Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Game of the Day (4/29/84)

Yankees 6, Brewers 5 (13). Milwaukee's Moose Haas was 28, and coming off of a season in which he led the AL in winning percentage. New York's Phil Niekro was 45, and had just posted his first ERA worse than the league average since 1966. And yet, Niekro would go on to the superior 1984, and both pitchers had the same number of big league seasons left in their respective right arms.

The Brewers scored the opening run of the game in the opening half-inning, as Jim Gantner singled with one out, Robin Yount doubled him to third, and Ben Oglivie scored him with a sacrifice fly. Haas allowed a leadoff hit to Willie Randolph in the bottom of the inning, but kept him at first with three flyouts. Niekro struck out the side in the second, while Haas walked Roy Smalley, then saw him caught stealing on strike 3 to Ken Griffey to end the inning.

A Randy Ready single was countered by a Gantner line drive double play in the top of the third, which allowed the Yankees to tie the score in the bottom of the inning when Andre Robertson tripled and Randolph grounded out to bring him home. Milwaukee promptly recaptured the lead in the fourth when Yount walked, Oglivie singled him to second, and Ted Simmons singled him home; Niekro then retired the next three hitters to leave runners on second and third.

Haas retired the Yankees in order in the fourth, while Niekro worked around another Ready single in the fifth. In the bottom of the inning, Smalley and Griffey hit back-to-back doubles to even the score once more at 2. Haas went through the next three hitters in order to leave the go-ahead run in scoring position.

The sixth and seventh innings passed without a runner making it past first base, and Niekro managed a spotless eighth. The bottom of the inning started with a Robertson single and a Randolph bunt that moved him to second. Haas intentionally walked Don Mattingly and was then pulled for Rollie Fingers, who struck out Steve Kemp and got a popup from Don Baylor to end the inning. Niekro walked Oglivie in the ninth, then saw him caught stealing. Fingers notched two quick outs in the ninth before allowing a double to Griffey and intentionally walking Butch Wynegar. Pinch hitter Lou Piniella grounded out to send the game to extras.

Niekro remained on the mound for the tenth inning and circumvented a Charlie Moore single to keep the game tied. Fingers gave up a single to Randolph and walked Kemp, but a Mattingly double play ball in between them defused a potential rally.

Dave Righetti relieved Niekro in the eleventh, and Pete Ladd took the mound to oppose him; the two of them allowed a walk each over the next two innings, and both of the runners were removed on double plays (a conventional one courtesy of Jim Gantner in the eleventh, a K/CS affair with Wynegar the runner and Tim Foli the hitter in the twelfth).

Then... there was the thirteenth inning, which began with Righetti still pitching. Dion James drew a one-out walk, stole second, and scored the go-ahead run on Ready's third hit of the day, with Ready moving to second on the throw home. Gantner grounded to the mound; Ready attempted to advance and was cut down in the ensuing rundown, but Gantner made it to second behind him. Yount was intentionally walked, Oglivie singled in the inning's second run, and Simmons reached on a Smalley error to bring in the third. Jay Howell finally replaced Righetti and ended the inning, which seemed an insignificant achievement given that the team now trailed by three runs.

Ladd was also still on the mound at the beginning of the thirteenth. Kemp singled with one out, and Baylor singled as well. Oscar Gamble struck out, but Smalley singled to bring Kemp home. Bob McClure relieved Ladd and walked Griffey to load the bases. Tom Tellmann promptly took over for McClure, and Toby Harrah hit for Wynegar and walked to force in a run. And Tim Foli, light-hitting shortstop extraordinaire (career OPS+ of 64, literally never exceeded 100 in any season no matter how brief), who had only entered the game in extra innings because the starter at his position was pulled for a pinch hitter, singled in two runs to walk off with the game.

This game featured a pair of fairly significant late-career moments. Foli's walkoff single gave him a WPA of +.658 for the contest, which set a new career high that he did not come close to exceeding over his limited remaining time in the majors. And Niekro's 10-inning start was the last of his (by my count) 18 career outings that exceeded 9 innings, and the only one in the last eight seasons of his career. (Given that it's Niekro, I'm not sure whether I'm surprised at how many more-than-complete games he threw, or how few.)

The game itself saw its first twelve innings result in four runs, followed by a seven-run eruption in the thirteenth (and the most exciting version of that possible, as the home team came back to win). That makes it the third consecutive top-10 entry, although it falls just barely shy of the heights reached by the games of April 27 and 28. Somehow, I suspect the fans were able to live with the disappointment.

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