Mark Lemke had no idea what to expect as Game 3 of the 1991 World Series approached. But it wasn’t because of the drama or lack of preparation or even the apparent randomness of the MLB postseason.
It was much simpler: Lemke didn’t even know if he would play.
Despite playing second base for the Braves for most of their streak from his worst season to first, he found himself out of the lineup in Game 1. It was a bit strange, he thought, but no big deal. . He would be ready for Game 2. And, yes, he did play Game 2, but it was almost as if he hadn’t.
“I was 0-fer in Game 2,” he told Sporting News. “So now we have two games in the series, I haven’t even gotten a hit. I don’t think I was on base.”
So when he arrived at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for Game 3, there was definitely a mystery as to whether he would be in Bobby Cox’s starting nine, as the Braves, down 0-2 in the series against the Twins, were looking to find some spark. to rejuvenate your team.
And this is where the story gets interesting and a little bit funny. Not only did Lemke not know what to expect in Game 3, but he also had no idea what was about to happen. Those may sound like the same sentiments, but they turned out to be quite different, and what unfolded made Lemke perhaps the best example of the notion that October baseball is predictable, but gleefully unpredictable.
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From Game 3 to the end of the series, Lemke hit .417 with 10 hits, three triples and four RBIs. His starting hit in the 12th inning of Game 3 gave the Braves their first World Series victory, and he scored the winning run in Atlanta’s victory in Game 4.
When the series ended, he was leading both teams in average, on-base percentage (.462) and OPS (1,170), and he certainly would have been the MVP of the series if the Braves had won. Compare that to his 1991 regular season bar line of .234 / .305 / .312.
Forget Lemke didn’t see it coming, no one saw it coming.
Throughout the season, and then virtually the rest of his career, the 5-10 Lemke was the definition of a light hitting second baseman. But not in the 1991 World Series. There was no rhyme or reason, more than this: anything can happen in October.
Lemke didn’t do anything different going into Game 3. He didn’t make any adjustments or take a different approach. He played his normal game and everything clicked, which sometimes happens to unknown players in October and is never easy to explain or predict.
That tee shot in Game 3 was Lemke’s second of the game, but it was the one that really led to him finding that rare postseason hero team.
“That was probably the moment where I said, ‘Wow, you didn’t just get a hit, you won a World Series game. And not just a World Series game, a first World Series win for the Atlanta Braves.'” Lemke said. . “Then everything collapsed.”
Lemke, a native of Utica, NY, remembers watching Brian Doyle, a lightweight Lemke forerunner, go off in the 1978 World Series and hit .438 for the champion Yankees. Lemke said one of the reasons he, Doyle and others may come out of nowhere to mix in the World Series is because they tend to float under the radar as opposing teams make plans to manage the stars of the lineup.
“For me, it was nothing more than, ‘They’ll probably come for you, and you have nothing to lose,'” he said. “‘You have to take advantage of it. You might get some good pitches.'”
Lemke took advantage in 1991, much to the chagrin of Twins manager Tom Kelly.
“It was a real headache,” Kelly told SN, who still seemed frustrated 30 years later. “And I don’t mean that derogatory. I mean, God, he played well.”
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While Lemke didn’t expect to break onto the biggest stage in baseball, and while Kelly and the Twins didn’t plan for him to be a thorn in their collective side, one Braves player remembers telling Lemke that the World Series presents a great opportunity. .
“Before things started, he had an offensive year that was not one of his favorites. He talked about how bad he was and (how) he didn’t do anything here in the playoffs against Pittsburgh,” said Terry Pendleton, who joined the Braves for the 1991 season after playing two pennant champions in St. Louis, he told SN.
So Pendleton, who was brought to Atlanta in part to mentor the Braves’ young core, offered Lemke some postseason wisdom.
“I said, ‘Dawg, listen: you have a chance to show the world how good you can be. Nobody cares what you did in the last playoff series, nobody cares what you did during the season. What matters. It’s these seven games, ‘”he said.“ So I said,’ Just go out and relax and do what you can, man. These seven games, people will remember. ‘”And he continues to have those kinds of series.”
Success often breeds more success, but it can also generate a certain perspective that can fuel motivation, especially in the World Series.
“Once you start to get some confidence and land a few hits, now you say to yourself, ‘I don’t just want to play these games, I want to make sure I stay in the game,'” Lemke said. “And you have to produce for that.”
Lemke’s performance in October 1991 guaranteed him a place in baseball lore as one of those How did that happen? postseason stories that are re-told almost every fall.
With plenty of postseason to play in 2021, and with Game 3 between the Astros and Braves scheduled for Friday in the same city where Lemke seized his moment, one wonders what name could be added next.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.