Sunday, August 24, 2014

Game of the Day (8/23/84)

August 23, 1984 saw the playing of three big league baseball games. Three! So it would not have been terribly surprising if the best of the tiny bunch was a relative clunker.

Despite the small sample, baseball managed to produce the nifty Astros 9, Cardinals 6, which matched up St. Louis's Danny Cox against Houston's Mike LaCoss. Neither pitcher amounted to much in 1984; Cox would improve on his performance over the rest of his career, while LaCoss didn't so much (though he did last longer).

The Cards opened the scoring in the top of the first when Willie McGee singled, moved up on a Tom Herr single, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a Terry Pendleton groundout. Cox allowed singles to Terry Puhl and Denny Walling in the bottom of the first, but left them on, and St. Louis struck again in the second. Darrell Porter drew a leadoff walk, and Ozzie Smith singled him to third, then stole second. Cox struck out, and McGee grounded to short, getting Porter thrown out at home - but McGee then stole second, and Herr singled both runners in for a 3-0 lead. Julio Solano replaced LaCoss and saw Herr steal second, walked Pendleton, and yielded an RBI single to George Hendrick before ending the inning.

Cox was perfect in the second, and Solano matched him in the third. Houston got on the board in the bottom of the third when Solano led off with a single, Bill Doran doubled, and Puhl singled them both home; Walling then singled Puhl to third, still with nobody out, but Jose Cruz popped up and Jerry Mumphrey grounded into a double play, leaving the tying runs on base. Solano was perfect again in the fourth, while Cox yielded a Craig Reynolds walk and a Ray Knight pinch single before stranding them both.

Dave Smith replaced Solano in the fifth and gave up a one-out Hendrick triple, but left the runner on. Puhl led off the bottom of the inning with a homer, and Walling singled to chase Cox. Dave Rucker retired the next two hitters, but Walling stole second in the meantime, and Phil Garner then singled him home to tie the game at 4. Smith retired the Cards in order in the sixth, and Houston took the lead in the bottom of the inning, as Mark Bailey singled, Reynolds bunted him to second, and pinch hitter Jim Pankovits singled him home. Doran singled and Puhl walked to load the bases, but Walling flied (or more likely lined) into a third-base-unassisted double play to end the inning.

Frank DiPino gave up a leadoff single to Herr in the seventh, but picked him off and allowed nothing else. Cruz led off the bottom of the inning with a single; Rucker was replaced by Jeff Lahti one out later, and Cruz stole second and scored on a hit by Reynolds to pad the lead to 6-4. Pinch hitter Lonnie Smith led off the top of the eighth with a single, took second on a wild pitch, stole third, and scored on an Art Howe sac fly to narrow the gap to one.

The Astros then unleashed a game-clinching avalanche against Dave Von Ohlen in the bottom of the inning. Doran led off with a single, was bunted to second, and scored on a hit by Walling, who took second on the throw home. Cruz was intentionally walked, and Mumphrey followed with a force at second, but Herr committed a throwing error when trying to turn the double play, allowing Walling to score. Mumphrey then stole second and scored on a Garner single, making it a 9-5 game. St. Louis managed a last gasp in the ninth when Tito Landrum singled, went to second on a fly ball, and scored on a Herr single, but after Pendleton's single brought the tying run to the plate, DiPino retired the last two hitters to end the game.

This was quite a nice recovery by the Astros after their starter was yanked in the second inning with a 4-0 deficit. That sort of comeback is considerably easier to pull off when the top 3 hitters in your lineup combine for 10 hits - three apiece for Bill Doran and Terry Puhl, four for Denny Walling. Puhl had the best game of the bunch from the 2 spot, going 3 for 3 with a homer, a walk, and 3 RBI, putting up a WPA of +.320 along the way. That proved to be just enough to counter the efforts of the Cardinal #2, as Tom Herr went 4 for 5 with a steal and 3 RBI of his own, good for +.234 WPA.

And yet, neither of the #2 hitters had the most notable batting achievement of the day. Houston's rally began with a leadoff single in the third. It would be best described as a routine leadoff single, but for the fact that it was the only hit of Julio Solano's major league career. By the standards of non-RBI singles in the third inning, his timing could hardly have been better.

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