Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Game of the Day (9/7/91)

Red Sox 11, Mariners 10. Are you tired of these two teams yet?

Like the first game in the series, this one included one of the best starting pitchers of all time. It was not Boston's Kevin Morton, who somehow managed a winning record and an ERA only slightly worse than average in 1991 despite walking almost as many batters as he struck out - but was promptly exiled from the majors after completing his rookie year.

The Hall of Famer was Morton's fellow wild lefty, Randy Johnson, who was on his way to the second of three consecutive AL leads in walks issued. His control would improve at least slightly as his career went on.

As you'd expect from a pitcher who was not long for the major leagues, Morton did not get off to a good start. Edgar Martinez led off the game with a walk, and Harold Reynolds and Ken Griffey Jr. then doubled, putting Seattle in front 2-0. Jay Buhner walked; Morton retired the next two hitters, but then walked Tino Martinez to load the bases, and gave up an RBI single to Jeff Schaefer. And that was it - Morton was out, and Dan Petry was in. The change was barely noticeable, as Dave Valle greeted the new pitcher with a two-run single, though Valle did get thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double, bringing the inning to a merciful close.

Seattle had started the game with a five-run first inning, and had Randy Johnson on the mound. But the second half of that fact wasn't quite as comforting as it would become half a decade later. In the bottom of the first, the Big Unit gave up a double to Jody Reed and a two-run homer to Mike Greenwell. Petry worked around Edgar Martinez's second consecutive leadoff walk in the second, and Boston struck again in the bottom of the inning. Mike Brumley and Tony Pena both walked to start the rally. Johnson retired the next two hitters, but the runners double-stole second and third during the at bat that led to the second out. Reed then walked to load the bases, and Carlos Quintana drew a free pass as well, forcing in a run. Greenwell was up next, and did not walk - he doubled, scoring all three runners and putting the Red Sox in front 6-5. And that ended Randy Johnson's day, as Dave Burba was called in to relieve. Much like Petry, Burba promptly allowed an inherited run, as Ellis Burks doubled Greenwell home before the inning came to a close.

Much like the Red Sox earlier, the Mariners were unperturbed by their deficit. Buhner led off the third with a single, Tracy Jones reached on a Luis Rivera error, and Alvin Davis walked to load the bases. Tino Martinez followed with a sacrifice fly to pull Seattle within 7-6. Schaefer flied out, moving Jones to third, and for the second time in the game, Valle produced an inning-ending RBI hit, as his double scored Jones to tie the game and resulted in Davis being thrown out at home.

Burba's third inning would have seemed eventful in a normal game; with the score already tied at seven, his walk, passed ball, intentional walk, no runs effort seems positively pedestrian. Petry was flawless in the top of the fourth, and the scoring started again in the home half of the inning, as Quintana led off with a homer. One out later, Burks singled, and Burba was pulled for Calvin Jones. Brumley reached on a two-out Reynolds error, and Pena then singled to bring Burks around and make it 9-7.

Tracy Jones reached on a bunt single with one out in the fifth, and Petry's day was done. Tom Bolton gave up a single to Davis, then issued a two-out walk to Schaefer, loading the bases. Valle singled, and this time, nobody tried to take an extra base on his hit, so he merely brought in one run and continued the inning for Edgar Martinez, whose single plated two more Mariners and put them in front 10-9.

As had been their habit so far, Boston responded with admirable promptness. Wade Boggs led off the bottom of the fifth with a single, and one out later, Quintana singled and Greenwell doubled to retie the game. Burks struck out, and pinch hitter Phil Plantier was intentionally walked to load the bases. Mo Vaughn was then summoned to hit for Brumley, and drew a walk as well, forcing in the go-ahead run. Scott Bankhead relieved Calvin Jones and retired Pena to end the scoring there.

Bolton was perfect in the sixth, while Bankhead allowed hits to Boggs and Reed, but left them on. Davis singled to lead off the seventh, but was caught stealing before Tino Martinez followed with his own hit. (Incidentally, this was the last steal attempt of Alvin Davis's career, and for good reason; he was caught on his last seven tries, spread over four seasons.) Greg Harris then supplanted Bolton and left the remaining runner on.

Bankhead set the Sox down 1-2-3 in the home seventh, and Seattle tried again in the eighth, as Edgar Martinez walked, took second on a passed ball, and moved to third on Buhner's two-out single. Tony Fossas relieved Harris and plunked pinch hitter Dave Cochrane to load the bases, then coaxed a groundout from Davis to end the threat. After another spotless inning from Bankhead, Fossas recorded the first two outs in the ninth; Jeff Reardon was then summoned and allowed a hit to Valle before whiffing Edgar Martinez to end the game.

For the sake of a thought experiment, let's try reversing the order of events in this game. Say it's scoreless for the first four innings, instead of the last four. Seattle then scores three in the top of the fifth, and Boston comes back with two in the fifth and two in the sixth. Seattle puts up a two-spot in the seventh, taking a 5-4 lead; the Red Sox reply with five an inning later, seemingly sealing it at 9-5. But the Mariners, unbelievably, post a five-spot of their own in the top of the ninth - only for Boston to score twice in the bottom and win 11-10.

Had the game played out that way, it would be on the very short list of the greatest nine-inning games of all time. As it was, the game was scoreless for the last four innings - usually the part that WPL emphasizes in evaluating regulation games. And yet, WPL evaluates it as the third-best nine-inning game of the year so far.

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