Sunday, April 19, 2015

Game of the Day (4/19/91)

Pirates 5, Cubs 4. Chicago started Danny Jackson, who is one of the more fortunate journeyman pitchers in baseball history; he pitched in the postseason five times, for five different teams, and came out of it with two rings. (In the '85 playoffs, Jackson's Royals trailed 3-1 in both the ALCS and the World Series; Jackson posted complete game victories in both Game 5's, and the Royals came back to win both series.) Pittsburgh's starter, Vicente Palacios, threw less than 20% as many major league innings as Jackson, but that was largely because much of his career was spent in the Mexican League. Baseball-Reference has a fairly interesting short bio of him here.

Palacios opened the game by walking Doug Dascenzo and wild pitched him to second, but allowed nothing else in the top of the first. Jackson walked Gary Redus to start the bottom of the inning, and a passed ball moved him to second. Jay Bell then grounded to short, and Shawon Dunston tried to nab Redus at third; his throwing error put runners at the corners with nobody out. Jackson then recovered to carve through the heart of the Pittsburgh order, retiring Andy Van Slyke, Bobby Bonilla, and Barry Bonds without allowing the runner on third to score.

Palacios was perfect in the second; Jackson allowed a Jeff King single and walked Jose Lind, but left them both on. After a 1-2-3 top of the third, Jackson took the mound again to face Bell - but was injured during the plate appearance (he would not pitch again until June), and had to be replaced by Mike Bielecki. Bielecki completed a walk of Bell (which went on Jackson's record), then allowed a two-run homer to Van Slyke, putting Pittsburgh in front.

The Cubs managed their first hit of the day in the top of the fourth, a two-out single by George Bell, but failed to combine it with anything else. Bielecki allowed a Don Slaught single in the bottom of the inning, and left him at second after Palacios bunted him over. The Cubs went down in order in the fifth, and the Pirates struck again in the bottom of the inning, once again with their 2-3 hitters at the plate. This time, Bell tripled and Van Slyke brought him in with a sacrifice fly for a 3-0 lead.

Palacios threw another flawless inning in the sixth, while Les Lancaster allowed a Slaught single and nothing else. Mark Grace walked to lead off the seventh, and two outs later, Palacios was replaced by Bob Patterson, who ended the inning uneventfully. The bottom of the seventh was a bit more involved; Redus walked and was bunted to second, Chuck McElroy replaced Lancaster and walked Van Slyke, and the runners double-stole second and third, but McElroy retired Bonilla and Bonds to leave them on. Stan Belinda and McElroy swapped spotless eighths, leaving the Cubs with just one more chance to awaken their slumbering bats.

Belinda opened the ninth with a strikeout, then issued a walk to Ryne Sandberg. Grace doubled, giving him only the second Cub hit of the day and moving Sandberg to third. A strikeout and a hit batter later, the pitcher's spot was due up, and the Cubs summoned a pinch hitter - a player who was normally a regular but had been given the day off.

The hitter in question? Eight-time All-Star and 1987 NL MVP Andre Dawson. The Hawk was no longer the all-around player he'd once been, but he still carried some wallop in his bat; he'd homered 27 times in 1990. And he was stepping to the plate with the bases loaded, two outs, and his team down by three in the ninth inning.

Dawson jumped on the first pitch he saw, hammering it over the left field fence for a come-from-behind grand slam. And all was well with the Cubs - at least until the next half inning.

Dave Smith relieved in the home ninth and allowed a pinch single to Curt Wilkerson. Redus followed with a single that moved Wilkerson to third, and Smith uncorked a wild pitch that tied the game at 4. Bell bunted Redus to third, and Van Slyke's subsequent groundout failed to score him. Bonilla and Bonds were intentionally walked to load the bases for King; King then ended the game with a flare up the middle that dropped in safely to score the game-winner.

Andre Dawson's grand slam in this game was an amazing moment. It was literally like a dream - specifically, the exact fantasy that every baseball-loving child has at some point. Bases loaded. Two outs. Down by three. The only thing missing was the full count. Dawson took that situation and came through marvelously, launching a home run straight out of a movie script.

The only problem was, he forgot to do it in the BOTTOM of the ninth. If you're the road team, the other guys get another chance after your heroics - and sometimes, they take advantage.

I'm not sure I'm a good enough writer to capture this, but I suspect there's a valuable lesson to be learned here. Maybe it's that real life isn't a movie, or that no matter how perfectly things seem to be going, sometimes they just don't work out.

Or maybe it's just that you shouldn't leave baseball games early, because you might miss a ninth inning just as unbelievable as this one.

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