Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Game of the Day (9/21/91)

Angels 4, White Sox 3. California started Kyle Abbott; he was the second Abbott on their pitching staff in 1991, and the less effective of the two. Which is... let's just say it's not the most noteworthy difference between the Abbotts, and move on. He was opposed by Chicago's hyper-veteran knuckleballer, Charlie Hough.

Hough was perfect in the first, while Abbott worked around a Frank Thomas single. Dave Winfield led off the top of the second with a walk, and moved to second on Luis Sojo's one-out single; Dave Gallagher then doubled to score both of them. In the bottom of the second, Abbott walked Craig Grebeck and hit Mike Huff. The Sox tried to bail Abbott out of the rally he'd helped them create, as Sammy Sosa bunted into a force at third and Huff was then caught stealing, but Ron Karkovice walked and Ozzie Guillen singled to score Sosa. After a 1-2-3 top of the third, the Sox pulled ahead in the bottom of the inning when Thomas walked and Bo Jackson homered.

The pitchers settled in nicely during the middle innings; Karkovice's fourth-inning single was promptly countered by a double play, and he was the only player on either side to reach in the fourth or fifth. The Angels reawakened in the sixth, tying the game on a Luis Polonia single, a Dick Schofield walk, a Lee Stevens sac bunt and a Winfield sac fly. Abbott walked Jackson to start the bottom of the inning; a bunt moved him to second, but he was then thrown out trying for third on Huff's grounder to short, and Huff was promptly caught stealing to end the inning.

Sojo led off the seventh with a single, but was caught stealing one out later. You'd think that would end the rally, but John Orton walked and Shawn Abner singled, chasing Hough from the mound. Ken Patterson walked Polonia to load the bases before Brian Drahman coaxed a force from Schofield to strand all three men. Karkovice reached third in the home seventh on a single, a balk, and a groundout, but the Sox failed to bring him home, and California pulled ahead in the top of the eighth. Winfield's one-out single ended Drahman's outing. With two away, Sojo hit a soft grounder up the third base line. New pitcher Melido Perez fielded it and committed a throwing error, allowing Winfield to come all the way around from first with the tiebreaking run.

Mark Eichhorn notched the first two outs of the eighth, then walked Jackson and was relieved by Bryan Harvey. Pinch runner (sigh) Rodney McCray stole second before being left there. Roberto Hernandez gave up a one-out double to Abner in the top of the ninth and was replaced by Scott Radinsky; Polonia greeted the new pitcher with an infield hit, but Abner held at second on the play, and Radinsky set down the next two hitters to keep the margin to a lone run. That run proved perfectly sufficient, as Harvey fanned three consecutive pinch hitters in the bottom of the ninth to end the game.

At a glance, neither of the two best players in this game by WPA had particularly noteworthy careers. Neither of them reached a total of 3000 plate appearances, or scored or drove in as many as 500 runs. Both of their batting records have a solitary bit of black ink: one led the AL in strikeouts once, the other in sacrifice bunts.

And yet, both of them carved out a distinct niche in baseball history. Despite never qualifying for the batting title (his 402 plate appearances in 1991 were a career high), Luis Sojo lasted 13 years as a utility infielder - and his spot on the Yankees' roster in the late '90s led to a decent number of postseason highlights, most notably a tiebreaking ninth-inning single in the clinching fifth game of the 2000 World Series.

The other player? Bo Jackson, the astounding multi-sport athlete whose career was shortened by health issues, but who still managed to play some pretty respectable baseball in his time (and produce some highly memorable highlights).

Jackson's meteorite had nearly completed its all-too-brief streak across the baseball sky; Sojo, meanwhile, had just started out on a career that looks roughly like a mid-sized campfire in comparison to Jackon's shooting star. But their wildly different careers managed to converge on this particular moment in baseball history, and produced a pretty good game in the meeting.

Which is kind of cool.

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