Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Ben McDonald, 1995 Pinnacle #120
It was Monday, June 5, 1995, and school had either just ended for the summer or we were already sliding into the abbreviated days at the end of the term. My friend H.D. was going to the game with his mother, and offered me their extra ticket. It took about two seconds for me to say yes, so they picked me up at my house and we went on our way.
We had pretty decent seats, although it's hard to find fault with any location at Camden Yards. We were down the third-base line, and we settled in for a strong matchup between Ben McDonald, who had gone 14-7 in the strike-shortened 1994 season, and Mariners ace Randy Johnson. It was 81 degrees at first pitch (so Baseball Reference tells me) and it was a clear night with a bit of wind. A fine night for baseball.
Neither pitcher disappointed, as Seattle and the O's traded zeroes for five innings. Baltimore put a runner on base in each of their first four at-bats, but never seriously threatened. A single by Cal Ripken, Jr., a walk by Leo Gomez, a single by Manny Alexander (wonders never cease), and another single by Chris Hoiles were all wasted. None of the four even made it to second base. McDonald was only slightly more vulnerable. He pitched around an Edgar Martinez double in the first, got a Mike Blowers double play grounder to negate a Darren Bragg single in the second, followed a Felix Fermin walk with a Joey Cora DP liner in the third, and yielded a Jay Buhner double and an intentional walk to Martinez in the fourth before stranding both men by striking out Bragg to end the fourth.
However, the Mariners finally broke through in the sixth. Ben started out smoothly with a pair of groundouts, but surrendered another hit to Martinez to bring Buhner to the plate. The bald, goateed slugger belted McDonald's 1-0 offering deep down the left field line for a two-run home run. Though the lanky Oriole pitcher rallied, keeping Seattle hitless throughout the rest of the game, the damage was done.
The Big Unit, on the other hand, seemed to get stronger as the game moved along. After Hoiles' leadoff single in the fourth, Johnson didn't allow another base runner. He retired the last 17 men, and if you take into account Jeff Manto's double play that wiped out Hoiles, he got 18 consecutive outs. Overall, he yielded only one walk and three hits (all singles) and struck out a dozen. He whiffed all three batters in the fifth inning, and did it again in the ninth to cap his sixth win in as many decisions on the year. He finished with a pitch count of 141, something that would be a rarity today, and had an excellent Game Score of 92. By comparison, his 1990 no-hitter against Detroit (8 K, 6 BB) garnered a Game Score of just 89. In fact, using that statistic, this game ties for 12th-best among his 603 career starts.
Ben McDonald, of course, took a heartbreaking complete-game loss. He allowed only five hits and two walks while striking out six, but three of those hits went for extra bases. It would be the best game of the year for Ben, who suffered through a frustrating injury-shortened campaign and finished just 3-6 with a 4.15 ERA in 13 starts and a single relief outing.
It's always disappointing to see your team lose a close game, but even at a young age I was aware and appreciative of the fact that I had just watched a dominant performance by one of the best pitchers in the sport.
PS: Click the box score and get a load of that stinker of an Oriole lineup. Curtis Goodwin leading off? Washed-up Kevin Bass #2? Bret Barberie at DH? Bleagh. They might have had a hard time scoring runs against the batboy.