Saturday, May 21, 2016

Game of the Day (5/21/91)

Orioles 5, Tigers 4. Detroit started John Cerutti, who was in the final season of his career at age 31, and was pitching like it. Baltimore's answer was Jose Mesa, who was pitching like someone who might be in the last year of his career at age 25 - but he managed to hang around in rotations for two more years, then got shifted to the bullpen, nearly won a Cy Young award, saved over 300 total games, and pitched until he was 41.

The scoring started quickly in this one. Tim Hulett drew a one-out walk in the top of the first, and Cal Ripken reached on a bunt single. (Sidebar: Ripken's bunt single seems unusual, given that he was not a noted speedster; he stole about one base every 80 games in his two-decade career. And indeed, it wasn't a common practice for him; from 1988, when the data is first available, to the end of his MLB tenure in 2001, Ripken had only eight bunt hits. But four of those eight came in 1991.)

Randy Milligan followed Ripken's hit with a triple, scoring both runners, and Milligan came home himself when Alan Trammell mishandled the throw in from the outfield. Detroit got one of the runs back in the bottom of the first when Tony Phillips walked and Lou Whitaker and Trammell singled him around. The Tigers would draw two more walks in the inning, but Cecil Fielder hit into a double play first, and as a result the walks to Mickey Tettleton and Rob Deer merely loaded the bases in advance of Lloyd Moseby's inning-ending flyout.

Cerutti recovered from his first-inning travails with a spotless second, and with two outs in the bottom of the inning, Phillips drew a walk. Whitaker and Trammell then struck consecutive doubles that allowed Detroit to even the score at 3. An inning later, after Baltimore squandered a Milligan single, Tettleton's solo homer put the Tigers in front, 4-3.

The Orioles attempted another rally in the fourth, as Jeff McKnight and Brady Anderson drew two-out walks sandwiched around a Billy Ripken single, but Hulett then flied out to leave the bases loaded. Both starters settled down considerably at that point; Cerutti worked 1-2-3 innings in both the fifth and sixth, while Mesa set the Tigers down in order in the fourth, then worked around a Fielder single in the fifth and a Moseby walk in the sixth.

Brady Anderson drew a walk with one out in the seventh; after the second out, Paul Gibson relieved Cerutti and retired the elder Ripken to end the inning. Trammell's one-out single in the home seventh spelled the end of Mesa's day; Mark Williamson came on and saw Trammell steal second, but kept him there with no further drama (assuming one correctly does not consider an intentional walk to be dramatic). Chris Hoiles and David Segui reached on a walk and single in the top of the eighth, but Gibson recovered to strand them. Mike Flanagan worked a spotless home eighth, giving his teammates one more shot at the 4-3 deficit in the ninth.

Billy Ripken led off the ninth with a single, and was lifted for pinch runner Juan Bell. Anderson struck out on a foul bunt, bringing Hulett to the plate. Gibson quickly went up 0-2, and Hulett fouled off the third pitch - and on pitch number four, he homered, putting the Orioles ahead 5-4. Cal Ripken followed with a double that chased Gibson in favor of Mike Henneman (who was Detroit's closer, and who in hindsight probably should have started the inning). Henneman escaped the residual jam without further damage, but Gregg Olson worked allowed nothing but a Trammell single in the bottom of the ninth, finishing off the victory.

Tim Hulett had a fairly standard didn't-quite-work-out career. He got a fairly late start, first exceeding 10 plate appearances at age 25, but that season and the next he was effectively a starter for the White Sox (albeit in a timeshare between second and third base). Despite his 17 homers in 1986, Hulett didn't really hit at all (combined averages of .247/.288/.377 over those two seasons), and was understandably demoted from regular duty for the rest of his career.

By 1991, Hulett was 31, playing for his second team, and four years removed from the last time he'd had even 200 plate appearances in a season. Despite slightly increased playing time during the '91 season, he still didn't really hit at all (.204/.255/.350 in 221 PA), and therefore remained entrenched in his backup infielder role.

But on this particular day, Tim Hulett hit the most important of his 48 career home runs - one that turned a ninth-inning deficit into a one-run lead, and eventually, a victory. (I suppose you could argue on behalf of his lone walkoff homer instead, but that one merely broke a tie.)

And so, once again, Shakespeare's time-tested wisdom is proven true: Every utility infielder has his day. (Even the ones who can't handle shortstop.)

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