Saturday, June 4, 2016

Game of the Day (6/4/91)

Cardinals 3, Dodgers 2 (11). LA started Orel Hershiser, who was making only his second start of the season; it was the beginning of a comeback from an injury that cost him nearly all of 1990. St. Louis responded with Jose DeLeon, who was also staging a comeback of sorts; he had lost 19 games the previous season (for the second time in his career, no less; he was an appalling 2-19 in 1985), but '91 restored some level of respectability to his production, likely by limiting his innings (less than 6 per start in his 28 appearances, with a 2.71 ERA being the result).

DeLeon was flawless in the top of the first. Hershiser allowed a single to Ozzie Smith, then promptly picked him off, and kept the bases clear otherwise. After a 1-2-3 top of the second, the Cardinals mounted a serious rally in the bottom of the inning, starting with a hit by Pedro Guerrero. A groundout and a walk (Milt Thompson) put runners at first and second; a forceout and a walk (Rich Gedman) then loaded the bases for DeLeon, who worked a full count before striking out.

The first Dodger to reach in the game was Hershiser, who singled with two outs in the third and was left on. He then kept the bases Cardinal-free in the home third, and his teammates produced the game's first run in the fourth, courtesy of singles by Chris Gwynn, Kal Daniels, and Lenny Harris. The remainder of the middle innings passed quietly - Hershiser doubled in the fifth, Smith walked in the bottom of the sixth, and they were the only two runners to reach until Hershiser was lifted for John Candelaria with one out in the seventh. (Candelaria ended the inning without incident; that was just the simplest end point I could use.)

Gary Carter and Juan Samuel both singled in the top of the eighth, chasing DeLeon in favor of Juan Agosto; Stan Javier then pinch hit into an inning-ending double play. Mike Hartley replaced Candelaria in the home eighth and worked around a Bernard Gilkey walk, keeping the 1-0 lead intact. Cris Carpenter allowed a two-out double to Harris in the top of the ninth, but left him on.

Jay Howell relieved in the bottom of the ninth and promptly allowed a single-and-steal to Ray Lankford. Guerrero flied out, but Todd Zeile singled Lankford to third, and Thompson followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Howell recovered enough to force extras; Carpenter was perfect in the top of the tenth, and Kevin Gross allowed a Gilkey single in the bottom of the inning, then saw him caught stealing to force an eleventh inning.

LA pulled ahead once more in the top of the eleventh. Stan Javier tripled with one out against Lee Smith. Eddie Murray and Harris were intentionally walked (with one and two outs, respectively) to load the bases, and pinch hitter Mike Sharperson then singled to plate Javier for a 2-1 lead. Jim Gott took the mound in the bottom of the inning and recorded a quick out. Lankford then singled and stole second. After the second out, Zeile walked, and a wild pitch would then move Lankford to third. On a 1-2 count, Thompson tripled to left, scoring both runners and ending the game.

The Dodgers should have won this game. They got a better start than they could reasonably have expected from a warhorse who was barely back from injury (including a pair of hits from him while he was at the plate), and as a result had a lead to hand over to a top-shelf reliever in the ninth inning. Even after that vanished, they still picked up a run in the top of the eleventh (and had a chance for more that was squandered).

So why didn't they? It comes down to the bat of one man: Milt Thompson, who drove in all three St. Louis runs on the day, and had impeccable timing in doing so. His ninth-inning sacrifice fly plated the tying run when a double play would have ended the game. And with two outs in the bottom of the eleventh, Thompson's two-run triple brought in both the tying and winning runs, turning a 19% chance of victory into a certainty.

Those two hits gave Thompson a WPA of +.894 in this contest - which was the highest he would achieve by far in the 13 years of his MLB career.

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