Lenn Sakata catching game
Date: August 24, 1983
Recap: This is the famous game in 1983 where utility infielder Lenn Sakata was forced into catching in the top of the 10th inning after manager Joe Altobelli pinch-hit for catcher Joe Nolan who had already pinch-hit for Rick Dempsey in the 7th inning. That set up the famous Tippy Martinez pickoffs, but even prior to this happening this was a remarkable game.
The Blue Jays had staked themselves a 2-1 lead off Orioles starter Scott McGregor when Ken Singleton drew a one-out walk from Toronto starter Jim Clancy. Singleton was never fleet of foot, but by this point in his career he was Wieters slow, so Joe Altobelli pinch ranJohn Shelby.
Second Baseman Rich Dauer drew another walk putting runners on first and second with poor-hitting, strong armed third baseman Todd Cruz up. Altobelli went to his bench and brought in left-handed hitting pinch hitter extraordinaire Jim Dwyer. Dwyer drew the third consecutive walk which loaded the bases and brings up a good point about how baseball has changed since 1983. Can you imagine in this day and age of seven-man bullpens that a starter would be allowed to continue after walking three consecutive batters in the bottom of the 7th with a one-run lead? Well that's exactly what Blue Jays manager Bobby Cox did. Considering what Cox's bullpen would do later in the game, maybe he knew what was best.
Altobelli though decided to get the platoon advantage and pinch-hit left-handed hitting catcher Nolan to pinch hit for Dempsey. Clancy though made Cox look like a genius as he got Nolan to pop out for out number two before getting Al Bumbry to ground back to him for the easy put out at first to keep the game at 2-1 Blue Jays.
Starting the 8th, Sakata went to second base, Nolan was at catcher and Dauer moved over to third base. The Blue Jays tacked on a run in the 8th off McGregor to take a 3-1 lead that held up as Clancy got the Orioles 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 8th and then went 1-2-3 to Mcgregor in the 9th.
Despite failing with the bases loaded in the 7th then going 1-2-3 in the 8th, this team of destiny was not done yet. In the bottom of the 9th, with Clancy still on the hill, John Shelby delivered a one-out single to get things started. Wanting some power in the game down by two-runs, Altobelli pinch hits Gary Roenicke for Rich Dauer. It backfires though as Clancy gets Roenicke for strike three looking and the Orioles were down to their last out. Sakata then draws the sixth walk of the game (Clancy's pitch count had to be close to 150 pitches) to put runners on 1st and 2nd.
With no catchers left on the bench and left-handed hitting Nolan coming to the plate, Cox decides to get the platoon advantage and bring in left-handed reliever Dave Geisel. Altobelli though counters the move by pinch hitting right-handed hitting Benny Ayala.
Ayala promptly singles up the middle, scoring Shelby and sending Sakata to second base as the Orioles close to within a run. That brings up Bumbry who had left the bases loaded in the 7th. This time though, despite the fact that he had mostly platooned all year against right-handed pitching only, Bumbry lined a single into right field that brought in Sakata with the tying run and sending Ayala to third.
Joey McLaughlin was brought in to replace Geisel and after Bumbry was allowed to take second on defensive indifference, McLaughlin struck out Dan Ford with the winning run on third.
Now the fun part comes. Altobelli certainly made the right platoon moves all game, but now his team was depleted with no one left on the bench. As Tim Stoddard entered the game for Scott McGregor, he saw the following moves:
Lenn Sakata moves from 2B to C
John Lowenstein moves from LF to 2B
Gary Roenicke moves from PH to 3B
Benny Ayala moves from PH to LF
For Sakata it would be the first time he had caught since high school and infield for Lowenstein and Roenicke was pretty strange as well. Lowenstein actually had 70 games of experience in the major leagues at second base but none in the last eight years. For Roenicke it was the first time he had played 3B since the minor leagues (1978), but he was originally a third baseman so he did have 229 games of experience at the hot corner.
Cliff Johnson though tried to ruin the fun by hitting a lead off home run off Stoddard to make it 4-3. Barry Bonnell then smacked a single and that was it for Stoddard as Altobelli brought the left-handed Tippy Martinez.
With Sakata behind the dish, the Blue Jays could not wait to run on the second baseman turned emergency catcher but Martinez would have none of it. When Tippy lifted his leg, Bonnell started toward second when Martinez threw over to first. Bonnell attempted to get back but it was too late. Martinez had out number one. Martinez would eventually walk speedster Dave Collins to put another runner on. Again, Martinez picked off the runner for out number two. Willie Upshaw then singled to second base where Lowenstein was unable to make the play. Sure enough, Martinez picked that leg up and picked Upshaw off first for the third out. Martinez recorded three outs without ever retiring a batter.
Rookie of the year Cal Ripken led off the bottom of the 10th off McLaughlin and like Johnson at the top of the inning, smacked a lead off home run to the game at 4-4. Eddie Murray then walked and was moved to second by Lowenstein. McLaughlin then intentionally walked Shelby to set up the double play by putting runner on first and second with one out.
Cox then brought in the closest thing he had to a closer in 34-year old Randy Moffitt to face Roenicke. Moffitt struck out Roenicke to bring up the new catcher Sakata with two outs in the bottom of the 10th.
Sakata, facing Moffitt for the first time in his career, decided tonight was his night to be a hero as he lofted a long deep drive down the left field line that landed in the bleachers.
Ball game! O's win 7-4.
The win kept the Orioles up a half game in the AL East and propelled the team to win their next 22 of 26 ball games to go up by 8 1/2 games.
Of course the Orioles would go on to win the World Series that year and that Championship should forever by linked to that game.
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