Sunday, September 7, 2014

Game of the Day (9/6/84)

Braves 3, Dodgers 2 (18). LA started Fernando Valenzuela, who was 23 years old and already in the middle of his third 250-inning season (which actually understates his workload, because he also led the NL with just under 200 innings in the strike-shortened 1981 season). Atlanta opposed him with Rick Mahler, who at age 30 was about to exceed 210 innings for the first time. Valenzuela would eventually suffer arm trouble and take a sojourn in Mexican baseball for a year - right around the age Mahler was at now. Meanwhile, Mahler was about to embark on his own workhorse period, throwing 220 or more innings 5 times in 6 years (and leading the league in hits allowed in four of them).

Valenzuela worked around an error in the top of the first; Mahler allowed a single to Ken Landreaux in the bottom of the inning, but nothing else. Randy Johnson singled and was caught stealing in the top of the second, while Mahler retired the Dodgers in order. Mahler then singled in the top of the third, and was the only player on either team to reach base in that inning. The starters both worked 1-2-3 fourths, keeping the scoreless tie in place.

The Braves threatened in the fifth, as Johnson walked and Bruce Benedict and Mahler both singled, but Johnson was erased on a double play and Valenzuela stranded the other two runners. LA then took the lead in the bottom of the inning when Mike Marshall doubled and Mike Scioscia singled him home. Dale Murphy doubled and was stranded in the top of the sixth, and the Dodgers added another run to their lead in the bottom of the inning when Dave Anderson, Landreaux, and Pedro Guerrero all singled. Benedict reached on an error in the seventh, but his teammates failed to advance him, and Mahler was perfect in the bottom of the inning.

Atlanta finally scored in the top of the eighth. Albert Hall led off with a single, and Brad Komminsk matched him one out later. Murphy then singled Hall home, and Gerald Perry's single brought Komminsk around to tie the game. Valenzuela induced forecouts from the next two hitters to leave the go-ahead run at third. Mahler was perfect in the eighth, and Valenzuela retired the Braves in order in the ninth. A Guerrero single and a Greg Brock walk put the winning run at second in the bottom of the ninth, but Mahler got through the next two hitters, sending the game to extras.

Valenzuela retired the Braves in order in the tenth, and after Steve Sax led off the bottom of the inning with a single, Valenzuela was pulled for a pinch hitter. Mahler stranded Sax at second, and Pat Zachry relieved in the eleventh and set Atlanta's hitters down 1-2-3. Mahler worked around a Brock double in the bottom of the inning, and was replaced by pinch hitter Milt Thompson in the top of the twelfth. Thompson singled, and Rafael Ramirez singled him to third, but Zachry left the runners at the corners.

Donnie Moore took the mound in the bottom of the twelfth and allowed a Zachry single, but nothing else. The two pitchers exchanged perfect thirteenths, and Zachry was also flawless in the fourteenth, while Moore worked around a Sax single. Both moundsmen were replaced in the fifteenth. Carlos Diaz walked Ramirez and gave up a Komminsk single in the top of the inning, while Gene Garber saw Landreaux reach on an error and permitted Guerrero to single in the bottom, but all four runners were stranded. Diaz worked around a single-and-steal by Paul Runge in the sixteenth, and Garber allowed a walk-and-steal to Sax in the home half of the inning, but left him at second as well.

Larry White took over pitching duties in the top of the seventeenth; he allowed a walk-and-steal to Komminsk, then intentionally walked Murphy before ending the inning. Jeff Dedmon also issued a pair of walks (to Anderson and Tony Brewer), but induced a double play from Guerrero to end the threat. Johnson then led off the eighteenth with a homer, giving Atlanta its first lead of the day, and Pete Falcone worked around a Scioscia walk in the bottom of the inning to end the game.

The most obviously notable side of this game was the starting pitchers, as both of them pitched into extras. Surprisingly, the heavily-worked Valenzuela had not yet exceeded 10 innings at this point, so he tied his at-the-time longest outing in this one. Mahler, meanwhile, would become a workhorse in his own right, but never pitched 11 innings in a game again.

When both starters pitch double-digit innings and the bullpens don't give up a run for nearly a complete game afterward, you expect things to be rather hitting-light - and those expectations were met. There was only one 3-hit game between the two teams (by Pedro Guerrero); there were several other two-hit games, but that's considerably less impressive when the starting position players bat seven or eight times. Arguably the most productive batting order slot was Atlanta's #9, with starting pitcher Rick Mahler and pinch-hitter-turned-left-fielder Milt Thompson accounting for two singles each.

With all of the not-hitting going around, it seems about right for the game-winning home run to have come from Randy Johnson. It was the fifth of the six longballs he would hit in his three-year career as a part-time player, and at the time, it was one of the biggest baseball moments to have featured a player named Randy Johnson.

The list of such moments has grown rather longer in the intervening 30 years, but this is still a nifty chance at the spotlight for a fringe player who has since been cursed with having "no, not that one" appended to every mention of his name.

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