Friday, April 4, 2014

Game of the Day (4/3/84)

A's 6, Brewers 5. The pitching matchup would have been a really good one only a few years earlier - Milwaukee's Don Sutton was a future Hall of Famer and the 1980 NL ERA champ, while Oakland's Steve McCatty led the AL in ERA in 1981 (sort of). By 1984, however, Sutton was on the decline, and McCatty was all but washed up.

The pitchers got off to a promising start, however, combining on a hitless first inning. McCatty blinked in the second, allowing singles to Cecil Cooper and Ted Simmons and a Jim Sundberg RBI double to open the scoring. After an immaculate third, the Oakland hurler cracked again in the fourth when Ben Oglivie doubled and Sundberg singled him home. McCatty was finished off in the fifth, allowing a leadoff homer to Rick Manning (who entered the '84 season with a career slugging percentage of .338) and a walk and a single. Chris Codiroli coaxed a double play from Robin Yount that allowed him to end the inning without further damage.

While McCatty staggered through the early innings, Sutton was doing anything but. He walked Joe Morgan in the first inning and Dwayne Murphy in the fourth, but allowed no other baserunners. In the fifth, Sutton plunked Dave Kingman and walked Mike Davis before recovering to strand both runners. The game entered the sixth without a single hit from Oakland, but Rickey Henderson changed that immediately with a leadoff homer. Murphy and Morgan followed with singles, and that ended Sutton's day just three batters after he had a no-hitter going. Tom Tellmann allowed an RBI grounder to Carney Lansford, and the A's then went into a series of pitching changes that would have been more typical 20 years later: Tellmann struck out Bruce Bochte and walked Kingman, Jerry Augustine came in and walked pinch hitter Davey Lopes, and Chuck Porter relieved and struck out Mike Heath to end the inning with the bases loaded and his team leading by a run.

Because it's the '80s, Codiroli and Porter stayed in the game until they gave their teams a reason to take them out. Codiroli allowed a pair of hits in the seventh, though Jim Gantner mitigated the damage by being thrown out trying to stretch the second one into a double. Codiroli also issued an intentional walk (to Cooper) in the seventh and an unintentional one (to Charlie Moore) in the eighth. Porter, meanwhile, kept the bases clear until Bochte reached on a two-out error in the bottom of the eighth.

Codiroli finally yielded in the ninth, allowing singles to Randy Ready and Gantner and a sacrifice fly to Yount. Tom Burgmeier relieved and allowed an RBI hit to Cooper, who was cut down trying to take second on the throw home. Despite the baserunning mishap, the Brewers had extended their lead to 5-2.

Lopes led off the bottom of the ninth with a homer, ending Porter's tenure on the mound for the day. Rollie Fingers relieved, a move which worked out rather less well than usual; Heath, pinch hitter Garry Hancock, and Henderson all singled to load the bases. (In fact, they would have been loaded with runners whose last names started with H except that Hancock was pulled for pinch runner Tony Phillips.) Fingers was yanked for Bob McClure, who allowed a sac fly to Murphy (cutting the lead to one) and then walked Morgan to reload the bases with one out. Pete Ladd replaced McClure and coaxed Lansford into a grounder to second. Gantner fielded the ball and stepped on the base to record the inning's second out.

Gantner then unleashed the all-important throw to first. If the throw beat the runner, it would be a game-ending double play. If the runner beat the throw, the game would be tied at 5.

As it turned out, neither of these things happened. Instead, Gantner's throw went wild, and Henderson followed Phillips home with the winning run.

It's dangerous (or at least ill-advised) to read too much into early-season results, but the Brewers did turn out to have a substandard defense and a poor bullpen (especially after Fingers went out for the year in July) in 1984, both of which contributed to their eventual last place finish (quite a drop from the pennant winners of just two years earlier). Of course, the complete collapse of their world-beating offense (last in the league in runs) may also have been a factor - just not one that can really be blamed for this particular loss.

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