Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Game of the Day (8/24/91)

Phillies 6, Braves 5. Philadelphia's Danny Cox, who had once been a capable regular starter and was now struggling to come back from injury, faced Atlanta's John Smoltz, whose career would eventually include stretches of both of those types - and several others as well.

Smoltz was flawless in the first, while Cox walked Otis Nixon, who was immediately caught stealing. John Kruk led off the second with a single and advanced on each of the next two outs, but moved no further and was the only runner to reach for either side in the frame. The third was the first multi-baserunner inning in the game, but Smoltz's single and Nixon's walk both came with two outs, and neither led to any scoring.

Wally Backman walked and Kruk singled in the top of the fourth, but Backman was picked off before Kruk's hit, defusing the potential rally in advance. In the home fourth, David Justice doubled with one out, and Lonnie Smith reached on a wild third strike. Brian Hunter then made the Phillies pay for the miscue, launching a three-run homer to open the scoring.

Philadelphia rallied promptly in the fifth, starting with a walk and steal from Darren Daulton. Dickie Thon doubled Daulton home, and one out later, Cox singled Thon around. A groundout moved Cox to second, Backman walked, and Wes Chamberlain doubled Cox in to tie the game. Randy St. Claire relieved Smoltz at that point and intentionally walked Kruk to load the bases before retiring Dale Murphy to end the inning.

Atlanta jumped back in front in the bottom of the fifth. St. Claire led off with a single; Nixon hit into a force, but then stole second. After the second out, Terry Pendleton's single brought Nixon in with the go-ahead run.

St. Claire and Cox were both flawless in the sixth. St. Claire also recorded the first two outs of the seventh without difficulty, but then allowed singles to Backman and Chamberlain. Kent Mercker relieved him and fell behind Kruk 3-1, then served up a single. Backman came home with the tying run, and Justice committed a throwing error that allowed Chamberlain to scamper around as well and put the Phillies ahead for the first time in the game. Jim Clancy came on and retired Murphy to mitigate the damage

Wally Ritchie worked around a Keith Mitchell single in the home seventh, while Clancy allowed a Mickey Morandini double and nothing else in the eighth. Mitch Williams then took over for the bottom of the eighth, and the results were... not atypical. Pendleton led off with a single, and Justice and pinch hitter Ron Gant both walked to load the bases with nobody out. Williams recovered to retire the next three hitters, but the second of them, Greg Olson, hit a sacrifice fly that tied the game at 5.

Tony Castillo assumed pitching duties in the top of the ninth, tasked with preserving the tie and giving his teammates another crack at Wild Thing. With one out, he failed swiftly, giving up a go-ahead home run to Charlie Hayes. Williams had a much calmer second inning of work, allowing only a two-out walk to Mark Lemke in finishing off the Braves.

I've spent much of this year beating the foreshadowing drum pretty hard whenever we've encountered a Braves or Twins game. This one, however, doesn't lead up to the 1991 postseason as much as it does 1993. These two teams would meet in the NLCS two years from now, and the Phillie lineup would spend that series rattling the excellent Atlanta rotation, then praying their lineup had done enough to withstand the inevitable entry of Mitch Williams.

Which, in this case, they hadn't initially. But it worked out in the end anyway.

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