Monday, May 23, 2016

Game of the Day (5/23/91)

Rangers 10, Twins 6 (11). Why yes, it is the same two teams as yesterday. The best game of 5/22/91 proved to be merely a warmup for this matchup of Minnesota's Scott Erickson, who was having both his first and best full season, and Texas's Jose Guzman, who had spent the two previous years outside the majors but was making a fairly triumphant return in 1991.

Erickson allowed first-inning singles to Jack Daugherty and Ruben Sierra, putting runners at the corners, but Sierra was caught attempting to steal second, and Daugherty, who held at third on the steal attempt, would still be there when the third out was recorded. In the bottom of the inning, Greg Gagne led off with a walk and was caught stealing; Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek would later single and walk, respectively, only to be left on.

Texas opened the scoring in the second when Kevin Reimer singled and Juan Gonzalez homered. Minnesota responded in the home half with four consecutive walks, the last of which (to Gagne) forced in a run. The bases were still loaded with one out, but Shane Mack hit into a double play to end the threat. However, Guzman's escape preserved the lead only for one inning; a Puckett single, a Chili Davis walk, and a Pedro Munoz single in the bottom of the third evened things at 2 runs apiece.

Reimer led off the fourth with a double and remained anchored to second three outs later. The Twins threatened just as seriously in the bottom of the inning, as Gagne walked and Mack doubled with one out; Hrbek drew a walk to load the bases after the second out, with Guzman being replaced by John Barfield mid-batter, and Barfield then fanned Davis to strand all three men.

The Rangers pulled ahead in the top of the fifth when Jeff Huson reached on a Puckett error, moved to third on a Daugherty single, and scored on a Rafael Palmeiro sacrifice fly; Sierra then singled as well, but Erickson struck out the next two hitters to leave two men on. Minnesota promptly retied the score in the home half on singles by Scott Leius and Junior Ortiz and a double by Al Newman; they had two additional men in scoring position with one out, but Barfield retired Gagne and Mack to leave them there.

Erickson was flawless in the top of the sixth. In the bottom of the inning, Puckett and Hrbek singled and Munoz walked to load the bases with one out; Goose Gossage then relieved Barfield and ended the inning with a popup and a strikeout. The seventh inning proved rather more eventful, starting with a two-out Palmeiro single in the top half; Sierra followed that with a go-ahead two-run homer. In the bottom of the inning, Gossage hit Gagne with a pitch, but there were two outs sandwiched around that, and Puckett then grounded back to the mound. However, he reached first safely, and Gossage's late throw went wild, allowing Gagne to score. Mike Jeffcoat relieved Gossage and gave up a single to Hrbek, followed by a Davis double that brought Puckett home with the tying run.

Terry Leach and Jeffcoat swapped spotless eighths; Leach was perfect again in the ninth, while Jeffcoat worked around a two-out Puckett triple to send the game to extras. Sierra opened the tenth by reaching on a Hrbek error; one out later, Larry Casian replaced Leach and allowed a pinch single to Brian Downing. Steve Bedroasian then assumed pitching duties and retired the next two Rangers to end the inning. Davis led off the bottom of the tenth with a double, and Jeff Russell replaced Jeffcoat. Dan Gladden bunted into a fielder's poor choice, as the runners were safe at the corners. The fielder's choice on Chuck Knoblauch's subsequent grounder was much better, as Davis was thrown out at home; two more groundouts brought the inning to a close with the 5-5 tie still intact.

It did not last much longer. Geno Petralli led off the top of the eleventh with a double. Huson drew a walk, and Daugherty bunted the runners to second and third. Palmeiro was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Sierra promptly unloaded them with a three-run double. One out later, Gary Pettis walked, and Gonzalez doubled both runners home to make it a 10-5 game. Jim Poole took over for Russell in the home eleventh; he gave up a run on a Mack double and singles by Puckett and Hrbek, but retired the remaining hitters to end it at 10-6.

So... this was quite a game. You can tell it's a good one when the player who had six hits (Kirby Puckett, one of two such efforts in his outstanding MLB tenure) was definitely not the most productive player of the day. That title goes to Ruben Sierra, whose four hits and five RBI came at highly opportune times; his two-run homer in the seventh and three-run double in the eleventh both broke ties. In all, Sierra ended up with +.660 WPA, one of the five highest totals of his two-decade career.

And yet, all of Sierra's efforts might well have been for naught. The Rangers had 14 hits and 4 walks on the day; the Twins had 17 and 10, plus one batter hit by a pitch. That's a surplus of 10 baserunners, which would normally be rather decisive (even if Texas did hit both of the game's home runs). It proved otherwise in this case, simply because so many of the men the Twins put on base were left there: 21 in total, an average of nearly two per inning.

An extra-inning game with multiple regulation lead changes, an abundance of baserunners throughout, and outstanding individual performances from excellent players on both sides? Yeah, this is a good one. WPL agrees, ranking it among the top 10 games of the season's first two months.

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