Monday, June 6, 2016

Game of the Day (6/6/91)

Royals 4, Rangers 3 (18). The Royals started Bret Saberhagen, who could reasonably have been considered one of the most famous pitchers in the game in 1991; he was a two-time Cy Young winner and a World Series MVP. Not many opponents would be able to make him the less-recognizable starter in a game.

One of those few, however, was Nolan Ryan.

As might have been expected, both pitchers started off well. The first runner to reach was Texas's Julio Franco, who walked leading off the top of the second. Kevin Reimer then singled Franco to second, but Saberhagen picked off the lead runner and ended the inning with no further damage. Ryan, meanwhile, was perfect through three innings.

Franco and Reimer pulled the walk-single combo again with two outs in the fourth, and Saberhagen worked around it once more. Brian McRae led off the home fourth with a single, then moved to second on a hit by George Brett. With two outs, Warren Cromartie doubled, scoring McRae with the game's first run. Saberhagen allowed only a Steve Buechele single in the fifth, and KC extended the lead in the bottom of the inning on singles by Brent Mayne and David Howard and a sac fly by McRae.

Texas went down 1-2-3 in the sixth; the home half of the inning saw Brett double and Cromartie walk before Ryan stranded them both. The Rangers then rallied in the seventh, starting with a Reimer single. Two outs later, Mike Stanley walked; pinch hitter Denny Walling then singled in one run, and pinch hitter Brian Downing reached on a Kevin Seitzer error that allowed Stanley to come home with the equalizer. Ryan was perfect in the bottom of the inning, and the two outstanding starters both departed with the game tied at 2.

Luis Aquino retired the first two Rangers in the top of the eighth, then allowed singles to Reimer and Juan Gonzalez. Buechele walked to load the bases before Stanley grounded out to strand all three men. John Barfield set the Royals down in order in the bottom of the inning. Mario Diaz singled with one out in the ninth, then moved to second on a groundout; Sierra was intentionally walked, and Franco then singled to bring Diaz home with the go-ahead run and chase Aquino. Mark Davis walked Reimer to load the bases, and Storm Davis then relieved Mark and struck out Gonzalez to end the inning.

Jeff Russell took the mound in the bottom of the ninth, and promptly served up a pinch home run to Carmelo Martinez, tying the game at 3. Russell followed that by inducing three consecutive groundouts, sending the game to extras.

Davis worked a perfect top of the tenth; Russell allowed a Kirk Gibson single and walked Brett in the bottom of the inning, but stranded both of them. Davis was flawless again in the eleventh, and Joe Bitker took over in the home half. Martinez drew a leadoff walk and was pinch run for by Gary Thurman, who promptly moved to third on a steal-and-error. Seitzer and Mayne were then intentionally walked to load the bases. Mike Jeffcoat supplanted Bitker and coaxed a force at home from Kurt Stillwell. Mike Macfarlane flied out, and McRae laid down a bunt and was thrown out at first, leaving all three men on.

Steve Crawford relieved Davis in the twelfth and quickly got into trouble, allowing a single to Franco and walking Reimer. Gonzalez hit into a force at second, Buechele popped up, and Gonzalez stole second; Stanley then walked to load the bases, and Walling hit into a force to end the inning. Brett's single was all that Jeffcoat allowed in the home twelfth, and Crawford managed a 1-2-3 thirteenth. The bottom of the inning began with a Seitzer single; two outs later, Seitzer was stationed on second, and Gerald Alexander took over for Jeffcoat. Bill Pecota and McRae both walked, putting Royals on all three bases before Gibson grounded to second to end the inning.

Jeff Montgomery assumed pitching duties in the fourteenth and worked around a leadoff walk to Franco; Alexander allowed a Brett single in the bottom of the inning, but allowed him to advance only to second. In the fifteenth, singles by Walling and Diaz and a walk to Sierra loaded the bases with Rangers yet again, but Montgomery struck out Franco to leave them that way. A Pecota double and intentional passes to Gibson and Brett put three Royals on in the bottom of the inning, but the reason those walks were issued was because Terry Shumpert would be up next, and Alexander coaxed a flyout from him to leave the winning run at third.

The top of the sixteenth was a rather unusual inning. It started simply enough, with singles by Reimer and Gonzalez putting the go-ahead run in scoring position yet again. Buechele bunted the runners to second and third. Stanley then hit a foul popup - and Reimer was doubled off of third on a foulout to the catcher, which makes me wonder what exactly he was hoping to accomplish by being anywhere other than anchored to the base. Either way, Alexander allowed a leadoff hit to Gary Thurman in the bottom of the inning; he moved to second on a bunt, and Mayne then singled. Thurman tried for home and was thrown out, though Mayne moved to second on the play. Stillwell was then intentionally walked, and Pecota flied out to leave both remaining runners on.

Montgomery and Alexander both worked their last innings in the seventeenth; Montgomery induced a trio of groundouts, while Alexander walked both Brett and Shumpert before escaping. The new pitchers in the eighteenth were the aged Mike Boddicker, who in his only relief appearance of the year threw a 1-2-3 top half, and the young Kenny Rogers, who worked primarily out of the bullpen in '91. Rogers also faced only three hitters - but their appearances resulted in a Seitzer single, a Mayne walk, and a Rogers throwing error on a bunt by Stillwell that brought home the winning run.

This game included 18 innings, none of which saw the scoring margin exceed two runs, and most of which (of course) came with the game tied. The teams combined for 34 at bats with runners in scoring position (four of which resulted in hits), and stranded a remarkable 45 runners.

What's more, 26 of the 45 runners left on came in the almost-entirely-scoreless extra inning period, not including one runner thrown out at home and another inexplicably doubled off of third on a foulout. The bases were left loaded five separate times in the extra frames. Had any of those opportunities resulted in even a single run, the game would have ended much sooner.

As it was, the contest lasted just long enough to take the lead in the race to be the most dramatic baseball game of 1991.

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