Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Game of the Day (5/4/91)

Padres 6, Expos 5 (13). Montreal started Rick Mahler, who at age 37 was embarking on the final season of a relatively long, moderately-distinguished career. San Diego opposed him with Eric Nolte, who, despite being over a decade younger, had even less time left in the majors than Mahler. (Which is not a great sign.)

San Diego jumped out to a quick lead in the top of the first, as Bip Roberts walked, was bunted to second, and scored on a Tony Gwynn single. Mahler would escape without further scoring, however, and Montreal responded immediately when Delino DeShields led off the bottom of the first with a home run. Marquis Grissom then walked, stole second, and scored the go-ahead run on a single by Ivan Calderon. Calderon proceeded to steal second and third, then came home on a one-out hit by Andres Galarraga which ended Nolte's day. Mike Maddux allowed a single to Junior Noboa before closing out the inning with a pair of groundouts.

Mahler worked a flawless second, then led off the bottom of the inning with a single before Maddux recovered to strand him. The scoring resumed in the top of the third, when Tony Fernandez tripled and scored on a Galarraga error that put Gwynn on first; Fred McGriff followed with a double that brought Gwynn in with the tying run. Mahler retired two of the next three hitters to mitigate the damage, and his teammates once again bailed him out in the bottom of the inning. Tim Wallach led off with a walk, and Galarraga singled. Noboa hit into a force that put runners on the corners, then broke for second on a 1-1 pitch; Fernandez mishandled the throw, allowing Noboa to slide in safely and Wallach to come in from third and put Montreal ahead 4-3.

Mahler set the Padres down in order in the fourth, while Maddux allowed a single-and-steal to Calderon and walked Wallach before leaving them both on. Mahler and Wes Gardner exchanged flawless fifth innings, and Barry Jones took the mound in a double switch and kept the bases Padre-free in the sixth. Gardner worked around a Grissom single in the home sixth. Roberts singled with two outs in the top of the seventh and was then promptly caught stealing. Galarraga doubled in the bottom of the seventh and was left on by Larry Andersen.

Steve Frey took the mound in the top of the eighth and started his outing by walking Fernandez. Gwynn followed with a single, which might have been innocuous enough if Calderon hadn't misplayed it so badly that Fernandez was able to come around from first to score the tying run, with Gwynn moving to third. McGriff struck out, Tim Burke relieved Frey, and Gwynn was then caught stealing home in an effort to take the lead. Andersen worked around a pair of walks (one intentional) in the bottom of the eighth, and Burke threw a perfect ninth. Wallach drew a leadoff walk in the home ninth, but Craig Lefferts supplanted Andersen and ended the inning, with the assistance of Wallach getting caught stealing second.

The game progressed to extras in a 4-4 tie, and stayed there through the tenth as Bill Sampen set the Padres down in order while the Expos squandered a leadoff hit from Gil Reyes. With one out in the eleventh, McGriff homered to put San Diego in front, but Calderon's solo shot in the bottom of the inning retied the game at 5. Lefferts recovered to leave Wallach on after walking him, extending the contest yet again.

Jeff Fassero took the mound in the top of the twelfth; he walked Paul Faries, who then stole second but would later be caught stealing third, and no other Padres would reach in the inning. The Expos would advance their runner a base farther, as Spike Owen walked, moved to second on a balk by Rich Rodriguez, and made third on a Larry Walker flyout before being left there.

In the top of the thirteenth, the Padres had Roberts, their leadoff man, leading off. And just like in the top of the first and the top of the third, the top of the order did its job. Roberts singled, Fernandez bunted him to second, and Gwynn singled to drive in the go-ahead run. McGriff then hit into a double play, keeping the outcome in doubt, and Grissom led off the bottom of the inning with a single; he would quickly be caught stealing. Calderon walked and Wallach singled, putting the tying run at second, but Galarraga hit into a double play to end the game.

There's a remarkable contrast between the top and bottom of the San Diego batting order in this game. The top of the order was composed of four high-quality players, none of whom would have their best seasons in 1991 but all of whom were still very, very good. The bottom half, on the other hand, had a fluke home run spike from Darrin Jackson and nothing else of any use at all, to such an extent that I had to check to see if it was getaway day (it wasn't, the teams played each other again on the fifth). Jim Presley was (deservedly) in his last year in the majors, Shawn Abner would join him in retirement one season later, and Tom Lampkin wouldn't even fully establish himself as a backup catcher for another two years.

So it comes as no particular surprise that Bip Roberts, Tony Fernandez, Tony Gwynn, and Fred McGriff both scored and drove in all of San Diego's runs in this game. The really remarkable thing is that a lineup whose bottom five spots combined to go hitless still managed to score enough to overcome the departure of their starting pitcher before the end of the first inning.

And that's arguably not even the most interesting part of this game! The Expos had 2 homers, scored a run on a caught stealing/error, and had 20 at bats with runners in scoring position - and still managed only 5 total runs, because they managed only two hits in those 20 at bats. In a game that they lost by a run. In extra innings. That is rather a brutal defeat to take, especially after tying the game in the bottom of the 11th.

It's also the reason that this game scores a 7.30 in WPL, the second-best of the year to date.

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