Saturday, April 11, 2015

Game of the Day (4/11/91)

Giants 11, Padres 9 (10). San Diego's Andy Benes and San Francisco's Mike LaCoss were both right-handed pitchers whose careers would eventually last 14 years and just over 400 games. Benes, however, was beginning just the third season of his career, while LaCoss was playing the opening chords of his swan song.

Benes was perfect in the first; LaCoss allowed a two-out triple to Tony Gwynn, but left him at third. Matt Williams homered in the top of the second to open the scoring. Jerald Clark doubled and Jim Presley was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the inning, but LaCoss eventually ended the inning by striking out Benes.

LaCoss walked and was stranded in the top of the third, and the Padres got to him for the first time in the bottom of the inning. Gwynn started the rally with a two-out single, Fred McGriff walked, and Benito Santiago doubled both runners home to put San Diego in front. Clark singled Santiago to third before Presley grounded out to leave both of them on. Kevin Mitchell promptly homered in the top of the fourth to retie the score. Kevin Bass and Steve Decker would reach later in the inning, but Benes stranded both of them. Bip Roberts singled with two out in the home half, and was immediately caught stealing.

The Giants then broke the game open in the fifth, starting with a leadoff hit by LaCoss. Robby Thompson homered to take a 4-2 lead. Willie McGee tripled, and Will Clark singled him home. Mitchell walked, moving Clark to second, and Williams singled to bring Clark around and push the advantage to 6-2. Benes was yanked in favor of Rich Rodriguez, who induced a double play from Bass and a groundout from Decker to end the inning, but the damage was long since done. The Padres squandered a leadoff hit from Tony Fernandez in the home fifth, and San Francisco proceeded to pile on in the next half-inning. LaCoss singled once again with one out, Thompson doubled him to third, and with two away, Clark singled both men home, increasing the margin to 8-2.

San Diego mounted a responding rally in the home sixth. Santiago led off with a single, and a one-out walk to Presley ended LaCoss's tenure on the mound. Eric Gunderson allowed an RBI single to Shawn Abner, and pinch hitter Darrin Jackson reached on a Williams error that brought in Presley with another run. Roberts singled Abner home, and Jackson and Roberts moved to third and second on a Mitchell error on the play. Fernandez grounded up the middle; Gunderson deflected the ball to second baseman Thompson, who threw the hitter out, but Jackson scored to pull the Padres within two. Gwynn walked, and Trevor Wilson relieved Gunderson and retired McGriff to end the inning.

Wes Gardner relieved in the top of the seventh and was greeted by a Williams single. A steal, a Decker single, and a Mike Benjamin groundout brought the Giant third baseman around with an insurance run, and it looked to be enough for the next two innings, as Jeff Brantley worked around a Santiago single and wild pitch in the seventh, and Dave Righetti relieved him with two outs in the eight and stranded Roberts at third (which he'd reached by way of a single, wild pitch, and groundout). Meanwhile, Gardner circumvented a McGee double in the top of the eighth, and Mike Maddux allowed a Bass single and walked Benjamin before stranding both of them in the ninth.

Still holding the 9-6 lead, Righetti quickly recorded the first two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Presley kept the game alive with a single, and Abner followed with a double that moved both runners into scoring position. With the pitcher's spot up next, the Padres turned to their bench and found Marty Barrett.

Marty Barrett had been a solid player in the mid-1980's, spending 5 years as the starting second baseman for the Red Sox. His claims to fame, such as they were, had been a fine postseason in 1986, including an ALCS MVP (he went 11 for 30 with 5 RBI in the series), and three consecutive seasons leading the majors in sacrifice bunts. Even at his best, Barrett was far from a power hitter; the best slugging percentage of his career was .383, and his career high in homers was 5. And he was hardly at his best in early 1991. At the time of this game, he was 32 years old, his batting average had dropped from .283 to .256 to .226 over the preceding three seasons, and his playing time had decreased accordingly, going from 687 plate appearances to 390 to 188. The Red Sox had released him at the end of the 1990 season, and his first plate appearance for any non-Boston team came as the tying run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

Barrett worked a full count in that first appearance, and then homered, tying the game at 9.

Roberts singled and stole second before being stranded, sending the contest to extras. San Francisco went to work quickly against Craig Lefferts in the tenth; Thompson led off with a walk, and McGee, Clark, and Mitchell all singled, the latter two hits driving in a run apiece. Lefferts recovered to prevent further scoring in the inning, but Righetti responded by holding the renewed lead, allowing only a McGriff single in the bottom of the tenth before bringing the game to a close.

The Giants won this game, and if you insist on selecting a narrative that puts the focus on them, your best option is probably the value of hitting by pitchers; Mike LaCoss did not pitch terribly well in this game, but he had two hits and scored runs after both of them, and therefore helped put his team in position to secure a victory that his mound work jeopardized.

But the real story of this game is Marty Barrett. His career from April 12, 1991, onward consisted of 16 plate appearances and two hits; his game-tying homer was not only the last longball of his career, but also the last time he scored or drove in a run. You can frame this in any number of ways - a moment of false hope for a fresh start with a new team, or a fading veteran throwing literally everything that was left of his career into a key moment of the game.

My preference, however, is to read this as a last moment in the sun for a player who had no reason to expect one. Marty Barrett had never exactly been a star, and it had been a while since he'd last been so much as a starter. But despite his mounting age, diminishing abilities, and enforced departure from the team for which he'd played his entire major league career, baseball found a way to give Barrett a final glimpse of glory.

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