Monday, June 9, 2014

Game of the Day (6/8/84)

Yankees 4, Blue Jays 3 (11). Toronto's Jim Gott was in the third of what would eventually be 14 major league seasons, most of which would be spent in the bullpen. He would make his last MLB appearance on his 36th birthday, which meant that he retired just under a decade before reaching the age that Phil Niekro had when Gott opposed him in this game.

Both teams picked up a run in the first inning - Toronto when Lloyd Moseby walked, stole second, and scored on Willie Upshaw's single, and New York when Willie Randolph walked, moved to third on Butch Wynegar's single, and came home on Don Mattingly's sacrifice fly. Rick Leach doubled with one out in the top of the second and moved to third on a groundout; Alfredo Griffin was then hit by a pitch to extend the inning, and Damaso Garcia singled Leach home to put the Jays back in front, 2-1.

The starters finally managed scoreless innings in the bottom of the second (a Steve Kemp walk was erased on a Roy Smalley double play ball) and the top of the third (Willie Aikens walked and Rance Mulliniks singled, but Leach flied out to leave them on). Ken Griffey led off the bottom of the third with a walk; Andre Robertson bunted, and Gott made an error on the play that moved Griffey around to third. Randolph then hit a sac fly to tie the game at 2.

Gott and Niekro kept the tie in place for some time. Griffin's fourth-inning single made him the only runner to reach in either half of that frame. Aikens and Mulliniks combined for a single and a walk again in the fifth, albeit in the opposite order this time, and were once again left on; Griffey walked in the bottom of the inning and did not move past first. The top of the sixth started with an Ernie Whitt single, and Whitt moved around to third on a pair of outs before being left there.

The Yankees broke the deadlock in the bottom of the sixth, as Wynegar singled, Mattingly hit into a force, and Don Baylor doubled Mattingly home. Toronto retied the game in the seventh, however, when Moseby reached on a wild third strike, Upshaw singled him to second, an Aikens double play ball moved him to third, and a Mulliniks single brought him home. Gott was flawless in the bottom of the inning, while Niekro worked around a Garcia single in the top of the eighth.

Gott recorded the first two outs in the bottom of the eighth, then walked Wynegar and was pulled for Jimmy Key. Key allowed a Mattingly single and was in turn relieved by Jim Acker, who retired Baylor to end the inning. Dave Righetti relieved Niekro in the top of the ninth and worked around a Cliff Johnson pinch single by seeing pinch runner Tony Fernandez caught stealing; Acker permitted a Kemp single in the bottom of the inning, but nothing else, and the game progressed to extra innings.

The Jays sent three pinch hitters to the plate in the top of the tenth, but Garth Iorg, George Bell, and Buck Martinez were set down in order. Acker worked through a group of Yankees that included only one pinch hitter, extending the game. Righetti allowed a Griffin single-and-steal in the eleventh, stranding the speedy shortstop at second. Dave Winfield also singled and stole second in the bottom of the inning, and Kemp singled him home to end the game.

This game sticks out for two reasons. First, it was very good; it went 11 innings and never had a lead of more than one run in either direction. And second, it's hard to pick out a single star of the game. Both starters pitched deep into the game, but neither pitched spectacularly well - they both gave up 3 runs and walked more batters than they struck out. And not a single hitter on either side had more than two hits, or scored or drove in multiple runs. By WPA, the hitting star was Steve Kemp, thanks to two hits, a walk, and the walkoff single, and his WPA of +.410 was the highest he put up in 1984 - but barely, and not even close to being a career high.

If you insist on a wider lesson being learned from this game, the best one probably involves Dave Righetti. The Yankee left-hander was making a transition to the bullpen this year after starting almost exclusively for three seasons, and much like his work in this game (3 scoreless innings), it was going swimmingly. He would end the '84 season with 96.1 innings pitched in 64 games, 31 saves, and a 2.34 ERA, and would continue to be on of the AL's premier relievers for the next few years.

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