Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Game of the Day (4/27/91)

Braves 2, Astros 1 (13). Atlanta's Steve Avery took on Houston's Pete Harnisch in a matchup of young pitchers on their way to up-and-down-but-ultimately-pretty-good careers.

Harnisch allowed a Jeff Treadway single, then walked David Justice in the top of the first, but stranded both runners. Houston then scored the day's opening run in the home half of the inning on a Steve Finley triple and a Craig Biggio sacrifice fly.

The starters settled in quickly after that. Harnisch worked around a Rafael Belliard single in the second, threw a spotless third, and stranded Justice after he reached scoring position on an error to begin the fourth. Over the same span, Avery allowed an Eric Yelding single and steal and walked Finley in the third, but stranded both of them and kept the bases clean otherwise.

The Braves mounted a few more threats in the middle innings; Deion Sanders tripled with two outs in the fifth and Ron Gant led off the sixth with a double, but both of them were left at third. Avery walked a tightrope in the bottom of the sixth, walking both Yelding and Biggio, but picking the former off of second after a steal and seeing the latter caught stealing.

Atlanta emptied its bench in an aggressive top of the seventh; Jerry Willard and Mark Lemke pinch hit consecutively, and after Lemke singled with two outs, pinch runner Otis Nixon moved around to third on a steal-and-error. Sanders walked to put very fast runners at the corners, but Willard popped up to leave them on. Mike Stanton relieved Avery in the home seventh and worked around a Jeff Bagwell double; Harnisch was pulled with one out in the eighth and saw Al Osuna allow hits to Justice and Terry Pendleton before Curt Schilling took over and ended the inning with Houston's 1-0 lead intact.

Kent Mercker set Houston down 1-2-3 in the eighth. Schilling retired the first two Braves in the top of the ninth; Sanders then worked a walk, bringing Treadway to the plate. Had Treadway stepped in with no outs, Sanders on first, and Ron Gant and David Justice due up next, he likely would have been bunting - but with two outs, that obviously wasn't an option. So instead, he cracked a 2-1 pitch for a game-tying triple. Gant flied out, and Mercker worked another perfect inning to send the game to extras.

Schilling allowed a walk and a single in the top of the tenth, but Justice was caught stealing and Sid Bream was erased on a double play from Pendleton. Juan Berenguer, who took the mound as part of a double switch that also brought Francisco Cabrera into the game at first base, got into rather more trouble in the home tenth, starting with a Bagwell double. Ken Oberkfell's groundout moved Bagwell to third, and Berenguer intentionally walked the next two Astros before striking out Mark Davidson and getting Yelding to pop up, stranding all three runners.

Cabrera led off the eleventh with a walk against Doug Henry, and moved to second on a bunt. Greg Olson followed with a single to right, and when Cabrera tried to score, Tuffy Rhodes cut him down at the plate. The Astros also threatened in the eleventh, as Biggio drew a one-out walk, Dave Rohde singled, and Rafael Ramirez flied out to advance both runners. Oberkfell walked to load the bases for the second time in as many innings, and Doug Sisk was summoned from the bullpen to retire Casey Candaele and end the inning.

Henry was spotless in the top of the twelfth, and Sisk worked around a Davidson single in the bottom of the inning. The action resumed in the thirteenth as Houston reliever Jim Corsi was greeted by a pinch walk... from Tom Glavine. Pendleton bunted Glavine to second, bringing Cabrera to the plate, and the undistinguished 24-year-old reserve came through with a single that scored the pinch hitting starting pitcher with the go-ahead run. Cabrera, however, was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double, helping Houston keep the game close, and they mounted a rally against Jeff Parrett in the bottom of the thirteenth as Biggio singled and Oberkfell walked. Parrett recovered to strand both men and end the game.

In most games, the run the Braves scored in the ninth inning would be well worthy of lead-story status, as the light-hitting second baseman obviated the sluggers behind him with a game-tying triple. In this one, however, the thirteenth inning badly outclassed the ninth.

It started with Tom Glavine's pinch walk. Glavine was a good hitter for a pitcher, but was still only called on to pinch hit 16 times in his two-decade career. Those chances resulted in only two hits and two walks, and only once did Glavine come around to score after pinch hitting. That, of course, was in this game.

And even that's not the best part, because the method of Glavine's scoring managed to be even better. He moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Terry Pendleton, who was on his way to leading the NL in batting average, hits, and total bases, and being voted the league's MVP. The Braves decided to have Pendleton (who, to be fair, wasn't off to a roaring start and had hit .230 the previous season) give up an out in order to get Francisco Cabrera to the plate.

Cabrera entered the game in a double switch after starting first baseman Sid Bream was pulled for a pinch runner. He had been given 143 plate appearances the previous year, and that would prove to be his career high; in fact, Cabrera's entire tenure in MLB would result in a total of less than 400 times at the plate.

He made really good use of those times, however. Because not only was his game-winning hit in the thirteenth inning of this one not the biggest hit of his career, it wasn't even the second-biggest hit of his career, nor the third-biggest.

Without checking every other option, I feel reasonably confident in saying that Francisco Cabrera probably had more really, really big hits than any other player who had less than 500 major league plate appearances. (If you can find someone with more, please tell me because I want to know who it is.) This game-winner may not have been the absolute highlight of his career - but it was at least some pretty nifty foreshadowing.

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