Friday, September 23, 2016

Game of the Day (9/23/91)

Rangers 11, Mariners 4 (11). The pitchers were Texas's Brian Bohanon and Seattle's Randy Johnson. It was not a particularly even matchup at the time, and it would appear far less so as the decade progressed.

Johnson started the top of the first by walking both Brian Downing and Monty Fariss, but a strikeout and a pair of forceouts ended the inning with no runs scoring. Seattle then took the lead in the home half of the inning when Harold Reynolds doubled and Ken Griffey Jr. singled him home. Griffey, having taken second on the throw to the plate, would advance to third on a wild pitch and score on Jay Buhner's sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.

Texas responded in the top of the second. Walks to Ivan Rodriguez, Donald Harris, and Downing would load the bases with two outs. Fariss then singled two men home to tie the game, and Ruben Sierra's single pushed across one more to take the lead. Bohanon was spotless in the home second. In the third, Johnson walked Mike Stanley, but erased him on a double play. Bohanon would give up one-out hits to Reynolds and Griffey, then plunk Buhner to load the bases, but a strikeout and a groundout allowed him to escape unscathed.

Johnson threw a 1-2-3 fourth, while Bohanon countered a leadoff hit from Alonzo Powell with a double play. Griffey's walk in the fifth made him the only baserunner from either side in the frame; the sixth also saw only one man reach safely, but this time it was Powell, who hit a game-tying solo homer.

The Big Unit got back into trouble in the seventh, sandwiching hits by Harris and Sierra around a Fariss walk to load the bases with two outs before stranding all three runners. Terry Mathews relieved Bohanon in the bottom of the inning and allowed a single to Edgar Martinez; with two outs, he was pulled for Kenny Rogers, who gave up a double to Griffey before coaxing a Buhner groundout to strand both runners in scoring position.

Calvin Jones took over for Johnson in the eighth, and walked Rafael Palmeiro to begin the inning. One out later, pinch hitter Kevin Reimer singled; Palmeiro advanced to third, but Reimer was thrown out trying to stretch his hit, defusing a potentially promising rally. Rogers worked around a Powell double in the home eighth. Jones was spotless in the ninth; Rogers gave up a double to Martinez with one away, then intentionally walked Griffey before being lifted with two out. Greg Briley greeted Jeff Russell with a base-loading single before Alvin Davis fouled out to send the game to extras.

Sierra led off the tenth with a single against Bill Swift, but was wiped out on a double play. Russell retired the first two hitters in the home tenth; Omar Vizquel then reached on a Sierra error and Scott Bradley walked before Martinez hit into an inning-ending force.

And then came the top of the eleventh. Mike Schooler took the mound and struck out Dean Palmer. Gary Pettis then walked, stole second, and moved to third on Geno Petralli's flyout. Up next was pinch hitter Julio Franco, whose bunt hit scored Pettis with the go-ahead run... at which point the metaphorical roof caved in. Franco stole second, Downing walked, and a wild pitch moved Franco to third. Mario Diaz singled to score Franco, and Sierra's single plated Downing. Dave Burba relieved and failed to stem the onslaught, as Juan Gonzalez doubled two men home. Palmeiro was intentionally walked, and Palmer followed that with a double that scored both runners. Pettis and Petralli both singled, bringing Palmer in, and Franco finally struck out to end the eight-run deluge.

Had the top of the inning stopped after one or two runs, the bottom half would have been suspenseful. Wayne Rosenthal walked Pat Lennon, who came around to score on hits by Briley and Davis. A two-out walk to Powell loaded the bases before Vizquel hit into a game-ending force.

The obvious headline in this game was the eight-run eleventh inning. But like any extra-inning game, this one featured plenty of opportunities for both teams in regulation. And for the Mariners, those chances look particularly painful in retrospect. Seattle had: the bases loaded with one out in the third, a runner at second with one out in the fourth, two men in scoring position with two outs in the seventh, a runner at second with two outs in the eighth, the bases loaded with two outs in the ninth, and runners at first and second with two outs in the tenth. They scored no runs in any of those innings. If they had, the Texas chainsaw massacre in the eleventh never would have happened.

Bonus note: Seattle's chances were not particularly enhanced by the general lack of control from their pitching staff, which walked 11 batters in 11 innings. Most notable, of course, was Randy Johnson, who walked seven. Most pitchers probably don't walk seven batters in a game even once in the average season, but this was the third of four games in 1991 in which Johnson would issue seven free passes - and that's not counting the two games in which he walked eight. Or the game in which he walked TEN.

It would be fair to say that control was not the strong point for young Randy Johnson. It would also be fair to say that he improved with time; 13 years after this season, he would lead the NL in pitching WAR (for the fifth time in six years), and his walk rate in 2004 was less than a quarter of what it had been in 1991.

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