Friday, July 18, 2014

Game of the Day (7/17/84)

Astros 3, Mets 2. New York's 23-year-old Ron Darling squared off against Houston's 39-year-old Joe Niekro. Both men would pitch for a long time and earn healthy reputations, yet both ended up with slightly below-average ERAs for their careers.

Niekro worked around a Keith Hernandez walk in the top of the first, and the Astros opened the scoring in the bottom of the inning. Craig Reynolds singled with one out, Denny Walling reached on a Ron Gardenhire error, and Jose Cruz singled Reynolds home. Darling recovered to retire the next two hitters and limit the deficit to the lone run. Hubie Brooks walked in the top of the second, while Terry Puhl singled and Niekro reached on Gardenhire's second error in as many innings in the bottom, but neither team scored. The same was true in the third, despite hits from Danny Heep in the top of the inning and Jerry Mumphrey in the bottom.

The Mets evened things in the top of the fourth. George Foster singled with one out, and Brooks followed with a single on which Cruz committed an error that sent Brooks to second and allowed Foster to come home with the tying run. Niekro retired the next two Mets, and the starters resumed their established habit of working out of mild difficulty. Puhl led off the bottom of the fourth with a single, but was caught stealing. Wally Backman singled and stole second in the top of the fifth before being stranded, while Walling singled as well and was also left on in the bottom of the inning. Niekro allowed two singles and two walks in the top of the sixth, but Darryl Strawberry was caught stealing before Foster and Mike Fitzgerald's hits and Gardenhire's walk loaded the bases, and Darling popped up to abandon all three runners. Mumphrey then singled and was, yes, caught stealing in the bottom of the sixth.

Danny Heep walked, stole second, and took third on a two-out wild pitch in the seventh before being left on. In the bottom of the seventh, Darling retired the Astros in order; it was the first 1-2-3 inning from either team in the game. Dave Smith relieved Niekro in the eighth and allowed singles to Brooks and Fitzgerald, but coaxed an inning-ending double play from Rusty Staub. Cruz walked and took third on an errant pickoff throw in the eighth before Darling struck out Mumphrey to leave him on as well.

Mookie Wilson hit for Darling to lead off the ninth, and tripled. Frank DiPino relieved Smith and walked pinch hitter Kelvin Chapman, who stole second. Heep struck out, but Hernandez hit into a fielder's choice to an Astro whose identity is unspecified in the play-by-play; the mystery fielder presumably threw home, but Wilson arrived safely with the go-ahead run. DiPino then fanned Strawberry and Foster to end the inning. Doug Sisk supplanted Darling in the bottom of the ninth. He quickly retired Enos Cabell for the first out, but then walked Puhl. Up next was Mark Bailey, a rookie catcher whose batting line entering the game was .216/.309/.361.

Naturally, Bailey hit a come-from-behind walkoff homer.

There was only one perfect half-inning in this game, which makes it rather a significant rarity: a pitcher's duel that WPL genuinely likes. Neither starter allowed an earned run, but they both instilled regular anxiety before the zeros were finalized in most of their innings. And that was just a preview of the bullpens, which allowed something approaching genuine offensive fireworks, producing multiple ninth-inning lead changes.

Despite the quality of the early innings, the obvious highlight of the game was Mark Bailey's homer. It was one of the 24 he would hit in a relatively brief career (1126 PA over 7 seasons), and despite the fact that he was 0 for 3 before the longball, it gave him +.734 WPA for the game - nearly double the next-highest total he would produce in his big league tenure.

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