Saturday, May 31, 2014

Game of the Day (5/30/84)

Reds 6, Pirates 4 (14). Cincinnati put Tom Hume on the mound to open the game; Hume was a solid enough reliever, but was making only his second start since 1979. Pittsburgh, naturally, countered with our old friend John Tudor, who is making his fifth appearance in this space in the season's first two months.

Hume worked around a Johnny Ray single in the first, and Tudor did the same with a Gary Redus walk-and-steal. Hume allowed lone baserunners in the second and third as well, with each of them reaching second and stopping there. Tudor was spotless in the second, then yielded singles to Hume and Redus in the third; Hume moved to third on a forceout before being left on. Bill Madlock reached on an error and Tony Pena singled in the fourth, but the Pirates would strand the runners at the corners.

The scoring began in the top of the fifth. Marvell Wynne walked with one out, then moved to third on a steal compounded by a Dann Bilardello throwing error. Lee Lacy singled to score him, Ray tripled Lacy in, and Madlock singled to push Ray across with the inning's third run. Tudor retired the Reds in order again in the bottom of the inning, and Bill Scherrer did the same to the Pirates in the sixth. Redus led off the bottom of the sixth with a single, and Dave Parker doubled him home one out later; Dave Concepcion singled to score Parker with two outs, which spelled the end of Tudor's start. Don Robinson relieved and promptly picked Concepcion off of first to end the inning.

Scherrer and Robinson exchanged scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth, with Wynne walking and getting caught stealing in the top of the seventh and an Eddie Milner walk and a Redus single putting the tying run at second in the eighth before Robinson recovered to strand it. John Franco threw a flawless top of the ninth, giving the Reds another chance in the bottom of the inning, and Wayne Krenchicki hit a one-out homer to tie the score at 3.

Franco and Robinson were both perfect in the tenth. Tony Pena singled and stole second in the eleventh before being stranded, which was followed by Robinson setting the Reds down in order once more. Robinson hit for himself (for the second time) in the twelfth and singled, moving to second on a hit by Lacy before stopping there. Krenchicki drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the twelfth and was bunted to second, but also failed to advance further.

Ted Power relieved in the top of the thirteenth and produced a baserunner-free inning, and Robinson matched him. Bob Owchinko succeeded Power in the fourteenth; his appearance started with Benny Distefano reaching second on a Redus error. Dale Berra bunted the runner to third, which seems an odd choice since Robinson was due up next - but Robinson singled, bringing in the go-ahead run.

Robinson stepped to the mound yet again in the bottom of the fourteenth. Tony Perez led off with a single, and was pulled for pinch runner Tom Foley. Concepcion bunted the runner to second, and Krenchicki walked behind him, putting the winning run on base. Ron Oester hit into a force, then stole second.

Up to the plate stepped catcher Brad Gulden. Entering this game, Gulden was hitting .183/.272/.282, which is not notably out of line when compared to his career numbers. (This, despite being the left-handed half of a catching platoon, meaning he almost never batted against a same-handed pitcher.) Gulden had not played in the majors in 1983, and would not play in the majors in 1985 either. He had played a leading role in the previous day's game, but only because his ground ball turned into a walkoff error.

This time, Brad Gulden did not hit into a walkoff error. Instead, he launched a game-ending three-run homer.

Astonishingly unlikely though it was, Gulden's second consecutive game-winner was not the defining feature of this excellent contest. That honor goes to Don Robinson's eight-inning performance as the first (and only) man out of the bullpen. The list of relief pitchers who have entered in the sixth inning, held a one-run lead until blowing the save in the ninth, had two extra-inning hits, one of which put his team back in front, and then blown that lead as well and taken the loss cannot possibly be a long one. Robinson may have been about as likely as any reliever to pull off this unusual combination, as much of his career was spent as a workmanlike starter (he had 34 career complete games), and he was an excellent hitter for a pitcher (.231/.252/.330 for his career, good for a 62 OPS+ that's actually better than Gulden's).

But Robinson's relatively unique qualifications in this regard serve only to move the likelihood of this game from absurd to merely minuscule. WPL sees a 14-inning game with blown leads in the ninth and fourteenth, and picks it as the 7th-best of the year. Subjectively accounting for Robinson and Gulden's achievements within the game, I would place it far higher.

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