Thursday, April 16, 2015

Game of the Day (4/16/91)

A's 8, Angels 5 (11). California's Mark Langston was a veteran left-hander in the middle of a long and excellent career, and was embarking on a season in which he would receive Cy Young votes. Oakland's Joe Slusarski was making just the second start in a career that would eventually include exactly as many starts as Langston's 1991 season (and fewer than his opponent would make in four other individual years).

Dave Henderson doubled and took third on a passed ball in the top of the first, but Langston left him 90 feet from scoring the game's first run. Slusarski got into a jam of his own in the bottom of the inning, as Luis Sojo singled and Wally Joyner and Lance Parrish walked to load the bases, but Gary Gaetti struck out to strand all three runners. Langston threw a spotless second with a pair of strikeouts, and California pulled ahead in the bottom of the inning. The rally began with one-out singles by Junior Felix and Dick Schofield. With Luis Polonia at the plate, the runners attempted a double steal; they not only made it safely, but catcher Jamie Quirk threw the ball away, allowing Felix to scamper home and open the scoring.

Langston walked Mike Gallego in the top of the third, but saw him caught stealing and allowed nothing else, and the Angels extended their advantage in the bottom of the inning. Joyner led off with a walk, Dave Parker singled, and Parrish was hit by a pitch to load the bases with nobody out; Gaetti then simultaneously brought in a run and defused the rally by hitting into a double play. Henderson led off the fourth with a single, and Jose Canseco was hit by a pitch, but Terry Steinbach GIDP'd, and Henderson ended the inning at third. The Angels scored yet again in the home fourth, as Schofield singled, stole second, and scored on a hit by Polonia to lead 3-0. Dana Allison was summoned in Slusarski's place before the end of the inning.

Oakland finally responded in the top of the fifth. Vance Law led off with a double. One out later, Quirk walked, Gallego singled to score Law, and Lance Blankenship singled to score Quirk and pull the A's within a run. Up next was Henderson, who launched a 3-run homer to left center, putting his team ahead 5-3. Langston was pulled one batter later, and Jeff Robinson ended the inning without further drama.

The visitors' lead proved short-lived. Reggie Harris relieved in the bottom of the fifth and allowed back-to-back singles to Parrish and Gaetti, followed by a wild pitch that put them both in scoring position. Max Venable singled Parrish home, and Felix hit into a double play that allowed Gaetti to cross the plate and tie the game at 5.

Robinson worked around a Law single in the sixth, and Curt Young did the same with a Polonia walk in the bottom of the inning. Both teams threatened more seriously in the seventh, Oakland on a Blankenship walk and a Henderson single, and California on a leadoff double by Parrish. But Robinson struck out the side after the first two hitters reached, and Young allowed Parrish to advance only as far as third. The top of the eighth passed without a baserunner; the bottom brought a Schofield walk and a Sojo single, but then came an inning-ending Joyner double play.

Mark Eichhorn replaced Robinson in the top of the ninth and continued in the same vein, retiring the A's 1-2-3. Young notched the first out of the home ninth before surrendering the mound to Steve Chitren. Parrish and Gaetti greeted him with singles, and a two-out HBP of Felix loaded the bases before Schofield grounded out to send the game to extras. Eichhorn allowed a Harold Baines single in the top of the tenth, but left him on; Chitren gave up hit to Polonia, who made it around to third on a bunt and a steal before stalling there.

Scott Bailes supplanted Eichhorn in the eleventh and recorded two outs in his first six pitches. The third out proved far more elusive; he allowed a single to Gallego, walked Blankenship, and gave up a go-ahead two-run double to Henderson. An RBI single by Baines provided a bit of unneeded insurance; Dennis Eckersley ended things on ten baserunner-free pitches in the bottom of the eleventh.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to find a narrative that ties a Game of the Day post together. On the other hand, sometimes, DAVE HENDERSON.

Henderson went 5 for 6 in this game, with two doubles, a homer, two runs scored, and five RBI. It was the only five-hit game of his 14-year career, and while he had driven in five runs before, it was a total that would remain his career high.

And it wasn't just a career day in basic totals. Henderson's contributions came at important times. He hit a one-out double in the first, a leadoff single with his team down 2 in the fourth, and a single that moved the go-ahead run to third in the seventh. And more importantly, his 3-run homer turned a deficit into a lead in the fifth, and his two-out, two-run double in the eleventh broke a six-inning deadlock and iced the game.

All told, Henderson posted a WPA of 1.002, which was his career high by a healthy margin. And that's in a career that included this game.

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