Friday, September 16, 2016

Game of the Day (9/16/91)

Dodgers 6, Reds 5 (12). Both starters in this game would narrowly exceed 100 innings for the 1991 season. LA's Orel Hershiser was a recent ace slowly working his way back into form after destroying his shoulder a year earlier; Cincinnati's Scott Scudder took the more conventional path to that total and was just a mediocre swingman.

Hershiser gave up a single to Bill Doran to start the game, but a forceout and a double play brought the top of the first to a close, and Scudder set the Dodgers down in order in the bottom of the inning. Cincinnati opened the scoring in the second, as Chris Sabo singled, Hershiser balked him to second, and Billy Hatcher's single brought him home. LA replied in the home half, starting when Kal Daniels walked, stole second, and moved to third on Mike Scioscia's single. Juan Samuel walked to load the bases, and Alfredo Griffin hit a foul sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1.

Hershiser was flawless in the third, while Scudder worked around a leadoff walk to Brett Butler. The Reds went down 1-2-3 again in the fourth; Samuel doubled and Griffin was intentionally walked in the bottom of the inning, and Hershiser then flied out to strand them. In the fifth, Hershiser kept the bases clear yet again, and the Dodgers grabbed their first lead in the home half when Butler doubled, was bunted to third, and came home on Darryl Strawberry's sacrifice fly. Eddie Murray followed with a single, and Daniels walked, but Scioscia grounded out to leave them both on.

Doran broke Hershiser's run of perfection with a one-out single in the top of the sixth... and was promptly caught stealing. Nobody else from either team joined him on base in the inning. Paul O'Neill singled and was left on in the seventh, and Scudder was spotless for the second inning in a row.

The bullpens took over in the eighth. Jim Gott had a bit of trouble, starting when Hatcher singled and stole second; one out later, pinch hitter Eric Davis reached on a Griffin error, putting runners at the corners. Gott recovered, however, retiring Doran and Mariano Duncan. Norm Charlton allowed only a Scioscia single in the bottom of the inning, giving his teammates one more shot at their 2-1 deficit.

Hal Morris led off the ninth with a single, chasing Gott. John Candelaria allowed a pinch single to Carmelo Martinez, putting runners at the corners. Roger McDowell retired Sabo, and Steve Wilson coaxed a popup from Luis Quinones. Kevin Gross then relieved, making it five Dodger pitchers in a five-batter span; he gave up a game-tying hit to Hatcher and a go-ahead single to Jeff Reed before finally closing out the inning.

Rob Dibble relieved in the bottom of the ninth (and actually pitched the entire inning). Pinch hitter Dave Hansen led off with a single, and Stan Javier bunted; the Reds tried for the lead runner and didn't get him, putting runners at first and second. Butler fouled out, but Lenny Harris singled, scoring pinch runner Jose Offerman with the tying run. Dibble retired the next two hitters, sending the game to extras with both teams having blown saves in the ninth.

Gross worked around a Morris single in the top of the tenth; Ted Power didn't even allow that much in the bottom of the inning. In the eleventh, Tim Crews set the Reds down in order; Power walked Offerman and gave up a single to Butler in the home half, but Harris hit into an unorthodox double play, with his grounder to third getting Offerman thrown out at home, and Butler then apparently overrunning second and getting put out on a play scored 4-unassisted.

And then the fun really began. With one out in the top of the twelfth, rookie Chris Jones stepped to the plate; he would go on to a nine-year major league career, but average just under 125 plate appearances per season. On this particular day, however, he homered, putting the Reds in front 4-3. Doran and Duncan followed with singles, chasing Crews in favor of Dennis Cook. Cook walked Morris to load the bases, and young righthander John Wetteland relieved and walked Power to force in a run. Wetteland retired the next two hitters on foul popups to third, but the Dodgers still trailed 5-3.

Strawberry walked to begin the home twelfth, and Murray followed with an RBI triple. Mitch Webster walked as well, sending Power to the showers. Gino Minutelli whiffed pinch hitter Gary Carter, and Milt Hill was called to the mound to meet pinch hitter Eric Karros. Karros doubled, tying the game and moving the winning run to third; Offerman was intentionally walked to load the bases, Jeff Hamilton then stepped to the plate, having taken over third base in the tenth because the Dodgers were out of other options. A career .234/.263/.349 hitter, Hamilton would not have been most fans' first choice in a key spot in extra innings - but he delivered, stroking a walkoff RBI single.

Entering play on September 16, the Dodgers trailed the Braves in the NL West by a game and a half, with under 20 to go. The situation was not yet desperate, but the trend was in that direction. And that was especially true once Tommy Lasorda's unbelievable five-man relief carousel coughed up the lead in the ninth inning of this one.

Fortunately for LA, they rallied in the bottom of the ninth to force extras. Unfortunately, in the bottom of the eleventh, they blew runners-at-the-corners-with-one-out through what looks to be needlessly shoddy baserunning. And even less fortunately, the Reds grabbed the lead in the eleventh by way of an emerging career bench player hitting his first big league homer and a reliever drawing a bases-loaded walk in the last plate appearance of his career.

Happily, the madness was not confined to the top of the inning. Eddie Murray spent 21 seasons in the major leagues, accruing nearly 13000 plate appearances, and hit a total of 35 triples. By 1991, he was 35 years old, and his halcyon days of two- and three-triple seasons were largely behind him. In fact, entering this game, he had not tripled in over a year. So of course, he did so in the bottom of the twelfth inning, scoring one run and putting himself on third as the tying run with nobody out. Two batters later, Eric Karros was at the plate; he would go on to win Rookie of the Year in 1992, but in '91 was in the majors for a cup of coffee so brief it barely qualifies as an espresso shot. His double to tie the game was not only his first major league hit (and RBI), it was the only hit he would have in 1991.

And finally, there was Jeff Hamilton. Hamilton was not a future Hall of Famer like Murray; he wasn't even a future long-tenured starter like Karros. At age 27, he was in the sixth year of an undistinguished MLB tenure, one in which his career high OPS+ (in any amount of playing time) was 85. He would end 1991 with 99 plate appearances and a one-way ticket out of the big leagues; in fact, this would be the second-to-last major league game he would ever play.

So naturally, he got his final big league hit - a walkoff single. One that pulled LA within half a game of the division lead.

If you ignore the pennant race implications, and the sheer freakish confluence of career milestones that was the twelfth inning of this game, WPL looks at the ninth inning double rally and the twelfth inning double rally and scores it as the fifth-best game of 1991 so far. Now put all of that context back in the mix... and I'm not sure that it isn't the BEST game of 1991 so far.

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