Thursday, September 8, 2016

Game of the Day (9/8/91)

Red Sox 17, Mariners 6.

Just kidding. That is the actual score of the last game of the four-game series between the two teams, but it occupied the opposite extreme to the other three; it was actually the least-dramatic game of the day.

The actual winner is Rangers 7, White Sox 6, yet another matchup of the two most dramatic teams of the season so far. The starters were an interesting pair - Jack McDowell for Chicago, Kevin Brown for Texas. McDowell was a year younger, and his career was off to a better start (39-29, 3.61 through 1991, compared to 35-32, 3.82 for Brown), a difference that would increase over the next two years (in which McDowell finished second and first in AL Cy Young voting). But Brown moved to the NL after the '95 season and went on to win a pair of ERA titles, and McDowell's effectiveness totally collapsed at exactly that moment. Brown would eventually exceed McDowell's career by nearly 1400 innings, and over 80 wins.

Both starters allowed a two-out baserunner in the first, Brown walking Warren Newsom while Ruben Sierra singled against McDowell. Brown was flawless in the second; McDowell began the bottom of the inning with walks to Juan Gonzalez and Rob Maurer, then ended the inning without a ball being hit into fair territory. Joey Cora and Julio Franco drew walks in their respective halves of the third, neither of which fostered a threat of any note.

Chicago opened the scoring in the fourth, as Newsom led off with a walk and Dan Pasqua doubled him home. Lance Johnson followed that with an RBI triple, and a walk later, Ron Karkovice hit into a run-scoring force to make it 3-0. McDowell was perfect in the home fourth, and the Sox tried to extend their lead in the fifth when Tim Raines led off with a double and moved to third on a groundout, but Raines was thrown out trying to score when Newsom grounded to the mound. Texas then broke through in the home fifth when Ivan Rodriguez doubled and Jeff Huson singled him around.

Brown walk-and-balked Craig Grebeck to second in the top of the sixth, but left him there, and McDowell kept the bases clear in the bottom of the inning. The top of the seventh saw Chicago's lead extended when Raines doubled and Robin Ventura knocked him in with a single; Newsom then singled as well, but Brown left both remaining runners on.

McDowell was pulled after walking Dean Palmer and Rodriguez with one out in the seventh. Scott Radinsky promptly surrendered a pinch RBI double to Brian Downing, and Rafael Palmeiro added a sacrifice fly that closed the margin to 4-3. Franco's walk put runners on the corners before Sierra popped out to end the rally.

The White Sox wasted no time in restoring their advantage to its former size in the eighth, as Karkovice doubled and Sammy Sosa homered. After a leadoff walk to Mike Stanley in the home eighth, Bobby Thigpen replaced Radinsky, and despite issuing a walk of his own, kept Texas from scoring. Jeff Russell relieved Brown in the ninth and countered a Ventura walk with a double play.

Pinch hitter Jack Daugherty led off the bottom of the ninth by reaching on a Craig Grebeck error. Palmeiro walked, moving pinch runner Mario Diaz to second. Franco struck out, but Sierra singled, pulling the Rangers within two. Pinch hitter Geno Petralli lined out, and Gonzalez was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

Up to the plate stepped pinch hitter Monty Fariss. Age 23, Monty Fariss was an outfielder who had hit reasonably well in his four minor league seasons; the lowest OBP he'd posted in one of those seasons was a respectable .351. His major league track record was... not so much spotty as nonexistent. This was the third game of Fariss's career; in his previous two appearances, he had gone 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

In this one, he got to a 1-1 count against then-MLB single-season save record holder Bobby Thigpen, then laced a grounder up the third base line and into the corner. All three Texas runners came around to score, and Fariss coasted into second with his first career hit - a come-from-behind walkoff three-run double, good for a WPA of +.828.

Like all but five of the teams in the majors, the White Sox entered play on September 8 as a postseason longshot (only one of the divisional races was closer than 5 games at this point). They were, however, in second place, trailing Minnesota by a 7.5 game margin that still left some scant room for hope with 25 to play.

They didn't end up making a race of it in the end - but if they had, a loss in which their star reliever blew a lead on a rookie's first big league hit could have proven exceedingly painful.

September baseball is one of the sport's oddest spectacles, as expanded rosters fight out games that might decide teams' playoff fates. Generally, the teams that play their regulars more will fare better in those contests - but every so often, the game sees fit to produce a different outcome, and gives a bush leaguer a chance to upstage an established star.

Which, actually, isn't that uncommon in the first five months of the season either.

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