Saturday, September 17, 2016

Game of the Day (9/17/91)

Mariners 5, Blue Jays 4 (11). Toronto started Juan Guzman, an outstanding rookie who was called up partway through the season, against Seattle's Erik Hanson, a solid veteran. (It's a bit of September role reversal, as one might expect the promising youngster to be a recent promotion for a .500 team, facing the tenured pitcher on the contender.)

Toronto threatened in the first, starting with a one-out Roberto Alomar single. Joe Carter reached on a Dave Cochrane error, and the runners stole their way to second and third, but Hanson struck out Kelly Gruber and John Olerud to strand them. Guzman walked Ken Griffey Jr. in the bottom of the inning, but allowed nothing else. Hanson was spotless in the second, while Guzman worked around singles from Alvin Davis and Cochrane.

The Jays took the game's first lead in the top of the third. Rene Gonzales led off with a single, then moved to second on a groundout and third on a balk. Alomar followed with a single that brought him home, and proceeded to steal second, but Carter and Gruber fouled out and struck out, respectively, to leave him in scoring position. Guzman walked Harold Reynolds and gave up a two-out hit to Pete O'Brien that put runners on the corners, but escaped with no scoring.

Olerud led off the fourth with a single, and Candy Maldonado doubled immediately thereafter, but Olerud was thrown out trying to score from first on the play, and Hanson left Maldonado at second. Seattle rallied in the home fourth, as Jay Buhner singled, took second on a groundout, and scored on a single by Omar Vizquel. But Toronto recaptured the lead in the fifth via a Devon White single, a Carter RBI double, and a Gruber RBI triple. A two-out walk to Maldonado ended Hanson's day, leaving Dave Fleming to close out the inning.

Guzman was spotless in the home fifth, and his teammates extended their lead against Gene Harris in the sixth. Gonzales and White started the rally with one-out singles, and Alomar reached on an error by Reynolds to load the bases. Carter flied to right, and Gonzales tried for home, scoring successfully thanks to a Buhner throwing error. Seattle got that run back in their half of the sixth, courtesy of a Davis double and a Cochrane single.

Harris was perfect in the top of the seventh, and Guzman was pulled after Vizquel singled and Greg Briley walked to begin the bottom of the inning. Vince Horsman relieved and saw Reynolds bunt the runners to second and third; he then intentionally walked Griffey to load the bases, and followed by unintentionally walking O'Brien to force in a run. David Wells relieved to face Davis and coaxed a double play to preserve the last run that remained of the lead.

Michael Jackson set the Jays down 1-2-3 in the eighth; Duane Ward had a bit more trouble in the bottom of the inning, walking Cochrane and allowing a single to Vizquel, but also avoided lasting damage. Jackson gave up a double to Carter in the ninth, and was relieved by Russ Swan with two outs; Swan stranded Carter at third, giving his teammates a final chance to close their deficit.

The bottom of the ninth got off to a fine start for the Mariners when Reynolds tripled against Tom Henke. The Toronto closer rallied to whiff Griffey, but O'Brien followed with a game-tying RBI single. Henke allowed no further fair balls in the inning, drawing a foulout from Davis and fanning Buhner to send the game to extras. Mike Schooler and Jim Acker took over pitching duties to begin the additional frames, and neither allowed anyone to reach in the tenth; Schooler was flawless in the eleventh as well.

Briley led off the bottom of the eleventh with a single; Reynolds bunted him to second, and Acker intentionally walked Griffey. Bob MacDonald took the mound and walked O'Brien to load the bases, then struck out Davis. In came David Weathers to face Buhner; the slugger worked a full count, and then drew ball four as well, forcing in the winning run.

I have spent an almost absurd amount of digital ink over the last several months in the praise of the bullpen of the 1991 Toronto Blue Jays. So it's only fair that I spend a substantial portion of this post pointing out that this game was, shall we say, less than a tour de force from that vaunted relief corps.

The totals: 4.2 innings, four hits, four strikeouts, six walks (!), two runs allowed (plus one additional run allowed to score that was charged to starter Juan Guzman), -.249 WPA. The last of those numbers looks much worse if you leave off David Wells's single plate appearance on the mound, in which he induced a lead-saving double play with the bases loaded (good for a +.308). Tom Henke's blown lead in the ninth was painful, but so was the surplus of walks issued by the lesser members of the bullpen (Horsman, Acker, MacDonald, and the game-ender from Weathers).

Sadly, the group's struggles were not limited to this game; they would continue into the postseason, in which the Jay relievers would pitch 22 ALCS innings, allow 10 runs, and absorb two losses as the team went down in five games.

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