Thursday, August 4, 2016

Game of the Day (8/4/91)

Mariners 5, Angels 2 (12). The two starting pitchers in this game were not particularly similar in terms of performance... but both of them debuted with the Mariners, and both of them had four-letter first names that included the letters R and K in that order, along with last names that included A, N, S, O, N, also in that order.

On the other hand, Seattle's Erik Hanson was a 6-foot-6 right-hander who would end up throwing barely half as many career innings as California's Mark Langston, a notably shorter and significantly slimmer left-hander.

Langston was perfect in the first, and the Angels jumped into the early lead when Luis Sojo doubled and Wally Joyner homered in the bottom of the inning. Langston worked around a leadoff hit from Jay Buhner in the second; Hanson had a bit more trouble in the bottom of the inning, allowing a Dave Gallagher single, a wild pitch, and a walk before working out of the jam.

Seattle picked up a run in the top of the third when Edgar Martinez and Harold Reynolds both walked and Ken Griffey Jr. singled Martinez home. After a perfect inning from Hanson, they threatened again in the fourth on a walk to Tracy Jones and an error by Gary Gaetti that put runners at the corners with one out; Langston coaxed a double play ball from Dave Valle to escape.

Hanson threw two more flawless innings in a row, and each time Langston followed with an adventure. Jeff Schaefer and Reynolds both singled in the top of the fifth, but Langston retired Griffey and Buhner to leave them at second and third. In the sixth, Jones singled and Alonzo Powell doubled, but Pete O'Brien hit into a double play between them and Powell was left at second to end the inning. Sojo's leadoff walk in the home sixth went for naught, and Seattle finally cashed in another scoring chance in the seventh when Schaefer doubled, was bunted to third by Martinez, and scored on Reynolds's flyout. A walk to Griffey then ended Langston's day, and Mark Eichhorn took the mound in time to see Griffey caught stealing.

Hanson walked a pair of Angels in the seventh and left them on. Eichhorn combined with Scott Bailes on a 1-2-3 top of the eighth; Hanson was pulled after walking Sojo to begin the bottom of the inning, leaving Rob Murphy and Bill Swift to retire the next three hitters and maintain the tie. Bryan Harvey circumnavigated a Valle walk in the top of the ninth; Calvin Jones would have substantially more trouble in the bottom of the inning, starting with singles from Gallagher and Max Venable. Donnie Hill bunted the runners to second and third; Dick Schofield was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Luis Polonia hit into a double play, sending the game to extras at 2-2.

Harvey was perfect in the tenth; Jones walked Joyner and wild pitched him to second, but gave up nothing else. In the eleventh, Harvey gave up only a two-out hit to Greg Briley. Jones walked Gallagher to start the bottom of the inning; a bunt and a passed ball moved the winning run to third with one out. Schofield then walked, and Jones was pulled for Michael Jackson. Defensive indifference and an intentional walk to Polonia loaded the bases for Sojo, who flied out to extend the game.

Mike Fetters relieved Harvey in the twelfth and quickly got into trouble, walking Omar Vizquel and plunking Martinez. Reynolds hit into a force and Griffey struck out, putting Fetters one out from escape; Buhner then worked a full count before cranking a go-ahead three-run homer. Mike Schooler set the Angels down in order to end it.

The obvious place to start with this one is Jay Buhner, who at age 26 was on his way to playing 100 games for the first time in his career, and thriving as a hitter all the way there. The 27 homers he would hit in 1991 would remain a career high for the next few years - until he had three straight seasons of 40 or more starting in 1995.

But Buhner's homer didn't come until the twelfth inning - which means that after Wally Joyner went deep in the first, the Mariner pitchers had to post ten consecutive zeros. And they did it, despite the fact that they walked a total of 10 Angel hitters in that timeframe. California managed only three hits after the first inning, and none of them came in the 10 at bats they had with runners in scoring position. Of particular note were the many escapes of Calvin Jones, who allowed two hits and four walks in 2.2 innings of work, but kept the Angels off the board.

Sometimes, baseball can take an individual game and turn it into a larger lesson about the sport. And sometimes, if you blow 10 consecutive RISP chances in a close game, Jay Buhner beats you with a home run. There's not much to learn from that, other than "don't blow 10 consecutive RISP chances in a close game." Which is a lesson that is neither surprising nor helpful.

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