Friday, May 30, 2014

Game of the Day (5/29/84)

Reds 5, Pirates 4 (10). Pittsburgh started Larry McWilliams, a pretty decent starter having his best year. Cincinnati replied with Joe Price, whose best year had been 1983 and who was having a season that would get him moved permanently back into the bullpen.

Price worked around a Jim Morrison single in the first, while McWilliams walked Eric Davis and allowed a single to Cesar Cedeno before Tony Perez hit into a double play. Lee Mazzilli and Dale Berra both singled in the top of the second before McWilliams flied out to strand them. Dave Concepcion walked to lead off the bottom of the inning, but was caught stealing immediately thereafter; the timing was not great, as Nick Esasky then homered to take a 1-0 lead that could have been twice as large. It achieved that size an inning later, as Gary Redus singled, Davis doubled, and Perez and Concepion walked, the latter forcing in a run.

Pittsburgh recovered to tie the score in the fourth when Bill Madlock walked, Tony Pena singled and had the hit compounded by an Esasky error that brought Madlock home and Pena to third, and Mazzilli added an RBI groundout. McWilliams worked around a Price single in the bottom of the fourth, then started the top of the fifth with a hit of his own. Marvell Wynne walked, sending the pitcher to second; McWilliams is then listed as having been caught stealing third, but the play is scored 2-6-5, which reads like a pickoff. Either way, the timing was just as unfortunate as Concepcion's had been a few innings earlier, as Lee Lacy followed with a go-ahead two-run homer that could have scored three. A Morrison single and a Madlock double chased Price from the mound, and Jeff Russell came on to induce a grounder that got Morrison thrown out at home and an inning-ending popup.

The Pirates instituted wholesale defensive changes in the bottom of the fifth (which seems awfully early): Johnny Ray took over at second, Benny Distefano joined him on the right side of the infield at first, and Doug Frobel entered in right. McWilliams threw a scoreless fifth, and Russell was perfect in the sixth; Lee Tunnell then relieved McWilliams and produced an inning that rendered the earlier defensive maneuvering entirely meaningless. Esasky struck out, Ron Oester walked, and eighth hitter Dann Bilardello homered to tie the game. Russell and Redus both proceeded to whiff, finishing off a frame composed entirely of the Three True Outcomes.

Ray and Madlock both singled in the seventh, but Russell stranded them; Eddie Milner singled and was picked off in the bottom of the inning. Frobel led off the eighth with a double and moved to third on a bunt, but Russell struck out Berra and Bill Scherrer fanned pinch hitter Jason Thompson to leave the go-ahead run 90 feet away. Cecilio Guante issued a single to Oester and walked Bilardello before Rod Scurry relieved and struck out pinch hitter Dave Parker. Wynne greeted Ted Power with a single in the ninth, but made it only as far as second before the inning ended, and Scurry tossed a perfect bottom of the inning to force extras.

Power worked around a walk in the top of the tenth, and Kent Tekulve entered for the bottom of the inning. Concepcion hit a one-out double; Tekulve then intentionally walked Wayne Krenchicki and followed that with an unintentional walk of Oester to load the bases. Brad Gulden was summoned to hit for Bilardello and grounded to third, but Madlock muffed the play, allowing Concepcion to score the winning run.

This game ended up being decided by the bullpens - the Red relief corps threw 5.2 scoreless innings, most of it from Jeff Russell (who was primarily a starter in 1984 and actually led the NL in losses, but went on to a long and successful career in relief) and Ted Power (on the way to the best season in a career that lasted over a decade).

Meanwhile, the Pirates had two substitute pitchers victimized. Lee Tunnell was an undistinguished short-tenured swingman whose 1984 was his worst big-league season, so his struggles made sense. But Kent Tekulve was the best reliever to make an appearance for either team, and his outing was a disaster as well. At the end of this game, his seasonal ERA through 2 months was 5.50, and at age 37, it had to look like he might be reaching the end of the road.

Or, alternatively, he might have been about to tear off a four-month stretch of 54 games, 70 innings, and a 1.93 ERA, ensuring that he still had 5 years left in his submarining arm. Which is actually what happened, proving once again that a couple of bad months don't necessarily mean all that much for a reliever.

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