Thursday, September 29, 2016

Game of the Day (9/29/91)

We've spent the last few days completely ignoring active pennant races in this space, so let's check back in on the year's best contest. Entering play on September 29, the Dodgers led the Braves by a game in the NL West. They spent the first six innings of their game that day getting shut out by Bryan Hickerson, who I presume you have never heard of, because he wasn't particularly good and didn't last long in the majors. But in the eighth and ninth, they rallied from a 2-0 deficit to pull out a key 3-2 victory, with Darryl Strawberry delivering the walkoff.

And they needed it to stay ahead, too, because their pursuers played Braves 6, Astros 5 (13). The starters were Steve Avery for Atlanta and Pete Harnisch for Houston; both were pretty good young pitchers who would go on to pretty good careers.

The Braves took the initiative early, as Lonnie Smith led off the game with a walk and advanced a base on each of two outs, but Harnisch recovered to leave him at third. Ron Gant led off the second with a single and was erased on a double play, and so the game's first run didn't score until the top of the third when Rafael Belliard led off with a double, was bunted to third by Avery, and scored on Mark Lemke's two-out hit. Meanwhile, Avery retired the first nine Astros he faced.

Atlanta's lead extended when David Justice led off the fourth with a homer. Houston finally managed a baserunner in the bottom of the inning, as Craig Biggio singled and stole second, but Avery left him there, and the Braves padded their edge again in the fifth on singles by Belliard, Smith, and Terry Pendleton. Moreover, because of a groundout between the second and third hits, Pendleton's single scored two runs, making it a 4-0 game.

Avery worked around a Javier Ortiz single in the bottom of the fifth, and Harnisch did the same with hits by Sid Bream and Belliard in the top of the sixth. After Avery set the Astros down in order, the Braves added what seemed like an extraneous insurance run against Rob Mallicoat in the seventh on walks by Smith and Justice and a Gant single.

Houston finally joined in the scoring in the home seventh on a Biggio single and an Ortiz double. Jim Corsi was spotless in the eighth, and with one out in the bottom of the inning, Avery gave up a solo homer to pinch hitter Mike Simms. Steve Finley followed with a single, and Mark Wohlers was hustled in from the bullpen. Rafael Ramirez greeted him with a single, Biggio hit into a force that put runners at the corners, and Jeff Bagwell was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Casey Candaele delivered a two-run single, and Ortiz followed with a hit of his own, tying the game at 5. Mike Stanton was then called in for Wohlers and ended the inning.

Curt Schilling and Stanton exchanged 1-2-3 ninths, sending the game to extras. Schilling issued a walk and steal to Justice in the tenth, but left him at second, and Randy St. Claire kept the bases entirely clear. Schilling struck out the side in the eleventh , while Jim Clancy walked Candaele to begin the bottom of the inning, but allowed nothing else. Al Osuna relieved Schilling in the twelfth, and combined with Clancy to produce two spotless halves.

Mark Portugal took the mound in the thirteenth and walked Gant, then gave up an RBI double to Brian Hunter. He retired the next two hitters, then allowed a Jeff Blauser single on which Hunter was thrown out at home to end the inning. Clancy set down Biggio and Bagwell in the home thirteenth, but then got into trouble, allowing singles to Candaele and Kenny Lofton. A wild pitch put the winning run in scoring position before Clancy retired pinch hitter Andujar Cedeno to end the game.

As mentioned above, entering play on September 29, the Dodgers led the Braves by a game. As of the end of the seventh inning in each of their games, it looked likely that the two teams would be tied at the end of the day. At the end of the respective ninth innings, the Dodgers led by a game and a half, with a chance to make it two if Houston finished off their comeback. And once the extra session in this one concluded... the lead was still a game.

Such is life in a pennant race. And in baseball, the worst and best part is that you have to do the whole thing again the next day.

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