to read the label.

That’s when I let out an audible chuckle right there in the middle of the store. Think Shelly Long when she realized she had running water in The Money Pit. It was a Mike Pagliarulo model.

There wasn’t much clamoring in the market for a Pagliarulo bat, save for those first couple of seasons he spent with the Yankees in the mid-eighties, but for an old Twins fan like me, images of the mustache, those thin wristbands, and one swing of the bat in the Great White North immediately flooded my mind.

I couldn’t help but think that with the exception of a few Yankees fans and Twins followers who witnessed it happen, very few know or care about Mike Pagliarulo.

But, I’m not most people. I rushed over to show my friend, who knows nothing about baseball, and even she could tell something magical was happening, if only to me.

I carried it around the store like a king’s scepter until we headed for the register –easily the best $3.99 I’ve ever spent.

As we walked out, my ear-to-ear grin closely resembling the smile I must have worn the night Pags went yard.

And it’s a reminder that it’s those obscure, unexpected moments – be it in the American League Championship Series or a store in small-town, Minnesota almost three decades later – that dip us in the magical waters known as baseball.

Click here for Landon’s lifelong love affair with Randy Bush story.
And click here for a little Mike Pagliarulo magic.

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