Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Game of the Day (5/11/91)

Twins 5, Tigers 4. It would be the revenge of Jack Morris, if Jack Morris had started this game. As it is, it's merely Allan Anderson, who at age 27 was in the last year of his career, and who has to be one of the least-impressive pitchers ever to win an ERA title (less than 1000 career innings and a career ERA+ that barely stayed above average despite the 166 he put up in 1988) facing Steve Searcy, who at age 26 (he would turn 27 in June) was making the last start of his career (making several more appearances from the bullpen and not pitching very well in those either).

Given the mediocrity of the pitching matchup, it's not terribly surprising that there was early scoring. Detroit started it, as Tony Phillips singled, stole second, moved to third on Alan Trammell's single, stayed there when Rob Deer walked, and scored on Pete Incaviglia's sacrifice fly. Travis Fryman followed with a 3-run homer to make it a quick 4-0 game.

Minnesota joined in the scoring in the bottom of the inning when Chuck Knoblauch and Chili Davis singled and Brian Harper doubled Knoblauch home, but Pedro Munoz struck out to leave the remaining two runners in scoring position. Detroit put two men on in the second on a Milt Cuyler single and a Phillips walk, but stranded them both. The Twins then pulled closer in the home half on a Greg Gagne walk, a Dan Gladden triple, and a Knoblauch double. Puckett would strike out to leave Knoblauch in scoring position with the tying run.

Fryman singled and stole second in the top of the third, but was left on, and Davis led off the bottom of the inning with a homer that erased the remainder of the Tiger lead. Harper and Gene Larkin then singled to chase Searcy from the mound, and Mark Leiter retired his first two opponents to keep the tie intact.

Anderson worked around a single and steal from Cuyler in the top of the fourth. In the bottom of the inning, Leiter allowed three walks and a single, but no runs; Gladden and Knoblauch started the inning with free passes, but Kirby Puckett hit into a 5-4 double play that eliminated both lead runners. Davis walked, and Harper followed with a single, but Puckett was thrown out at home to end the inning. (Which gives this inning the unusual property that all three outs were made on batted balls, but none of the three involved the batter himself being retired.)

New pitchers took over for both teams in the fifth, as Carl Willis gave up only a Pete Incaviglia single in the top of the inning, and Jerry Don Gleaton countered a Munoz walk with a double play in the bottom. Gladden's walk in the home sixth made him the only hitter to reach for either team, and he was immediately picked off of first.

Willis was perfect again in the seventh, and Puckett greeted new Tiger hurler Mike Henneman with a double in the bottom of the inning. An intentional walk later, Harper laid down what was intended to be a sacrifice bunt - but neither Henneman nor first baseman Cecil Fielder were able to corral the ball, and it escaped into right field. By the time the dust settled, Puckett had come around from second to score the go-ahead run. One batter later, the Twins pushed their luck a bit, as Davis was caught stealing home. But Steve Bedrosian worked a 1-2-3 eighth, and Rick Aguilera circumnavigated a Lloyd Moseby leadoff single in the ninth to nail down the victory.

On the one hand, this is only one game; at the time, it brought the Twins up to .500 (15-15), and left them in fifth place in the AL West, four games back of the A's (who had won the last three AL pennants).

On the other hand, hindsight gives us the opportunity to read some foreshadowing into this one, as the Twins pulled out a victory in a close game courtesy of a ridiculous event - exactly the sort of thing that would typify their worst-to-first World Series against the Braves later in the year. Which makes this exactly the kind of game I was hoping to encounter while writing up the 1991 season.

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