Sunday, September 25, 2016

Game of the Day (9/25/91)

Entering play on September 25, there were two divisional races that could be considered closely contested. One of those was in the NL West, where the Dodgers led the Braves by two games - at least before the day began. But the Dodgers were thoroughly thrashed by the Padres, and the Braves were looking at a doubleheader against the unimpressive Reds. They took the first game, 2-1 in 10 innings, and with LA's loss, a sweep would have brought then within half a game of first place.

Instead, the nightcap went Reds 10, Braves 9 (10). The pitching matchup was an interesting one: Atlanta's Steve Avery, a 22-year-old in his third season as a full-time starter, faced Cincinnati's Randy Myers, a 28-year-old in his seventh year, but serving his first stint as a starter; this was his 12th start of 1991 after his entire career had been previously spent in the bullpen.

Myers's rotation stint worked out so well that this was the last game he would start in his entire career; he would remain in the majors until 1998, and spend the next seven years camped out in the bullpen.

The two teams both scored in the first inning, and in very similar fashion. With one out in the top of the first, Billy Hatcher singled, and Barry Larkin doubled him to third. Chris Sabo's single then scored both runners, and Sabo was thrown out at second on the play. In the home half of the first, the Braves loaded the bases with walks (to Jeff Blauser, Ron Gant, and David Justice); Brian Hunter then singled, two runs scored, and Justice was cut down trying for third, ending the inning - meaning that both halves of the frame featured a play that produced two runs and one out.

The top of the second saw Avery put Joe Oliver on second with a walk and a wild pitch, but Myers watched strike three to leave him there, and the Braves pulled ahead in the home half on singles by Greg Olson and Mark Lemke and a Lonnie Smith sacrifice fly. Cincinnati then managed to score on a non-out-producing play in the top of the third, though they weren't short of shenanigans in getting there; Hatcher reached on a Terry Pendleton error, but was thrown out at third on Larkin's single just before Sabo's two-run homer put the Reds ahead 4-3.

Atlanta tied the game once more in the home third on a Pendleton single, a Justice walk, and an Olson single. Avery retired the Reds in order in the fourth, and his teammates grabbed the lead in the home half of the inning. Smith singled with one out, and a fielder's choice and error by Sabo put Blauser and Smith at the corners. Pendleton then grounded softly to third, scoring Smith - and once Pendleton was thrown out at first, Carmelo Martinez committed a throwing error, allowing Blauser to score as well (thereby giving the game its third two-runs-one-out play). Gant followed all of that unusuality with a prosaic solo homer to make it 7-4.

Avery allowed a single to Larkin and plunked Sabo in the fifth, but left them on. Steve Foster relieved Myers in the home half of the inning and retired the Braves in order. Jim Clancy supplanted Avery in the sixth; with one out, Chris Jones tripled and Oliver homered, narrowing the deficit to a run. Clancy stayed in the game, and after the second out, allowed a Reggie Sanders single and a Hatcher double to tie it. Mark Wohlers was called in to retire Larkin and finish the frame, and Kip Gross worked a spotless home sixth.

Sabo drew a leadoff walk in the seventh, stole second, and advanced to third when Luis Quinones reached on a one-out Lemke error, but Jones hit into a double play to douse the flames of the rally. Gross worked around a Gant single in the bottom half. Wohlers tossed a 1-2-3 eighth, and Milt Hill matched him. In the ninth, Sabo and Hal Morris both singled against Mike Stanton, but Quinones fanned to strand them. Smith led off the home ninth with a single, and was lifted for a pinch runner - which seems surprising (Smith stole over 300 bases in his career, and while his quickest days were behind him, he had tripled nine times just a year earlier) until you realize the pinch runner was Deion Sanders. Naturally, Sanders was immediately forced at second on a grounder by Sid Bream, who reached first only by virtue of Morris dropping the relay throw; he was swapped out for pinch runner Keith Mitchell, and Mitchell was promptly caught stealing, extinguishing what little remained of the scoring threat. Pendleton struck out to send the game to extras.

Jones led off the tenth with a double against Stanton, and was bunted to third. Pinch hitter Bill Doran was intentionally walked, and Sanders followed with a single to bring home the go-ahead run. Up next was Hatcher, who tripled to make it 10-7. Randy St. Claire took over for Stanton and struck out Larkin; with Sabo at the plate, Hatcher tried to score on a pitch that proved insufficiently wild, and was tagged out at home.

Rob Dibble was called on for the save, and got things off to an eventful start when Gant led off with a triple. Justice struck out, but Hunter and Olson each hit RBI doubles, cutting the lead to a run. Lemke flied out, and Francisco Cabrera was called on to pinch hit; despite his eventual reputation for late heroics, he struck out here to end the game.

So, this was an interesting game.

As mentioned, there were three two-run, one-out plays in the game; it seems likely that this was at least the only game in 1991 that featured three such plays, and possibly over a longer timespan than that. Also, in the fifth inning, Jim Clancy gave up a group cycle to the Reds (and was allowed to stay in for all four hits, even while Cincinnati was using them to tie the game). Speaking of cycles, more than one hitter in the game got three quarters of the way to one of them; Billy Hatcher was missing only the homer, Ron Gant the double. There was no shortage of action on the fielding side as well; the game included five errors, but also three outfield assists.

All in all, it was rather a madhouse. Which is to say, it was excellent preparation for the October the Braves were about to endure.

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