Thursday, June 23, 2016

Game of the Day (6/23/91)

June 23, 1991, scores as the day with the most cumulative baseball-related excitement of the '91 season to date. It featured, among many others, a game in which the Royals pulled ahead 5-0 by the third inning; the Orioles trailed them by that margin for most of the contest, but pulled within one in the eighth. Kansas City then put up three runs in the bottom of the eighth - so Baltimore scored four in the ninth to tie it, then three more in the tenth to win.

And then they played the second game of the doubleheader: Orioles 9, Royals 8 (12). Baltimore's Jose Mesa was called on to start against KC's Luis Aquino; Mesa was an ineffective starter who would later transition very successfully to the bullpen, while Aquino would make that transition in both directions throughout his career, with notably less success.

Mike Devereaux led off the game with a walk, but nobody else for either team reached in the first inning. The Orioles pulled ahead in the top of the second when Tim Hulett walked and Chris Hoiles and Juan Bell singled him around, but the lead was short-lived; the bottom of the inning saw Danny Tartabull single, Warren Cromartie reach on a Bell error, and Mayne single to score Tartabull to tie the game. There was an extended fielding/baserunning sequence at the end of the play that saw Mayne advance to second while Cromartie was thrown out between third and home (scored 9-6-3-4-6-5); Bill Pecota drew a walk, but David Howard struck out to end the inning.

Aquino worked around a Cal Ripken single and a Cromartie error in the top of the third; Mesa allowed a single to Brian McRae and a double to George Brett in the bottom of the inning, but McRae was caught stealing before Brett's two-bagger, so no lasting damage was done. Bell singled in the first half of the fourth, and Kevin Seitzer walked and stole second in the latter portion of the inning, but neither was joined on base by a teammate. Aquino was perfect in the top of the fifth; Mesa walked Howard and allowed a single to Kirk Gibson in the bottom of the inning, but once again, the first runner was caught stealing before the second reached.

Baltimore pulled ahead in the sixth, and it was once again the bottom of the lineup that was responsible. Joe Orsulak started the rally with a one-out single. Hulett hit into a force, and Hoiles doubled, putting runners at second and third. Bell then singled both men home for a 3-1 lead. Kansas City responded in the home half of the inning, however. Tartabull led off with a double, and Cromartie singled him to third. Seitzer singled Tartabull home, chasing Mesa from the mound. Todd Frohwirth then retired the next three Royals, but Mayne's forceout scored Cromartie to tie the game once more.

This tie was broken much more quickly than the last one. Mike Magnante took over for Aquino in the top of the seventh and immediately served up consecutive singles to Brady Anderson, Ripken, Randy Milligan, and David Segui, putting Baltimore in front 5-3. After Orsulak bunted the remaining runners to second and third, Steve Crawford replaced Magnante and retired the next two hitters to avoid further damage. McRae led off the bottom of the inning with a single against Frohwirth, but Kevin Hickey and Mark Williamson combined to work around it.

The Oriole lead would expand in the eighth. Devereaux began the rally with a one-out double. Ripken was intentionally walked with two away, and Milligan then singled Devereaux home. Segui drew a walk to load the bases, and Orsulak singled, scoring two more and pushing the lead to 8-3. Williamson allowed only a Pecota single in the bottom of the eighth, and Crawford (still on the mound despite allowing three runs in the prior inning, presumably thanks to the strain the doubleheader put on KC's pitching staff) allowed a Hoiles single and a Bell walk to start the ninth before leaving them on.

Williamson remained on the mound to start the ninth, but allowed singles to McRae and Gibson, then walked Brett to load the bases with nobody out. Gregg Olson was rushed into the game and allowed a two-run single to Tartabull; a wild pitch moved the remaining runners to second and third, and Cromartie then hit a sacrifice fly to pull KC within 8-6. Seitzer singled Tartabull to third, and Mayne and Pecota then singled as well, scoring one run each to tie the game. A wild pitch advanced both runners into scoring position, and an intentional walk to pinch hitter Carmelo Martinez loaded the bases for McRae. McRae grounded to first, with the winning run being forced out at home on the play, and Gibson then flied out, sending the game to extras.

Storm Davis took the mound in the top of the tenth. Milligan led off the inning with a single and was bunted to second. Orsulak was intentionally walked, and Hulett grounded into a double play to end the threat. Olson was perfect in the home tenth, as was Davis in the visiting eleventh. Olson then worked around a Mike Macfarlane walk in the bottom of the eleventh inning.

Ripken walked with one out in the twelfth. Milligan singled him to second, and after Segui flied out, Orsulak singled to bring him home with the go-ahead run. Davis induced a force from Hulett to end the rally there, but Paul Kilgus relieved Olson and worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the twelfth, bringing the game to a fairly perfunctory end.

But nothing before the conclusion of this game can be accurately classified as perfunctory. In particular, the bottom of the ninth is a wonder. Kansas City started the inning trailing by 5, with a win expectancy of 1%. Eight batters later, the game was tied, and a wild pitch had put the winning run at third with one out, good for a win expectancy of 84%. The Orioles recovered from there to force extras, resetting things to 50%.

That one half-inning contributed approximately 1.35 WPL to the game's total. Which is a larger amount of baseball drama than has been contained in about 8% of entire games in the 1991 season so far. And given that it began with a five-run ninth-inning deficit (and was the second game of a doubleheader), it's reasonable to suspect that not everyone who was in the seats at the beginning of the game was still there to see it.

The lesson, as always: Don't leave early.

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