Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Game of the Day (4/21/91)

Pirates 13, Cubs 12 (11). Chicago's Mike Harkey took on Pittsburgh's Randy Tomlin. Both of them were 24 years old at the time of the game, and neither would end up having a particularly noteworthy career; Harkey would have the best single season by either man - and it was his rookie season, which came in 1990 and was thus already behind him.

Chicago's Ryne Sandberg singled with one out in the top of the first; he was the only player on either team to reach base in the first two innings. Harkey singled in the third to end a string of 12 consecutive outs, but Jerome Walton promptly hit into a double play, and the game progressed two more innings before the next baserunner.

Andre Dawson singled to lead off the fifth, but was caught stealing right before Shawon Dunston finished walking. Dunston would steal second but be left on. In the bottom of the inning, Bobby Bonilla drew a walk, becoming the first Pirate to reach, and Barry Bonds followed with a single. One out later, Mike LaValliere doubled to score Bonilla, and Jose Lind added a sacrifice fly that brought Bonds home for a 2-0 lead. The Cubs countered in the top of the sixth with nearly-identical rally, starting with singles by Harkey and Walton. Sandberg doubled Harkey around, and Mark Grace's sacrifice fly plated Walton and tied the game. After the second out, Dawson added a single to drive Sandberg in and put Chicago ahead 3-2.

Harkey was lifted with one out and a runner on in the home sixth; Paul Assenmacher saw the runner caught stealing and ended the inning without event. Neal Heaton relieved Tomlin in the seventh and gave up a two-out single to Assenmacher, then walked Walton before retiring Sandberg to end the inning. Bonilla reached on a strikeout/wild pitch to start the home seventh, but three batters later, he was still on first, without so much as a fair ball having been hit.

Heaton hit Grace with a pitch to begin the eighth. Mark Huismann then took the mound, and the Cubs greeted him with an avalanche of runs. George Bell began it by doubling Grace home. One out later, Dunston was intentionally walked, a decision that backfired when Gary Scott reached on what must have been a spectacular throwing error by Jay Bell; both runners scored, and Scott ended up on third, allowing him to come home on Erik Pappas's single. Huismann retired the next two hitters, but the onslaught ended with Chicago in front 7-2.

Pittsburgh responded quickly, as Lind singled, pinch hitter Lloyd McClendon walked, and Orlando Merced tripled to drive both of them in. Assenmacher retired the next two hitters he faced, but Bonilla followed with a two-run homer that brought the home team back within a run. Bill Landrum set the Cubs down in order in the ninth, and the Pirates completed their comeback against Dave Smith when Jeff King singled, was bunted to second, and scored on a two-out pinch double by Gary Varsho.

You may have noticed that every Game of the Day post begins by spoiling the result of the game. There are times that I have questioned that policy - and this is one of them. Because this game went to extras tied at 7, and having seen the final score, you already know there's still a lot of baseball lunacy to come.

None of the lunacy came in the tenth, as Bob Kipper set the Cubs down 1-2-3. Chuck McElroy allowed a one-out double to Bonilla and intentionally walked King with two away; Heathcliff Slocumb relieved and wild pitched the runners to second and third before Don Slaught grounded out to leave them there.

Kipper started the eleventh by walking both Pappas and Jose Vizcaino. Bob Patterson relieved and was greeted by Walton attempting a sacrifice bunt; the Pirates snuffed out the attempt, nailing the lead runner at third. Sandberg then singled to load the bases, but Luis Salazar hit into a force at home for the second out. Doug Dascenzo broke the tie with an RBI single, bringing Dawson to the plate; Dawson then launched his second late-inning grand slam in three days, putting Chicago in front 12-7 and seemingly clinching things.

"Seemingly" being the key word. Slocumb walked Lind to start the home eleventh, then allowed singles to Curt Wilkerson and Merced and was yanked in favor of Mike Bielecki with the bases loaded and nobody out. Bielecki was no better; Jay Bell doubled in two runs to begin his appearance, Andy Van Slyke hit a sacrifice fly, Bonilla walked, and Bonds singled to pull the Pirates within a run. Pinch hitter Gary Redus walked to load the bases, and Slaught followed with a double that sent Bonilla home with the tying run and Bonds right behind him with the game winner.

Does anyone have the answer to the trivia question of "largest extra-inning comeback ever?" Because with the Pirates having gone into the bottom of the eleventh trailing by 5, this has to be at least close to the top of that list. It also has to be pretty near the top in terms of "most 5-run deficits overcome completely in one game." And finally, when combined with the best game played two days earlier, it's got to give Andre Dawson a shot at the record for "most dramatic grand slams that proved ultimately meaningless in a single series."

So yeah, this was a pretty entertaining baseball game.

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