Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Game of the Day (8/4/84)

Dodgers 5, Reds 3 (11). Both of the starters in this game were in their second major league campaigns. LA's Orel Hershiser split his time in 1984 between the rotation and the bullpen, making a majority of his appearances in relief. Cincinnati's Jeff Russell meanwhile, served as a starter pretty much all season long.

And then they exchanged roles for the rest of their lengthy careers.

Russell was perfect in the top of the first; Hershiser allowed a single to Ron Oester but coaxed a double play from Dave Concepcion. In the top of the second, Mike Marshall singled, stole second, and took third on a hit by Mike Scioscia; Greg Brock then popped up, and German Rivera hit into an inning-ending double play. Dave Parker led off the bottom of the inning with a double, making it to third before being stranded.

Hershiser was hit by a pitch in the top of the third, but Steve Sax hit into a double play. The starters then exchanged flawless frames. Parker singled and Cesar Cedeno walked with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, but Brad Gulden grounded out to leave them on. Scioscia and Brock both walked to start the fifth, but Russell retired the next three Dodgers without a run scoring. Eric Davis led off the bottom of the inning with a single, and was promptly caught stealing to defuse a potential threat.

Steve Sax opened the sixth by reaching on a Tom Foley error, but Ed Amelung then produced a delayed double play, hitting into a force and getting caught stealing. Cincinnati finally opened the scoring in the bottom of the sixth, starting with an Oester walk. One out later, Parker walked as well, and a wild pitch moved the runners to second and third. Cedeno then walked to load the bases, Gulden hit an RBI groundout, and Davis smacked a two-run single to make it a 3-0 lead. Hershiser was pulled for Tom Niedenfuer, who was then replaced by Burt Hooton, who retired Foley to end the inning.

(Aside: No, you're not really allowed to pull a pitcher before he faces a batter, at least unless you're Bo Porter. But given the fact that Niedenfuer didn't pitch again for a month and a half after this game ended, I'm guessing the brevity of his appearance was injury-induced.)

The Dodgers rallied quickly in the top of the seventh. Scioscia and Brock drew one-out walks, chasing Russell from the game in favor of Ted Power. Power walked pinch hitter Franklin Stubbs to load the bases. Dave Anderson popped up, but pinch hitter Terry Whitfield singled in two runs, and Sax added an RBI single of his own to tie the game at 3. John Franco then entered the game as part of a double switch (Wayne Krenchicki in at third, Concepcion moving from third to short, and Foley out). In response, Candy Maldonado hit for Amelung and grounded into an inning-ending force.

Ken Howell was perfect in the bottom of the seventh. Franco worked around a Marshall walk in the eighth, while Howell countered a Parker single with a Cedeno double play. Bob Bailor led off the ninth with a double, but Franco retired the next three Dodgers to strand him. Pat Zachry relieved to start the bottom of the inning and allowed a walk and steal to Davis, then left him at second.

Tom Hume retired the Dodgers in order in the tenth. Zachry worked through the first two Reds, then walked Concepcion, Parker, and Cedeno before retiring Gulden to leave them all on. With one out in the eleventh, Brock homered to put LA in front, and the lead doubled in size when Bailor singled, stole second, took third on a passed ball, and scored on an Anderson groundout. Zachry singled and Sax doubled, chasing Hume in favor of Brad Lesley; Maldonado walked to load the bases, but Ken Landreaux popped up to leave all three runners. Davis led off the bottom of the inning with a walk, but made it only to second while Zachry recorded the last three outs of the game.

There have been a number of studies done on various strategies for filling out batting orders, and the overarching conclusion is that there are some tweaks you can make that are helpful, but for the most part, any reasonably sensible sequence of hitters will work out about the same.

I don't doubt the accuracy of those studies. But if one hypothetically wanted to present a counterexample, you could do worse than this game - a game in which career backup catcher Brad Gulden hit sixth for the Reds, and wildly talented rookie Eric Davis hit seventh.

To be fair, Davis entered the game hitting .182/.250/.352, and unlike Gulden, he did not have the platoon advantage against the Dodger starter for the day. On the other hand, Gulden's career batting line against right-handers would end up being .214/.287/.298, not notably better than Davis's to-date line - and it's abundantly clear with hindsight that Davis was much better than his averages entering August 4 would indicate. Indeed, starting with this game, he would end 1984 on a .267/.385/.581-hitting tear, and barely slow down for anything but (all-too-frequent) injury over the next half-dozen years.

It may not be fair to hold hindsight against Reds manager Vern Rapp - but in theory, you'd like a manager to be able to see past 30 games of poor hitting when looking at a talent of Davis's magnitude. And as a result of Rapp's decision, it was Gulden, not Davis, at the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the tenth and a chance to win the game.

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