The Whiten Game – The Rest of the Story

Scooter Gennett is the talk of baseball right now, with his unbelievable four home run performance against the Cardinals. It is kind of incredible, since Gennett had juts 35 home runs in four seasons before joining the Reds this year, and the name Scooter reminds one of a scrappy middle infielder who always has dirt on his uniform.

A lot of ink has been spilled about the most unlikely players to hit four home runs in a game. Sure Pat Seerey was out of the league the year after he lashed four bombs in a game, but he was of the wrong era, a Rob Deer before his time. He had the raw power, and hit 46 homers in the minors one year.

Ed Delahanty and Bobby Lowe were 19th century players, and it seems unusual for players to be able to do that in that era. Delahanty, though, was a power hitter with speed, and all of his home runs were inside-the-park. Bobby Lowe, the first player to hit four home runs in a game, did his feat in 1894 – a year of insane offense as batters got used to pitchers using a stationery rubber instead of a pitcher’s box.

But one name always comes up as ‘unlikely’ and that’s Mark Whiten. Whiten seemingly had the tools to hit for power, but only cracked 20 in a season twice. But on September 7th, in Game 2 of a doubleheader, Whiten cracked four bombs against the Reds in Cincinnati and drove in 12 runs to boot.

It wasn’t an exemplary set of pitchers Whiten faced though. Larry Luebbers got the start, Rob Dibble closed it out, and some guy named Mike Anderson, making his major league debut, gave up the other two. Anderson gave up seven runs in 1 2/3 that day, and only took the mount two more times before he was permanently exiled to the American Association.

I said it was the second game of a doubleheader. Game one? Well, um, it may be the reason Whiten cracked those dingers.

In game one, St. Louis trotted out Rheal Cormier to face John Roper of the Reds. Todd Ziele hit a three run homer against Roper, but Juan Samuel countered with a three-run shot of his own against Cormier. Bernard Gilkey’s 2-run double in the 5th gave the Cards a 5-4 lead bu the Reds tied it in the bottom of the fifth.

A double, a single, two steals (both by Jacob Brumfield) and two sac flies against Rich Batchelor put the home team up 7-5. St. Louis scored one run in the seventh, but they couldn’t hold Cincy. Batchelor and Les Lancaster allowed two more runs, setting the score at 9-6 after seven.

Even with an expanded roster, a doubleheader could tax a staff. Scott Service started the eighth for the Reds, and it was hoped that Service could hold the Cards down so they could potentially save relievers for the nightcap.

Welp.

Single, walk, double, groundout…and it’s 9-8 with a runner on third. Rob Dibble comes in to replace Service. Dibble’s no longer a nasty boy – he’s more of a desiccated husk at this point.

Single, walk, wild pitch, walk. Tie game, bases loaded. It’s Scott Ruskin time.

Walk (by Whiten, for an RBI), then a single, and the score is 12-9. St. Louis has runners on first and third and there’s only one out. The Reds manager, Davey Johnson, can’t believe it. In comes Jerry Spradlin, and he’s greeted by an Erik Pappas double, making it 13-9. Fortunately, he gets the next two men out.

The Reds used four pitchers, and gave up seven runs. They were up three, and now they’re down four. Remember, this is game one of two.

Joe Torre found himself in a quandry, though. He pulled a lot of strings, and wound up without a right fielder. Pappas, normally a catcher, had to go out to right. Pappas had played some outfield in the minors and during the year, but he’s no one’s idea of a outfield ace.

Rookie Steve Dixon took the hill for the Cards in the bottom of the eighth. Dixon was making his major league debut, but while he did save 20 at Louisville that season, his ERA was also 5.05.

Torre had used a lot of his bullpen the game before, but they had a day off in between. If he could steal an inning or so from the rook, that’d really help going into game two.

Dixon, though, feeling the jitters or something, walked Hal Morris and Reggie Sanders. Torre had no choice, and put in his new closer, Mike Perez. Lee Smith had been traded to the Yankees (for Batchelor) and Perez had been a reliable set-up man, and now he was the man.

An infield hit loaded the bases. Dan Wilson hit a liner Pappas couldn’t get to, and two runs scored. Jack Daugherty hit a sac fly, and the Reds were now within one. Perez closed out the eighth, leaving St. Louis up 13-12.

Jeff Reardon worked around a Gregg Jefferies single and steal to keep the Cards at bay, and Perez trotted out to close out the game. After an out, Brumfield hits a double to the gap where Pappas was patrolling. Torre then plays the percentages, putting in Rob Murphy to face Hal Morris.

Murphy walked Morris, and Torre then turned to ex-Oakland phenom Todd Burns.

Sanders ripped a liner to center that Whiten nor Pappas could get to. Brumfield scored easily and the speedy Sanders pushed Morris across the plate for the winning run and a 14-13 win that took three hours and forty-one minutes.

Oh, and there’s a second game to play. St. Louis used seven relievers, and the Reds six. The Reds seemed to be in better shape, at least in terms of bodies. But three of the four pitchers that didn’t pitch in the first game were raw rookies, and the other was a scuffling Kevin Wickander. St. Louis, though, had two fresh vets in the pen, and also were starting Bob Tewksbury.

Tewksbury against Luebbers. After one it was 4-2, as Whiten hit a grand slam (a great way to start his four-homer game, eh?), while Tewksbury gave up runs on a sac fly and an error.

From there, Tewksbury cruised. Down 5-2, Johnson threw Anderson into the game, and well…that was history.

Had that first game not been a total slugfest, wearing out everyone, I doubt Whiten slugs those four home runs. But, that’s not what happened, and that’s how history is made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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