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Birthday Baseball (An Occasional Series): Game 14 – July 12, 1986

By now our readers know the story… I am looking back to see how the Yankees performed on my birthday each year since I’ve been born and then telling the story of what took place on that summer day.

As always, whenever I do research like this, my first two stops are always Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference.

Let’s head back to 1986, July 12 to see what took place in the Yankees game that day.

***

Realizing the date of this game gives me pause to begin. When the Yankees played on this day, I was a recent high school graduate about to head off to college. In a way, this was the last game of whatever was left of my childhood. In just over a month, I’d be living in a new state with people I didn’t know and four years of education ahead of me designed to prepare me for my future life as a working grown-up.

Amazing.

***

On Saturday, July 12, 1986, the Yankees found themselves in Minnesota ready to battle with the Twins. This was the third of four games the Yankees were playing in Minnesota to close out the first half of the season before the All-Star Break. The Yankees had won the previous two games.

These mid-1980’s Yankees teams were competitive and very good. They had star power and were fun to root for. They didn’t have much pitching – and that’s why they didn’t win pennants. But these teams were good.

The Yankees came into this game with a record of 49-38. The Twins were 36-50. It was a mismatch from the start.

The Yankees sent the following line-up into the Metrodome:

Rickey Henderson – cf (future Hall-of-Famer)

Claudell Washington – rf

Don Mattingly – 1b (at the peak of his almost Hall-of-Fame worthy career)

Mike Easler – lf

Ron Hassey – c

Dan Pasqua – dh

Mike Pagliarulo – 3b

Willie Randolph – 2b

Paul Zuvella – ss

The Yankees sent Scott Nielsen (1-0) to the mound. This was only the second start of Nielsen’s big league career. Five days earlier, he went seven innings (allowing three runs) and earned his first Major League victory in his first ever start as the Yankees thumped the Rangers 14-3.

On this day, the Twins countered with the following crew:

Kirby Puckett – cf (future Hll-of-Famer)

Randy Bush – lf

Kent Hrbek – 1b

Tom Brunansky – rf

Roy Smalley – dh (former Yankee)

Gary Gaetti – 3b

Steve Lombardozzi – 2b

Jeff Reed – c

Alvaro Espinoza – ss (future Yankee.) (I did not recall that Espy had been a member of the Twins.)

Pitching for the Minnesota Nine that day was Mike Smithson.

***

The game began quietly. Mike Smithson set the Yankees down in order.

Scott Nielsen then took the mound for only the second time in his big league career. He gave up a two-out walk to Kent Hrbek, but that was all.

Dan Pasqua hit a two-out double for the Yankees in the second inning, but they didn’t score.

Roy Smalley led off the bottom of the second inning with the dreaded lead-off walk, but Nielsen retired the next three batters to keep the game at 0-0.

In the third inning, the Yankees offense decided to get going. With two outs, Rickey Henderson singled. He then stole second base. Claudell Washington singled to right field to score Henderson giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead. Washington then stole second and he scored on a Don Mattingly RBI single. Mike Easler then singled as well, but Ron Hassey flew out to end the inning. It was 2-0 in favor of the Yanks.

In their half of the third, the Twins threatened. Kirby Puckett hit a one out double. After another out Kent Hrbek and Tom Brunansky both walked to load the bases for Roy Smalley. This might have been the first big jam of Scott Nielsen’s career… and he succeeded in getting out of it as Smalley grounded out to Don Mattingly at first base.

In the top of the fourth, the Yankees got a one-out homer my Mike Pagliarulo to up their lead to 3-0. (I loved rooting for Pags.) This was Pagliarulo’s 21st homer of the year.

The Twins answered by failing to score (in spite of a double by Steve Lombardozzi).

The Yankees kept rolling in the top of the fifth inning. With one out, Claudell Washington walked. Don Mattingly singled him to second and Mike Easler singled him home for the Yankees’ fourth run. One out later, Dan Pasqua then singled home Mattingly to give the Yankees a 5-0 edge and end Mike Smithson’s game. Alan Anderson came in to pitch for the Twins. He retired Mike Pagliarulo to end the inning.

Thoroughly frustrated by now, the Twins went quietly (1,2,3) in the fifth.

Completely enjoying the run scoring, the Yankees continued the onslaught in the sixth… Willie Randolph singled. Paul Zuvella singled. Rickey Henderson walked. The bases were loaded for Claudell Washington. Then… a passed ball to make it 6-0 Yanks. Washington followed by grounding into a double play that caught Zuvella at home. With Henderson at second and two outs, Don Mattingly let drive a single to make it 7-0. Mike Easler then grounded out.

The Twins went down in order. (Scott Nielsen might have been thinking, “This Major League stuff is easy.”)

In the top of the seventh inning, with one out, Dan Pasqua hit an inside-the-park homer to give the Yankees an 8-0 lead.

The Twins went down in order.

Mercifully, the Yankees didn’t score in the eighth inning despite having runners at second and third and one out and Don Mattingly up (he popped out to short).

The Twins got two singles in the eighth, but they didn’t score.

In the top of the ninth inning (with former Yankee Ron Davis now pitching for Minnesota) the Yankees had the bases loaded and two outs (Pasqua hit by pitch, Pagliarulo single, Zuvella walk) but Rickey Henderson flew out to right to end the threat.

The Twins, well, they failed to score. Mark Salas (future Yankee) pinch hit and hit into a game ending double play (Roy Smalley had begin the inning with a single).

The Yankees won 8-0. It was Scott Nielsen’s first big league complete game and his first career shutout.

TRIVIA – Scott Nielsen won only nine games in his Major League career. How many of those wins were shutouts?

After the season, Scott Neilsen was traded to the White Sox in a deal that brought the Yankees Randy Velarde. After the 1987, Nielsen would return to the Yankees (with pitcher Richard Dotson) in a trade that included Dan Pasqua and Mark Salas (who appeared in this game as a member of the Twins).

TRIVIA ANSWER – Of Scott Nielsen’s nine career victories three were shutouts. These were his only complete games as well. A full 33% of Nielsen’s career wins were complete game shutouts. Amazing.

***

Next we will head to 1987. In that game, the Yankees hosted the White Sox in a game that would pit Tommy John against Floyd Bannister.

Would the Yankees continue their impressive streak on July 12?

***

Yankees Record on July 12 (in this series – since 1968): 13-1

(There were no games played on July 12 in 1971, 1976, 1978, 1981, and 1982.)

Don Mattingly on July 12 (through 1986): 7 for 13 (.538), 1 2b, 1 HR, 6 RBI

Graig Nettles (as a Yankee on July 12): 33 AB, 7 hits (.212), 1 run, 5 strikeouts, 4 walks. 1 RBI (I had hoped that my favorite player would have done better on my birthday.)

#BirthdayBaseball

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