Sunday, April 12, 2015

Game of the Day (4/12/91)

Expos 4, Mets 3 (11). Montreal's Bill Sampen and New York's Ron Darling were relatively close in age; their birth dates were separated by about two and a half years. Despite this proximity, they were at significantly different stages of their careers. Sampen had made his major league debut at age 27 in 1990, and spent most of that year in the bullpen; as a result, this was the fifth start of his major league career. Darling, meanwhile, had been up since 1983, and had been in the Met rotation from the beginning, so his first appearance of 1991 was career start number 225.

Darling was perfect in the first, while Sampen allowed a walk and steal to Gregg Jefferies, but nothing else. The pitchers swapped performances in the second, as Andres Galarraga put up a single and steal in the top of the inning before Darling left him on, and Sampen set the Mets down in order in the bottom. Gil Reyes led off the top of the third with a single, was bunted to second by Sampen, and took third on an errant pickoff throw, but Darling kept him from advancing the final 90 feet. Charlie O'Brien led off the bottom of the inning with a walk, only to be caught stealing in advance of Darling's single, cutting off any potential for a rally.

Darling was spotless in the fourth, and the Mets broke through in the bottom of the inning on a solo homer by Hubie Brooks. Howard Johnson then walked and stole second, but Sampen left him there to minimize the damage. The bases remained clear of Expos in the fifth as well, and New York threatened to extend the lead in the bottom of the inning, as Vince Coleman, Dave Magadan, and Brooks all walked to load the bases with two outs, but Johnson grounded out to strand all three men.

Sampen was lifted for an unsuccessful pinch hitter to begin the sixth, but after the first out, Delino DeShields singled and moved to third on a pair of Darling miscues (a balk and a throwing error on a pickoff). Dave Martinez walked, and Ivan Calderon singled to bring DeShields home and tie the game. One out later, a double steal put runners at second and third for Larry Walker, and the young outfielder grounded out 3-1 to leave them there.

Reliever Scott Ruskin set New York down in order in the sixth, and Montreal struck again in the seventh. Galarraga led off with a single, and after a bunt foulout, Reyes singled as well; Galarraga took third on the hit, and Reyes moved to second on the throw to third. Darling was pulled for Pete Schourek, pinch hitter Junior Noboa was intentionally walked to load the bases, and DeShields singled to score the two lead runners. The inning might have progressed further, but DeShields was thrown out trying to stretch his hit, defusing the residual rally.

Barry Jones worked around a Magadan walk in the home seventh, while Jeff Innis was flawless in the top of the eighth. Johnson led off the bottom of the inning with a walk, and Daryl Boston tripled to score him and put the tying run 90 feet away with nobody out. Jones induced a groundout from Tom Herr and a lineout from Mackey Sasser, with Boston staying rooted to the hot corner, but pinch hitter Mark Carreon came through with two outs, singling Boston home to even the score. Coleman then walked, chasing Jones from the mound, and Tim Burke drew a groundout from Gregg Jefferies to end the inning.

Both Doug Simons and Burke allowed one-out singles in the ninth - Simons to Spike Owen, Burke to Brooks - but neither allowed the runner past first, and the game moved into extras. Both pitchers were flawless in the tenth. In the top of the eleventh, John Franco relieved and allowed a one-out single to Nelson Santovenia. Galarraga struck out, but Owen singled and Reyes doubled to bring the go-ahead run around, and Steve Frey worked around a Jefferies walk in the bottom of the inning to secure the game for the Expos.

Gil Reyes had an unusual career. He made his major league debut with the '83 Dodgers at the promising age of 19; he hit badly (even for a catcher) in negligible playing time, but he was still 19, and surely his entire baseball future was ahead of him...

The 32 major league plate appearances he had in 1983 were more than he would have in the next 7 years combined. By 1991, he was a veteran minor leaguer whose major league career consisted of six cups of coffee so small they might better be labeled as sips. And yet, at age 27, Reyes made an Opening Day roster for the first time in his career, breaking camp with the Expos. This was his first start of the season behind the plate.

He took full advantage, going 3 for 5 with a double, a run, and the game-winning RBI. WPA is rather fond of his efforts, awarding him a +.486 for the day. For many regulars, a day like this would be the best of the month, possibly even the best of a half-season or so.

For Reyes, it proved to be the best day of his career. He would go on to play all year for the Expos, but hit poorly (.217/.285/.261, with no triples or homers), was let go at the end of the year, and never made it back to the majors.

We have therefore, on consecutive days, discovered the last great day of Marty Barrett's baseball career, and arguably the only great day of Gil Reyes's. And that is why I love writing the Game of the Day.

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