Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Game of the Day (5/17/91)

Phillies 1, Cubs 0 (16). Philadelphia's Pat Combs was a 24-year-old lefty who had emerged on the scene in September 1989 with a very strong six starts (4-0, 2.09) that earned him a regular starting job in 1990. Sadly, his success proved unsustainable in the long term, as he backslid to average performance over a full season, and then got worse in 1991. He would end the '91 season having appeared in only 14 games (13 starts), and having walked more batters than he struck out.

All of that is to say, he's not the pitcher you'd expect to start an extra inning mutual shutout.  His opponent, Greg Maddux, is somewhat less of a surprise.

The Cubs staged a good scoring opportunity in the first inning, as Chico Walker opened the game with a walk and Ryne Sandberg singled. But Combs retired the next three hitters to leave the runners at the corners. Maddux also issued a leadoff walk to Von Hayes, but didn't let him advance at all. Chicago threatened again in the second on singles by Luis Salazar and Maddux and a walk to Walker, but Sandberg popped up to leave the bases loaded.

Maddux was flawless in the home second, and both pitchers worked around singles (by Andre Dawson and Dickie Thon, respectively) in the third. The fourth inning passed without a baserunner; the Cubs got a Mark Grace walk in the fifth and a Salazar single in the sixth, but neither runner went anywhere, and the Phillies put nobody on base to begin with.

Combs worked a 1-2-3 seventh, and the Phillies threatened in the bottom of the inning when John Kruk singled and Ricky Jordan was hit by a pitch. A forceout put the runners at the corners, but Darrin Fletcher flied out to leave them there. The eighth inning saw only two hitting events of note: a Sandberg walk in the top of the inning, and a lineout by Wally Backman in the bottom, which was interesting only because Backman was pinch hitting for Combs.

Roger McDowell walked Salazar to open the top of the ninth, but pinch runner Doug Dascenzo was caught stealing and nobody else reached. Mickey Morandini and Kruk started the bottom of the inning with singles, putting runners at the corners. Dale Murphy struck out, and Jordan was intentionally walked to load the bases. Charlie Hayes then grounded to the mound, where Maddux (who had won his first Gold Glove the previous year) started a 1-2-3 double play that sent the game to extras.

Walker singled against McDowell in the top of the tenth and made it to second before being stranded. Paul Assenmacher relieved in the bottom of the inning and worked around a pinch single by John Morris. Joe Boever took the mound in the top of the eleventh and immediately allowed a Dawson double. One out later, Shawon Dunston grounded back to the mound; Dawson was caught off of second and thrown out, but the rundown extended long enough for Dunston to reach second behind it. An intentional walk later, pinch hitter Jerome Walton struck out to leave the go-ahead run in scoring position.

Chuck McElroy issued a walk to Morandini and drew a force from Kruk in the home eleventh; Heathcliff Slocumb then replaced McElroy and induced two more forces to end the inning. Boever and Slocumb walked one hitter each in the twelfth (Charlie Hayes and Grace, respectively), and each stranded the lone runner.

Tommy Greene relieved in the top of the thirteenth and set the Cubs down in order. Von Hayes led off the bottom of the inning with a single; a bunt and an intentional walk later, Slocumb induced a pair of flyouts to preserve the scoreless tie yet again. Greene walked pinch hitter Rick Sutcliffe in the fourteenth, but allowed nothing else, and Les Lancaster worked around a Thon single on the bottom of the inning. Dawson and Jose Vizcaino both singled with two outs in the fifteenth, but Dunston struck out to leave them at the corners, and Lancaster was flawless in the home half of the inning.

Greene worked around a Walker single in the visitors' sixteenth inning, and Lancaster remained on the mound to begin a third inning in the bottom half. Murphy and Jordan opened the inning with singles. Lancaster recovered to retire the next two hitters, but Thon followed with a single that brought Murphy home with the winning run.

You know what's fun about this game (apart from the spectacle of a thoroughly unknown pitcher trading zeroes with Greg Maddux)? How retro the stars were. The Cubs didn't have many productive hitters in this one (which is how you score zero runs in 16 innings), but two who at least reached base multiple times were 1984 MVP Ryne Sandberg and 1983 second-place finisher Andre Dawson. (Actually, with George Bell hitting cleanup, the Cubs had both of the undeserving 1987 MVPs back-to-back in their lineup.) Meanwhile, for the Phillies, the winning (only) run was scored by 1982-83 MVP Dale Murphy, and driven in by Dickie Thon, who finished seventh in the '83 vote (and probably should have been higher).

On the pitching side, you obviously know that Greg Maddux went on to some pretty good things in the future, but it's worth pointing out that he wasn't the only pitcher in this game who did. Tommy Greene had started intermittently in 1990, but opened the '91 season in the bullpen, having started only one game to this point in the season. It may not have been his four scoreless innings in this game that decided things, but he was a starter in every game he pitched for the rest of the year - and the first of those, six days after this game, went really, really well.

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