Sunday, September 11, 2016

Game of the Day (9/11/91)

Quick question before we get down to this: If you were told that the Atlanta Braves threw a no-hitter in 1991, who would you guess was the pitcher responsible?

If your guess was "no single pitcher, but Kent Mercker was the starter," congratulations on probably already having known the answer!

That contest isn't the Game of the Day for two reasons. First, combined no-hitters aren't as cool as the individual efforts (scientifically speaking, of course). And second, even with the benefit of my arbitrary no-hitter adjustment, it loses out anyway, falling victim to Rangers 11, Angels 9 (12).

Texas's Brian Bohanon was in his second MLB season, and would go on to be a solidly below-average pitcher for the next decade, ending with a career ERA of 5.19 that was not helped by his last three years, which were spent in Coors Field at its most extreme. And yet, he still fared better overall than California's Scott Lewis, a fellow second-year hurler who would depart the majors for good after five seasons and under 200 total innings.

The Rangers got off to a quick start in the top of the first. With one out, Julio Franco singled, Rafael Palmeiro walked, and Ruben Sierra singled to score Franco. Kevin Reimer followed with a double that scored both remaining runners, though Reimer was thrown out trying for third on the play. The Angels responded in the bottom of the inning when Gary Gaetti doubled and Dave Winfield homered, pulling the team within 3-2, but Texas added a run to its lead in the second on an Ivan Rodriguez single and a Gary Pettis double. Pettis then stole third but was left there.

Lee Stevens and Dave Gallagher began the home second with singles, but Bohanon retired the next three Angels to prevent any scoring. Lewis was perfect in the third, however, and the home half of that inning saw the Angels strike. Gaetti and Winfield began the rally with one-out walks. With two away, Stevens singled Gaetti home. Gallagher walked to load the bases and chase Bohanon, and new pitcher Wayne Rosenthal got off to an inauspicious start, committing a balk that brought the tying run home. Luis Sojo then reached on a bunt single that scored Stevens to put California in front.

Texas rallied swiftly in the top of the fourth; Mario Diaz walked to begin the inning, and Rodriguez and Jeff Huson singled to bring him around and chase Lewis from the mound. Chris Beasley came on in relief and saw Pettis bunt into a force at third; he then picked Huson off of second, hit Brian Downing with a pitch and allowed a Franco single to load the bases. And with that, his brief but tumultuous stint on the mound came to an end, and Scott Bailes got Palmeiro to fly out, ending the inning.

Rosenthal walked Gaetti and Winfield in the home fourth, but allowed nothing else, maintaining the 5-5 tie. Bailes worked around a leadoff walk to Sierra in the fifth. Stevens started the bottom of the inning with a double and moved to third on Gallagher's groundout; Rosenthal was then pulled for Terry Mathews, who retired Sojo but yielded a go-ahead RBI double to John Orton. Orton promptly moved to third on a wild pitch and came home on a single by Dick Schofield.

Joe Grahe replaced Bailes in the top of the sixth, and began his appearance by walking Huson. Pettis hit into a force, but then stole second and came home on a hit by Downing to pull his team within 7-6. Grahe retired the next two hitters, and the game actually settled into a pitching rhythm for a couple of innings, as Mathews set the Angels down 1-2-3 in the sixth, Grahe matched him in the seventh, and Mathews retired the first two batters of the home seventh as well. A walk to Soto and a double by Orton shook things up a bit, but Schofield flied out to leave them both in scoring position. Mark Eichhorn was perfect in the eighth; the Ranger pitchers were otherwise, as Goose Gossage allowed a leadoff hit to Shawn Abner and Kenny Rogers walked Wally Joyner with one out, but Lance Parrish hit into an inning-ending double play.

Bryan Harvey came on to try for the save in the top of the ninth, and the Rangers quickly went to work. Downing led off with a double, and Franco's single moved pinch runner Donald Harris to third. Palmeiro and Sierra flied out, but Sierra's was deep enough to score Harris with the tying run. Reimer then singled, and pinch hitter Geno Petralli walked to load the bases (and was pulled for pinch runner Dean Palmer, which, given that Palmer eventually played for over a decade in the majors and stole fewer than 50 bases, is an interesting phrase). Mike Stanley was up next, and delivered a tiebreaking two-run single that put the Rangers in front 9-7.

Having reclaimed the lead for the bottom of the ninth, Texas made a couple of defensive substitutions; Palmer took over at third base, and Juan Gonzalez replaced Reimer in left. (Which is an admittedly unusual version of the defensive lineup.) Jeff Russell assumed pitching duties, and quickly gave up singles to Max Venable and Gallagher, the latter of which was exacerbated by throwing errors from Palmeiro and Stanley that allowed Venable to score and Gallagher to take second. Russell recorded the next two outs, with Gallagher moving to third on the second of them, then allowed a game-tying RBI hit to Schofield before ending the inning to force extras.

Jeff Robinson, who had notched the last out of the top of the ninth, stayed in to work the tenth for the Angels. He allowed a single-and-steal to Franco with two outs, then intentionally walked Palmeiro before whiffing Sierra to end the threat. Barry Manuel was spotless in the home tenth, and he combined with Robinson on a six-up, six-down eleventh.

Robinson was still on the mound to open the twelfth, and struck out the first two Ranger hitters on a combined seven pitches. Pinch hitter John Russell then worked a walk, and Franco did the same, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position. Palmeiro followed with a two-run double to make it 11-9 in Texas's favor. Mike Fetters relieved, and after an intentional walk and a wild pitch, struck out Gonzalez to end the inning. Manuel then walked Donnie Hill and allowed him to move to third on a bunt and a wild pitch, but permitted no further baserunners before ending the game.

The two teams in this game combined for 29 hits (9 for extra bases) and 17 walks; that's nearly four baserunners per inning. Thanks to the constant presence of runners on base, they also combined for seven separate rallies that either tied the game or took a new lead. And yet, that remarkable total only captures one aspect of the madness that was this encounter. For the rest, look at the generally unnoticed sections of the boxscore: fielding, baserunning, and non-major pitching stats.

Baserunning first. The Rangers had three steals, one of which led to a run. They also had one runner picked off, in the middle of a rally in which the team would eventually leave the bases loaded.

Next, fielding. The Rangers turned one double play, extinguishing a serious rally in the eighth. They also had two errors - which were committed on the same play in the ninth, scoring one run and helping the Angels eventually tie the game. The Angels, meanwhile, had one outfield assist, throwing a Texas runner out at third to effectively end a high-scoring first inning.

And finally, minor pitching numbers. The Angels had a hit batter and the aforementioned pickoff - in the same inning, from the same pitcher, who faced only three batters in the game. They also issued two intentional walks; neither was followed by any scoring in their respective innings, but one came after the decisive runs had already scored. The Rangers, meanwhile, committed an excruciating game-tying balk in the early going. And finally (and least consequentially), the teams combined to have four different pitchers throw wild pitches, with Texas responsible for three of them.

The Rangers have been the most dramatic team of 1991 to date, and with this game (their fourth in the top 15 on the year so far) in the books, their lead in cumulative WPL looks almost unassailable. But as this game helpfully demonstrates, being an exciting team is not always a compliment. Indeed, it often means that a team is prone to games like this one, messy affairs in which both sides combine effectiveness and ineptitude in unforeseeable fashion until the game almost arbitrarily spits out a winner.

(In what is probably the opposite a coincidence, the Rangers led the AL in runs scored in 1991, and also allowed the most runs in the league. So whether they were ahead or behind, their games always remained in doubt until the last out was recorded.)

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