Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Game of the Day (6/24/14)

Yesterday was a pretty terrific baseball day. For starters, Clayton Kershaw followed up a no-hitter by throwing eight shutout innings, and Cub hurler Jake Arrieta didn't allow a baserunner for the first six innings of his start against Cincinnati. Not including those contests, there were four nine-inning games that were in the top third of all games played so far this year.

On top of that, there was a 16-inning marathon between the Nationals and Brewers, with Washington coming out on top. That game ranks among the top 20 so far this season... and it wasn't the day's best, because of the magnificence that was Diamondbacks 9, Indians 8 (14).

Both teams started pitchers who have appeared in recent All-Star games - Wade Miley for Arizona, Justin Masterson for Cleveland; neither of them pitched this game like someone who's likely to return. Miley threw a perfect first, and the Diamondbacks picked up a run in the bottom of the inning when Ender Inciarte walked, Gerardo Parra singled, Paul Goldschmidt hit into a force, and Miguel Montero doubled Inciarte home. The Indians countered quickly in the top of the second; Carlos Santana led off with a walk, Jason Kipnis singled, Yan Gomes singled in one run, Lonnie Chisenhall tripled in two, and Ryan Raburn added a sac fly for a 4-1 lead.

Masterson allowed another run in the bottom of the second when David Peralta walked and Didi Gregorious and Inciarte singled, but Cleveland replied on singles by Michael Brantley and Santana, an error by Gregorious that allowed Kipnis to reach, loading the bases, and a Gomes sacrifice fly. Masterson and Miley both worked around two-out baserunners in their next half-innings, and Masterson allowed two more runs in the bottom of the fourth; he walked Miley, allowed singles to Inciarte and Parra, gave up an RBI groundout to Goldschmidt and a run-scoring single to Montero, pulling Arizona within a run.

Miley allowed the Indians to load the bases with nobody out in the fifth, walking Brantley and giving up singles to Santana and Kipnis. He was then yanked for Joe Thatcher, who struck out Gomes and retired both Chisenhall and Raburn on popups to keep Cleveland from scoring. Masterson issued a leadoff walk to Martin Prado and was pulled for Kyle Crockett; Peralta greeted the new pitcher with a single, moving Prado to third, and Gregorious brought home the tying run with a squeeze bunt. Crockett retired the next two hitters to avoid further damage, but after Oliver Perez was spotless in the top of the sixth, Crockett allowed singles to Parra, Goldschmidt, and Aaron Hill to put Arizona in front.

Santana doubled with one out in the seventh; with two away, Perez was relieved by Evan Marshall, who retired Gomes to end the inning. Arizona threatened in the bottom of the inning with a two-out Inciarte single, a Parra ground-rule double, and a base-loading intentional walk to Goldschmidt, after which Montero grounded out. Brad Ziegler worked around an eighth-inning walk, and Scott Atchison countered a Prado single with a double play ball to keep the Indians close.

Addison Reed took the mound in the top of the ninth, and promptly walked Asdrubal Cabrera. Brantley lined out, Cabrera stole second, Santana walked, and Kipnis struck out to put the home team an out away from victory. But Gomes singled to score Cabrera with the tying run, and Cody Allen retired the Diamondbacks in order to force extras.

Randall Delgado was perfect in the top of the tenth, while Bryan Shaw worked around a walk in the bottom of the inning. In the top of the eleventh, Brantley walked and Santana homered to put Cleveland in front. But Peralta homered as well in the bottom of the inning, and Shaw walked Gregorious and allowed a single to pinch hitter Tuffy Gosewich, putting the tying run at third. Shaw was then relieved by John Axford, who allowed a game-tying single to Inciarte, which also put the winning run at third. Inciarte took second on defensive indifference, Parra was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Axford then struck out Goldschmidt and Montero to extend the game.

Matt Stites relieved in the top of the twelfth and allowed a leadoff double to Chisenhall, then walked pinch hitter George Kottaras. David Murphy bunted the runners over, and Michael Bourn and Cabrera were retired to leave the go-ahead run at third. Carlos Carrasco was perfect in the twelfth and thirteenth, with Stites matching his effort in the latter inning. Josh Collmenter replaced Stites in the fourteenth and allowed a leadoff hit to Gomes, then coaxed a Chisenhall double play ball; Mark Lowe pitched the bottom of the inning and gave up a single and steal to Parra, a deep fly to Goldschmidt that moved Parra to third, an intentional walk to Montero, and a game-winning single to Hill.

This... was quite a game. Cleveland somehow scored eight runs and lasted 14 innings while only having two players with batting WPA scores higher than +.025 (and only three that were positive at all); it helped that one of those two guys (Carlos Santana) had four hits, eight total bases, two runs, two RBI, and the second-highest WPA of his career (+.642), while the other (Yan Gomes) had a career-high tying three hits and a sac fly, drove in three runs, and has the third-highest WPA of his career (+.413).

Arizona weathered the storm of those two sometime catchers with  pair of sometime center fielders. Gerardo Parra tied his career high with five hits (a mark he first reached in an 18-inning game), but WPA prefers the contribution of young Ender Inciarte, who had not only the first four-hit game of his career, but the first three-hit game of his career, the first multi-run game, and only the second multi-hit or multi-RBI game. Inciarte went 4 for 7, scored two runs, and drove in two more, most notably the game-tying run in the bottom of the eleventh; his +.459 WPA outstrips his previous career high by 170%. Pretty respectable effort for a player whose OBP and SLG entered the day both below .230. (So if you were going to give this game a title, like the Sandberg Game... you could call it Ender's Game.)

But the real star here was the game itself. 14 innings, comebacks by both teams in regulation (including with two outs in the ninth), a game-tying rally in the eleventh that was followed by the home team leaving the bases loaded and the road team missing a nearly-as-good chance in the twelfth. 40 combined at bats with runners in scoring position (24 for Arizona alone), and 31 runners left on base (19 for the Diamondbacks). The sum total of this craziness is a WPL of 8.18, the second-highest score of the 2014 season so far.

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