Friday, April 22, 2016

Game of the Day (4/22/91)

White Sox 8, Orioles 7. Baltimore's Ben McDonald and Chicago's Alex Fernandez were both promising young pitchers (McDonald was 23, Fernandez 21) on the way to pretty solid careers that would last most of the rest of the decade, but not into the next one.

Baltimore opened the scoring in the top of the first. Joe Orsulak hit a one-out single; Cal Ripken Jr. grounded into a forceout, and it was therefore he who scored in front of Glenn Davis's two-run homer. McDonald was perfect in the bottom of the first, but after Fernandez worked around a walk in the second, the Sox rallied. Matt Merullo singled with one out and moved to second on a wild pitch. Dan Pasqua walked with two away, Ozzie Guillen singled Merullo around, and Scott Fletcher doubled to bring in two more runs and put Chicago in front 3-2.

Fernandez threw a 1-2-3 third, while McDonald allowed a walk and nothing else. The Orioles evened things in the fourth on a two-out Dwight Evans single and a Randy Milligan double. Frank Thomas led off the bottom of the inning with a double of his own, but McDonald allowed no further advancement from the young slugger, and Baltimore pulled ahead in the fifth. Billy Ripken singled with one out, and Mike Devereaux walked; Orsulak then singled Ripken home, with Devereaux taking third, and Cal Ripken followed with an RBI groundout for a 5-3 lead.

Chicago responded immediately. Robin Ventura drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the fifth, and Carlton Fisk drove him in with a double. Merullo watched strike 3, but Thomas then worked a full count before homering, putting the Sox back in front 6-5 and chasing McDonald from the mound. Mike Flanagan took McDonald's place and ended the inning quietly.

Evans reached third in the top of the sixth on a walk and a steal-and-error, but his teammates failed to score him. A Guillen single, a sac bunt, an intentional walk, and a forceout put a White Sox player at third as well, and they also left him on. Ernie Whitt drew a leadoff walk in the seventh, but was erased on a double play, and Chicago pulled away in the bottom of the inning. Cory Snyder hit a one-out double, and Thomas followed with a single; Snyder was thrown out at home by Orsulak, but Thomas took second on the throw, and came around when Sammy Sosa greeted reliever Mark Williamson with a triple. Guillen followed with an RBI single to make it an 8-5 lead.

The elder (and superior) member of the Ripken double play combination tried to rally the Orioles, as he homered to lead off the eighth. Brian Drahman replaced Fernandez at that point and allowed an Evans single and a Craig Worthington walk before stranding both men. Williamson put together a quiet bottom of the eighth, giving his team a final chance at overcoming the 8-6 deficit; they made it halfway there, thanks to a Sam Horn double and a single by Cal Ripken, but Davis then grounded out to end the game.

Both of the teams in this game were starting one of the 100 or so best players in the history of baseball. (Technically, the White Sox may have had two, but for the purposes of this game it's narratively convenient for me to ignore Carlton Fisk outside of mentioning him in a parenthetical.) And both of those top-100 players went some small distance toward insuring their historical status in this game - Ripken with two hits, a homer, two runs and 3 RBI, Thomas with a single, double, and homer, two runs and two RBI.

Thomas, who would become one of the best players of the 1990's, had a better game than Ripken, who had been one of the best of the 1980's, and Thomas's team won the game as well. You could try to spin this as some kind of baton-passing between greats of different decades, except for the fact that Ripken wasn't exactly washed up at this point; he would go on to lead the AL in total bases this year and secure his second MVP award.

Which leaves us with the slightly tamer story of a game that simply includes two great baseball players playing great baseball. I don't mind settling for that.

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