Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Game of the Day (8/31/91)

A's 9, Tigers 8 (10). Detroit's Walt Terrell faced Oakland's Mike Moore. So it's the same two teams as yesterday's homerfest, but with worse starting pitchers going.

(All right, to be fair, Moore had a very good 1991, and Terrell wasn't completely terrible.)

Both teams put an excellent top-of-the-order hitter on base in the first inning, but Lou Whitaker was left on after doubling, and Rickey Henderson's walk was countered by a double play. In the second, Travis Fryman singled and Pete Incaviglia walked, but Moore stranded them both; Dave Henderson and Mark McGwire drew free passes in the bottom of the inning, but Jamie Quirk hit into a twin killing to allow Moore to escape. Both starters then worked 1-2-3 innings in the third.

Detroit took the game's first lead in the top of the fourth. Cecil Fielder led off with a single, and Rob Deer took a one-out walk. Fryman then doubled Fielder home, Pete Incaviglia walked to load the bases, and Milt Cuyler doubled, scoring two more men to make it 3-0. Lloyd Moseby and Whitaker failed to extend the lead, grounding out and fouling out respectively. (Note for future reference that despite scoring three runs, the Tigers were actually relatively inefficient here - their baserunners failed to score from first on both of the team's doubles, and they left multiple runners in scoring position with one out.) Terrell preserved the new lead nicely, working around singles by Harold Baines and Dave Henderson in the home fourth. Three more baserunners would reach in the fifth, but Mickey Tettleton's single and walks to Deer and Mike Bordick would amount to no scoring.

Incaviglia walked to begin the sixth. Cuyler bunted into a force, but then stole second. Moseby walked behind him, and Whitaker followed with a two-run double that chased Moore from the mound. Whitaker greeted reliever Steve Chitren with a steal of third, and Alan Trammell singled him home to make it 6-0. Given that Terrell had a shutout going and was striking out better than a batter per inning to this point, the lead probably felt pretty secure.

It was not. Ernie Riles led off the home sixth with a single, and Jose Canseco walked. Baines doubled both men home to end the shutout. Dave Henderson and McGwire singled, bringing Baines home and chasing Terrell. Paul Gibson allowed an RBI single to Terry Steinbach and an RBI double to Mike Gallego, closing the margin to 6-5. Bordick flied out, and Rickey Henderson was intentionally walked to load the bases. Kevin Ritz took over for Gibson, and hit Brook Jacoby with his second pitch, forcing in the tying run. Canseco added a go-ahead sacrifice fly before Jeff Kaiser, the inning's fourth pitcher, finally brought the downpour to a merciful close.

One might expect an inning like that to break a team's spirit. That does not seem to have been the case here. Deer led off the seventh with a walk, and Skeeter Barnes pinch ran. One out later, Rick Honeycutt supplanted Chitren on the mound and served up back-to-back doubles to Incaviglia and Cuyler, which scored the tying and go-ahead runs. Moseby walked, Whitaker struck out, Cuyler and Moseby double-stole second and third, and Gene Nelson came on to retire Trammell and limit the margin to one run.

Dan Gakeler was called in for the bottom of the seventh, and had an eventful inning. Dave Henderson led off with a single and advanced on a wild pitch. McGwire walked, and two outs later, another wild pitch moved the runners to second and third. Bordick then walked to load the bases before Gakeler escaped. After Nelson set the Tigers down 1-2-3 in the eighth, Gakeler was given another chance to walk the tightrope. Jacoby and Canseco started the home eighth with singles, and a one-out wild pitch (of course) advanced them to second and third. Dave Henderson was intentionally walked, and McGwire then hit a sacrifice fly, bringing home the tying run.

Nelson was yanked after a one-out walk to Incaviglia in the top of the ninth, and Joe Klink ended the inning undramatically. John Cerutti had a much more interesting bottom of the inning, starting with a Fryman error that put Gallego on first. A bunt, an intentional walk, and a double play provided the rest of the inning's entertainment, and sent the game to extras.

Whitaker led off the tenth with a single and was bunted to second, after which Dennis Eckersley replaced Klink. Fielder was intentionally walked, and Tettleton struck out. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third; Eckersley then put pinch hitter Tony Phillips on base on purpose, and coaxed a foulout from Fryman to leave the bases loaded.

Canseco began the bottom of the tenth with a walk. Scott Brosius hit the ball back to the mound, and Cerutti threw wildly in trying to force Canseco, leaving both runners safe. One out later, McGwire singled to score Canseco with the winning run - his second walkoff hit in two days.

Look at the bullpen usage in this game once the A's scored their seven runs in the sixth. There's a definite pattern for each team: Oakland yanked its pitchers at the first sign of trouble (not always to their benefit, as Steve Chitren was pulled after a walk and Rick Honeycutt gave up two consecutive doubles afterward), while Detroit expected its relievers to escape their own jams (which they did sometimes). Ultimately, both bullpens gave up the same number of runs in that stretch of the game, so this obviously isn't enough information to evaluate the merit of either strategy - but the A's did end up with the win.

Also, their quicker hooks allowed the fans at this game to see a veritable baseball unicorn. With two out and two on in the tenth, Dennis Eckersley threw a wild pitch. The last time he had thrown one was on April 9, 1987, in his first game with the A's. The next time would be May 20, 1997, after leaving Oakland for St. Louis.

Which means that in the entire decade between those two dates, spanning roughly 700 innings, Eckersley threw one wild pitch: this one. That's some impressive control - and yet, it's obscure enough that I wonder if the four-plus year span since his last WP even qualified for a mention on one of the radio broadcasts.

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