Monday, September 19, 2016

Game of the Day (9/19/91)

Phillies 5, Expos 4 (10). Montreal's Brian Barnes was 24 and putting the finishing touches on a fairly unimpressive season in which he just missed qualifying for the ERA title; Philadelphia's Andy Ashby was 23, and pitched both less and worse. Neither pitcher's results looked terribly promising in 1991, but Ashby would go on to a solid 14-year career while Barnes would be out of the league after three more campaigns.

The Expos grabbed the lead in the top of the first on a Dave Martinez single and a Tim Wallach double. Barnes was perfect in the bottom of the inning, while Ashby allowed a leadoff double to Marquis Grissom in the second, then left him on. John Kruk drew a walk to begin the bottom of the second, and Dale Murphy singled. Charlie Hayes hit into a double play that moved Kruk to third, and Steve Lake singled to drive in the tying run. A wild pitch moved Lake to second before Braulio Castillo struck out to end the rally.

Montreal pulled ahead again in the third. Delino DeShields led off with a walk, Martinez singled, and a wild pitch moved them to second and third. John Vander Wal struck out, Wallach was hit by a pitch, and Larry Walker's sacrifice fly scored DeShields to break the tie. Grissom singled, loading the bases again, and yet another wild pitch brought Martinez home to make it 3-1. After Barnes worked around a Randy Ready walk in the home third, Spike Owen led off the fourth with a triple and scored on DeShields's single one out later to chase Ashby from the game. Steve Searcy relieved and retired the next two hitters to end the inning.

Kruk and Hayes singled in the bottom of the fourth, but Barnes induced a double play from Murphy in between the two hits, keeping any serious rally from developing. Walker singled, then moved to third on a steal-and-error in the fifth, but Searcy left him there, and Barnes set the Phils down in order in reply. Bruce Ruffin relieved in the sixth and allowed a Martinez double, but nothing else.

With one out in the sixth, Wes Chamberlain walked. The duo of Kruk and Hayes then struck again, much more decisively this time; Kruk homered to pull the Phillies within a run, and after Murphy fouled out, Hayes went deep as well to tie the game. One batter later, Barnes was pulled for Mel Rojas, who ended the inning without further drama.

Ruffin and Rojas were both spotless in the seventh. Joe Boever set the Expos down 1-2-3 in the eighth; Barry Jones allowed a single to Kruk and walked Hayes, and Scott Ruskin was called in to retire pinch hitter Ricky Jordan and end the inning. Wally Ritchie relieved in the top of the ninth and notched a quick first two outs. Pinch hitter Ivan Calderon then singled and stole second, and Ritchie intentionally passed Wallach, then retired Walker to end the threat. Ruskin walked Ready and allowed a single to Dickie Thon before escaping the home ninth to force extras.

Mitch Williams worked an uncharacteristically quiet tenth, retiring the side in order. In the bottom of the inning, Kruk struck again, leading off with a double. Murphy followed with a single, on which Kruk was thrown out trying to score; Murphy at least took second on the throw, leading to an intentional walk to Hayes. Jeff Fassero then relieved Ruskin and retired Mickey Morandini, but Darrin Fletcher then singled to score Murphy with the winning run.

There were several baseball athletes of note involved in this game. Nearly a decade earlier, Dale Murphy was considered among the sport's most complete players; later on in the '90s, Larry Walker would display a similarly comprehensive skill set. Marquis Grissom was one of the fastest men in the game, on his way to the first of two consecutive 75-steal seasons. Throw in Tim Wallach, and you've got four players who would combine to win 19 Gold Gloves.

And then there was John Kruk, whose teams spent his entire decade-long career trying to figure out the least-damaging place they could hide his glove. (The natural option, DH, was not available until the last season of his career, when he finally moved to the AL.) A majority of Kruk's defensive innings were spent at first base, with substantial chunks in left and right field, and (inexplicably) just over 80 innings in center, all of which came in 1991. Even at those relatively safe positions, Kruk rates as a below-average fielder per Baseball Reference, and his baserunning also scores poorly.

And he still lasted ten solid years in the majors, because John Kruk could HIT. In this game, he went 4 for 4 with a walk, a double, and a homer, scoring two runs, driving in two, and starting the eventual winning rally (though he would be thrown out trying to score). His contributions added up to a WPA of +.495; that would be one of the best games in the careers of most players, but for Kruk, it was only his third best of 1991 alone.

The race, as they say, is not always to the swift. Especially when the slow hit like John Kruk.

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