Saturday, September 24, 2016

Game of the Day (9/24/91)

Pirates 10, Mets 8. The starters were both veterans whose best years had been in the '80s, and who would end their careers with records around 25 games over .500. But there's still a wide range of quality possible with those two descriptions, and Pittsburgh's Bob Walk was significantly lower on the available spectrum than New York's Frank Viola.

Viola was perfect in the first, while Walk worked around a base on balls to Kevin McReynolds. Viola issued a trio of free passes in the second (to Bobby Bonilla, Don Slaught, and Jose Lind), but left all three men on, and Walk gave up nothing in the home half of the inning. Gary Redus reached on a Gregg Jefferies error to begin the third, and one out later, Andy Van Slyke produced the game's first hit; it was a double, and Redus was thrown out trying to score on the play.

New York opened the scoring in the home third when Walk hit Keith Miller with a pitch, balked him to second, and gave up an RBI single to Daryl Boston, who was promptly caught stealing to end the inning. The Pirates responded swiftly in the fourth. Lloyd McClendon led off with a double, and singles by Steve Buechele, Slaught, Lind, and Walk combined to score two runs and load the bases with nobody out. Redus added a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1 before Jay Bell closed the rally by hitting into a double play. The Mets countered immediately, as McReynolds walked and Howard Johnson hit a two-run homer.

The pitching did not improve in the fifth. Van Slyke led off with a single, and Bonilla doubled him home, putting the Pirates in front again. McClendon then singled, chasing Viola from the game. Wally Whitehurst promptly plunked Buechele to load the bases, and Slaught swatted a two-run single to make it 6-3. Whitehurst retired two of the next three hitters, however, and Buechele provided the remaining out by getting caught stealing in the interim.

The bottom of the fifth went no better for the other starting pitcher. Jeff Gardner led off with a walk, and Charlie O'Brien and Miller both singled. Boston was up next, and he cracked the first pitch of his at bat for a go-ahead grand slam. One batter later (McReynolds reached on a Bell error), Walk was yanked for Bob Patterson, who allowed a base-loading pair of singles (Johnson and Mackey Sasser), then coaxed a popup from Jefferies and a double play from pinch hitter Mark Carreon to keep the game close.

Pittsburgh struck yet again in the top of the sixth. Jeff Innis walked Bell, gave up a single to Van Slyke, and walked Bonilla to load the bases with nobody out. He recovered to set down the next three hitters, but the first out, a force from McClendon, was sufficient to bring home a run that made it 7-7. Patterson then tossed a flawless home sixth, and the Pirates went back to work in the seventh. Lind led off with a single, and pinch hitter Orlando Merced singled as well, with an error by Johnson proving sufficient to put the runners on second and third. Redus grounded out, scoring Lind with the go-ahead run. Bell walked to drive Innis from the mound; Blaine Beatty replaced him and fared little better, with a Cecil Espy groundout scoring one run and singles by Gary Varsho and McClendon combining to bring in another. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third before Terry Bross relieved and set Buechele down to end the inning.

The Mets narrowed the gap in the home seventh against Bill Landrum on a Boston double and a Johnson single. Sasser singled as well, putting the tying runs on base, but the next two hitters went down.

And then the hitting stopped as suddenly as it had started. Burke retired the Pirates in order in the eighth; Vicente Palacios allowed a double to Miller and Rosario Rodriguez wild pitched the runner to third, but left him on. In the ninth, a Gardner error, a Carlos Garcia single, and an intentional walk of Varsho loaded the bases, but Burke stranded all three men, and Rodriguez had a runnerless ninth to end the game.

"(Pitcher) face (X) batters in the (Nth) inning." It's a note that appears fairly frequently below the pitching lines in the box score, and the degree to which it induces a sympathetic wince from other pitchers is directly proportional to the value of X. If it's 1, it might just be a situational lefty who failed to get his man, or a starter who was on a short leash in the seventh or eighth, and was yanked after a leadoff single. Anything bigger than that, and you've usually got trouble.

In the top of the fifth in this game, Frank Viola faced three batters and was pulled without retiring any of them. Bob Walk bettered him in the bottom of the inning, going five deep (including a go-ahead grand slam) with no outs recorded.

The fact that both starters (neither of whom was a bad pitcher) had that ill-omened notice attached to their performance lines does a fairly good job of capturing the madness of this game's middle section, in which they combined to produce either a reforged tie or a new lead in six consecutive half-innings (and seven of eight if you stretch to the top of the seventh). It's also fairly representative that one of the players, Daryl Boston, had one of the best games of an 11-year career, with 5 RBI (career high) and a WPA of +.475 (second-highest in his career)... and his team still lost.

Now imagine if this had been part of a pennant race!

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