Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Game of the Day (4/15/14)

Going into the data entry for yesterday's games, I was very much expecting Oakland's 11-inning 10-9 win over the Angels, featuring a game-tying ninth-inning homer by Mike Trout, to top the list. And indeed, WPL liked that game a great deal, giving it a score of 5.75, the fifth-highest of the season to this point. So I was looking forward to writing about Trout, and Josh Donaldson, and the absurdly balanced A's lineup (every starter had either a run or an RBI; also, their catcher led off).

And then I entered the numbers for Giants 3, Dodgers 2 (12), and discovered that I'd be writing about an even better game.

Josh Beckett faced Tim Lincecum in a matchup of two very well-known pitchers who've seen much better days. This particular day went pretty well for both of them, however, starting with a first inning in which they combined to allow just one hit (a two-out Hanley Ramirez single against Lincecum). Juan Uribe opened the scoring in the second with a solo homer; the bottom of the inning saw Beckett hit Mike Morse with a pitch and then throw wildly on a pickoff to advance him to third before stranding him there.

Lincecum was perfect in the top half of the third, then drew a walk in the bottom half; what looked like a highly effective inning on both sides came to a screeching halt when he was doubled off of first on a fly ball. LA threatened to extend its lead in the top of the fourth, loading the bases on consecutive one-out singles by Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, and Andre Ethier, but Lincecum rallied to strike out the next two hitters. San Francisco also put three men on with one out, thanks to a Brandon Belt single, a Buster Posey walk, and a Hunter Pence single, and Beckett also recovered to leave all the runners on base.

After Lincecum circumvented a fifth-inning error, the Giants tried again in the home half. Brandon Hicks drew a leadoff walk, and Lincecum bunted him to second. Angel Pagan flied out, but Belt walked, and Pablo Sandoval did the same, loading the bases yet again. Posey flied to center, keeping anyone from scoring.

David Huff replaced Lincecum in the sixth (which makes me wonder why Lincecum hit for himself the prior half-inning) and retired the Dodgers in order. Hunter Pence greeted reliever Chris Withrow with a single in the bottom of the inning, and Morse reached on a Ramirez error to put runners at first and second. A wild pitch advanced Pence to third, and Brandon Crawford tied the game with a sacrifice fly. At that point (but not before), the Giants replaced Morse with Juan Perez, who was caught stealing on the fourth pitch of the next at bat to defuse any potential threat for more scoring.

The Dodgers jumped back in front in the seventh, as Uribe led off with a double against Jean Machi, Tim Federowicz bunted him to third, pinch hitter Matt Kemp walked, and pinch hitter Justin Turner singled against Javier Lopez to push home the team's second run of the day. Lopez and JC Gutierrez managed to end the inning with Kemp at third, staying within striking distance, but JP Howell and Chris Perez worked around a Belt single in the bottom of the inning to preserve the lead. Gutierrez allowed a one-out triple to Puig in the eighth but stranded him 90 feet away.

Perez allowed a leadoff hit to Pence in the bottom of the eighth, and the Giant outfielder then stole second. Pinch hitter Gregor Blanco walked, but Crawford struck out and Hicks hit into a double play to waste a first-and-second, nobody out chance and keep the margin at a run. Gutierrez stayed in for the ninth and permitted a single and steal to Kemp, but nothing else.

Kenley Jansen entered for the save situation in the bottom of the ninth. It started well enough, as he struck out pinch hitter Hector Sanchez. Pagan reached on an infield hit, however, and Belt followed that with a sharp grounder up the left field line that slipped past Uribe. Belt made it into second standing up, and Pagan slid home with the tying run. Jansen managed to leave Belt at second to extend the game into extras.

Sergio Romo took the mound in the tenth, entering as part of a double switch: Sanchez remained behind the plate, and Posey was pulled from the game. (Yes, that Posey, the 2012 batting champion and MVP. No, I don't get it either.) Romo walked Puig with two outs but yielded nothing else. Jamey Wright worked the bottom of the tenth, allowing singles to Blanco and Crawford, who were then bunted over by Hicks. Sanchez walked to load the bases, and Pagan and Belt both flied out to leave the winning run at thrid.

Santiago Casilla relieved for the top of the eleventh, and allowed a single to Uribe and a double to Kemp - but Uribe was erased on a Federowicz double play ball before Kemp came up, keeping the rally from producing a run. Wright allowed a single to pinch hitter Joaquin Arias in the bottom of the inning, but Pence also hit into a double play, extending the game yet again. In the twelfth, Yusmeiro Petit served up a one-out double to Ramirez, but stranded him with an intentional walk to Gonzalez, a Puig flyout, and an Ethier groundout. Brandon League entered for the bottom of the inning and allowed a one-out Crawford single. Hicks grounded out to move the runner over, and a wild pitch placed him at third. With two outs, Sanchez fired a grounder off of Turner's glove and into center field, bringing the winning run home.

Bruce Bochy made a number of decisions in this game that strike me as counterintuitive. He didn't hit for his pitcher, then pulled him before he threw another pitch anyway, he pinch-ran for one of his better hitters in the sixth inning of a tie game, and he double-switched the best player on the team out of the lineup. And yet, the decisions seem to have worked out reasonably well - Lincecum got the bunt down (albeit in an inning in which the bases were eventually left loaded) and the bullpen pitched well, Morse's eventual replacement reached base twice, and Hector Sanchez drove in the winning run in the twelfth from what would have been the pitcher's spot. Also, the team won the game. So it's possible Bochy knows what he's doing.

Just how good was this game? Let's run it through the "WPL Catnip" checklist:

Extra innings? Check (triple check, actually).
Runners on base? 29 left on between the two teams; that would seem to be plenty.
Late rallies? Game-tying one in the ninth, so check.
Close throughout? Never a margin of more than one run; I'd say that qualifies.
Runners on base? We talked about this already, but if you insist on more detail... LA left the bases loaded once, the Giants 3 times. They also left at least one runner in scoring position in 9 innings that aren't included in the bases-loaded count, and that also doesn't include the four double plays and one caught stealing that removed other runners that might have otherwise reached scoring position. There were only three 1-2-3 innings out of the 24 total half-innings played.

It was 12 innings of constant tension, and it adds up to a WPL of 6.55, the second-highest score of the year so far.

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