Thursday, May 5, 2016

Game of the Day (5/5/91)

Mariners 5, Yankees 4 (16). Seattle's Rich DeLucia was 26 and getting his first opportunity as a full-time starter; given that he posted an ERA north of 5 and led the AL in home runs allowed, it's not a huge surprise that it was also the last time he would start over half of his games, though he did hang around in various bullpens for the rest of the decade. He was opposed by Dave Eiland, who also never stuck as a starter, but didn't spend much time in bullpens either; Eiland would match DeLucia's ten major league seasons, but threw less than 400 total innings in very intermittent starting duties.

Most of the other starters on May 5 were better than these two, some of them significantly so (Kevin Brown, Dave Stieb, Dwight Gooden, Bob Welch, Doug Drabek, Bud Black, and Greg Swindell would all throw at least 2000 innings with above-average ERAs, with some of them clearing both barriers by wide margins). But it was this little-known pairing that would begin an absolute epic of a baseball game.

DeLucia and Eiland both allowed singles to the opposing second baseman/#2 hitter in the first inning (Steve Sax and Harold Reynolds, respectively), and both kept them at first for the remainder of the inning. Neither team managed a baserunner in the second. Fortunately for my sanity, the pitchers stopped duplicating each other's efforts after that.

New York struck first in the top of the third, as Alvaro Espinoza doubled with one out, moved to third on a single by Roberto Kelly, and scored on a Sax fly. Don Mattingly then singled, but Kevin Maas flied out to strand the remaining runners. Eiland was perfect in the third, as was DeLucia in the fourth; Reynolds opened the bottom of the fourth with a single, and Ken Griffey Jr. walked, but Pete O'Brien hit into a double play and Alvin Davis grounded out to extinguish the threat.

The Yankees extended their lead in the top of the fifth. Jim Leyritz and Espinoza both singled, and Kelly walked to load the bases with nobody out. Sax then hit into a double play, but it was of the 6-4-3 variety, allowing the lead runner to score. Scott Bradley drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the fifth, but was erased on a Dave Valle double play ball. New York picked up a pair of hits in the sixth, but Maas was thrown out trying to stretch his into a double, so Jesse Barfield's subsequent single went for naught.

Seattle finally got on the board in the bottom of the sixth. Omar Vizquel led off with a single, but Greg Briley hit into a double play to re-clear the bases. However, Reynolds reached on a bunt hit, and Griffey doubled him home, chasing Eiland from the mound in the bargain. Greg Cadaret retired O'Brien to leave the tying run in scoring position.

Leyritz led off the top of the seventh with a double to send DeLucia to the showers. Bill Swift relieved and Espinoza bunted the runner to third, but he would advance no further. Steve Farr took the mound in the bottom of the seventh and allowed a leadoff single to Griffey, who I thought had batted in the last inning; turns out, this Griffey was Ken Griffey Sr., who was still on his son's team and pinch hitting. Senior was driven in by a Jay Buhner double to tie the game; Buhner took third on the throw home, but Farr retired the next three Mariners to keep him from coming across with the go-ahead run.

Mattingly led off the eighth with a single; Rob Murphy supplanted Swift and gave up a bunt hit to Maas before setting down the three Yankees that followed him. Farr was spotless in the bottom of the eighth, as was Murphy in the visitors' ninth. Lee Gutterman relieved in the bottom of the last regulation inning and saw Henry Cotto reach on a one-out error by Leyritz (who was apparently playing third base?). Incidentally, Cotto was hitting for Griffey Sr., thereby sparing me the need to differentiate between Griffeys for the rest of the game. Buhner walked, Jeff Schaefer hit into a force at second, and Edgar Martinez pinch hit and was intentionally walked to load the bases. Vizquel then grounded into a force to send the game to extras still locked in a 2-2 tie.

Russ Swan assumed pitching duties in the top of the tenth and allowed a single-and-steal to Sax, but permitted him no further advancement. Guetterman remained on the mound for the bottom of the inning and gave up only a single to the remaining Griffey. Swan was spotless in the eleventh, and John Hayban matched him in the home half.

In the top of the twelfth, Sax singled with one out, and Mattingly reached on a Reynolds error, putting runners at the corners. With Maas at the plate, Swan uncorked a wild pitch, bringing Sax home to put the Yankees in front 3-2. Maas struck out, but an intentional walk and a Matt Nokes single loaded the bases before Michael Jackson was brought on and retired pinch hitter Mel Hall to end the inning.

Matt Sinatro, who had taken over catching duties in the tenth, led off the bottom of the twelfth with a single. Vizquel bunted him to second, and Briley's groundout moved him to third. Reynolds stepped to the plate as Seattle's last chance, and on a 1-2 count, singled to bring in the tying run.

Jackson and Hayban both kept the bases clear in inning number thirteen. Jackson was pulled with one out in the fourteenth, and Bill Krueger had a bit of trouble, allowing a single to Mattingly and then issuing two-out walks to Barfield and Bob Geren before Hall hit into a force to end the inning. Rich Monteleone relieved in the home fourteenth and walked Sinatro with one out; Vizquel then singled the runner to third. Briley followed with a single of his own, and... Sinatro was thrown out at home. Trying to score from third. On a single. (The game recap in the New York Times says he had to hold up because the ball might have been caught; the rest comes down to Jesse Barfield's extraordinary arm in right field.) Reynolds then fouled out, and the game continued yet again.

Krueger worked around a Kelly walk in the top of the fifteenth. The bottom of the inning started with a double by Griffey, who made it to third on a groundout, but advanced no further. And the top of the sixteenth made it look as though that would be a painful missed opportunity, as Maas homered with one out to take a 4-3 lead. Krueger then allowed singles to Barfield and Geren before finally ending the inning, giving his teammates one more shot.

They took advantage. With Monteleone still on the mound, Vizquel doubled with one out in the bottom of the sixteenth. And on a 1-2 pitch, Briley followed with a game-ending, two-run homer.

This... this is quite a baseball game. The Mariners rallied from deficits of 2-0, 3-2, and 4-3, the latter two in extra innings; they did not hold a lead until the game's final play. While trailing or tied all game, they stranded 13 runners and went 3 for 16 with runners in scoring position - and yet, they were no less efficient with their numerous chances than the Yankees, who were 2 for 16 with RISP and stranded 19 men.

The walkoff homer is a natural point of focus, and Greg Briley was an unlikely candidate for that achievement, both in the context of his career (29 homers in 1670 plate appearances, about one every 57 tries) and the game itself (despite hitting a come-from-behind homer worth +.720 WPA, he still managed only a +.133 for the game, going 1 for 7 before the homer with the one hit being the single that resulted in an out at home).

But just as unlikely in their joint heroism were the 12 pitchers who participated in this game. They were a rather undistinguished group as a whole; nine of them had less than 10 WAR in their careers, and none of the three who exceeded 10 (Steve Farr, Bill Swift, and Michael Jackson) made it as far as 20. And yet, the group combined to allow only 8 earned runs in 31.1 innings, good for a 2.30 ERA on the day.

Overall, this game was produced by a pretty undistinguished cast of characters (with the mild exception of young Ken Griffey Jr, who was one of the best players in the league). But on this particular day, their combined talents and failings produced a marvelously dramatic baseball game, one whose WPL of 9.58 is the highest on the year so far and may well remain so for quite a while.

No comments:

Post a Comment