Sunday, June 26, 2016

Game of the Day (6/26/91)

Tigers 8, Brewers 7 (13). Milwaukee's Jaime Navarro had a very long career as a back-of-the-rotation starter; he was below-average most of the time, but better than anyone you could easily find to replace him. Which doesn't sound that impressive until you compare him to Detroit's Dan Gakeler, who lasted less than 100 innings in the majors, and appears to have deserved it.

The Brewers jumped on Gakeler early, as Paul Molitor, Darryl Hamilton, and BJ Surhoff singled to score a run before an out was recorded. Robin Yount added a sacrifice fly before Gakeler settled in to end the inning. Navarro worked around a walk to Travis Fryman in the bottom of the first; Gakeler gave up a Jim Gantner double to start the second and saw him bunted to third before leaving him there.

Detroit recovered from the early deficit in the bottom of the second, starting with a Mickey Tettleton walk and a Rob Deer single. John Shelby then hit into a force at second, but Bill Spiers committed a throwing error in trying for the double play that allowed Tettleton to score and moved Shelby to second. Mark Salas then singled Shelby home to tie the game. Gakeler was perfect in the third, and the Tigers pulled ahead in the bottom of the inning when Lou Whitaker homered; Tettleton went deep later in the inning to make it a 4-2 lead.

The scoring totally stalled in the middle innings of the game. Salas's double in the fourth made him the only batter to reach in the inning. Each team had a baserunner in the fifth, but neither Spiers's double nor Cecil Fielder's single made a difference on the scoreboard. And both pitchers were flawless in the sixth, with Gakeler replicating that result in the seventh as well.

In the bottom of the seventh, Milt Cuyler and Tony Phillips opened with singles, putting runners at the corners. Whitaker's flyout brought Cuyler home, and one out later, Fielder homered, extending Detroit's lead to 7-2. Chuck Crim replaced Navarro and ended the inning without further damage, but what had already been done seemed like plenty.

Gakeler remained on the mound for the top of the eighth, and retired Spiers to open it. A Molitor single and a Hamilton double chased him a short time later; Paul Gibson relieved, Willie Randolph pinch hit, and the result was a two-run single that restored the scoring margin to respectability. Mike Henneman replaced Gibson and walked Yount before retiring the next two hitters to end the inning.

Crim was perfect in the home eighth, and Henneman stepped in again, attempting to finish the game. Gantner led off the ninth with a single, and Dale Sveum matched him. Spiers hit into a force at second, putting runners at the corners, and Molitor then rendered the exact locations of the runners irrelevant, launching a game-tying three-run homer. Crim was perfect again in the ninth, sending the game to extras.

Henneman remained on the mound for a 1-2-3 tenth inning. Crim fared less well in the home half, hitting Tettleton with a pitch and allowing a single to Rob Deer (which led to pinch runner Skeeter Barnes taking third, and Deer cruising into second on the throw to third). Shelby was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Mark Lee was summoned to the mound; he induced a pinch force at home from Alan Trammell, followed by an inning-ending groundout from Cuyler.

John Cerutti and Lee were both spotless in the eleventh, and Cerutti kept the bases clean in the twelfth as well. Julio Machado took the mound in the home twelfth and worked around an Andy Allanson single. Cerutti worked one more flawless frame in the thirteenth. Trammell led off the bottom of the inning with a single, and Cuyler bunted him to second. One out later, Whitaker was intentionally walked, and Fryman then singled Trammell home with the winning run.

Dan Gakeler was not a terribly impressive pitcher. His career ERA was 5.74, with a K:BB ratio barely better than 1 (43:39, in case you're curious). Those results understandably brought a swift end to his major league career; he appeared in only 31 games, starting just 7.

So it would stand to reason that the combination of a Gakeler start and a bullpen meltdown would be expected to spell doom for the Tigers. Instead, Gakeler actually pitched tolerably well (lasting into the eighth; he gave up four runs, but only two scored while he was still in the game), the lineup provided him with enough of a cushion to withstand Henneman's anti-heroics, and John Cerutti (whose career, while longer than Gakeler's, was also approaching its end) threw three flawless innings that gave the hitters enough time to reawaken.

It's not a recipe for long-term success, necessarily. But for this day, at least, it worked out just fine.

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