Thursday, April 17, 2014

Game of the Day (4/16/14)

For the second consecutive day, the A's and Angels played one of the 10 best games of the season to date, with the Angels once again rallying to tie in the ninth and this time winning on a twelfth-inning walkoff.

And for the second consecutive day, it wasn't enough. This time, you can blame footwear: Red Sox 6, White Sox 4 (14).

Clay Buchholz took on John Danks, and both starters gave up runs in the first inning. Dustin Pedroia's leadoff double and Xander Bogaerts's single gave Boston the early lead, but Chicago tied it on a doubly unearned run: Adam Eaton was hit by a pitch, moved to third when Daniel Nava failed to handle a pickoff throw, and scored when Jose Abreu reached on a two-out error by Ryan Roberts. The home Sox would go on to load the bases (Adam Dunn walked, Dayan Viciedo singled) before leaving all three runners on.

The 1-1 tie remained intact through several more early-inning rallies. Adrian Nieto and Marcus Semien singled before being left on in the bottom of the second. Danks hit Bogaerts with a pitch and walked Jonny Gomes and Grady Sizemore in the third, then retired AJ Pierzynski to leave the bases loaded. Both teams stranded a runner in the fourth (Roberts and Alejandro de Aza, respectively), and Boston did in the fifth as well after Bogaerts singled and stole second.

The tie was finally broken in the bottom of the sixth. Dunn led off the inning with a walk, and moved to second on a grounder back to the mound. A two-out wild pitch advanced him to third, and Alexei Ramirez then homered to give Chicago a 3-1 lead. Ronald Belisario relieved Danks and worked a spotless seventh, while Craig Breslow replaced Buchholz and worked around a single in the bottom of the inning. 

Boston faced a majority of the Chicago bullpen in the eighth and scored without a hit, as Scott Downs walked David Ortiz, Jake Petricka walked Gomes, Donnie Veal induced a force (moving Ortiz to third) and a sac fly (bringing him home) before walking Nava, and Maikel Cleto walked Mike Carp to load the bases before Jackie Bradley struck out to end the inning. Breslow and Junichi Tazawa combined on a perfect bottom of the eighth, keeping their team within a run for the ninth.

Jordan Danks (not John) came in to play right field in the ninth, while Cleto remained on the mound - at least, he remained on the mound until he walked Pedroia and Bogaerts, after which he was removed with alacrity. Matt Lindstrom retired Ortiz, then allowed a base-loading infield hit to Gomes and a game-tying sac fly to Sizemore before Pierzynski grounded out to end the inning. Andrew Miller retired the Chicago hitters in order to send the game to extras.

Lindstrom worked an immaculate tenth, while Miller permitted only a single to Conor Gillaspie in the bottom of the inning. Daniel Webb supplanted Lindstrom in the eleventh and got off to an eventful start, walking Pedroia and hitting Bogaerts; Ortiz moved Pedroia to third with a forceout, and Gomes's flyout brought him home with the go-ahead run. Edward Mujica came in for the save situation and quickly walked Danks, who stole second. A strikeout and a groundout put Boston one out away (while also putting Danks at third), but Tyler Flowers singled to even the score at 4 and keep the game going.

Webb tossed a perfect twelfth, and Chris Capuano matched his effort. Boston threatened in the thirteenth on a leadoff walk by Bradley and a single by Pedroia, but a double play from Bogaerts, an intentional walk of Ortiz, and a Gomes strikeout caused the rally to fizzle. But Capuano was perfect again in the home half of the inning, and that brought us to the fourteenth.

Recall, if you will, that the White Sox used four relievers in the eighth inning (and still gave up a key run). Having churned through that many pitchers that quickly, the team had exhausted its available supply of arms at this point. As a result, they summoned utility infielder Leury Garcia to the mound to make his first career pitching appearance in the fourteenth inning. Garcia actually retired the first two Red Sox he faced. However, he then walked both Nava and Jonathan Herrera, and Bradley doubled on a full count to bring home the go-ahead runs. Capuano allowed a single to Flowers in the bottom of the fourteenth, so Boston put in Burke Badenhop to finish off the inning and the game.

You can go into detailed breakdowns of the various rallies in this one to find the explanation for why it scores as the second-best game so far this season (and by a pretty solid margin). Boston left the bases loaded in the eighth, runners at second and third in the ninth, and runners on the corners in the thirteenth, all while either tied or down a run. And that's not even mentioning the go-ahead-comeback rallies in the eleventh, always a staple among high-WPL games.

Or, you could just point out that this game featured one of the last great anti-specialization moments left in baseball: a position player pitching in a close game. There's just very rarely a way to go wrong in a contest that prominently features that phrase.

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