Twins have all the fun in opener as `Domeball' makes Series debut

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

It is traditional in baseball to announce the game-time temperature in the press box, and the practice was honored during the first two games of the World Series. There was no real reason to do so, of course, since the Minnesota Twins played host to St. Louis in the climate-controlled Metrodome, where the Series has gone inside for the first time.

Still, media members got the full meteorological rundown, including both outside and inside temperatures (50 and 70 respectively for Game 1).

It's hard to beat that latter reading, considering the possibilities for open-air baseball in Minnesota this time of year. The forecast calls for snow around midweek, just the sort of eventuality that led Goodyear to keep its blimp home despite ABC's interest in aerial skyline shots.

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Now that the series is moving south to St. Louis for games scheduled Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, the skies might look friendlier to the blimp pilots. Certainly the Cardinals will be happy to see stars above.

In Saturday night's opener, they saw stars, figuratively speaking, as the Twins struck for seven runs in the fourth, breaking a streak of 25 scoreless innings by St. Louis pitchers, en route to a 10-1 victory. It was the largest single-inning Series explosion since 1968, when Detroit scored 10 in one frame, also against St. Louis.

After five singles wrapped around a walk had produced three runs, Minnesota outfielder Dan Gladden administered the knockout punch on a 386-foot grand slam to left center. The last player to clear the bases in the series was Baltimore pitcher Dave McNally in 1970 against Cincinnati.

Gladden wasn't quite that unlikely a slugger, but as leadoff man, he is more accustomed to letting one of the Twins' Fab Four - Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, or Tom Brunansky - drive him home. Since leaving the bases loaded in the American League playoffs, however, Dan has hit with more authority. ``He kind of got embarrassed in Detroit by striking out on three bad breaking balls,'' says manager Tom Kelly. ``After that he went out and got some big hits for us.''

Gladden, who came from San Francisco in a spring trade, is something of a clubhouse character. ``One day he'll come into the locker room wearing a camouflage outfit like Rambo, and the next day he'll have on a motorcycle jacket,'' Hrbek says. ``On the field he wears these big wristbands, he has long hair in the back, and he prances around a little out there.''

Dan is also an intense, aggressive player who finished the opener with the dirtiest uniform of all. That's because he kept diving back to first base to avoid the pickoff attempts of Cardinal starter Joe Magrane, who made nine successive tries to get him in the third inning. Dan eventually stole second anyway.

Magrane was about the only Cardinal with previous experience in the ``Metrodoom,'' having once lost a college game there pitching for the University of Arizona. This time he semi-seriously said he would wear earplugs to muffle the sound of perhaps the loudest crowd in major league history.

It is ironic that the Twins, who had the best home record in baseball this year, have enjoyed such a significant advantage by moving indoors. Why? Because the great outdoors was once considered an ally of the Twin Cities' pro football team, the Vikings, who enjoyed a cold-weather mystique until both they and the Twins moved into the Metrodome.

The acoustics inside the yeasty-looking bubble can make 55,000 people sound like twice that many, and enthusiastic fans have discovered they can create the kind of ear-splitting environment of certain college basketball arenas. But the decibel level isn't all that takes getting used to. Fly balls can be difficult to judge, too, especially until the fielders get accustomed to the white Teflon backdrop.

The Cardinals clearly struggled to gauge the ball's flight several times in Game 1. Left fielder Vince Coleman let a towering fly, which nearly hit the ceiling, drop at least 10 feet in front of him for a bizarre double. Normally sure-handed centerfielder Willie McGee muffed an easy catch another time, and right fielder Jose Oquendo barely recovered once to make a ``snow cone'' catch, in which a lot of white appeared above the webbing.

Some purists may view indoor baseball, with its peculiarities, as a heretical development. Even Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog, who has built a team to take advantage of artificial turf, said, ``At least part of [the Series] will be played where baseball should be played.'' Presumably he meant in the open air.

Of course, some would argue that baseball was never meant to be played on mid-to-late October evenings, and consequently, indoors offers the best playing conditions at this time of year. In fact Herzog himself once suggested New Orleans, with the Superdome, as a weather-resistant neutral site for a Super Bowl-like World Series.

Anyway, with Games 6 and 7 scheduled back here next weekend if the Series goes that far, it's clear that this year's victor will have to have won at least one game of ``domeball'' - and probably more.

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