Monday, May 16, 2016

Game of the Day (5/16/91)

Giants 5, Expos 4. San Francisco's Don Robinson was in the second-to-last year of a career that had begun in 1978. He could have reasonably expected to be the most experienced pitcher in almost every matchup at this point in his career. But not this one, as he was opposed by Dennis Martinez, who had made his debut two years earlier than Robinson - and who still had seven years left after this season.

Robinson was perfect in the top of the first. Martinez was not, allowing two hits, but he picked off Willie McGee before Will Clark's single, so nobody reached scoring position. Montreal then took the lead in the top of the second when Andres Galarraga doubled with two outs and Ron Hassey singled him home.

Martinez gave up a Robby Thompson double in the home second, but left him on. However, after a spotless third from Robinson, San Francisco tied the score in the third, courtesy of a Mike Felder triple and a Clark single. Matt Williams was hit by a pitch and Kevin Bass walked to load the bases before Terry Kennedy fanned to strand all three men.

Tim Wallach led off the top of the fourth with a double and advanced to third on a groundout, but remained there at the end of the inning. Martinez was perfect in the home fourth; the top of the fifth saw Marquis Grissom single and immediately get caught stealing. In the bottom of the fifth, the Giants pulled ahead when McGee doubled, Clark was intentionally walked, and Bass doubled both runners home.

Robinson allowed a two-out walk to Larry Walker and a single to Galarraga in the top of the sixth, but stranded both men. Martinez retired the Giants in order in the bottom of the inning, including a pinch hitter for Robinson. Jeff Brantley relieved in the seventh and gave up a single-and-steal to Delino DeShields, but nothing else. Bill Sampen relieved Martinez and worked a flawless bottom of the seventh, while Brantley circumnavigated a Walker single in the top of the eighth.

San Francisco doubled its lead in the home eighth. Williams led off the inning with a single, and two outs later, Robby Thompson doubled, moving Bass (who'd hit into a force) to third. Dave Anderson followed with another double, scoring both runners to make it a 5-1 game. Pinch hitter Mike Kingery reached on a Wallach error, putting runners at the corners, and the Giants then tried a double steal that resulted in Anderson getting thrown out at home.

The lead was now four runs, and the Giants turned it over to veteran closer Dave Righetti, who had posted 20 or more saves and an ERA+ of 112 or higher in each of the last 7 seasons. This, however, was not a save situation, and Righetti pitched as though he was intentionally trying to start the "don't use your closer in non-save situations" movement. Pinch hitter Junior Noboa and Spike Owen started the inning with back-to-back doubles; pinch hitter Nelson Santovenia then singled, and DeShields followed with a single of his own, making it a 5-3 game. Righetti was understandably yanked at that point in favor of Francisco Oliveras, who induced a grounder to short from Grissom; Anderson promptly misplayed it into an error that loaded the bases and put the tying run in scoring position with nobody out. Ivan Calderon flied out, scoring Santovenia and moving DeShields to third. Up next was Wallach, who simply needed a similarly deep fly ball to tie the game. Instead, he hit into a double play, securing the victory for the Giants.

One of the dangers of writing about the best game of every day of the baseball season is that it runs the risk of inoculating me to the effects of a relatively normal contest. This game is not particularly impressive by GotD standards; the Giants took the lead in the fifth and never relinquished it, and through eight appeared to be on track for a pretty routine victory.

And yet... the Expos got the tying run into scoring position with no outs in the ninth, and had already knocked out San Francisco's closer. The tension in that moment of the game was massive, and the fact that they didn't complete the comeback serves to underscore how difficult it is to pull off a game-winning rally of that magnitude.

Which is kind of cool in its own right, even if it's not in a way that would lead off an average Sportscenter broadcast.

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