Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Game of the Day (9/28/91)

Tigers 5, Orioles 4 (10). Detroit sent out veteran Bill Gullickson, who at age 32 was on the way to his first and only 20-win season. Baltimore replied with Mike Mussina, who was 22 and making the eleventh start of his career; he would go on to a Hall-of-Fame-worthy 18-year tenure in the majors, and would exceed Gullickson in many categories, including length of wait before finally winning 20 games in a season.

Baltimore scored the game's first run before an out was recorded, courtesy of a Mike Devereaux single and a Joe Orsulak double. Mussina allowed a Lloyd Moseby double in the home first, but nothing else, then worked around a Dave Bergman walk in the bottom of the second after Gullickson set the Orioles down 1-2-3. Gullickson was perfect again in the third; Mussina once again allowed one baserunner (a Scott Livingstone single) and stranded him.

Gullickson allowed a Glenn Davis double in the fourth, but left him on; the next runner didn't reach until Bergman led off the home fifth with a single, and Mussina promptly erased him on a double play. Gullickson had a bit of trouble in the sixth, walking Orsulak and allowing a single to Sam Horn, but he kept both runners from scoring, and in the home sixth, the Tigers tied the game without a hit. Livingstone led off and reached on a two-base error from Billy Ripken, then moved to third on a flyout and scored on Lou Whitaker's sacrifice fly, evening things at 1. Gullickson was flawless in the seventh, and Mickey Tettleton homered in the bottom of the inning to put Detroit in front for the first time.

The Orioles responded quickly in the top of the eighth. Dwight Evans drew a pinch walk, and pinch runner Juan Bell was bunted to second, moved to third on a groundout, and came home to tie the game on a Cal Ripken single. Mussina walked Pete Incaviglia to start the bottom of the eighth, and the Tigers pinch ran as well; this substitution proved rather less effective, as their first pinch runner was forced at second on Livingstone's grounder, and when Livingstone was swapped out as well, his pinch runner, Skeeter Barnes, was caught stealing. Chito Martinez singled in the top of the ninth, but was wiped from the bases on a double play. Mike Flanagan took over for Mussina in the bottom of the ninth, walked Lou Whitaker, and allowed a single to Cecil Fielder, but then induced a DP of his own from Tettleton, sending the game to extras.

Gullickson was still on the mound to begin the tenth, and the Tigers were soon given reason to regret that fact. Brady Anderson led off with a single, Bell bunted him to second, and Devereaux singled to bring Anderson home, with Devereaux taking second on a Moseby error. Mike Henneman replaced Gullickson and allowed an RBI double to the better Ripken brother before escaping the inning. Gregg Olson took the mound in the bottom of the tenth and retired Alan Trammell to open the inning, but Travis Fryman walked and Milt Cuyler and Barnes both singled to load the bases. Tony Phillips "singled" by hitting Barnes with the ball, keeping the bases loaded and producing the second out. And on a 1-2 count, Whitaker doubled, scoring all three runners and ending the game.

Lou Whitaker played baseball for a very long time; he is among the top 100 on the career leaderboards for games, plate appearances, runs scored, and walks. And he was good at it; he won Rookie of the Year in 1978, and he was a five-time All-Star, a four-time Silver Slugger, and a three-time Gold Glove winner. There is a very good argument that he should be in the Hall of Fame.

In that long and productive career, Whitaker had one game with a higher WPA than the +.892 he accrued in this one thanks to his two-out come-from-behind walkoff three-run double. It was this game, played exactly 13 years and 2 months earlier during his 1978 Rookie of the Year campaign.

That's a long time. In July 1978, my parents were about to start college, and therefore had not yet met. In September 1991, they had been married for nine years and had two kids. And throughout that time, Lou Whitaker was helping the Tigers win baseball games.

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