Thursday, August 25, 2016

Game of the Day (8/25/91)

Rangers 8, Royals 4 (11). Texas's Bobby Witt and KC's Mark Gubicza both had careers over 2000 innings long and won over 130 games. So it would be something of an understatement to say that both of them had their share of good moments in the majors.

But virtually none of those good moments came in 1991 for either pitcher; neither would qualify for the ERA title and Gubicza's 5.68 ERA was the lower among the two of them.

Gubicza gave up a single and steal to Julio Franco in the top of the first, but left the runner at second. Witt also saw a runner reach second when George Brett doubled, and also allowed him no further advance. Gubicza threw a 1-2-3 second inning - and unlike in the first, the two halves of the inning were not at all similar this time.

Todd Benzinger began the home second with a single, and Bill Pecota walked. David Howard bunted the runners to second and third, and Terry Shumpert walked behind them, loading the bases. Tim Spehr then singled two runners home to open the scoring, and Brian McRae's single sent Shumpert around to make it a 3-0 game. Witt recovered to strand the remaining pair of runners.

Neither starter put anyone on in the third, and Texas produced its first run in the top of the fourth when Franco, Kevin Reimer, and Juan Gonzalez all singled. The Royals threatened in the home half when Spehr walked, stole second, and took third on a wild pitch, but McRae took strike three to leave him there. Danny Tartabull's walk made him the only player on either side to reach in the fifth.

With one out in the sixth, Ruben Sierra and Reimer both singled. Tom Gordon was brought in to replace Gubicza, and promptly made that look like a dubious decision by serving up a game-tying two-run triple to Gonzalez. Gordon settled in quickly, however, striking out the next two Rangers to leave the go-ahead run at third. Witt threw a 1-2-3 sixth, and Gordon's seventh matched it.

Kenny Rogers supplanted Witt in the bottom of the seventh; he gave up a double on an 0-2 count to McRae, followed by a single on a 1-2 count to Gibson, putting KC back in front. Brett hit into a double play to end the inning, but Gordon's spotless eighth put the Royals three outs away from victory, and they nearly improved their odds further when Terry Mathews gave up a single to Tartabull and walked Benzinger in the bottom of the eighth. A flyout and a double play ended the inning with the one-run margin having been maintained.

Jeff Montgomery entered for the ninth inning and recorded a quick first out. Dean Palmer then tripled, putting the tying run 90 feet away. Geno Petralli hit for Ivan Rodriguez (which sounds weird, except that Rodriguez was a recently-promoted rookie) and grounded out, with Palmer holding at second. Brian Downing then hit for Jose Hernandez and got a better result, singling to center to bring home the tying run. Montgomery ended the inning with the next hitter, but the damage was done, and Mathews set the Royals down in order to force extras.

Franco walked in the top of the tenth, thereby becoming the inning's only baserunner. The same was definitely not the case in the eleventh. Storm Davis relieved Montgomery in the top of the inning and quickly got into trouble, walking Gonzalez and allowing a single to Palmer. Petralli bunted the runners to second and third, and Steve Buechele then delivered a pinch single to score both men. Gary Pettis struck out, but Rafael Palmeiro doubled Buechele around, and Franco then singled Palmeiro home. Jeff Russell walked Pecota in the bottom of the inning, but no other runners reached before the end of the game.

The 1991 Rangers are a pretty interesting team. In terms of value for their entire careers, the worst player in their starting lineup was probably Kevin Reimer, a capable hitter who could not field even a little. Next up would be Jose Hernandez, whose claim to fame was coming very close to the single-season strikeout record twice (with totals that have been far surpassed many times in the two decades since), but who was a halfway competent hitter who could play shortstop, and made the All-Star team in his best year. The other seven starters were: Rafael Palmeiro, Julio Franco, Ruben Sierra, Juan Gonzalez, Dean Palmer, Ivan Rodriguez, and Gary Pettis. None of them are Hall of Famers as of yet, but there's quite a collection of All-Star nods, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, and even a few MVPs in that group. If you replace Reimer with Brian Downing, who came off the bench in this one (and tied the game with his ninth-inning single), the list of accomplishments grows even further. And that's leaving out a pitching staff that included Nolan Ryan, Kevin Brown, and Kenny Rogers.

The core of this group would remain largely intact, and would form the backbone of the Rangers' division winning teams of the late '90s. By then, however, Franco, Sierra, Pettis, and Hernandez had aged and moved on, Ryan was long since retired, and Brown was winning ERA titles in the NL.

You can probably make this comment for at least half the teams in the league at any given time, but: if you had all of these players in their prime at once, this would have been a dynamite baseball team.

As it was, they were still above average, winning 85 games and coming in third in the AL West while laying the foundation for better things. And with apologies to the game-tying and game-winning hits from two different pinch hitters in the eighth spot, Juan Gonzalez, the key player in this one (2 for 4 with a triple and three RBI) was one of the best signs they had going forward.

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