Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Game of the Day (6/21/91)

Through this point in the season, the two most dramatic teams in the league (and by a significant margin) were the White Sox and Rangers. They faced each other for four games in Texas earlier in June, producing one Game of the Day. And now, they were in Chicago, and cranked out another one: White Sox 6, Rangers 5 (11).

The prior GotD selection between these two teams featured very brief major leaguer Ramon Garcia and eventual multiple ERA titlist Kevin Brown as the starters, with a massive career-length edge going to the Texas starter. This time, Garcia was going again for the White Sox. On the bright side for him, he didn't have to face Brown in this contest; the downside was that the alternative was Nolan Ryan, who would have 19 seasons in which he exceeded Garcia's career-high in innings pitched, including two in which he exceeded Garcia's career total in innings pitched.

Frank Thomas's two-out walk made him the only batter to reach in the first inning. The second only saw two hitters get on, but one of them was Julio Franco, who led off the top of the inning with a homer to put Texas in front 1-0.

Each team managed a single in the third inning; Texas's runner was left on, while Chicago's was erased on a double play. The Rangers augmented their lead in the fourth, starting with a Ruben Sierra double. Franco singled him to third, and stole second one out later. With two away, Steve Buechele singled both runners home, though he would also end the inning by getting thrown out trying to stretch his hit.

Ryan worked around an error in the fourth. Both pitchers were flawless in the fifth, and Garcia kept the bases clear in the sixth as well. Ryan was relieved by Kenny Rogers in the bottom of the inning (he may have been slightly injured, as he would miss his next turn in the rotation but not go on the DL); Rogers allowed a single to Lance Johnson and walked Robin Ventura before stranding them both.

Garcia allowed a double to Buechele but nothing else in the seventh. Dan Pasqua started the bottom of the inning with a walk, and Craig Grebeck then homered to pull the Sox within one. Terry Mathews relieved Rogers and gave up a single to Sammy Sosa, who was then bunted to second. Mike Jeffcoat supplanted Mathews and got Ozzie Guillen to line into an inning-ending double play.

Garcia was perfect in the top of the eighth. Jeffcoat was pulled after Ventura's one-out single in the bottom of the inning, and Jeff Russell took over with a chance at an extended save. He struck out Thomas, but up next was Carlton Fisk, who launched a go-ahead two-run homer.

Russell ended the inning without further damage, and Texas had one chance to counter in the top of the ninth. Garcia walked Sierra to start the inning and was promptly pulled. Donn Pall took over and gave up a double to Franco, putting the tying run 90 feet away; he in turn was yanked for Scott Radinsky. The new pitcher retired the next three Rangers in order - but the first two outs were of the sacrifice fly variety, bringing home the tying and go-ahead runs, respectively.

Russell got another crack at ending the game in the bottom of the ninth. Joey Cora and Guillen both singled with one out; Cora took third on Guillen's hit, and Guillen moved to second on the throw to third. That led to Russell intentionally walking Johnson to load the bases. He then unintentionally walked Ventura to force in the tying run. Thomas was up next, but the young star grounded into a double play, sending the game to extras.

Radinsky gave up a leadoff single to Mario Diaz in the tenth. Bobby Thigpen replaced Radinsky, and Jeff Huson ran for Diaz and was bunted to second, then moved to third on a groundout before being stranded. Calvin Schiraldi threw a 1-2-3 tenth, and Ken Patterson worked a perfect top of the eleventh. With one out in the bottom of the inning, Scott Fletcher walked, and Guillen singled him to third. Johnson then hit into a fielder's choice - which means he hit a grounder somewhere, and the person who fielded it tried and failed to throw Fletcher out before he could score the winning run.

Baseball season is really long. The regular season alone is half of the year, and you play essentially every day during that time. One of the results of the length of the season is that it teaches you to take the bad with the good - even when those things come in the same game.

The Rangers had a lot of both good and bad in this game. The bad is pretty easy to identify: because Nolan Ryan came out early, their bullpen had far too many chances to blow the game, and took advantage of them. There were two-run homers by Carlton Fisk (understandable) and Craig Grebeck (inexplicable). There was a bases-loaded walk to force extras, and a rally from the 8-9 hitters in the bottom of the eleventh that led to the end of the game.

Two of those negatives came with Jeff Russell, the Texas closer, on the mound. 1991 was Russell's ninth major league season; he had spent some time in starting rotations, but was primarily a reliever, and a good one. This was the 306th game of his career, and his back-to-back blown one-run leads gave him a WPA of -.838, which was worse than any of the 305 figures that preceded it.

It would not remain his career-worst for long, however. Later in the 1991 season, he would blow a two-run tenth-inning lead, giving up three runs and the game, for a WPA of -.911.

Wait, did I say later in the year? I meant later in the same series. In his very next appearance.

Yeah. If anyone can find a pitcher who had back-to-back games with a worse combined WPA than -1.749, I want to see it.

So, that's the bad. Now for the good. The Rangers got 3 hits and 3 runs from Julio Franco, and 2 hits and 2 RBI from Steve Buechele. But the day's most important highlight for Texas came from their #9 hitter, who went 1 for 3 with a sac bunt, scored no runs, and drove in no runs.

Why was he of interest, then? Because it was his second major league game - and because he was Ivan Rodriguez, taking the first steps on the path to one of the greatest catching careers in major league history.

Which is not bad, as bright spots go.

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