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BRAVES-TWINS SERIES THE MOST IMPROBABLE EVER

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Last year, last place. So the last thing anyone expected to see this year was the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves as the last two teams. No matter now, because they're in the World Series and everyone else is out. They'll meet in Game 1 tonight when Atlanta surprise starter Charlie Leibrandt faces Jack Morris.

"I couldn't think of a better scenario," Kirby Puckett said after Minnesota's workout Friday. "Last year, no one picked us to do anything, and we didn't. This year, no one picked us to do anything, and we did. Same thing for the Braves."I want to win, don't get me wrong. But even if we lose, I think we're both winners this year because of what happened."

Never in this century had any team jumped from worst-to-first. And the chances of either the Twins or Braves doing it this season were overwhelming. In spring training, it was 120-to-1 against Minnesota winning the World Series and 100-to-1 against Atlanta, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers.

Make no mistake, however. These teams are not flukes, at least not anymore.

"If this isn't the greatest year in baseball, I don't know what it is," said John Smoltz, who pitched Atlanta past Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the NL playoffs. "To do what we've done, to do what the Twins have done, it's incredible."

Throughout the playoffs, a sort of kinship grew between the teams. While most clubs do not look ahead and talk about who they'd like to play in the World Series - that kind of stuff often shows up on bulletin boards - the Twins and Braves openly rooted for each other.

"We've both accomplished something that no one has done before," Minnesota reliever Rick Aguilera said. "It should be exciting. We've got our noise here and they've got their chop there."

This World Series already is the most improbable ever. It might turn out to be the loudest, too.

The Twins' fans silenced St. Louis with sound in the 1987 World Series, winning all four games at the Metrodome. But a loud crowd is not all the Braves will need to overcome.

The white puffed-pillow roof of the Metrodome is the most difficult background for catching popups and long fly balls. Added up, this probably is the biggest home-field advantage in the majors, especially for a first-time visitor.

"I think it's going to be a different experience than anything they've ever experienced," Puckett said. "If we're swinging the bats and get the noise going, it's going to get them."

Then there's the fly-ball factor.

"They're also used to turning their backs and going back," Puckett said. "You can't do that here. When I came up in 1984, (former Twins outfielder) Darrell Brown told me that was lesson No. 1: Don't turn your back.

"Once they go over the lights, you can't see them until they come down. By then, you've usually lost them and it's too late."

To partly counter the Twins' edge, the Braves elected to start Leibrandt, instead of 20-game winner Tom Glavine, in the opener.

Leibrandt faced the Twins for six years while in the American League and is the only Atlanta starter to previously pitch in the World Series, starting twice for Kansas City in 1985.

Leibrandt pitched once in the NL playoffs and limited Pittsburgh to one earned run in 62/3 innings in Game 4 Sunday.

Glavine, who lost twice in the playoffs, will pitch Game 2 and be followed by Steve Avery and John Smoltz. The Braves shut out the Pirates in the last 22 innings.

"Obviously, those fellas have a lot to be proud of," Morris said. "We're well aware of what they did."

Morris, though, is no slouch, particularly in the postseason. He is 5-1 in big October games, including two victories over Toronto in the AL playoffs and two wins in the 1984 World Series for Detroit.