Friday, May 20, 2016

Game of the Day (5/20/91)

Mariners 8, Royals 6. The two starting pitchers in this game were separated by just under 6 months in age. Their accomplishments to this point had a slightly larger gap, as Seattle's Rich DeLucia was in his first full season in the majors (and only full season of starting, for good reason), while Kansas City's Bret Saberhagen had been a starter for seven years already, winning two Cy Young awards and a World Series MVP.

Plus, it was an odd year, so you knew he was going to be good.

The first inning was nearly perfect for the Royals, as Saberhagen retired the Mariners in order and a Nelson Liriano single and a Danny Tartabull homer put KC ahead 2-0. But the tables quickly turned in the second, starting with a single by Ken Griffey Sr. Edgar Martinez singled as well, with an outfield error sending Griffey to third on the play; one out later, Martinez advanced on a wild pitch, and Alvin Davis then singled to plate both runners and tie the game.

DeLucia worked around a Kurt Stillwell single in the bottom of the second, and Seattle went back to work in the third. The Griffeys Junior and Senior drew back-to-back walks with one out; Martinez grounded into a force to remove the elder member of the family from the bases, Pete O'Brien singled to score the younger Griffey with the go-ahead run, and Davis followed with a two-run triple for a 5-2 lead.

The Royals struck back in the bottom of the inning, beginning with a leadoff triple from Brian McRae. Liriano singled him home, then moved to second when Jim Eisenreich walked to put the tying run on. Tartabull struck out, but Terry Puhl singled to bring Liriano home and end DeLucia's day. Bill Swift took the mound and drew a double play ball from Carmelo Martinez to end the inning with Seattle still in front by one.

Saberhagen walked Harold Reynolds in the fourth, and Reynolds was immediately caught stealing to end the inning. The bottom of the inning was similar in a way, as only one runner reached and he quickly left the bases after running at high speed - but in this case, it was Bill Pecota hitting an inside-the-park home run to tie the game at 5. After Saberhagen worked around a Griffey Sr. single in the fifth, Kansas City struck again. Singles by Liriano and Eisenreich and a walk to Tartabull loaded the bases with nobody out. Puhl grounded out to bring in the go-ahead run, and an intentional pass to Carmelo Martinez loaded the bases again for Mike Macfarlane, who then hit into a double play.

Saberhagen and Russ Swan exchanged spotless sixth innings, and Eisenreich's single made him the only player on either team to reach in the seventh. Griffey the elder led off the eighth with a double, which finally ended Saberhagen's day; Jeff Montgomery relieved and retired the next three Mariners - but the groundout and flyout hit by the first two proved enough to move Griffey to third and home, respectively, tying the game at 6.

Swan allowed a two-out Stillwell single in the eighth, then wild pitched the runner to second before stranding him. Montgomery retired the first two batters in the top of the ninth, but singles by Greg Briley and Reynolds put the go-ahead run at third and brought Griffey Jr. to the plate.

It was the kind of moment you hope to see in any baseball game you attend: the young star against the ace reliever, with the game on the line. Griffey took the first pitch for a ball. The second one missed the strike zone as well - by a bit more, as it was a wild pitch, which allowed Briley to race home from third with the tiebreaking tally.  A few pitches later, Griffey's single scored Reynolds for an 8-6 lead, and Michael Jackson worked a spotless home ninth to end the game.

If you want to take a lesson from this game, take it from the abortive Griffey-Montgomery showdown in the ninth inning: Baseball can always find a way to escape anyone's range of expected outcomes, in ways both small and large. Sometimes a professional hitter like Alvin Davis gets old really quickly, but staves off his decline long enough to drive in four runs against a two-time Cy Young winner. Sometimes, utility infielder Bill Pecota hits a game-tying inside-the-park home run. Sometimes, Jeff Montgomery accidentally defuses a key at bat against a future first-ballot Hall of Famer with a tun-scoring wild pitch. Sometimes, Rich DeLucia's team beats Bret Saberhagen's.

And sometimes, two teams who came in last the year before go on to face each other in the World Series. Welcome to 1991.

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