Saturday, May 14, 2016

Game of the Day (5/14/91)

Cubs 5, Braves 4. Atlanta started John Smoltz. Opposing him was a player who would join Smoltz on the Braves before too long, and enjoy the 1995 World Series title along with him.

But that was right fielder Dwight Smith, not Greg Maddux. Cool as that pitching matchup would have been, Smoltz's counterpart on the mound in this game was slightly less notable - Bob Scanlan, making the second appearance (and start) in a fairly short career that would mostly be spent in relief.

Scanlan and Smoltz each allowed a lone baserunner in the first inning (Jeff Treadway singled and Mark Grace walked, respectively). Scanlan gave up a two-out hit to Mike Heath in the second and stranded him, while Smoltz yielded a Damon Berryhill double and walked Jose Vizcaino before Scanlan grounded out to leave both men on.

Atlanta mounted a more serious rally in the third, starting with a one-out double by Lonnie Smith. Treadway's single moved Smith to third; Gant then grounded to first, and Smith broke for home and was thrown out. David Justice drew a walk to load the bases, but Sid Bream popped up to leave them that way. In the bottom of the third, Ryne Sandberg singled with one out, and on Grace's double, he was also cut down at the plate. Grace would end the inning on third.

A runner finally crossed the plate safely in the fourth, as Terry Pendleton doubled and Heath singled him home. Smoltz would double later in the inning, but Rafael Belliard hit into a double play before that, so the lone run was all the Braves managed. But after a 1-2-3 effort from Smoltz in the home half of the inning, they added another in the fifth when Treadway singled, advanced on a groundout, and scored on a hit by Justice.

The Cubs went down in order again in the bottom of the fifth, while Scanlan worked around a Pendleton single in the top of the sixth. The home sixth saw Chicago finally get on the board, starting with a Grace double. Chico Walker walked, and Dwight Smith bunted the runners to second and third. Berryhill then reached on a strikeout/wild pitch, with the runners holding, and Shawon Dunston hit a sacrifice fly that plated Grace. Pinch hitter George Bell hit into a force to end the inning.

Scanlan remained on the mound in the top of the seventh (Bell hadn't been pinch hitting for him). Pinch hitter Danny Heep drew a leadoff walk, and pinch runner Deion Sanders advanced to second on a groundout and third on a Mark Lemke single. Gant followed with a sacrifice fly to make it a 3-1 game and chase Scanlan in favor of Paul Assenmacher. Lemke proceeded to steal second, then came around to score on a Justice single (aided by an error from Smith in right field). Justice was thrown trying for second on the play, but Lemke's run still made it a three-run advantage for the Braves.

Mike Stanton took the mound in the bottom of the seventh and allowed a leadoff hit to Luis Salazar. Doug Dascenzo hit into a force, then came around to score on Sandberg's double (Sandberg tried for a triple and was thrown out). Grace followed with a single, and on the next pitch, Walker homered to tie the game at 4.

Assenmacher was flawless in the top of the eighth, and Kent Mercker relieved in the bottom of the inning. He recorded a quick pair of outs, then served up a pinch hit home run to Andre Dawson that put Chicago in front for the first time in the game. The Cubs went on to load the bases on singles by Salazar and Dascenzo and a walk to Sandberg, but Grace grounded out to strand all three men. Dave Smith rendered that failure irrelevant, as he retired the Braves in order to lock up the victory.

The Braves were one of baseball's best stories (and teams) in 1991, and this game highlights a few of the reasons - strong starting pitching (six one-run innings from John Smoltz) and quality hitting in the middle of the order (David Justice and Terry Pendleton had two hits each). And yet, it also highlighted an issue that would torment the Braves not just in 1991, but throughout the decade: a bullpen that tended to be good, but not good enough. The same group of pitchers who lost this game to home runs from the generally unimpressive Chico Walker and the rapidly declining Andre Dawson would also come up just a little bit short in the World Series against the Twins.

But that was a few months down the road yet, and at least in the meantime, their fans got to enjoy not only a quality team, but a game that had multiple innings in which multiple players were thrown out on the bases.

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