Friday, May 13, 2016

Game of the Day (5/13/91)

White Sox 4, Red Sox 3 (10). Chicago's Jack McDowell would finish 9th in Cy Young voting in 1991 (which means he got one second-place vote, I think), and would go on to second- and first-place finishes in the next two seasons. His overall total of Cy Young award shares (fraction of votes earned each year, added together) is in the top 50 in baseball history.

He still comes out at a slight disadvantage when matched up against Roger Clemens.

The White Sox got off to a quick start, as Tim Raines led off the first with a single, stole second, and scored on Robin Ventura's double. A groundout moved Ventura to third, but he remained there through the next two outs. Boston threatened to respond when Wade Boggs led off the bottom of the inning with a double and was bunted to third, but the succeeding hitters failed to bring him home. Sammy Sosa led off the second by reaching on an error; he would later steal second, but nobody else on either team reached base in the inning.

Chicago doubled its lead in the third, thanks to the same two guys who gave them their first run. Raines drew a walk to open the inning, and Ventura followed with a single... which scored Raines from first. (There has to be a story here; I imagine it at least involves the Green Monster, as the single was to left center, and may also have included Raines running on the pitch. Regardless, this is not a normal thing.) Two outs later, Carlton Fisk doubled, moving Ventura to third, and he would once again end the inning 90 feet from home. Boggs reached again in the bottom of the third; Steve Lyons hit into a force, then stole second and was left there.

The top of the fourth brought another unusual play. Ozzie Guillen led off with a single and was bunted to second... and then was "Out advancing" between second and third. The play-by-play isn't more descriptive than that (and does not seem to give a putout or any assists on the play); the most likely outcome is that he tried to move up on a pitch that turned out not to be wild enough, but given Guillen's aggressiveness on the bases, it's also possible he tried to take two bases on a sac bunt. Either way, his removal from the basepaths brought an end to any rallying from either team in the fourth inning.

Clemens finally retired Raines to open the fifth. Ventura reached on an error and advanced to second base on a two-out walk by Frank Thomas, only to be left in scoring position for a third time. Carlos Quintana led off the bottom of the inning with a double, but was still on second when the inning concluded.

Neither team managed a baserunner in the sixth, and Clemens was flawless in the seventh as well. The same could not be said of McDowell in the bottom of the inning. Tom Brunansky led off with a double, Quintana singled him to third, and Tony Pena doubled to put Boston on the board. One out later, Boggs was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Lyons proceeded to single home the tying and go-ahead runs. (That's actually an insufficient description of the scoring play. Pena was able to score the second run due to an error by Sosa in right field; Boggs also tried to move to third, with Lyons coming behind him, but a rundown resulted that got Lyons thrown out. Either way, Boston still took the lead, 3-2.)

Clemens worked a 1-2-3 eighth, while McDowell was pulled with two away after allowing hits to Jack Clark and Quintana, leaving Donn Pall to finish out the inning. Jeff Reardon replaced Clemens in the top of the ninth and recorded the first two outs quickly. Up next was pinch hitter Matt Merullo, an intermittent catcher and first baseman who would amass less than 500 at bats in his career. But in this one, Merullo whacked a 1-2 pitch over the right center field fence for a game-tying home run.

Pall allowed a single to Boggs in the bottom of the ninth and was pulled with two outs. Bobby Thigpen then yielded a hit to Ellis Burks, who moved to second on defensive indifference with Mike Marshall at the plate. Marshall went on to strike out, sending the game to extras in a 3-3 deadlock.

Jeff Gray took the mound in the top of the tenth and gave up a one-out single to Ventura. Joey Cora ran for Ventura and stole second. One out later, Thomas was intentionally walked, and Ron Karkovice then singled Cora home with the go-ahead run. Thigpen worked around a Quintana walk in the bottom of the inning to nail down the victory.

The White Sox got both game-tying and game-winning hits from players who didn't start the game, and a nice outing from Bobby Thigpen to preserve a tie, then secure the win an inning later. But for my money, the key player was not one of the reserves. It was Robin Ventura, whose pair of RBI hits against Clemens in the early going allowed the White Sox to force extras, and whose tenth-inning single then set up the winning run that would be scored by the player who ran for him.

Ventura's WPA for the day was +.254; it was his second-highest to this point in 1991, and a top-5 figure in his young career to this point. It also would not end up among his top 10 games for the entire 1991 season. The 23-year-old third baseman was on his way to a breakout season, one that would combine with Frank Thomas to push the White Sox to 87 wins and a second-place finish. It would also set him on the path to an All-Star caliber of play for the remainder of the decade.

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