Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Game of the Day (7/6/91)

Blue Jays 4, Mariners 3 (10). The two starters were both lefties in their late 20's who were still struggling to put everything together. Most pitchers in that position don't work out - but teams keep giving them chances, because sometimes they turn into David Wells and Randy Johnson.

Toronto's Roberto Alomar singled against Johnson with one out in the top of the first; he stole second and saw Pat Tabler walk behind him, but both men were left on. In the bottom of the inning, Harold Reynolds and Ken Griffey Jr. both singled, putting runners at the corners. Jay Buhner walked to load the bases, and Henry Cotto's flyout brought home the game's first run. Johnson kept the bases clean in the second, while Wells walked Alonzo Powell and balked him to second, but recovered to strand him.

Rene Gonzales led off the third with a single, and Devon White walked. Alomar bunted the runners to second and third, and Joe Carter walked to load the bases with one out. Up next was Tabler, who grounded to second - but Reynolds misplayed the ball, then committed another error immediately afterward, allowing two runs to score and putting the Jays in front. Reynolds reached on an error by Manuel Lee in the home third and stole second, but Wells stranded him in scoring position.

Toronto threatened to extend the lead in the top of the fourth when Lee and Gonzales both singled, but Lee was picked off of second and the potential rally came to naught. Wells then retired the first two hitters in the home fourth, but Dave Valle and Edgar Martinez singled, and Reynolds then reached on a Gonzales error, allowing the tying run to score.

Johnson and Wells traded flawless fifth innings; Johnson walked Derek Bell with two outs in the sixth, but he was quickly caught stealing to end the inning. Seattle then recaptured the lead in the home sixth as Powell walked, was bunted to second, moved to third when Valle hit into a fielder's poor choice that put runners on the corners without recording an out, and scored on Martinez's flyout against new reliever Jim Acker to make it a 3-2 game in the Mariners' favor.

Johnson was pulled after allowing singles to Gonzales and White in the top of the seventh. Bill Swift induced groundouts from Alomar and Carter to leave both runners on. Acker was perfect in the bottom of the seventh, as was Swift in the top of the eighth. Acker gave up a pinch single to Alvin Davis in the home eighth, but stranded him at first, giving the Jays one more shot at their one-run deficit.

Michael Jackson took the mound in the top of the ninth and quickly retired the first two Toronto hitters. But pinch hitter Rance Mulliniks then singled, and White tripled, scoring Mulliniks with the tying run. Jackson intentionally walked Alomar and drew a groundout from Carter, leaving the go-ahead run at third, but Mike Timlin worked around a two-out hit from Greg Briley to send the game to extras.

Russ Swan took the mound in the top of the tenth and started the inning by retiring Mookie Wilson. Up next was John Olerud, who hammered a go-ahead home run. Swan would give up two more hits in the inning; he stranded both runners, but the homer still proved decisive as Tom Henke worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the tenth to end the game.

Is everyone tired of hearing about the 1991 Blue Jays' bullpen yet? It seems to be the natural topic of conversation every time we see a Toronto game. In this one, the Jays' starter was pulled an inning earlier than Seattle's and gave up an extra run, but Toronto's relievers combined on 4.2 innings of 2-hit, 0-walk, 6-strikeout ball, giving their lineup a chance to come back against the opposing relievers.

But if you insist on having a lesson about this game drawn from any other source than the Canadian relief corps, it's probably going to come from the player who hit the game-winning homer. John Olerud began the game on the bench, thanks to an opposing starter who personifies "tough left-hander." But as soon as Seattle pulled Randy Johnson, Olerud came in, and came through. It was something the young first baseman would do quite frequently in what ended up being one of the best unnoticed careers of the last quarter century.

As a bonus, relatively inconsequential side note: There were four errors in this game. Two of them were committed by Harold Reynolds (on the same play). On the other two, Harold Reynolds reached base. Reynolds's own double-error was a run-scoring play, but so was one of the plays in which he reached on an error.

People say that in baseball, the little stuff evens out in the long run. That's not always exactly true (though it's not a bad approximation). But it worked out that way pretty quickly in this one.

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