Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Game of the Day (5/31/91)

Mets 10, Cardinals 5. The Cardinals started Ken Hill, a pitcher who was emerging from his uneven younger years into a very solid prime. New York countered with Dwight Gooden, whose younger years had been among the best any pitcher has ever had, and who had eventually emerged from them to have... a very solid prime, which was still ongoing.

Hill was perfect in the first, and St. Louis took the lead in the bottom of the inning when Ozzie Smith doubled and Ray Lankford singled him home. Lankford was thrown out trying for second on the play, and Gooden kept any further Cards from reaching. The Mets tied it in the top of the second, starting with a leadoff single from Kevin McReynolds; he moved to second on a groundout, took third on a wild pitch, saw Kevin Elster walk behind him, and scored on another wild pitch.

Felix Jose led off the bottom of the second with a double, and Todd Zeile singled him to third. After a strikeout, Jose Oquendo grounded to third, with the lead runner getting thrown out at home. Hill was up next, and it must have seemed as though Gooden had escaped - but Hill worked a walk to load the bases, and Bernard Gilkey walked as well to force in the go-ahead run.

Hill was perfect in the third; Gooden was not, allowing singles to Lankford and Zeile sandwiched around a walk to Jose. Tom Pagnozzi then hit into a double play with the bases loaded to end the inning. In the fourth, Hill worked around a single by Gregg Jefferies, then hit one of his own in the bottom of the inning only to be left on.

New York struck again in the top of the fifth. Gooden started the rally with a two-out single, and Vince Coleman then singled as well. Dave Magadan followed with a go-ahead three-run homer, putting the Mets in front 4-2. The new lead proved short-lived, however, as St. Louis rallied in the bottom of the inning; Pedro Guerrero doubled, Jose walked, and Zeile tripled both men home to tie the game. A Pagnozzi single plated Zeile and restored a one-run advantage to the redbirds.

Hill threw a 1-2-3 sixth, while Gooden allowed a single and steal to Smith but nothing else. In the seventh, Hill was pulled after Coleman's one-out single, and Juan Agosto coaxed a double play ball from Magadan to end the inning; Wally Whitehurst then relieved and worked around a Pagnozzi plunking.

The game turned in the eighth. With one out, McReynolds doubled and Howard Johnson singled him home to tie it. Scott Terry supplanted Agosto; Johnson stole second, Hubie Brooks was intentionally walked, and Elster struck out. Mackey Sasser then stepped in to pinch hit, and on a full count, launched a go-ahead three-run homer.

Whitehurst worked around a Smith single in the bottom of the eighth, and New York tacked on a pair in the ninth against Tim Sherrill. Coleman led off with a single, was bunted to second, and moved to third on a wild pitch. Jefferies then singled Coleman home, stole second, moved to third on McReynolds's single and came home on Johnson's flyout to establish the final margin. Whitehurst shut the Cardinals down in order in the bottom of the ninth to end the game.

Mackey Sasser spent parts of nine seasons in the major leagues, and never exceeded 300 plate appearances in a single year. He was predominantly a catcher, but eventually moved out from behind the plate, making appearances at all of the corner positions as well as DH.

As a part-time player who spent nearly all of his career in the NL, Sasser was also called on to pinch hit with some regularity. Indeed, almost exactly one of every six Sasser plate appearances came as a pinch hitter - 211 out of 1267. (By comparison, less than one in every 22 plate appearances in the 1991 NL came from a pinch hitter - that is, about two pinch hitting chances for every five times through the lineup.)

The frequency of Sasser's assignment to pinch hitting duties should not be taken as an endorsement of his performance in those situations. Like most hitters, Sasser's production suffered significantly when he was called in off the bench. His career line as a pinch hitter was .226/.251/.303; in all other at bats, it leaped up to .275/.306/.391.

Suffice it to say, when Sasser was brought in as a pinch hitter with two outs in the eighth, the odds were heavily in favor of the inning ending with his at bat. Instead, Sasser picked an excellent time to defy said odds and hit one of the two pinch home runs of his career.

Baseball! You just never know until the game is played.

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