Thursday, October 6, 2016

Game of the Day (10/6/91)

On the last day of the 1991 baseball season, all four division titles were locked up, and there were no other playoff spots up for grabs because no other playoff spots existed.

So there wasn't much at stake in any of the games played on this particular date - except, of course, for professional pride. And in the case of Brewers 6, Red Sox 3, there were two starting pitchers looking to put exclamation points on excellent seasons - Milwaukee's Bill Wegman hoping to extend his career high total of 15 wins, and Boston's Roger Clemens trying to seal a third Cy Young award after having been robbed in the previous year's voting.

Paul Molitor and Darryl Hamilton opened the top of the first with singles. BJ Surhoff bunted the runners to second and third, and Clemens coaxed a grounder to short from Robin Yount, which got Molitor thrown out at the plate. But with Greg Vaughn hitting, Hamilton and Yount pulled a double steal of third and second, and catcher Tony Pena's throwing error brought Hamilton home to open the scoring. Boston responded quickly in the bottom of the first, evening the game at a run apiece on two-out singles from Carlos Quintana, Jack Clark, and Scott Cooper.

Clemens was perfect in the second, and the Sox threatened again in the bottom of the inning on walks to Wayne Housie and Pena. The runners would end the inning on the corners, however. Cooper's single in the bottom of the third made him the only hitter on either side to reach in the frame. Milwaukee tried again in the fourth as Surhoff led off with a single, stole second, and made third on a wild pitch, but Clemens retired three of the next four hitters with only an intentional walk in between, leaving the go-ahead run 90 feet away. Boston did the same in the bottom of the inning, as Pena doubled and reached third on a groundout before stalling.

Clemens worked around a leadoff double by Bill Spiers in the top of the fifth. In the bottom of the inning, Clark and Cooper hit back-to-back two-baggers, putting the Sox in front 2-1. Surhoff singled and was caught stealing in the top of the sixth, and nobody else on either team reached.

The Brewers pulled ahead in the top of the seventh. Jim Gantner, Dante Bichette, and Spiers all singled to start things off, loading the bases with nobody out. Dale Sveum hit into a double play, but the 4-6-3 twin killing brought the tying run home, and Molitor's single plated Bichette to promptly break that tie. Steve Lyons singled in the bottom of the inning, but Wegman erased him on a double play; Clemens then worked a 1-2-3 eighth.

Julio Machado relieved Wegman in the home eighth, and on his second pitch, Clark tied the game with a solo homer. Machado recovered to end the inning without further damage, however. With Clemens still on the mound in the top of the ninth, Spiers tripled with one out. Sveum struck out looking, and Molitor was intentionally walked and stole second. Hamilton then singled both runners home, and after a wild pitch, Surhoff's single scored Hamilton. Yount singled as well before Clemens finally ended the inning by retiring Vaughn. Doug Henry then gave up only a Jody Reed single to end the game, and both teams' seasons.

Close though it was, this is kind of an unfulfilling game. Roger Clemens threw a complete game with 10 strikeouts - and gave up 13 hits and 6 runs and took the loss (and won the Cy Young anyway). Bill Wegman lasted 7 innings and allowed 2 runs - and took a no decision, with the win going to the reliever who blew Wegman's lead.

The hitters were unfulfilling in a different way. Boston's stars were Jack Clark (3 for 4 with a homer) and Scott Cooper (4 for 4 with a double and the teams' other two RBI). Clark was nearing the end of his career, with only a partial season in 1992 left to him. Cooper, on the other hand, was 23 years old and putting the finishing touches on a scorching cup of coffee, hitting .457/.486/.686 in 37 plate appearances for 1991. He would play fairly regularly for the next 4 years on two different teams, but never again separated himself significantly from league average.

Milwaukee's two biggest producers in the contest were Bill Spiers (3 for 4 with a double, a triple, and a run) and Darryl Hamilton (2 for 5, a steal, two runs, and the two game-winning RBI). Both were relatively young in '91 (Spiers 25, Hamilton 26), both had come up in the late '80s, and both would play until 2001, carving out respectable careers as decent OBP specialists who played predominantly defensive positions but didn't have the power to really stand out in the '90s.

And at the end of the game, Milwaukee had pulled its record to 83-79, compared to Boston's 84-78 - which means that both teams were solid, but neither was able to sustain a real run toward the playoffs, and the Brewers' season closing win still left them just shy of a second-place finish.

This would have been something of a downer end to the season... if not for the fact that the playoffs were coming, and managed to produce one of the best World Series of all time. But that's another story for another post.

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