Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Game of the Day (4/15/84)

Baseball was good to its fans on tax day in 1984. It provided a pair of nine-inning games with multiple large rallies in the late innings, which score as the fifth- and sixth-best of the year so far... and it also produced Giants 8, Dodgers 6 (11), which beats both of them. The pitching matchup was Fernando Valenzuela, still just 23 years old and pitching well in his fourth full big-league season (although he would go on to lead the NL in walks this year), against Bill Laskey, who has now started two Games of the Day in three appearances.

Valenzuela allowed only a Jack Clark single in the first, while Laskey worked around a Manny Trillo error. Jeffrey Leonard led off the top of the second with a single, and moved to second on a groundout. Valenzuela then threw erratically on a pickoff attempt, allowing Leonard to reach third, and Joe Pittman brought home the game's first run with a sacrifice fly.

Laskey was perfect in the second, as was Valenzuela in the third. Valenzuela then singled with one out in the bottom of the inning, only to be erased on a double play. Leonard also singled in the top of the fourth, but was caught stealing to end the inning. The bottom of the fourth started with Terry Whitfield being hit by a pitch and Ken Landreaux singling him to third (with the help of a Chili Davis misplay in the outfield). One out later, Rick Monday hit into an RBI forceout to tie the game.

The source of Fernandomania worked a 1-2-3 fifth with a pair of strikeouts, and his teammates took their first lead in the bottom of the inning. Dave Anderson, Mike Scioscia, and Valenzuela himself all singled to load the bases with nobody out. Steve Sax hit a sac fly to bring in the go-ahead run, and after Whitfield flied out, Landreaux singled to bring Scioscia around for a 3-1 lead (while also scoring the first run of the game that didn't have an out made on the same play.)

The lead proved ephemeral in the extreme, as with one out in the sixth, Trillo doubled and Clark homered to retie the score. After the second out, Leonard went deep as well to put San Francisco back in front. Laskey was perfect in the sixth, as was Valenzuela in the seventh. With one out in the bottom of the seventh, German Rivera hit for Valenzuela and singled, and Sax singled as well to chase Laskey. Gary Lavelle relieved and retired pinch hitter Mike Marshall and Landreaux to end the inning with the Giants still ahead by a run.

Burt Hooton allowed a Clark single and nothing else in the eighth, setting the stage for a Dodger rally in the bottom of the inning. Pedro Guerrero led off with a single and was bunted to second. After the second out, Greg Minton replaced Lavelle and promptly yielded a game-tying RBI single to Anderson.

Hooton remained on the mound to start the ninth, and quickly got into trouble on singles by Leonard and John Rabb; Leonard took third on the latter hit, and Rabb advanced to second on the throw. Dusty Baker stepped in as a pinch hitter and singled to score both runners for a 6-4 lead. Hooton managed to retire the next two hitters (Minton was the first and Johnnie LeMaster the second), and Minton returned to the mound with a second chance to nail down the victory for the Giants.

And for a second time, he failed. Scioscia led off with a single, and pinch hitter Jose Morales singled as well, putting runners at the corners. Sax hit a sac fly to make it a one-run game, Marshall singled, and Landreaux added a sac fly of his own to tie the score. A walk to Guerrero put the winning run in scoring position and ended Minton's day; Randy Lerch relieved and got pinch hitter Candy Maldonado to foul out, sending the context to extra innings.

Orel Hershiser allowed a pair of walks in the top of the tenth before Leonard bailed him out by hitting into a double play. Lerch worked around a base on balls in the bottom of the inning as well. Tom Niedenfuer relieved in the eleventh and got into immediate trouble; Davis led off with a double, Bob Brenly bunted him to third, and pinch hitter Duane Kuiper was intentionally walked to put runners at the corners (and set up the double play, which I assume was the motive). Gene Richards was announced to pinch hit for the pitcher's spot, Carlos Diaz relieved Niedenfuer, and the Giants switched pinch hitters to Joel Youngblood. The swap paid off, as Youngblood singled in the go-ahead run, and after LeMaster singled to load the bases, Trillo added a sac fly against Pat Zachry to make it 8-6. Frank Williams relieved and set the Dodgers down in order in the bottom of the inning.

Like its two excellent nine-inning counterparts on the same day, this game had dramatic swings in the eighth and ninth. Unlike those games, the last twist of regulation left it tied, allowing for two more tense, high-leverage innings of baseball. To put it simply, this game demonstrates why WPL thinks all the best games go into double-digit inning counts - because for every really good contest of standard length, there's an extra-inning showdown that was just as good for the first nine, and tacked on multiple excellent innings afterward.

Two of the Dodger pitchers in this game combined to start the last games of three World Series - and both of them were used as relievers here. (Hooton started the clincher in '77, which the Dodgers lost, and '81, which they won; Hershiser, of course, finished of the '88 Series with a complete game victory.) Between those two and Valenzuela, the Dodgers had 528 eventual career wins on the mound in the first 10 innings of this game. And yet, the Giants, with a far less-distinguished set of pitchers, pulled out the win, largely thanks to their corner outfielders (Clark and Leonard) combining to go 7 for 9 with 2 homers, 2 walks, 4 runs scored and 3 RBI.

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