Saturday, June 14, 2014

Game of the Day (6/13/84)

Reds 5, Astros 4 (11). Houston's Bob Knepper was 30 years old and coming off of a 6-13 record in '83; Cincy's Joe Price was three years younger and had gone 10-6 the season before. So naturally, it was Knepper who had half a decade of starting left, and Price who would be banished to the bullpen at the conclusion of the '84 campaign.

Both starters were perfect in the first. Dave Concepcion doubled with one out in the top of the second and moved to third on a passed ball, but a Nick Esasky walk and a Ron Oester double play ball ended the inning, and Houston jumped ahead in the bottom half when Jose Cruz reached on a Cesar Cedeno error, Jerry Mumphrey singled, Phil Garner tripled in two runs and Alan Ashby added an RBI groundout.

The bases were kept clear again in the third, and the Reds picked up a pair of runs in the fourth on an Eddie Milner double and run-scoring singles by Cedeno (who took second on the throw home) and Concepcion. After two more perfect half-innings, Houston padded its lead in the fifth when Bill Doran walked and Craig Reynolds tripled, but Cincinnati completed its comeback in the sixth when Milner singled and Cedeno homered to tie the game at 4.

Price worked a 1-2-3 sixth, and Knepper's seventh matched it. Price then allowed a Garner double to start the bottom of the seventh before retiring the next three hitters. Mike LaCoss relieved in the top of the eighth and threw a pair of perfect innings; Bill Scherrer took the mound in the bottom of the eighth and was spotless for one, but then allowed a Mumphrey double to start the ninth; an errant pickoff throw and a pair of intentional walks loaded the bases with nobody out, but Ted Power relieved and notched two strikeouts and a groundout to escape a rather enormous jam and send the game to extras.

Frank DiPino worked around an Oester single in the top of the tenth, and Bob Owchinko threw a flawless bottom of the inning. Gary Redus led off the eleventh with a walk and was bunted to second; Cedeno was intentionally walked, Parker flied out, and Concepcion singled to score Redus with the go-ahead run. Owchinko recorded three more uneventful outs to finish off the game.

This was a pretty good game for a number of old guys - Dave Concepcion, Jerry Mumphrey, and Phil Garner combined for 7 hits, 2 runs, 4 RBI, and a remarkable +1.010 WPA, and they were all 32 or older. But the best of the elder statesmen was Cesar Cedeno.

Cedeno had been one of the best players in baseball a decade earlier. In 1984, he was 33 years old and thought to be well past his prime. But his first 28 games of the year came with a resurgent batting line of .366/.422/.573. Cedeno then missed 15 games, presumably due to an injury of some kind. This was his first game back, and his 2 hits, homer, and 3 RBI would seem to be reason for Red fans (and, for that matter, potentially from Astros fans with fond recollections of his great play in their uniform) to hope for continued excellence.

It was not to be. Cedeno went 6 for 37 with no homers for the rest of June, and played only slightly better in July; the slide was serious enough to relegate him to part-time duty in the season's later months and bring him back to just above average for the season as a whole. But his month-and-a-half of scalding hitting still served two purposes. First, it was fun. And second, it foreshadowed the run he would go on in September 1985, hitting .434 when the Cardinals acquired him to replace the injured Jack Clark and helping them secure the NL East title by 3 games.

In the long term, age is pretty universally unforgiving. But that doesn't mean it can't be temporarily defied, nor does it make such defiance any less enjoyable to watch while it lasts.

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