Monday, July 21, 2014

Game of the Day (7/20/14)

Yesterday's slate of baseball was about as good as you can get when there aren't any extra-innings involved. Seven of the fifteen games were decided by one run, and four of the others had scores like 11-7, 9-6, and 5-3 that are capable of producing exciting games, and they all fully exercised that capability.

Despite the stiff competition, the best game of the bunch was between the same pair of teams who also combined on the last two: Angels 6, Mariners 5, with Seattle's Chris Young facing LA's Tyler Skaggs.

Seattle leaped ahead in the top of the first with a two-out rally. Kyle Seager opened the scoring with a solo homer. Stefen Romero then singled, moved to second on a wild pitch, and took third on a Justin Smoak single. Corey Hart singled Romero home, and Dustin Ackley followed with a hit that drove in Smoak for a 3-0 lead. The Mariners had now scored as many runs in the first inning as the winning team had in each of the first two games of the series.

The Angels showed no intention of going quietly in the bottom of the first, as a Kole Calhoun single and a two-out Josh Hamilton double put them on the board. Skaggs recovered from his rocky first inning, throwing a perfect second; an Efren Navarro double in the bottom of the second was squandered, as was a Seager leadoff single in the third. LA then evened the score in the home third on back-to-back homers from Calhoun and Mike Trout.

The game settled in nicely at 3-3. Skaggs threw 1-2-3 innings in the fourth, fifth, and sixth; Young had a bit more difficulty, allowing singles to Hank Conger and Calhoun in the fourth and hits to Albert Pujols and Hamilton to start the bottom of the fifth, but allowed none of the runners to score and matched Skagg's flawless sixth.

The scoring drought came to an abrupt end in the seventh. Hart led off the inning with a walk, and pinch runner James Jones moved to second on a groundout and scored on Mike Zunino's double. Brad Miller grounded out to advance Zunino to third, and Endy Chavez singled the runner home to pad the lead to 5-3 and drive Skaggs from the mound. Jason Grilli took over and allowed Chavez to steal second, but got Willie Bloomquist to ground out. Yoervis Medina relieved in the bottom of the seventh and yielded a one-out single to Trout, then hit Pujols with a pitch. Hamilton struck out, but Kendrick singled to bring Trout in and bisect the deficit. David Freese then grounded out to leave the tying run at second.

Fernando Salas tossed a perfect eighth; Joe Beimel allowed a leadoff hit to Navarro in the bottom of the inning, but Beimel combined with Fernando Rodney to retire the next three Angels. In the ninth, Joe Thatcher permitted two-out singles to Zunino and Miller before stranding both runners. Rodney remained on the mound for the bottom of the inning, which began with Trout drawing a walk. Pujols then doubled Trout in to tie the score at 5. Hamilton singled Pujols to third, and Kendrick was intentionally walked to load the bases with nobody out. That brought Freese to the plate, and he proceeded to fully justify the intentional walk ahead of him, grounding into a rare 6-2-3 double play to keep the game alive. Rodney then intentionally walked Navarro, reloading the bases, and Grant Green proved that to be one intentional pass too many, grounding a walkoff single up the middle.

Well, there were no extra innings for the first time in the series. But that doesn't keep this from being an outstanding game. The Mariners were ineffective on offense except for two innings, but in those innings, they bunched their hits together beautifully (5 for 9 with runners in scoring position for the game) and were the only team to hold a lead until the last half-inning. Meanwhile, the Angel lineup was far more scattershot (3 for 13 with RISP), but they also had 12 hits from the top 5 hitters in the order, which is how you get 5 runs combined out of Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout, your 1 and 2 hitters.  Moreover, they overcame a shocking performance from David Freese (0 for 5, four of them with runners in scoring position, and one of them an apparently rally-slaughtering ninth-inning double play; -.510 WPA, the second-worst total of his career, and I'm shocked he's had a game worse than that), coming out with the win because they got their second first career walkoff of the weekend - Efren Navarro on Friday, Grant Green yesterday.

I realize that this sort of thing probably isn't predictive, but that doesn't mean I'm not kind of looking forward to the next time these two teams play (in mid-September). If it goes anything like this series did and there's still any kind of playoff race at all, it should be... rather worthwhile.

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