Saturday, July 23, 2016

Game of the Day (7/23/91)

A's 10, Indians 7. Oakland's Bob Welch was the reigning AL Cy Young winner and an eventual 200-game winner. Cleveland's Rod Nichols would go on to throw less than 500 innings in his career and post a record of 11-31.

And yet, Nichols was in the process of having the better season in 1991.

Nichols worked a spotless first inning, and the Indians grabbed the lead in the home half. Glenallen Hill led off with a single and stole second; Felix Fermin bunted him to third, and Carlos Baerga's double scored him. A flyout moved Baerga to third, and after Albert Belle walked, Mike Aldrete singled to make it a 2-0 lead.

Oakland responded promptly in the top of the second, starting with a Harold Baines single. One out later, Jamie Quirk reached on a Baerga error. Singles by Mike Gallego and Vance Law brought in a run each, tying the game at 2, and Mike Bordick then hit into a go-ahead forceout. Welch allowed a two-out Hill single in the home second, but picked him off immediately. In the third, Rickey Henderson and Baerga both singled, but neither made it past first.

Terry Steinbach led off the fourth with a single, and Quirk singled him to second; the runners then tried a double steal that resulted in Steinbach being thrown out at third. One out later, Law singled, and Quirk was cut down at the plate to end the inning. Cleveland tied it in the bottom of the inning on a Belle double and a Brook Jacoby single.

The A's pulled ahead again in the top of the fifth, starting with singles by Bordick and Rickey and Dave Henderson which loaded the bases with nobody out. Jose Canseco then broke the tie with a sacrifice fly that chased Nichols in favor of Jeff Shaw. Baines lined out, but Steinbach followed with a single, and thanks to a Belle error on the play, both of the Hendersons scored to make it a 6-3 lead.

Cleveland attempted a rally on singles by Baerga and Carlos Martinez in the bottom of the inning, but left them both on. However, after a flawless sixth from Shaw, Aldrete led off the home sixth with a walk that ended Welch's day. Kevin Campbell walked Mark Whiten; one out later, Sandy Alomar Jr. singled, with Aldrete getting thrown out at home, but Hill's subsequent single successfully plated Whiten to narrow the gap. Gene Nelson then relieved and retired Fermin to end the rally.

Shaw set the A's down in order again in the seventh, and in the bottom of the inning, a Baerga single and a Belle home run tied the game at 6. Rick Honeycutt took over for Nelson and ended the inning without further incident. Shaw allowed a Steinbach single in the top of the eighth, and Honeycutt walked Hill in the bottom, but nothing came of either baserunner.

Gallego led off the ninth with a double, and Jesse Orosco took Shaw's place on the mound. One out later, pinch hitter Willie Wilson singled, bringing Gallego home with the go-ahead run. Shawn Hillegas supplanted Orosco and walked Rickey Henderson. After the second out, Canseco walked as well. Baines then flied to center, where Alex Cole had taken over a couple innings earlier; Cole misplayed the ball into a base-clearing error that increased Cleveland's deficit from one run to four. The misplay proved especially costly in the bottom of the inning, as Baerga, Martinez, and Jerry Browne all singled against Dennis Eckersley to score one run, but Eckersley retired the remaining hitters to end the game.

In many ways, the Indians outplayed the A's in this game. Their hitters amassed 16 hits and 5 walks to Oakland's 14 and 2; they also had three of the game's four extra-base hits, including the only home run. They had one runner picked off, but Oakland had two men caught stealing, and both teams had one runner thrown out at home.

With all those advantages, how did they lose? In this case, it came down to fielding. The Indians committed three errors, leading to a remarkable total of six unearned runs. Given that they ended up losing by three, it wouldn't be too big a stretch to say that a better-fielding version of this team would have won this game.

But then, a better-fielding version of this team probably wouldn't have lost 105 games on the season as a whole. Bad teams tend to be bad in many different ways, and the '91 Indians were no exception.

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