Pirates 12, Cubs 10. Pittsburgh's John Smiley and Chicago's Danny Jackson ended up with very similar careers - both were lefties, both ended up with over 100 wins and losses, with ERAs very close to league average and career innings totals in the neighborhood of 2000.
But in 1991, Smiley was having one of his best seasons, and Jackson was having one of his worst.
Jackson got off to a rough start in the first, as he walked Andy Van Slyke and allowed a single to Jay Bell, putting two men on with nobody out. Two flyouts and a walk to Barry Bonds resulted in a bases loaded, two out situation, and Steve Buechele flied out as well to leave all three men on. Smiley was then flawless in the home first.
Pittsburgh started the scoring in the second. Jose Lind singled with one out, and Jackson then committed an error fielding Smiley's sac bunt. Van Slyke doubled to bring Lind home, and Bell added a sacrifice fly to score Smiley. Lloyd McClendon was up next, and he grounded to third, where Doug Strange committed the inning's second error which led to its third run. Smiley was perfect again in the second; Jackson worked around a Don Slaught single in the third, and Smiley allowed a single to Shawon Dunston and balked him to second before leaving him on in the home third.
The Pirates extended their lead in the top of the fourth, starting with a two-out Bell double. McClendon drove Bell in with a single, and Bobby Bonilla hit a two-run homer to make it 6-0. Chicago's hitters then awoke from their apparent torpor in the bottom of the inning, starting with a leadoff single from Mark Grace. Ryne Sandberg's double brought Grace home, and one out later, George Bell doubled and Hector Villanueva singled, driving in a run each to make it 6-3.
Bob Scanlan relieved Jackson in the top of the fifth and set the Pirates down in order; Smiley did the same to the Cubs in the bottom of the inning. Chuck McElroy walked Jay Bell but allowed nothing else in the top of the sixth, and in the bottom of the inning, the Cubs completed their comeback against Vicente Palacios. Sandberg greeted the reliever with a leadoff homer. One out later, George Bell singled, and Dunston then homered as well to tie the game.
The Pirates wasted little time in reclaiming their lead. Bonilla and Bonds started the top of the seventh with a single and a double, chasing McElroy. Shawn Boskie induced a run-scoring groundout from Buechele. Slaught reached on an infield hit that failed to advance Bonds from third, and Boskie then retired the next two hitters to keep the margin to a run. That paid off in the bottom of the inning, beginning when Chico Walker singled with one out against Bob Kipper. Grace then singled as well, and a Bonilla misplay allowed Walker to score from first, with Grace advancing to second. Stan Belinda relieved and retired Sandberg, but Andre Dawson homered to put the Cubs in front 9-7.
Jay Bell narrowed the Chicago margin in the top of the eight with a solo homer against Paul Assenmacher. McClendon then singled, but with Bonilla and Bonds batting as the go-ahead run, Assenmacher induced a pair of popups to maintain the one-run lead. The Cubs then padded their advantage in the home eighth when Villanueva doubled and pinch runner Rick Wilkins moved to third on a bunt, then scored on a Strange flyout.
Dave Smith came on to try nailing down the win, and quickly got into trouble, walking Slaught and allowing a Lind single with one out. Up next was pinch hitter Orlando Merced, who belted a go-ahead three-run homer. Les Lancaster relieved Smith and had troubles of his own, allowing singles to Van Slyke and Bell, walking McClendon, and seeing Bonilla hit a sacrifice fly that made it 12-10 before Bonds fouled out to end the inning. Rosario Rodriguez took the mound in the home ninth and allowed a Grace single and a Sandberg walk, but retired the next three hitters to end the game with the tying runs on base.
There was some rather impressive hitting in this game. One of the teams involved had three home runs, and the players who hit those home runs combined for a WPA of +.674 for the game. And none of them had the highest individual total - the team's first baseman went 3 for 5 and scored twice, producing a healthy +.348 figure. They inflicted damage on several opposing pitchers; three separate relievers for their opponents had WPA of -.200 or worse.
And that team LOST. Because Jay Bell went 4 for 4 with a homer, a double, and a sacrifice fly, and because Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke combined for four runs and four RBI, and most of all because the Pirates had an excellent pinch hitter available on the bench who cracked a huge ninth-inning home run against a closer who had once been effective, and now... was not.
So in case you were wondering, a dramatic comeback from a six-run deficit is no guarantee of victory if you leave the other side time to mount a comeback of their own.