Sunday, August 21, 2016

Game of the Day (8/21/91)

Braves 10, Reds 9 (13). Atlanta started Armando Reynoso, a rare weak spot in their generally excellent rotation. Cincinnati responded with Kip Gross, who wasn't exactly a strong point himself - a status that was all too common among the starters for the defending World Series champs.

Atlanta's Otis Nixon led off the game with a single, and Jeff Treadway walked. Terry Pendleton singled to bring Nixon home with the game's first run, and Ron Gant's sacrifice fly plated Treadway. Pendleton then stole second and scored on a hit by David Justice, making it 3-0. Gross retired the next two hitters, but it was still a highly promising opening inning from the Braves.

Or so it seemed, at least. But Billy Hatcher started the home first with a walk, and Barry Larkin doubled him to third. Hatcher came home on Hal Morris's groundout, and Paul O'Neill hit into a fielder's poor choice, as the Braves presumably threw home in a failed attempt to retire Larkin. O'Neill was promptly picked off of first, but Chris Sabo and Glenn Braggs both singled, and Luis Quinones doubled them both around to put Cincinnati in front 4-3.

Naturally, after the early fireworks, both pitchers were perfect in the second. Gross faltered again in the third, however, giving up singles to Treadway, Pendleton, and Justice to tie the game at 4. Tim Layana was called in to relieve and promptly gave up a single to Brian Hunter, then walked Francisco Cabrera with the bases loaded to force in the go-ahead run. Milt Hill replaced Layana and retired the next two hitters, mitigating the damage.

Reynoso was perfect in the third, while Hill walked Pendleton and left him on in the top of the fourth. Reynoso then hit Sabo with a pitch and allowed a double to Braggs to begin the bottom of the fourth - and that ended his day. Jim Clancy hit Quinones with a pitch to load the bases. Joe Oliver proceeded to hit into a double play, but it was a 5-3 DP, which allowed the tying run to score, and pinch hitter Herm Winningham followed with a single that scored Quinones to put Cincinnati back in front, 6-5.

Norm Charlton worked around a Cabrera double in the top of the fifth, and the Reds padded the lead in the bottom of the inning. Hal Morris started things with a one-out walk, and Sabo's two-out single sent Morris to third. A wild pitch brought Morris home and advanced Sabo as well; Braggs then singled Sabo in, and Quinones tripled Sabo around to make it 9-5.

Charlton allowed a single to Lonnie Smith and walked Pendleton in the top of the sixth, but left them on, and Randy St. Claire kept the bases clear in the bottom of the inning. Only two runners reached in the seventh, and neither was still on base at the end of the inning, thought for very different reasons; Paul O'Neill was caught stealing in the bottom half, while Francisco Cabrera homered in the top, closing the deficit to three. Ted Power recovered from the longball with a flawless eighth, while Mark Wohlers allowed a pair of walks (to Quinones and Bill Doran), but no runs.

Rob Dibble relieved in the top of the ninth, and quickly set down Pendleton and Gant. Justice kept the game alive with a two-out double, and Hunter walked, bringing the tying run to the plate in the person of... Francisco Cabrera. As per not-yet-established tradition, Cabrera turned on Dibble's 0-1 pitch for a game-tying, ninth-inning, three-run homer. Mike Stanton allowed a Morris single but nothing else, sending the game into extras.

Dibble set the Braves down in order in the tenth; Stanton gave up a double to Quinones and intentionally walked Oliver, then coaxed a double play from pinch hitter Carmelo Martinez to end the rally. Randy Myers yielded a leadoff single to Pendleton in the eleventh, and two outs later, Gant (who had reached on a force) advanced to third on a steal-and-error before being left there. Stanton once again gave up a single to Morris in the home half of the inning, and once again left him at first.

Three batters drew walks in the twelfth (Mark Lemke from Myers in the top of the inning, Quinones and Oliver from Tony Castillo in the bottom), but none of them scored. Myers remained on the mound for the thirteenth and quickly got into trouble, walking Greg Olson and giving up a single to Pendleton. Gant hit into a force at second, but Justice doubled the go-ahead run home. Things took a brief upturn for the Reds from there, as Gant was thrown out trying to score on an insufficiently wild pitch and Hatcher and Larkin singled and walked to start the bottom of the inning, but Castillo then retired Cincinnati's 3-4-5 hitters to end the game.

As you might expect, a game with a final score of 10-9 featured quite a few exemplary offensive contributors. One of the biggest was eventual NL MVP Terry Pendleton, who went 4 for 5 with two walks, two runs and an RBI. His single in the first brought home the game's opening run, his single in the third moved the tying run into scoring position (and set Pendleton himself up to score the go-ahead tally later in the inning), and after he contributed to a few squandered scoring chances, his hit in the thirteenth moved the eventual decisive run to second. In all, Pendleton produced a WPA of +.411 in this game, the second-best single-game figure of his MVP-winning season.

And yet, it was not the game's most important effort. Pendleton was outdone by Cincinnati's Luis Quinones, who was generally a very bad hitter, but who in this game had three extra-base hits, two walks and one HBP in six plate appearances. Quinones doubled in the tying and go-ahead runs in the first, was plunked to load the bases in a go-ahead rally in the fourth, and tripled home a run in the fifth. As the game narrowed from there, he was one of the few productive Red hitters, providing two walks and a double which his teammates promptly squandered. But his six times on base still led to a WPA of +.464, the second-highest of his eight-year big league career.

But excellent though his game was, Quinones is also not the day's biggest star. No, that honor goes to one of baseball's most famous scrubs: Francisco Cabrera. His bases-loaded walk in the third put the Braves in front, his solo homer in the seventh pulled them within three, and from that point, of course, his three-run homer in the ninth tied it. And his standing on the team was so high that immediately after that game-tying three-run homer, he was double-switched out of the lineup.

Truncated though it was, Cabrera's day was worthy of a +.510 WPA. That's the highest he would achieve in his MLB career... at least in the regular season.

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