Friday, September 2, 2016

Game of the Day (9/2/91)

Cardinals 7, Dodgers 4 (11). St. Louis started Ken Hill, who is something of a veteran of this feature, having started the Games of three previous Days in 1991. LA's Bob Ojeda had only made two GotD appearances in '91 before this - but also had four in 1984, so he's not exactly in unfamiliar territory either. So it's enough for now to say that both men were good pitchers, in 1991 and for the balance of their careers.

Both starters were perfect in the first. Pedro Guerrero's leadoff walk in the second made him the first man to reach base; Felix Jose then doubled him to third, and one out later, Tom Pagnozzi doubled as well, scoring both runners. Jose Oquendo drew a walk, and Hill bunted the runners to second and third before Ray Lankford fouled out to end the inning.

The Dodgers mounted a partial response in the home second, as Darryl Strawberry walked, Eddie Murray singled him to third, and Gary Carter reached on Todd Zeile's error, allowing Strawberry to score. But with runners at the corners and nobody out, Hill retired Juan Samuel, Alfredo Griffin, and Ojeda to preserve what remained of the lead.

Ojeda worked around a leadoff double by Ozzie Smith in the third. Hill was spotless in the bottom of the inning, as was Ojeda in the fourth. Hill then gave up a Murray single in the home fourth, but nothing else. Lankford led off the fifth with a single and advanced to third on a groundout and a wild pitch before being left there. The starters once again traded perfect half-innings, and the Dodgers once again threatened when reliever Juan Agosto walked Kal Daniels and allowed a Strawberry double, putting runners at second and third with one out in the bottom of the sixth. Cris Carpenter quickly replaced Agosto and intentionally walked Murray to load the bases, then coaxed a double play from Carter to end the inning.

Both teams made mild attempts in the seventh, as Luis Alicea singled against Ojeda in the top of the inning and Alfredo Griffin reached against Scott Terry in the bottom. Roger McDowell relieved Ojeda in the eighth and promptly gave up a double to Zeile and a single to Guerrero, putting St. Louis ahead 3-1. Jose grounded into a double play, but Milt Thompson and Pagnozzi both singled before Oquendo left them on.

LA finally converted an opportunity in the home eighth. Lenny Harris led off with a single, and Daniels walked. Bob McClure replaced Terry on the mound and gave up an RBI single to Strawberry that put the tying run at third; Murray then brought it home, albeit by hitting into a double play that sharply limited the possibility of future scoring.

The Cardinals promptly recaptured the lead in the ninth when Lankford homered. Lee Smith was summoned for the bottom of the inning and quickly got into trouble, as pinch hitter Dave Hansen greeted him with a double. Two outs later, pinch runner Jose Offerman was on third, and Harris then singled to score him and retie the game at 4. Smith retired Chris Gwynn, sending the game into unwanted extra innings.

St. Louis had a good chance to pull ahead in the tenth against John Candelaria, as Jose doubled and Thompson singled to put runners on the corners with one out. But Jay Howell relieved and induced a double play from Pagnozzi. Willie Fraser was flawless in the home tenth, and the Cards converted their chance quickly in the eleventh, as Oquendo walked and Rich Gedman doubled to score pinch runner Geronimo Pena. Two outs later, Zeile singled Gedman home and took second on the throw to the plate, which allowed him to score on Rod Brewer's single. Fraser then worked another 1-2-3 inning to end the game.

The Dodgers had some truly outstanding individual efforts in this game, especially as measured by WPA. Darryl Strawberry went 2 for 4 with a walk, a double, a run and an RBI - which wouldn't be that impressive except for his key eighth-inning single that put the team in position to tie the game. Strawberry's WPA was an excellent +.405, but it was outstripped by teammate Lenny Harris, whose 2 for 5, run scored, and game-tying two-out RBI single in the ninth were good for a +.411.

By comparison, the best WPA on the Cardinals belonged to Ray Lankford, who went 2 for 6 with a go-ahead homer in the ninth; his +.341 is in the neighborhood of the two best Dodgers, but solidly inferior. The same was true of Rich Gedman, who had a go-ahead double in the eleventh in his only at bat, producing a healthy +.312 WPA that's still closer to that of his fellow bench player (LA's Dave Hansen, +.243) than to the game leaders.

So if the Dodgers had the biggest individual contributions, how did they lose? The (fairly obvious) answer is that they also had the biggest negatives. By WPA, St. Louis's worst hitter was Tom Pagnozzi, who actually went 2 for 5 and drove in a pair of runs, but also hit into a hugely important double play in the tenth. Apart from Pagnozzi's -.207, however, the Cards had only four other hitters with WPA less than 0, and the worst of those was a -.055.

The Dodgers had six hitters worse than -.055, most notably Brett Butler (0 for 5 from the leadoff spot, -.384) and Juan Samuel (0 for 5 from the #7 spot, -.216). The three hitters in the ninth position combined on an 0 for 4, -.126. Catchers Gary Carter and Carlos Hernandez posted a joint 0 for 4 with a walk, -.172.

To put it differently, the Cardinals got at least one hit from every spot in the order except #8, which only produced two walks and scored the go-ahead run in the eleventh. That's how they ended up with 15 hits to LA's 8 - and their constant threats (17 at bats with runners in scoring position) helped ensure that they never trailed in the game.

Baseball, as the cliche goes, is a team game - and that proved very true in this particular contest.

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