Friday, May 23, 2014

Game of the Day (5/22/84)

Astros 4, Cardinals 3 (11). Same two teams as yesterday, with each of them selecting a far less notable pitcher than they had the day before. Joe Niekro, age 39, went for Houston; he was faced by St. Louis's John Stuper, age 27. The 39-year-old had 115 starts left after this one; the 27-year-old had 20. That indicates their relative quality pretty well.

Just as they had on the previous day, the Astros scored their first run before an out was recorded. This time, it came on a Terry Puhl double, a Craig Reynolds bunt hit, and a Jose Cruz single. Jerry Mumphrey hit into a double play to remove the threat of further scoring, however. Niekro allowed a single-and-steal to Lonnie Smith in the first, a single to Andy Van Slyke in the second, a single to Tom Herr and an ROE to Ozzie Smith in the third, and a triple to Van Slyke in the fourth, but stranded every runner he permitted to reach.

Houston was simultaneously squandering scoring chances (a Ray Knight leadoff double in the second, a Puhl walk in the third, and singles by Knight and Bill Doran that put runners on the corners in the fourth), but they finally converted another one in the fifth. Puhl and Reynolds started out with singles to put runners at the corners, and Cruz followed with a sac fly. Mumphrey singled as well, sending Reynolds to third, and he scored from there on an Enos Cabell groundout for a 3-0 lead.

St. Louis finally scored in the bottom of the fifth, as Art Howe stroked a pinch hit single and Herr doubled him in. Jeff Lahti relieved and threw a spotless top of the sixth, and in the bottom of the inning, Ken Oberkfell singled and Van Slyke homered to tie the game. Lahti was perfect again in the top of the seventh, and Vern Ruhle took the mound and matched the effort in the bottom of the inning. Neil Allen made it three 1-2-3 frames in a row in the top of the eighth, a string that ended when Ruhle allowed a Porter single in the bottom of the inning; a groundout and an intentional walk to Van Slyke put runners at first and second before Willie McGee hit into an inning-ending force.

Allen allowed a pair of walks but no runs in the top of the ninth, while Bill Dawley was flawless in the bottom of the inning, sending the game to extras. Bruce Sutter set Houston down in order in the top of the tenth; Dawley allowed an Ozzie Smith double and intentionally walked Porter in the bottom half before Oberkfell hit into an inning-ending double play. In the top of the eleventh, Mark Bailey doubled with one out, and pinch hitter Kevin Bass singled with two away to break the tie. Mike LaCoss took over in the bottom of the inning and saw Van Slyke reach on catcher's interference and steal second, but the next three Cardinals were set down in order, ending the game.

Despite Houston's eventual triumph, this game was most notable for the efforts of Andy Van Slyke, who in five plate appearances reached base in five different ways. In order: single, triple, game-tying 2-run homer, intentional walk, and catcher's interference.

Just how unlikely was that unorthodox sequence? Less than you'd think, actually, because Van Slyke was the hitter, and he (a) was a fine player with the balanced skill set to both triple and homer fairly regularly, and (b) ranks among the all-time leaders in catcher's interference drawn. Here are the top 10 for the period in which data is available, according to Baseball-Reference's Play Index (search results are listed in this thread):

Pete Rose 29
Dale Berra 18
Julian Javier 18
Roberto Kelly 17
Andy Van Slyke 17
Bob Stinson 16
Carl Crawford 14
Darin Erstad 13
Ryan Ludwick 13
Hector Torres 12

Rose laps the field in total instances of interference, of course, but he also laps the field in career length; he's got more than twice the plate appearances of anyone else on the list. Stinson and Berra and Torres had much shorter MLB tenures (and therefore higher catcher's interference rates) than Van Slyke, but they were all significantly less likely to hit triples and homers. If you take these ten players and look at their rates of singles, triples, homers, intentional walks, and catcher's interference per plate appearance, Van Slyke is actually the most probable member of the group to have a five-PA span include all five of those events.

Of course, even with the player best-suited to the combination, the chances of this sequence occurring in any order are still about 1 in 6.8 million (if I've done the math right, which not guaranteed to be the case). I'd guess that makes this one of the less-probable efforts of the season. And it came as the fairly weird cherry on top of a pretty terrific baseball game.

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