Friday, April 29, 2016

Game of the Day (4/29/91)

Cardinals 4, Braves 3 (11). The starting pitchers were rather different in age - one was 23, the other 30. Despite that disparity, Atlanta's John Smoltz and St. Louis's Bob Tewksbury were both approaching the best seasons of their wildly different but very worthwhile careers.

Tewksbury worked around a Jeff Treadway single in the top of the first; the bottom of the inning saw Ray Lankford single and steal second and Pedro Guerrero walk before Smoltz left them both on. In the second, Sid Bream led off with a hit, but was erased on a line drive double play, and nobody else reached for either team. Tewksbury kept the bases clear in the top of the third, while Smoltz allowed a Bernard Gilkey walk and an Ozzie Smith single that put runners on the corners with one out. Smith was then caught stealing, with Gilkey holding at third, and Lankford grounded out to end the threat. David Justice singled and was caught stealing in the fourth, and nobody else reached in the inning.

Atlanta opened the scoring in the top of the fifth. Bream led off with a double, moved to third on a groundout, stayed there while Mike Heath walked, and then scored on a Rafael Belliard single. Smoltz bunted into a force at third, Deion Sanders reached on an infield hit to load the bases, and Treadway singled the two lead runners in for a 3-0 lead. St. Louis threatened for a response when Jose Oquendo singled, stole second, and took third on a wild pitch, but he moved no further.

Both starters were flawless in the sixth, and Tewksbury threw a 1-2-3 seventh as well. Felix Jose led off the bottom of the inning with a double and was singled home by Todd Zeile to put the Cardinals on the board; one out later, Oquendo's single moved Zeile to second and drove Smoltz from the mound. Mike Stanton relieved and walked pinch hitter Gerald Perry to load the bases. Gilkey flied out, but Smith singled to score two runs and tie the game at 3.

Juan Agosto and Juan Berenguer both threw immaculate eighths. The ninth was a bit more involved; Justice led off the top of the inning with a single, Bream bunted pinch runner Otis Nixon to second, and Terry Pendleton was intentionally walked. Mike Perez then relieved and induced a double play ball from Heath. Geronimo Pena singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth, and Kent Mercker replaced Berenguer. He promptly walked pinch hitter Milt Thompson. A flyout and defensive indifference combined to move he runners to second and third, Smith was intentionally walked after working a full count, and Lankford struck out to leave the bases loaded and force extra innings.

Lee Smith and Mercker exchanged 1-2-3 tenth innings, and the Cardinal hurler duplicated the effort in the eleventh. Doug Sisk relieved in the bottom of the inning and recorded one out, but then walked Pena, intentionally walked Thompson after Pena stole second, and allowed a Gilkey single to load the bases. Ozzie Smith then hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Pena with the winning run.

Ozzie Smith is on the very short list of the best fielding shortstops in the history of baseball, and that's the biggest part of the reason that he's in the Hall of Fame. But in 1991, Ozzie was 36 years old, and his glovework had naturally slipped from otherworldly to merely good.

Fortunately, Ozzie was able to make up for the slippage in the other parts of his game - namely, his underrated bat. His batting line of .285/.380/.367 and 35 steals in 44 tries gave him a career-best OPS+ of 112 and made him an ideal tablesetter in the lineup; he would go on to score 96 runs, the second-highest total of his career. And in this game, his two hits and three RBI allowed the Cards to come out on top in a close contest.

All that is to say - Ozzie Smith was a better-rounded player than is generally appreciated, and his non-fielding abilities served the Cardinals well here.

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