Friday, May 9, 2014

Game of the Day (5/8/84)

White Sox 7, Brewers 6 (25).

Hang on, what was that?

White Sox 7, Brewers 6 (25).

OK, that's what I thought it said. That's a pretty substantial number of innings. The first several were pitched by an unbelievably inequitable duo: Hall of Famer Don Sutton of the Brewers was opposed by Chicago's Bob Fallon, who was making the third of his three career major league starts.

Fallon and Sutton combined to keep the game scoreless for quite some time. The teams mounted occasional early threats - the Sox put two runners on via the walk in the first, and two more via singles in the third, while Milwaukee had a trio of players erased on double plays - and that was about it through the top of the sixth. The only other piece of noteworthy news was that the Sox pulled Ron Kittle from the game in the fourth inning, replacing him with Tom Paciorek. (If Kittle was hurt, it can't have been too serious, as he played the next day.)

The bottom of the sixth was a different story. Chicago's Greg Walker singled with one out, and stole second with two away. Harold Baines lifted a foul ball that should have been the third out, but Randy Ready dropped it, giving Baines a second chance that he cashed in by drawing a walk. The base on balls extended the inning for Paciorek, who singled Walker home with the game's first run.

The dormant Milwaukee offense awoke in the top of the seventh, as Randy Ready's leadoff walk spelled the end of Fallon's outing. Salome Barojas took over and immediately allowed singles to Jim Sundberg and Robin Yount, the second of which tied the game at 1. Barojas was hooked in favor of Britt Burns, who got Cecil Cooper to fly out, coaxed Ted Simmons into a grounder on which Sundberg was thrown out at home, and struck out Ben Oglivie to end the inning.

Sutton was perfect in the seventh. Burns issued a pair of walks in the eighth, but nothing else, while Pete Ladd gave away only one free pass in the bottom of the inning. The top of the ninth went quite differently. Yount led off with a double, and after Cooper grounded out, Yount stole third and scored on a Carlton Fisk throwing error. Simmons then singled, moved to second on a wild pitch, and scored on an Oglivie single for a 3-1 lead. Oglivie was caught stealing second, and Bobby Clark walked and was also caught stealing second to end the inning.

Milwaukee handed the ball to another future Hall of Famer in Rollie Fingers, who had secured numerous ninth-inning leads like this one throughout his distinguished career. Paciorek started the inning by reaching second on an error by Charlie Moore. Fingers rallied to record a flyout and a strikeout, which of course would have ended the inning if Moore had cleanly handled the opening fly ball. As it was, the Sox retained breath, and took advantage of the remaining chance, as Julio Cruz doubled Paciorek home and Rudy Law singled Cruz around to tie the game at 3.

The game moved into extras and stayed there long enough to put down roots. Al Jones pitched the first four additional innings for the Sox, and did not allow a runner into scoring position in the first three; the thirteenth was a bit more lively, as Jim Gantner singled and took second on a bunt before getting picked off ahead of Sundberg's hit. Meanwhile, Fingers threw a perfect tenth, and Tom Tellmann relieved in the eleventh, also keeping things simple until a two-out Baines double in the thirteenth spurred an intentional pass to Paciorek, which led in turn to a Vance Law flyout.

New pitchers entered for both teams in the fourteenth, with Juan Agosto taking over for Chicago to begin the top of the inning and Rick Waits replacing Tellmann with one out and a runner on first. Law and Fisk greeted the new arrival with singles, loading the bases with one out, but Waits recovered to leave all three runners on, then settled in to allow only a double over the next three innings. Agosto had a bit more trouble over that span, especially when the sixteenth opened with singles by Bill Schroeder and Yount. Cooper bunted into an out at third, and Simmons hit into a double play to get Agosto out of the jam. Rick Manning singled and stole second in the seventeenth, but moved no further from there.

At the end of the seventeenth inning, the game was suspended, to be resumed the next day. Surprisingly, the White Sox put Agosto back on the hill to begin Day 2. He promptly allowed a leadoff double to Ready; Schroeder bunted the runner to third, Yount was intentionally walked, and Cooper hit into a double play. Milwaukee decided to change pitchers, selecting Chuck Porter for the bottom of the eighteenth; he was even more adventuresome than Agosto had been, as Paciorek led off with a single, Vance Law bunted into a fielder's poor choice, and Jerry Dybzinski bunted the runners to second and third. Cruz fouled out, Rudy Law was intentionally walked to load the bases (and bring a future Hall of Famer to the plate, which is an interesting decision), and Fisk struck out to prolong the game yet again.

Agosto and Porter got the game back to its well-pitched roots over the next two innings, both setting their opponents down in order in the ninteenth, then allowing solitary singles in the twentieth.

Agosto was finally removed for Ron Reed at the beginning of the twenty-first inning, and the Brewers promptly made Chicago wish they'd run the previous pitcher out for his eighth go-around. Reed retired the first two hitters easily enough, but then gave up a single to Cooper, a walk to Simmons, and a three-run homer to Oglivie.

The Brewers had just broken a scoring drought longer than a regulation game, and done so by pushing across as many runs in one inning as the White Sox had scored in the previous 20. You'd figure that Oglivie's homer would wrap the game up. Of course, you would be wrong.

Rudy Law led off by reaching on Ready's second error of the game (but his first of the day). Fisk's single scored Law from second, and Marc Hill singled as well. Richard Dotson pinch ran for Hill, which looked irrelevant for two plate appearances as Dave Stegman struck out and Baines walked to load the bases. Paciorek then singled, scoring Fisk from third and pinch runner Dotson from second with the tying run. The winning run was now in scoring position, but Porter managed to get a force from Vance Law and a flyout from Dybzinski, salvaging a tie from a disastrous half-inning. The Sox decided not to put Dotson in the field after his pinch-running appearance; instead, they shifted Paciorek from left field to first base and put Stegman in left. Stegman had entered as the DH, which meant that Chicago was no longer allowed to use one; their pitchers entered the lineup in the third spot.

Because the teams really had nobody else left, Reed and Porter remained in the game, and both worked through the twenty-second inning easily enough. The twenty-third brought a bit of deja vu, as Reed retired the first two hitters, then allowed a single to Cooper and walked Simmons. The Sox, having seen how that story ended two innings earlier, pulled Reed before Oglivie's at bat, and Floyd Bannister got a flyout from the slugger to preserve the tie. Stegman led off the bottom of the inning with a single, and Paciorek singled as well one out later, but Stegman was called out on interference. Vance Law followed with a single that might well have ended the game had Stegman still been on base, and Dybzinski hit into a force to once again extend the contest.

Bannister and Porter both allowed two-out hits in the twenty-fourth, with Jim Gantner's single and Fisk's double both going for naught. Tom Seaver relieved Bannister in the twenty-fifth inning and countered a Schroeder single with a Yount double play, and the Sox finally ended things in the bottom of the inning when Baines hoisted a one-out walkoff homer.

There is a lot to write about with this game, mostly because it's a lot of game. The Brewers and White Sox played almost two full regulation games on the first day, then came back for another eight innings once the sun came back up. It missed tying the record for longest MLB game by a single inning - and that game was a tie, which makes this one the longest-ever MLB game that resulted in a win.

The game has more going for it than just length, however. Its main asset is the pair of single-inning do-or-die multi-run comebacks, as Milwaukee seized a two-run lead in the ninth and a three-run advantage in the twenty-first, only to see Chicago rally both times. A game with one such comeback is pretty rare; two in one outing is practically unheard of, and marvelous. And with 17 potential game-ending innings to work with, it's no surprise that the teams combined to leave the go-ahead or winning run in scoring position 12 times in total before finally bringing it home.

There were plenty of individual goodies to go around as well. Two White Sox pitchers had their longest-ever outings in this game - Bob Fallon's 6-inning start tied the high mark of his brief career, and Juan Agosto's 7 innings of relief were easily the most he ever worked in one game. Since Agosto's frames were all scoreless extra innings, he accumulated a shockingly massive total of +.987 WPA; that was the highest of the day by a good margin, but three other relieves (Tom Tellmann, Rick Waits, and Al Jones) also exceeded +.400, and Chuck Porter pitched long enough to post a slightly positive score despite blowing a 3-run lead in one inning and giving up a walkoff homer in another. Meanwhile, Chicago's last pitcher of the day, Tom Seaver, would of course go on to 311 wins and the Hall of Fame; this game represented the only one of those 311 wins earned in relief.

Even with all the pitching highlights, my favorite single line of this astounding game comes from a hitter. Tom Paciorek had his first 5-hit day at age 37 and playing his fifteenth big-league season (surprisingly, he would have another one 2 years later). This career high was achieved despite another five plate appearances in which Paciorek did not have a hit, including one intentional walk and one error. And Paciorek had 10 plate appearances despite not even starting the game. Those hits included driving in the game's first run in the sixth, scoring to set up the tying run in the ninth (actually, this was on the error), and driving in the tying runs in the twenty-first.

Paciorek's +.608 WPA is not a career high for him. However, Rudy Law's +.511 was his best-ever mark. On the other side of the coin, Dave Stegman's -.503, Jim Gantner's -.523, and Cecil Cooper's incredible -.706 were all career low-water marks, generally by wide margins. Cooper's also appears to have been the worst single-game score by a hitter all season.

This game contained almost everything you could possibly hope for in a baseball epic. It had heroes of both the unlikely and likely varieties, Hall of Fame pitchers and hitters having big moments alongside unsung scrubs having bigger ones, great pitching, timely hitting, and generally more baseball than almost any other game, ever. It accumulates a jaw-dropping WPL of 14.71, which is not just the best so far in 1984, it's the best by far in my entire thousands-of-games database, and a higher score than the second- and third-best games of 1984 to date combined.

In other words, it is on the very short list of the greatest regular-season baseball games ever played, and may well belong at the top of that list.

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