Friday, August 12, 2016

Game of the Day (8/12/91)

Pirates 4, Cardinals 3 (11). Pittsburgh's Zane Smith was 30 years old and spent his 13-year career floating consistently around average. St. Louis's Jose DeLeon was also 30-years old, and would also end up with a 13-year career. His production varied wildly between seasons - and overall, ended up right around average. Both men would end within 25 total innings of each other, and with significant losing records despite above-average ERAs.

Both pitchers were perfect in the first. The second was rather more eventful, starting with singles from Todd Zeile and Felix Jose in the top of the inning; Bernard Gilkey hit into a force that moved Zeile to third, and Tom Pagnozzi flied to right, with Zeile getting thrown out trying to score on the play. In the bottom of the inning, DeLeon walked Barry Bonds with one out and saw him advance to third on a steal-and-error before stranding him there.

Jose Oquendo led off the top of the third with a single, was bunted to second, took third on a groundout, and scored the game's first run on Ozzie Smith's single. His second base counterpart, Jose Lind, also led off with a single, but was immediately erased on a double play. Felix Jose singled with one out in the fourth, and Gilkey GDP'd behind him; Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla then drew walks in the home half of the inning, only for Bonds to hit into yet another twin killing.

There were no double plays in the fifth, mostly because nobody reached base to begin with. The same was true in the top of the sixth. Orlando Merced walked in the home sixth, and stayed out of the double play by getting caught stealing; Jay Bell then walked as well, but there were already two outs, so the DP wasn't an option for him either. It was, however, back in play in the top of the seventh when Jose once again singled with one out - and Gilkey obliged, ending the inning with a 6-3 two-fer.

Bonilla led off the bottom of the seventh with a single, and Bonds homered, giving Pittsburgh both its first runs and its first lead of the game. They took a good shot at adding more, as Mike LaValliere walked and Cecil Espy singled to chase DeLeon. Cris Carpenter struck out Lind, Smith bunted the runners to second and third, Merced was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Bell struck out to leave them that way.

The missed chance to expand the lead became immediately regrettable in the top of the eighth. Oquendo singled with one out and was pulled for pinch runner Geronimo Pena, who stole second. Pinch hitter Gerald Perry then singled, scoring Pena with the tying run. Ray Lankford followed that with a single... and then some crazy things happened. Perry took third on the hit, and Lankford apparently either tried to stretch his hit or thought too hard about stretching, and was thrown out 9-6-3. Perry, meanwhile, tried to score during the rundown, and instead was caught in a rundown of his own and thrown out 3-5-2 - thereby completing the sixth and strangest double play of the game.

Bob McClure was perfect in the bottom of the eighth, and Bill Landrum and McClure both worked 1-2-3 ninths, sending the game to extras. Landrum was flawless in the tenth as well, and was matched by Scott Terry.

Having entered the game as a pinch runner three innings earlier, Geronimo Pena got his first at bat leading off the eleventh against Bob Patterson. He worked a full count, and then swatted the seventh pitch he saw over the left field wall for a go-ahead homer. Two outs later, Patterson walked Ozzie and allowed a single to Craig Wilson before closing out the inning.

Lee Smith took the mound in the home eleventh, hoping to close out the game - and he did, thought probably not in the manner he intended. Van Slyke flied out to start the inning, but Bonilla then singled - and for the second time in the game, Bonds homered, this time a come-from-behind walkoff two-run shot.

Barry Bonds, you may have heard, hit a few home runs in his major league career - like 762, which is more than anyone else has ever hit in the major leagues. The come-from-behind walkoff in the eleventh inning was worth a WPA of +.805 - the highest WPA of any of those 762 home runs. And since he also had another behind-to-ahead homer in the seventh inning (+.379 WPA, 22nd-best among his homers), plus a walk-and-steal-and-error in the early going, his WPA for the day was an astronomical +1.119.

The period of baseball history for which we have complete play-by-play information (and therefore complete WPA data) stretches back just over 40 years, into the early-to-mid '70s. We have partial data for a couple more decades before that, but nothing of note from the period of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.

For the period in which we have WPA available, the all-time leader in batting WPA, at +127.6, is Barry Bonds. And on August 12, 1991, Bonds established his single-game career high in batting WPA.

So that's pretty cool.

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