Monday, June 16, 2014

Game of the Day (6/15/84)

Blue Jays 4, Red Sox 3 (11). Boston's Al Nipper, who was 25 and just establishing himself, took on Doyle Alexander of Toronto, who was in his fourteenth big league season. Despite the significant differences in age and experience, the two were both arguably on the way to their best seasons.

Each team scored once in the first inning. Boston's run came on a Wade Boggs walk, a Dwight Evans double, and a Tony Armas single; Toronto countered in a more inventive way, as Doug Collins was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a balk, and came home on a Willie Upshaw double. A Marty Barrett double in the top of the second did not result in any scoring, nor did the walk that Ernie Whitt drew in the bottom of the inning. But the Red Sox took the lead once more in the top of the third when Jim Rice and Mike Easler both doubled.

From there, the Jays continually mounted threats to the one-run advantage without closing the gap. Collins singled and stole second in the bottom of the third. Damaso Garcia singled in the fifth, as did Willie Aikens in the sixth. Boston had a few opportunities during this stretch as well, most notably the Jackie Gutierrez triple in the fourth and Easler making it to third on a single, a groundout, and a wild pitch in the sixth, but also failed to score.

Toronto's rallies picked up steam starting in the seventh, when Whitt doubled with one out. Garcia would reach on a two-out Gutierrez error, but the play did not allow Whitt to advance, and Nipper was able to escape the jam. In the bottom of the eighth, Nipper walked Upshaw with one out, then allowed a single to Aikens and was pulled from the game for Steve Crawford. George Bell flied out, Rance Mulliniks walked to load the bases, and Whitt grounded out to end the inning with the Jays still trailing by a run.

Alexander was still on the mound in the top of the ninth; he allowed one-out singles to Rick Miller and Barrett before Gutierrez hit into a double play to end the inning. Crawford retired the first two Jays to bat in the bottom of the inning, but Collins then doubled and Lloyd Moseby singled him home to tie the game, taking second on the throw home. John Henry Johnson relieved and walked Upshaw; Mark Clear then replaced Johnson and struck out pinch hitter Jesse Barfield to send the game to extras.

Roy Lee Jackson relieved Alexander in the tenth; he walked Boggs and threw a wild pitch that moved him to second before ending the inning. Clear walked Mulliniks and Whitt in the bottom of the inning; a forceout moved the winning run to third, but Garcia fouled out to leave it there.

Jimmy Key took the mound in the top of the eleventh and had an impressively disastrous outing, allowing singles to Easler and pinch hitter Reid Nichols, then committing an error on a Miller grounder to load the bases with nobody out. Dennis Lamp was hurried to the mound in Key's place and walked pinch hitter Bill Buckner to force in a run, but then mitigated the damage by coaxing a force at home from Gutierrez and a 1-2-3 double play from Boggs.

Collins led off the bottom of the inning by striking out - but Gary Allenson, who had just entered the game behind the plate, committed a passed ball that allowed Collins to reach. The runner promptly stole second and moved to third on a groundout. Upshaw walked and stole second, Barfield struck out, and Bell walked to load the bases.

Two outs, bases loaded, last inning, home team trailing by a run. The play has a leverage index of 10.85, according to B-R (that is, it's nearly 11 times as important as the average play of an average game); I expect that's the maximum value of LI. There were only three possible outcomes of the next play: Red Sox win, Jays tie the game, or Jays win.

Rance Mulliniks selected the option behind door number 3, hitting a two-run single to give Toronto its first lead of the day and the only one it would need. He also secured the best single-game WPA of his 16-year career, +.776.

Any time you can max out Leverage Index, it's a good sign. If you can do it in the eleventh after having the tying run in scoring position in the seventh and eighth, tying the game in the ninth and then getting the winning run into scoring position in the ninth and tenth, and then cap it off with a come-from-behind walkoff... that's a pretty good way to produce an exceptional baseball game. And that's just what this was, the ninth-best of 1984 so far.

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