Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Game of the Day (9/20/91)

A's 6, Blue Jays 5 (11). In 1990, Oakland's Bob Welch went 27-6 and won the Cy Young. Toronto's Todd Stottlemyre went 13-17 and exceeded Welch's ERA by nearly a run and a half (in the bad direction).

In 1991, Stottlemyre was the better pitcher of the two. Betting on consistent pitcher performance is not typically a winning proposition.

Devon White got the game off to a fine start for the Blue Jays with a leadoff homer. Roberto Alomar followed with a single, but was promptly caught stealing second, putting a damper on Toronto's chances of extending that lead - and in the bottom of the inning, Rickey Henderson drew a leadoff walk, scampered to third on a steal-and-error, and then came home with far less effort ahead of a two-run homer by Jose Canseco. Oakland went on to load the bases on a Brook Jacoby double and a pair of walks before Stottlemyre finally ended the inning.

Naturally, after the eventful first inning, both pitchers were flawless in the second (Welch struck out the side). The Jays tied it in the top of the third on a White single, an Alomar walk, and a Joe Carter single. Canseco singled and stole second in the bottom of the inning, but advanced no further. Dave Parker drew a walk in the top of the fourth; he was immediately caught stealing, and neither team managed another baserunner afterward. In the fifth, Welch issued two-out walks to both Alomar and Carter, but retired Kelly Gruber to strand them.

Oakland broke through again in the bottom of the fifth, and once again, Rickey Henderson started it with a walk. He moved to second on a groundout, and Stottlemyre intentionally walked Canseco. Harold Baines hit into a fielder's poor choice, as all three runners reached their bases safely, and Jacoby followed with a go-ahead sacrifice fly. A walk to Jamie Quirk spelled the end of Stottlemyre's start, and Mike Timlin was greeted by a two-run single from Mark McGwire that made it 5-2. (And yes, Mark McGwire's 1991 was bad enough that he was batting behind Jamie Quirk at this point in the season.) Another walk would reload the bases before Timlin finally closed out the inning.

Welch gave up a John Olerud single and walked Candy Maldonado to begin the sixth, and was quickly pulled. Joe Klink retired pinch hitter Pat Tabler, and was in turn relieved by Gene Nelson; Nelson's first at bat in the game went less well than Klink's, as he served up a three-run homer to Pat Borders, tying it at 5. Nelson set down the next two hitters, however. Timlin allowed a double to Canseco and intentionally walked Baines in the home sixth, but left them on. In the seventh, Nelson was pulled after Alomar led off with a single; Rick Honeycutt recorded two quick outs, but then allowed a double to Olerud and walked Maldonado to load the bases. Up next was Tabler, who you may know as the owner of one of the more famous small batting splits in baseball history: for his career, he hit nearly .500 (43 for 88) with the bases loaded. In this case, however, he grounded into an inning-ending forceout.

Timlin walked McGwire in the home seventh, but pinch runner Lance Blankenship was immediately caught stealing. Eric Show allowed a walk and steal to White in the eighth, but nothing else; Timlin then set Oakland's hitters down 1-2-3. Show walked another hitter in the ninth; this time, it was Olerud, who remained anchored to first. David Wells then worked a flawless home half to send the game to extras.

Rance Mulliniks led off the tenth with a single, and pinch runner Mookie Wilson made it to third on a bunt and a flyout before White struck out to leave him there. Wells worked around a Mike Gallego single in the bottom of the inning. Dennis Eckersley took over in the top of the eleventh and struck out the side (throwing in one foul-bunt strikeout for variety's sake). Duane Ward relieved in the home half of the inning and was greeted by a Henderson single; Rickey was at second two outs later, and stayed there when Baines was intentionally walked. Ernie Riles was summoned to pinch hit, and on a 2-2 count, singled to bring Henderson home with the winning run.

Two things stick out about this game, and they are closely related. The first is the extraordinary number of walks issued; the two pitching staffs combined to put 19 free runners on base in 11 innings (three of them intentional). The starters were particularly profligate, combining for 12 walks in 9.2 innings.

Spearheading this effort on the offensive side was Rickey Henderson, one of the greatest walk-takers of all time. Henderson was, of course, the best leadoff man in baseball history - and he showed it in this game. The A's scored in three different innings in this contest. Henderson led off in each of them, reached base, and scored a run. Outside of innings that Rickey led off, the Jays threw a shutout.

The leadoff man usually isn't solely responsible for all runs scored in an inning, of course. But it sure seems like having a good one is at least helpful.

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