Monday, April 13, 2015

Game of the Day (4/13/91)

Yankees 9, Royals 8. This is the second American League game to be selected so far in 1991 - and in both of them, Yankee starter Tim Leary has faced a pitcher who would eventually have a halfway credible (though unsuccessful) Hall of Fame case. His opponent this time was Bret Saberhagen, and since it was an odd-numbered year, that makes him a formidable foe.

Both pitchers got into trouble in the first, albeit to varying degrees. Saberhagen allowed a leadoff single to Steve Sax, then erased him on a double play. Jim Eisenreich led off the bottom of the inning with a double, and Leary then hit Kevin Seitzer with a pitch, but George Brett lined into a double play. A passed ball and a walk restored the rally to runners at first and second before Kirk Gibson fouled out to end the inning. The Yankees put the leadoff man on again in the second, but failed to advance Kevin Maas past first base after his opening walk.

Kansas City opened the scoring in the home second. Kurt Stillwell doubled with one out, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a Brent Mayne single. Terry Shumpert then singled Mayne to second, and another wild pitch moved the runners to second and third. Eisenreich followed with a sacrifice fly to bring Mayne home for a 2-0 lead. New York got a run back in the third when Alvaro Espinoza tripled and scored on a Sax groundout. Leary was flawless in the home third, as was Saberhagen in the road fourth; Mayne singled in the bottom of the inning, but Leary stranded him.

In the top of the fifth, the Yankees tied the game on a leadoff homer by Matt Nokes. They took the lead when Jesse Barfield singled, was bunted to second, moved to third on an Espinoza single, and joined Espinoza in scoring on a Sax double. And they pulled away as the rally continued: Sax stole third, Don Mattingly was intentionally walked, Roberto Kelly singed Sax home and chased Saberhagen, Dan Schatzeder allowed an RBI single to Maas, Mel Hall's groundout brought Kelly home, Nokes doubled to score Maas, and Barfield singled Nokes around. Luis Aquino finally retired Torey Lovullo to end the inning, but New York had charged to a 9-2 lead.

The Royals chipped away in the bottom of the inning by way of an Eisenreich double and a Danny Tartabull homer. Aquino set the Yankees down 1-2-3 in the sixth, and Kansas City struck again in the bottom of the inning, as Warren Cromartie walked, Stillwell singled, and Mayne doubled Cromartie home. Greg Cadaret relieved Leary and struck out Shumpert, but Eisenreich then singled one run home, and Seitzer doubled in two more to bring the Royals within 9-8. Cadaret recovered to retire Brett and Tartabull with the tying run in scoring position - but it would not be KC's last chance.

Tom Gordon took the mound in the top of the seventh and kept the bases clear. Cadaret recorded two quick outs in the bottom of the inning before a Stillwell single ended his stint. Steve Farr relieved and gave up a pinch single to Mike Macfarlane that moved Stillwell to second, but Shumpert popped up to leave him there. Gordon was spotless in the eighth, and Eisenreich led off the bottom of the inning with a double, then moved to third on a Seitzer groundout. Farr intentionally walked Brett, and Tartabull then grounded to third; Eisenreich tried for home, but was thrown out on the attempt. Gibson walked to load the bases with two outs, but Farr struck out pinch hitter Brian McRae to leave them that way. Gordon worked around singles by Sax and Mattingly in the top of the ninth to keep the score within a run, but the Royals had missed their best chance in the previous frame; Farr set them down in order in the bottom of the ninth to end it.

Tim Leary's first two starts of 1991 could have gone better. He threw 11 total innings, a respectable total, but allowed 14 hits, 5 walks, 2 homers, and a hit batter in those innings. All told, Yankee opponents touched him up for 11 runs, giving him an ERA that's not impressive, but is at least simple to calculate: 9.00.

And yet, the lineup bailed him out in both games, getting him off the hook with a no-decision in the first, and scoring enough to get him a win in the second. His next start would be a complete game 3-1 victory featuring 12 strikeouts... and then he would go 2-10 for the rest of the year. Turns out, you can't expect to spend an entire year allowing an enormous number of runs and still expect your team to win very often when you pitch.

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