Sunday, May 1, 2016

Game of the Day (5/1/91)

Brewers 10, White Sox 9 (19). Milwaukee's Mark Knudson had already started one Game of the Day before this one. Chicago's Greg Hibbard had him beat in that regard, as his prior two starts had also been their days' most exciting contests. And as you can most likely tell from the scoreline, none of those three previous games had come anywhere close to the journey on which these two pitchers (and their bullpens) were about to embark.

The White Sox got off to a fast start, as Tim Raines led off with a walk, moved to second on a groundout, and scored on Robin Ventura's single. Frank Thomas followed with a two-run homer that gave Chicago a comfortable early lead. Hibbard set the Brewers down in order in the bottom of the first. In the second, the Sox could have had a chance to extend their edge, but Ozzie Guillen was thrown out trying to stretch a single before Scott Fletcher walked. Franklin Stubbs led off the home second with a single but was erased on a double play before a rally could materialize.

The top of the third saw the visitors pad their advantage, starting with a two-out walk by Thomas. Dan Pasqua followed with a double, and Cory Snyder singled both runners home to make it a 5-0 game. Hibbard worked around a Rick Dempsey double in the bottom of the inning, and the Sox threatened again in the fourth on two-out hits by Raines and Lance Johnson. Julio Machado was summoned to replace Knudson and coaxed a flyout from Ventura, leaving the runners at the corners.

Milwaukee had improved its scoring chances in each inning to this point in the game. That trend continued in the bottom of the fourth, as Robin Yount drew a one-out walk and Stubbs singled him to third, but Greg Vaughn hit into his second straight double play to squander the opportunity. Machado threw a flawless top of the fifth, and in the bottom of the inning, the Brewers finally broke through, courtesy of singles from Jim Gantner, Dempsey, and Dale Sveum.

Of course, once Gantner crossed the plate, there were still runners at the corners and one out, so Milwaukee kept going. Paul Molitor drew a walk to load the bases. Willie Randolph hit into a force at second, but Guillen's attempt to complete the double play resulted in a wild throw; when the dust settled, two Brewers had scored and Randolph was at second. Yount was intentionally walked, and that decision did not pay off at all, as Stubbs launched a 3-run homer that gave the home team a 6-5 lead. A Vaughn single finally ended Hibbard's day; Donn Pall relieved and gave up a hit to Dante Bichette before Gantner lined out to end the inning.

In the top of the sixth, Machado worked around a rare walk to Guillen, preserving his team's first lead of the day. But after Pall responded with a spotless bottom of the sixth, Mark Lee supplanted Machado on the mound and immediately yielded a game-tying homer to Raines. Johnson followed with a single, and Thomas would walk one batter later, but Ventura hit into a double play in the intervening at bat, defusing a potential chance to retake the lead.

Pall threw a 1-2-3 seventh, and Lee matched that effort in the eighth. The bottom of the eighth brought Scott Radinsky to the mound; he allowed a single-and-steal to Bichette and walked Dempsey, but left both men on. Lee and Radinsky exchanged perfect ninths, keeping the 6-6 tie intact and sending the game into extra innings - also known, in this case, as the second half.

The White Sox got off to a quick start once again, as Thomas doubled and Sammy Sosa singled in the top of the tenth - but Thomas stopped at third on Sosa's hit, and Snyder hit into an inning-ending double play. Bobby Thigpen, coming off of a year in which he set the single-season saves record, retired the Brewers in order in the home tenth. Darren Holmes allowed a single to Guillen and walked Raines in the top of the eleventh, but stranded both men. The bottom of the inning was slightly rougher for Thigpen than its predecessor had been; he walked Dempsey, saw pinch runner Darryl Hamilton steal second, intentionally walked Molitor, and walked Randolph to load the bases for Yount. But Yount lined out, and the game went on.

Holmes allowed a leadoff single to Ventura in the top of the twelfth, then set down the next three hitters. Charlie Hough took the mound in the bottom of the inning and allowed a two-out hit to Bichette, who was immediately caught stealing. The thirteenth went very similarly, as Ron Karkovice drew a leadoff walk in the top of the inning and was still on first when it ended, and Sveum worked a base on balls with two outs in the bottom half and was removed on an inning-ending force play. Holmes and Hough then swapped spotless fourteenths, maintaining the 6-6 tie yet again.

It didn't last much longer. Don August relieved in the top of the fifteenth, and his outing did not have an august beginning. (Sorry.) Sosa led off with a single; Snyder laid down a bunt, and the Brewers tried and failed to get the lead runner at second. Karkovice then bunted the runners to second and third, and Guillen singled to take a 7-6 lead. Fletcher followed with a sacrifice fly; Guillen moved to second on the throw home, then came around to score on a single by Raines, pushing the score to 9-6. A steal and a Johnson single would put runners on the corners before Ventura grounded out to end the inning.

Milwaukee began a quick rally in the bottom of the fifteenth with a Vaughn single and a Bichette double. Back-to-back sacrifice flies pulled them to within a run, but also left nobody on base with two outs. Pinch hitter Greg Brock then singled, and pinch runner Bill Spiers made it to third on Molitor's single. Hough was pulled in favor of Brian Drahman, and on a 1-2 count, Randolph singled to score Spiers and re-tie the game at 9. Yount then grounded out, leaving the winning run in scoring position.

Despite his inauspicious debut in the fifteenth inning, August remained on the mound in the sixteenth, and worked around a Snyder single to post a scoreless frame. Drahman set the Brewers down in order in the bottom of the inning. August allowed a single to Fletcher and walked Raines in the top of the seventeenth, but Johnson bailed him out by hitting into a double play.

Wayne Edwards relieved in the home seventeenth and gave up a one-out single to BJ Surhoff; Spiers bunted the runner to second, Molitor was intentionally walked, and Randolph grounded out to end the threat. Thomas walked and moved to second on a groundout in the visitors' eighteenth, but advanced no further, and Edwards and August exchanged 1-2-3 efforts over the next two half innings.

With one out in the bottom of the nineteenth inning, Gantner singled and stole second. Surhoff was intentionally walked, and Spiers flied out, moving Gantner to third. Molitor was intentionally walked for the third time, loading the bases, and Randolph made the Sox pay for it this time, singling to center and bringing home the winning run.

So this is quite a game; it's as if the month of May wanted to immediately establish its superiority to its predecessor, and decided to produce a better game on its first day than April had in its entire duration. Regulation saw one team blow a 5-run lead in the space of a single disastrous half-inning, then rally to tie two innings later. Once that tie was established, each team left the go-ahead or winning run in scoring position twice; they then traded three-run innings in extras, then left go-ahead or winning-runs in scoring position in three consecutive half-innings before one of them finally ended it, 19 innings and over 6 hours later.

For a game that featured 19 runs, 37 hits, and more walks (22) than strikeouts (20), it was actually weirdly well-pitched, particularly by the bullpens, which combined to allow 8 earned runs in 29.1 innings pitched (a 2.45 ERA). Of particular note from that group was the effort of Milwaukee's Darren Holmes, a 25-year-old reliever beginning the first full season of a career that would last over a decade and see him work for eight different teams (the Brewers were already his second). His four scoreless extra innings gave him a WPA of +.540, which established a career high that he would never exceed.

And yet, Holmes was not the game's MVP. That honor goes to a man who made seven batting outs, putting him in a multi-way tie for the game high, and who saw the player in front of him intentionally walked three times. But Willie Randolph also contributed to the big rally in the fifth inning (hitting into a fielder's choice-plus-error that brought in two runs), then tied the game with a two-out single in the fifteenth, and won it with a two-out hit two innings later. His WPA was +.568, the third-highest figure in a long and distinguished career. Randolph was 36 and playing for his fourth team in four years, but he still had enough left to help the Brewers win this game - and a few more, as he would go on to post a .424 OBP in 1991, good for second in the AL.

(By the way, looking for players' career-high WPA scores is a guaranteed way to find awesome old baseball games. Randolph's best came in this game, in which he had a two-out single in the ninth to tie it, and a two-out, three-run double in the tenth to tie it again. And yes, it makes absolute sense that he'd post a +.928 WPA in a game without hitting a home run.)

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