Sunday, July 24, 2016

Game of the Day (7/24/91)

Cardinals 4, Astros 3. Houston's Pete Harnisch and St. Louis's Ken Hill were both right-handed pitchers in their mid-20's and were both on the way to nearly identically solid careers. (Seriously, it's almost alarming how similar they are - they're both among each other's top 5 similar pitchers per Baseball Reference, and that doesn't account for the fact that they both pitched for exactly the same years, 1988-2001.)

Hill walked Steve Finley to open the game, but Craig Biggio then hit into a double play, and nobody else reached until the bottom of the second. In that inning, Felix Jose singled with one out, and Todd Zeile then reached on a Ken Caminiti error, but Harnisch coaxed a double play from Tom Pagnozzi to end the threat.

Houston opened the scoring in the third. Rafael Ramirez led off with a single, and one out later, Harnisch bunted him to second. Hill balked Ramirez to third, and Finley singled him home. Harnisch kept the bases clear in the bottom of the inning. Both pitchers worked through mild threats in the fourth (a one-out hit by Jeff Bagwell in the top of the inning, and two-out singles by Gerald Perry and Jose in the bottom), and Hill was flawless in the visiting fifth.

Pagnozzi led off the bottom of the fifth with a walk, and Jose Oquendo and Hill singled him around to tie the game. At that point, the Cards had runners on the corners and nobody out, but Bernard Gilkey's grounder got Oquendo thrown out at home, and Ozzie Smith and Ray Lankford flied out to end the chance to take the lead. It was a temporary setback, however, as Hill set the Astros down in order in the sixth, and Zeile homered with two outs in the bottom of the inning. Pagnozzi, Oquendo, and Hill then struck again, hitting consecutive singles that pushed the lead to 3-1.

The Astros responded swiftly in the top of the seventh, as Bagwell was hit by a pitch, Luis Gonzalez tripled him home, and Caminiti tied the game with an RBI groundout. Smith led off the bottom of the inning with a single, and Al Osuna replaced Harnisch on the mound. Two outs later, Smith was on second, and Jose singled him to third before Zeile struck out looking to leave the runners at the corners.

Hill was perfect in the eighth, and the Cardinals rallied again in the bottom of the inning, starting with a Pagnozzi walk and a plunking of Oquendo. Despite the fact that he had two RBI singles already in the game (and probably because his career batting average even including those hits was .138), Hill was lifted for pinch hitter Rex Hudler, who fouled out. Craig Wilson then hit into a force at second, Smith walked to load the bases, and Osuna struck out Lankford to end the rally.

Lee Smith relieved in the top of the ninth and gave up hits to Bagwell and Gonzalez, but left the runners at first and second. Osuna remained on the mound for the home ninth, and walked Jose with one out. Zeile then singled, Pagnozzi walked to load the bases, and Oquendo singled to score the winning run.

The top four spots in Houston's lineup had a rather respectable day; despite an o-fer from Craig Biggio, they combined for five hits (including a triple), a walk, a HBP, two runs and two RBI. The corresponding slots for the Cardinals went a total of 2 for 18, no extra bases, one walk, one sacrifice, no run production.

But in baseball, the games often don't come down to the stars. Houston's five-through-nine hitters were hitless in this game, 0 for 15 with one walk, one sacrifice, one run and one RBI groundout. The same portion of the St. Louis lineup went 11 for 19, with four walks, one HBP, and scored and drove in all four Cardinal runs (including, as previously mentioned, two RBI hits by Ken Hill).

Baseball is the rare team sport in which the teams generally can't decide who participates in the game's most important situations. Which means that it helps quite a lot if all of your hitters are capable of doing what the back end of St. Louis's lineup did in this game.

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