2016 Patriot Series, Game 6

KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 5, SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 4

For exactly two and a half innings in today’s Patriot Series Game 6, it looked like the Silver City Outlaws would be able to pull out a key win and force a winner-take-all Game 7.  The Outlaws, powered by home runs from 3B Rusty Brewmaker and C Toby Watson, led the game 4-0.  They had Knoxville starter Elicio Santana on the ropes.

Meanwhile, Outlaws starter Rob Tildon, who had delivered a key win in Game 2, was sailing along; he’d retired the Smokies in order in the first 2 innings.  The conditions seemed to be in place for a Silver City win.

Then came the bottom of the 3rd, when the Smokies scored five runs and knocked Tildon out of the game.  Meanwhile, Santana tightened up his game and shut down the Outlaws.  Ultimately, on the strength of their big inning, Knoxville pulled out a 5-4 win and captured the Patriot League title in six games.

“Baseball’s a rough floozy, I can tell you that,” said Outlaws manager John Jarha.  “One minute, we’re rolling right along and thinking about how we’re gonna handle Game 7.  Next minute, the steamroller just flattens us.  Our crew put up a hell of a fight.  They carried us as far as we could go, but we couldn’t quite get it done.”

Neither Tildon nor the Outlaws expected the 3rd to be a rough inning, since the bottom of Knoxville’s order was due up.  But the Smokies pride themselves on being dangerous one-through-nine in the order.  “I always tell my boys that it don’t matter where I put you in the order, I expect you to hit,” said Smokies manager Snuff Wallace.  “If you’re on my roster, that means I believe in you.”

So CF Joe Blair, DH Adam Valentim, and 3B Curt Figueroa didn’t put up easy outs.  Instead, they each singled, breaking the shutout and setting Tildon back on his heels.  Each batter came up with a different plan of attack.  Blair jumped on the first pitch and smoked a grounder through the left side.  Valentim worked the count, got to a full count, then dropped a flair just fair inside the left-field line.  Figueroa got ahead 3-1, then got a fastball and slapped a seeing-eye shot between first and second.

“Nothing fancy, just keep the line moving,” said Figueroa.  “That was what we had to do, and we did it.”

That rolled over the order, and leadoff hitter Track Johnson kept the momentum going, slapping a 1-1 pitch to right field for another RBI single.  Tildon recovered to strike out 2B Jeremiah Campo, but quickly fell behind 1B Eddie Battin.  He got Battin to swing through a changeup, but when he tried to double up, the Smokies first baseman met it squarely and sent a towering fly ball down the left-field line.  The ball came down 20 rows deep for a three-run homer as the crowd exploded.

“Eddie Battin is a prime-time player!” said Wallace.  “He has the knack for coming up big when we need him the most.  That’s what I love about him!”

After Knoxville took the lead, Santana tightened the screws on Silver City.  Over the remainder of his 7 2/3 innings, he allowed only a pair of scattered singles.  The closest the Outlaws came to mounting a rally was in the 8th, when Santana allowed a single and a walk.  At that point, Wallace brought in closer Charlie Pasternak, who retired DH Carlos Barraza to snuff out the rally.  The closer then set the Outlaws down in order in the 9th to finish it out, as his teammates rushed to the mound to celebrate.

As for Wallace, the famously blustery and cantankerous manager, he showed a softer side in his postgame press conference.  He didn’t curse at the assembled reporters, flip them off, or invite anyone to fellate him.  Instead, he spoke softly and seemed on the verge of tears at times.  “To manage this team, to be on this ride together, it’s been a dream for me,” said Wallace.  “I know y’all think I’m an obnoxious, mouthy bastard.  And I guess I am.  But I’m an obnoxious bastard for a reason, so I could get here.  This is what we’ve been doing it all for.

“But don’t worry,” Wallace added with a wink as he puffed on a victory cigar.  “’Cause in a few months, it’ll be time to go out there and repeat it.  And the ol’ bastard will be back!”

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 6”

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2016 Patriot Series, Game 5

KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 7, SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 3 (12 INNINGS)

Snuff Wallace had one message for his team today.  “Just win,” the Smokies manager told his player.  “Whoever wins this game wins the series.  Whatever it takes, whatever you’ve got to do, win this one.”

Wallace pushed this message to his team before the game.  He pressed it again when Knoxville trailed in the late innings.  When the game went to extras in broiling triple-degree heat, he told them the same thing.  And after the Smokies erupted for four runs in the 12th inning to claim a 7-3 win, Wallace began his postgame press conference by telling reporters, “You’re looking at the Patriot League champs right here.”

Wallace lavished praise on his team for their performance.  “Usually, there’s a handful of games each season that let you see what a team’s really made of,” the skipper said.  “This was one of those games, and my boys came through with flying colors.  We fought all the way, and we didn’t let up until we won it.  Now we can go home and clinch it in front of our fans.”

Both teams got off to a strong start, trading two-spots in the 1st inning.  SS Armand Moriarty struck first for Knoxville with a bases-loaded single to left center in the top of the frame.  Silver City countered in the bottom when RF Nathaniel Wason dropped a single down the left-field line to score one and C Toby Watson crushed a double off the wall to the deepest part of the park to plate another.  CF Javier Cardona led off the 2nd with a homer to put the Outlaws up 3-2.

After that, the pitchers took over.  Lefty Pedro Rodriguez of Silver City was his usual overpowering self, striking out 11 and allowing only a pair of singles between the 2nd and 7th innings.  Meanwhile, Knoxville right-hander Jack Jacques was methodically brilliant, allowing only one more single until he departed after 7.

With the Outlaws holding that one-run edge and Rodriguez dealing, it looked increasingly like the Smokies were headed for a tough loss.  Knoxville needed someone to step up, and the Campo twins answered the call in the 8th.  Jeremiah, the wiry second baseman, opened the inning with a pesky at-bat, fouling off five straight pitches before dropping a dying quail down the left-field line for a single.  After 1B Eddie Battin popped out, brother Jackson stepped to the plate.  One of Rodriguez’s few weaknesses is that he tends not to hold runners close, and Jeremiah took advantage, taking a huge lead and stealing second on the first pitch.

“I know the way [Rodriguez] pitch, you don’t get a lot of chances,” said Jeremiah.  “So I thought maybe I need to make a run for myself.”

On an 0-2 fastball from Rodriguez, Jackson yanked a single to left center.  Jeremiah flew around third base and scampered home ahead of Cardona’s off-target throw to tie the game.  The Smokies erupted from the dugout greet Jeremiah with high-five and fist bumps.

“It just changed everything for us,” said Battin.  “We weren’t sure we were ever gonna score another one off Pedro, but then we did.”

At that point, it became a battle of bullpens.  Knoxville’s Jason Landau and Rick Wilkins threw up zeroes for 4 innings; Silver City’s Emilio Abbas, Cliff Humphrey, and Go Matsumoto whitewashed the Smokies in similar fashion.  Who would blink first?

It took until the 12th, but the Outlaws finally blinked.  Matsumoto started the inning, but after he allowed a single and a walk while recording only one out, Outlaws manager John Jarha pulled him in favor of lefty Aurelio Menard.  Menard retired Battin on a pop-up to third for the second out, and had a chance to escape the inning when Jackson Campo hit a slow roller to the right side of the mound.  But Menard was slow to field the ball and Campo beat it out to load the bases.

“If I’d fielded that one cleaner,” said Menard, “we might still be playing.”

After that, things went quickly.  Moriarty slashed a double to the right to score a pair, then C Ricky Bossard punched one through the right side to bring in two more.

Handed a comfortable cushion, Knoxville lefty Sam Drawdy had little trouble finishing Silver City off in the bottom of the 12th to end the game.

Now, the Smokies head back to Rocky Top Park with two shots to claim their first title.  “Y’all better get used to calling us champions,” said Wallace.  “’Cause there’s no stopping us now.”

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 5”

2016 Patriot Series, Game 4

SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 2, KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 1 (10 INNINGS)

Game 4 of the Patriot Series didn’t unfold as expected.  Given the unseasonably warm temperatures (96 degrees at first pitch) and the underwhelming pitching matchup, a slugfest seemed likely.  But Knoxville’s Randy Cannon and Silver City’s Cloyce “Hoss” Benson delivered a pitcher’s duel instead.  Nine innings weren’t enough to resolve this one; it wasn’t until the 10th that Outlaws 2B Dominique Barkan delivered the walkoff single to give Silver City a 2-1 victory, evening the series at two games apiece.

“Not our usual kind of game, that’s for sure,” said Outlaws manager John Jarha.  “But it just shows you the kind of tough hombres we have on this club.”

The story of this game was the performance by the starters, both of whom have spotty reputations.  Early in his career, Benson was capable of firing fastballs in the upper 90s.  But he suffered a series of arm injuries, including a torn labrum, and now at age 31 he survives solely on guts and guile.  His fastball tops out around 88, and if his control isn’t spot on, he generally doesn’t last long.  Today, though, Benson was able to live on the fringes of the strike zone and get weak contact out of Knoxville’s bats.  He finessed his way through 6 innings, scattering 7 hits and allowing only one run on a solo homer by SS Armand Moriarty in the 3rd.

“The ol’ buzzard was fooling ‘em out there today,” said Benson.  “I had the smoke and mirrors going today.”

Meanwhile, Cannon was a highly touted hometown hero signed by the Jacksonville Dragons last season.  He didn’t live up to the hype, however, putting up the numbers of a mediocre innings-eater instead of a star.  This season, he got only sporadic work in the fifth starter role, and his number went from okay to awful.  The Dragons, frustrated with Cannon, dealt him to the Smokies at the deadline.

His performance has improved significantly since, but no one expected the outing he put up today.  He struck out nine through 9 innings and matched Benson, allowing only a run on a solo homer from 3B Rusty Brewmaker.  He faced one other sticky situation, when Silver City loaded the bases in the 4th on two singles and a walk, but he got DH Carlos Barraza to ground out to short to end the threat.

“How about that Randy Cannon!” crowed Knoxville manager Snuff Wallace.  “He’s had plenty of haters, but he went out today and shut ‘em all up.”

Cannon was still in the game as the 10th inning began, but Wallace pulled him in favor of closer Charlie Pasternak after 1B Muzz Elliott stroked a leadoff single.  Pasternak recorded two quick outs on a liner to short and a fly to center.  But while pitching to Barkan, the closer bounced a wild pitch that allowed Elliott to move up to second.  That was a crucial mistake, as it allowed Elliott to score on Barkan’s single to right center to end the game.

“I feel rotten about that,” said Pasternak.  “Randy pitched a terrific game, and I threw it away for him.”

Jarha praised the performance of relievers Cliff Humphrey and Emilio Abbas, who threw 4 shutout innings in relief of Benson.  “Don’t sleep on those two,” said Jarha.  “They kept us in it long enough to push the winning run across.  Great job in a must-win game.   That’s the kind of job that can swing a series.”

 

10/5/2017, KNX16-SCO16, The Corral
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Smokies           0  1  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0     1  9  0     8  0
2016 Outlaws           1  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  1     2  8  0     6  2
 
Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Outlaws              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Johnson           lf  4  0  0  0  .313    Barkan            2b  5  0  1  1  .067
Campo             2b  5  0  0  0  .222    Brewmaker         3b  4  1  2  1  .286
Battin            1b  5  0  2  0  .421    Taylor            ss  4  0  0  0  .111
Campo             rf  3  0  1  0  .467    Wason             rf  4  0  1  0  .400
Moriarty          ss  3  1  1  1  .308    Watson            c   4  0  1  0  .200
Credle            c   4  0  2  0  .250    Cardona           cf  4  0  1  0  .429
Blair             cf  2  0  1  0  .267    Elliott           1b  3  1  1  0  .200
 Gaytan           ph  1  0  1  0  .500    Barraza           dh  4  0  0  0  .091
 Vernon           cf  0  0  0  0  .000    Ivey              lf  4  0  1  0  .400
Valentim          dh  4  0  0  0  .077                         36  2  8  2
Figeroa           3b  4  0  1  0  .143
                     35  1  9  1
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Cannon           L 0-1           9.0  7  2  2  1  9 134  85  2.00
Pasternak                        0.2  1  0  0  0  0  12   7  0.00
                                 9.2  8  2  2  1  9 146  92 
 
Outlaws                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Benson                           6.0  7  1  1  3  2  88  50  1.50
Humphrey                         1.1  0  0  0  0  1  13   9  0.00
Abbas            W 1-0           2.2  2  0  0  1  0  24  14  0.00
                                10.0  9  1  1  4  3 125  73 
 
KNX: Gaytan batted for Blair in the 9th
     Vernon inserted at cf in the 9th
 
2B-Battin(1), Credle(1), Brewmaker(1). HR-Moriarty(1), Brewmaker(1). 
RBI-Moriarty(3), Barkan(1), Brewmaker(1). CS-Cardona. K-Campo, Campo, 
Moriarty, Barkan, Taylor 3, Wason 2, Watson, Cardona, Barraza. BB-Johnson, 
Campo, Moriarty, Blair, Elliott. WP-Pasternak. 
GWRBI: Barkan
Temperature: 96, Sky: partly cloudy, Wind: left to right at 8 MPH.

2016 Patriot Series, Game 3

KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 10, SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 7

In today’s pivotal Game 3 of the Patriot Series, both the Knoxville Smokies and the Silver City Outlaws got poor outings from their rookie starters, neither of whom made it past the 4th inning.  But while the Smokies bullpen bailed out Scott Green with a sturdy performance, the Outlaws pen couldn’t do the same for David Otto, and the result was a 10-7 Knoxville victory that gave them a 2-1 lead in the series.

“I know we aren’t the stars you’d recognize on the street,” said Smokies closer Charlie Pasternak of his team’s relief corps, “but we know how to get the job done when it matters.  We take our job very seriously.”

Before the bullpens got involved, it looked like the game was going to be a shootout.  Otto, the 19-year-old lefty who got the start for the Outlaws, came up as an injury replacement for Silver City in midseason and pitched so well that he stuck around.  Today, though, he pitched like the promising but raw teenager that he is.  The Smokies torched him for four runs in the 2nd inning, with the key blow a three-run homer off the bat of LF Track Johnson.  After he allowed a single and a walk in the 3rd inning, he was gone.

“I didn’t feel different warming up,” said Otto.  “But once the game started, it felt like it was moving at a hundred miles an hour.”

Unfortunately for Knoxville, Green couldn’t take advantage of the lead his team handed him.  Working with a four-run cushion in the 2nd, the right-hander promptly gave up half of it on an RBI double to the gap in right center by 1B Muzz Elliot and a run-scoring groundout by CF Javier Cardona.  The Smokies got a run back on a double by RF Jackson Campo in the top of the 4th, but Green collapsed in the bottom of the inning and failed to make it out.

RF Nathaniel Wason and C Toby Watson opened the inning with back-to-back jacks.  Green managed to retire Elliott on a sharp grounder to third, but then he gave up a single to LF Marlon Hintz and a triple to Cardona, and then he was headed for the showers.  A double later in the frame by DH Brant “Poison” Ivey scored Cardona and gave Silver City its first lead of the game.

Now, it was a battle of the bullpen.  Knoxville’s quartet of Jerry Tile, Sam Drawdy, Rick Wilkins, and Pasternak came through with flying colors; they worked 5 2/3 innings and allowed only one run, a solo shot that Cardona hit off of Drawdy in the 6th.

The Outlaws bullpen, on the other hand, couldn’t deliver what the team needed.  In particular, lefty long man Aurelio Menard imploded in the 5th and doomed Silver City.  Elliott opened the door by fumbling a grounder off the bat of Smokies CF Joe Blair.  But it was Menard who allowed back-to-back walks to load the bases.  And it was Menard who allowed three straight two-out RBI hits, a seeing-eye single by 1B Eddie Battin and back-to-back two-run doubles down the first base line by Campo and SS Armand Moriarty.

“I cost us this game,” said Menard.  “Again and again, I was just a pitch away from getting out of it, and I couldn’t hit my spots.”

Smokies manager Snuff Wallace, in a boast-filled press conference, pointed out that the supposedly intimidating atmosphere of The Corral didn’t shake his team at all.  “I told y’all, we don’t get scored of nothing,” said Wallace.  “We spit fire and piss gasoline.  And we sure aren’t gonna let a bunch of unemployed drunks in wife-beaters put us off our game.”

Knoxville will look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead tomorrow behind hard-throwing lefty Randy Cannon.  Silver City will look to even the series with veteran right-hander Cloyce “Hoss” Benson on the hill.

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 3”

2016 Patriot Series, Game 2

SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 8, KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 4

After suffering a 10-0 shellacking in Game 1 of this Patriot Series, Silver City Outlaws manager John Jarha brought his team together for a brief, blunt pep talk.  “You’ve had a hell of a ride this season,” Jarha told his men.  “You’ve showed heart, hustle, and guts.  But you’ve gotta ask yourself: How do you want to be remembered?

“If we keep playing like we did today for the rest of this series, we’re gonna die fast and quiet.  Is that how you want to be remembered?  I sure as hell don’t.  So let’s go out there tomorrow and play a game we can be proud of.”

The Outlaws listened to their manager’s words, then came out today and blitzed 20-game winner Elicio Santana on the way to an 8-4 win that evened the series at a game apiece.

“I’m not the type who gives big speeches,” said Jarha.  “But after we looked so flat in that first one, we needed a spark.  And if I could bring them that, great.”

The Outlaws didn’t let themselves get rattled by the outcome of Game 1, or having to face off against a dangerous pitcher like Santana.  Nor did they get rattled when Smokies RF Jackson Campo belted a two-run homer in the 1st to give the home team an early lead.

The first hero of the day for Silver City was CF Javier Cardona, who has a reputation for being powerful but streaky.  Today, Cardona was “hotter than a two-dollar pistol,” in the words of his manager.  The center fielder led off the 2nd inning by homering to left, cutting Knoxville’s lead in half.  Then in the 3rd, Cardona came up with the bases loaded and two outs, and drilled a hanging 2-1 slider to the gap in left center.  Two runs scored, giving the Outlaws their first lead of the game.  The Outlaws dugout hooted and hollered as Cardona lifted his hands in a “raise the roof” gesture.

“Javy really got us going today,” said Outlaws RF Nathaniel Wason.  “He was huge for us, no question about it.”

Silver City got a momentary scare when Cardona exited the game in the 7th inning, apparently favoring his right leg. Jarha, though, said that it was “nothing serious” and that his center fielder should be ready for Game 3.

Then came the 4th. After getting two quick outs, Santana faltered, allowed back-to-back walks to 2B Dominique Barkan and 3B Rusty Brewmaker.  That brought SS Danny Taylor to the plate.  The rookie has had a tremendous season, and he’s shown a knack for coming through in big situations.  He battled Santana to a full count, then timed a fastball and planted it fifteen rows deep in left center.  Suddenly, Silver City led 6-2 and Santana was headed for the showers.

“With one swing of the bat, it was a totally different game,” said Wason.

That early onslaught gave Silver City southpaw Rob Tildon all the support he needed.  Tildon worked 8 strong innings, striking out 12 Smokies.  The only hitters who gave him real trouble were the Campo twins; Jackson went deep twice, while brother Jeremiah homered once.

“That’s why we lost this one,” quipped Smokies manager Snuff Wallace.  “Not enough Campos.”

The series now shifts to the famously hostile environment of The Corral.  During the Western Division Series, the Outlaws won all three games played there, shifting the momentum of a series that seemed to be going against them.

Wallace, though, says his team won’t be intimidated.  “Everybody knows those Hollywood boys are a little light in the loafers,” said the Knoxville skippers.  “They get scared easy.  But my boys don’t get scared.  We just need to go over there and take care of business, then I can get my trophy.”

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 2”

2016 Patriot Series, Game 1

KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 10, SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 0

After a pair of exciting and competitive division series, Patriot League fans are no doubt hoping for a similarly thrilling matchup in the Patriot Series between the Knoxville Smokies and Silver City Outlaws.  Unfortunately, the Smokies threw cold water on those hopes in today’s Game 1, as Jack Jacques bamboozled the Outlaws hitters and Knoxville bashed its way to a 10-0 rout.

“Now that’s what I call a win!” exulted Smokies manager Snuff Wallace.  “Them Jacksonville boys gave us a bit of a rough ride, but now we’re playing real Smokies murderball!  Y’all best break out your brooms, ‘cause I smell a sweep coming on.”

Knoxville didn’t take long to jump out against Outlaws starter Pedro Rodriguez, erupting for four runs in the 2nd inning.  The Smokies loaded the bases on a single, a walk, and a bunt attempt that Rodriguez fumbled.  3B Curt Figueroa, who struggled badly this season, came through in the clutch with a two-run RBI to the corner in right.  LF Track Johnson followed with a groundout to second that plated another run.  A shaken Rodriguez then tossed a wild pitch that allowed the fourth run to scamper home.

“Pedro got a little shook up there, which ain’t like him,” said Silver City skipper John Jarha.  “But this is a bigger stage than he’s been on yet, and he’s only 20.  He pitches like an old hand, but he’s still a tenderfoot.”

Rodriguez and the Outlaws settled down after that and staved off any further damage.  But then came the 7th inning, when the Smokies put up a half-dozen more runs and blew the game wide open.  Johnson’s RBI single made it 5-0 and knocked the Silver City starter out of the game.  Later in the inning, 1B Eddie Battin belted a grand slam, and RF Jackson Campo followed with another blast to make it back-to-back jacks against reliever Tim Simmons.

Meanwhile, Jacques snuffed out any hope that the Outlaws might have had to get back in the game.  The Knoxville right-hander needed only 117 pitches to deliver a complete-game three-hit shutout.  His fastball was as lively as ever, as Jacques managed to fan eight Outlaws.

RF Nathaniel Wason’s stolen base in the 2nd was the only Silver City runner to get past first base until the 8th.  In that inning, the Outlaws loaded the bases and threatened to break the shutout.  But Jacques calmly got 3B Rusty Brewmaker to hit into a double play to escape the inning with the shutout intact.

“That’s the beautiful thing about Jacques,” said Wallace.  “Other pitchers might get scared in the big games, but Jacques is a cold-blooded bastard.  Nothing shakes this guy.”

Jarha admitted that “there ain’t really anything good to say about this one for us,” but he remains optimistic about the rest of the series.  “This is only one game, so nothing to get rattled about,” the manager said.  “We dropped the first two games against California, and we got back and won that one.  So I’m not gonna panic about this one.  Snuff can run his mouth all he wants, but this thing is up for grabs.”

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 1”

Patriot League Division Series – Game 7

PBL Eastern Division Series, Game 7

KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 7, JACKSONVILLE DRAGONS 5

When telling the story of the Knoxville Smokies’ 7-5 win over the Jacksonville Dragons in the deciding game of the Patriot League’s Eastern Division Series, there are a lot of names worth mentioning.

There’s Smokies RF Jackson Campo, who had a game for the ages, going 3-for-4 with 5 RBI.  There’s Dragons LF Rob Hartley, whose three-run upper-deck homer in the 5th looked for a while like it might carry Jacksonville to a shocking upset.  There’s the Knoxville relief trio of Jerry Tile, Rick Wilkins, and Charlie Pasternak, who combined to throw 4 scoreless innings to put the home team in position to win.  There’s Jacksonville starter Bryce Hobbs, a rookie who posted a 16-3 regular-season record but couldn’t get his team over the hump.  There’s Smokies manager Snuff Wallace, who guaranteed a victory before Game 7 and saw his team come from behind to pick him up.

But no account of this game would be complete without mentioning one key player, one who didn’t appear in the game at all: Dragons ace Biggs McGee.

After McGee turned in a strong outing on short rest in Game 4 to save his team’s season, he promised that he would deliver a repeat performance today. “If there’s a Game 7, guess who’s going to be on the hill gunning for glory?” McGee asked reporters.  “Yep, it’s your boy.  They’re gonna get a face full of Biggs McGee whether they like it or not.”

But when Game 7 rolled around, McGee didn’t get the start; Hobbs did.  And when Hobbs began to struggle in the middle innings, manager Steve Califano never summoned his ace, even though McGee was reportedly warming up in anticipation of a call that never came.  The big-talking pitcher who was determined to carry the team on his back never got the chance.

Califano declined to answer questions about his pitching decisions after the game, saying only that “I went with the guys who I thought could deliver for us.”  Why those guys didn’t include McGee, who was by all accounts ready and willing, is a question that will hang over this game for the ages.

The fact that Hobbs got the ball to start Game 7 wasn’t a surprise.  Although McGee and Kyle Palmer were able to start on short rest in Game 4 and 5, Hobbs told Califano that he couldn’t do the same in Game 6.  The Dragons started Juan Sarmiento instead.  So it made sense that Hobbs, on full rest, would be the starter in Game 7.

But all signs pointed to McGee being available at least in relief for today’s contest.  Califano yanked McGee in Game 4 after only 82 pitches, saying that he wanted to “keep my power dry.”  Asked before today’s game if he was ready for a relief appearance if needed, McGee said, “You bet your rosy-red butt cheeks.  I’m chomping at the bit to get in there.”

But when Hobbs allowed a three-run bomb to Campo in the 4th to overturn an early Jacksonville lead, Califano didn’t call on McGee.  When Campo stroked an RBI single in the 6th to cut the Dragons’ edge to 5-4, Califano stuck with his struggling starter.  It wasn’t until Smokies LF Track Johnson’s fielder’s choice in the 7th tied the game with only one out that the Jacksonville manager finally took Hobbs out, in favor of… Razor Corridon, the losing pitcher in Game 6.

According to team sources, McGee had started warming up when Hobbs began struggling in the 6th.  By the time Johnson tied the game in the 7th, he was “ready to go 100%.”  When Califano summoned Corridon instead, McGee slammed down his glove and sat down in disgust.

The manager allowed that he hoped that Corridon would get a couple groundball outs to escape the inning.  “In that situation, you need a guy who can keep the ball on the ground,” said Califano.  “Biggs is more of a fly-ball guy.  So right there, you figure the Razor gives you the better shot.”

Corridon did get Smokies 2B Jeremiah Campo to hit a grounder to first, allowing the Dragons to throw out DH Adam Valentim at the plate.  But the next two batters, 1B Eddie Battin and Jackson Campo, hit line-drive singles that brought home the runs that wound up deciding the game.

McGee claimed no hard feelings after the game.  “He’s the boss man, and he makes the call,” said the ace.  “That ain’t my job.  My job is to get guys out.  And I sure would have liked a chance to do that.”

Over in the victor’s locker room, Wallace said the win was “proof that my guys deliver when it counts.  We’re the champions, and we just showed it.  Now let’s go get the big trophy!”

The Smokies now go on to meet the Silver City Outlaws in the Patriot Series.  The Dragons head back to the weight room, where they’ll try to lift their way to a championship.

 

9/26/2017, JAX16-KNX16, Rocky Top Park
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Dragons           0  0  0  2  3  0  0  0  0     5 11  0     6  0
2016 Smokies           0  0  0  3  0  1  3  0  x     7 10  0     6  0
 
Dragons              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Taliaferro        2b  5  1  2  0  .226    Johnson           lf  5  3  2  1  .276
Kapoor            3b  5  2  2  1  .407    Campo             2b  4  1  1  0  .250
Hartley           lf  4  1  2  3  .333    Battin            1b  3  1  1  1  .269
Soria             1b  4  0  0  0  .185    Campo             rf  4  1  3  5  .370
Hopps             rf  4  1  2  1  .308    Moriarty          ss  4  0  1  0  .357
Leon              cf  4  0  1  0  .154    Credle            c   4  0  1  0  .308
Soltero           dh  3  0  1  0  .208    Blair             cf  3  1  1  0  .125
 Patterson        ph  1  0  0  0  .500    Valentim          dh  2  0  0  0  .286
Teachout          c   4  0  0  0  .160     Bossard          ph  1  0  0  0  .000
Herdt             ss  4  0  1  0  .381    Figeroa           3b  2  0  0  0  .227
                     38  5 11  5           Vernon           ph  0  0  0  0  .000
                                           Aceuedo          3b  1  0  0  0  .500
                                                               33  7 10  7
 
Dragons                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Hobbs            L 1-1           6.1  7  7  7  2  3  88  57  6.43
Corridon                         0.2  2  0  0  0  1  12   9  6.75
Newman                           1.0  1  0  0  1  3  20  11  0.00
                                 8.0 10  7  7  3  7 120  77 
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Green                            5.0  9  5  5  0  4  81  58  9.00
Tile             W 2-0           2.0  1  0  0  0  3  27  17  0.00
Wilkins          H 1             1.0  0  0  0  0  0  11   6  0.00
Pasternak        S 3             1.0  1  0  0  0  1  15   9  0.00
                                 9.0 11  5  5  0  8 134  90 
 
JAX: Patterson batted for Soltero in the 8th
KNX: Vernon batted for Figeroa in the 7th
     Aceuedo inserted at 3b in the 8th
     Bossard batted for Valentim in the 8th
 
2B-Taliaferro(2), Credle(1). HR-Kapoor(4), Hartley(5), Hopps(1), Campo(2). 
RBI-Kapoor(6), Hartley 3(13), Hopps(2), Johnson(1), Battin(4), Campo 5(10). 
K-Kapoor, Soria, Leon, Soltero, Teachout 2, Herdt 2, Johnson, Campo, 
Moriarty, Credle, Valentim, Aceuedo, Bossard. BB-Battin, Blair, Valentim. 
SH-Vernon. 
GWRBI: Battin
Temperature: 57, Sky: partly cloudy, Wind: left to right at 17 MPH.

 

PBL Western Division Series, Game 7

SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 5, CALIFORNIA SHARKS 3

The Silver City Outlaws are a team steeped in the mythology of the Old West.  Their stadium is called The Corral, and the home-run landing ground in right field is called Boot Hill.  Both GM Hank Stroman and manager John Jarha liberally lace their public remarks with cowboy slang.  And the famously rowdy crowds often give off the vibe of a lawless frontier town, Tombstone or Dodge City.

If the Outlaws are a Western movie, RF Nathaniel Wason is their John Wayne.  Wason is tall, handsome, and laconic.  And when the situation calls for it, he doesn’t hesitate to play the hero.

Throughout the Western Division Series, facing a talented and dangerous opponent in the California Sharks, Silver City needed Wason’s heroism.  And as he has so often this season, Wason delivered.  During the seven-game series, Wason hit .481 and went deep five times.  And in today’s deciding game, the slugger went 2-for-4 and drove in four of the Outlaws’ five runs, including a game-winning homer in the 9th.

“Nate’s not the kind of guy to brag on himself, so let me brag on him a little,” said Jarha.  “This guy’s tougher than saddle leather, and he’s got nerves of cast iron.  No matter the situation, no matter the opponent, he doesn’t get rattled.  He’s a quick draw and his shot is true.  I’m not sure he’s human, to tell you the truth.”

Wason was the man the Outlaws needed today.  In the 3rd inning, with California ahead 2-0, Silver City had the bases loaded with two outs when Wason came up against Sharks lefty Stu Palmeiro.  “There was still a lot of game left after that,” said Jarha.  “But if we’d let Palmeiro wriggle out of that jam, it was gonna be a long day.”

Wason took a strike, then roped a Palmeiro sinker into the gap in left center for a bases-clearing double.  The hit took the air out of the crowd at Blue Note Stadium, but it fired up the Outlaws dugout.  “He hit a damn good pitch like he had it on a tee,” said 1B Muzz Elliott.  “He just went in there and dug it out.”

As the innings wore on, though, Palmeiro dug in and kept the Outlaws from further damage.  2B Palmer Strachan tied the game with a two-out double in the 5th, and it looked like neither Palmeiro nor Outlaws starter Rob Tildon would budge any further.

Finally, the 9th inning came around, and Palmeiro remained on the hill for California.  Wason led off the inning for Silver City.  The Sharks southpaw nibbled around the edges of the plate, trying to get Wason to hit a weak groundout.  But the slugger wouldn’t budge, running the count to 3-0.  Palmeiro fired in a get-me-over fastball, and Wason let it go by for strike one.

For his next pitch, Palmeiro tried to climb the ladder.  He fired a fastball up and in, and Wason hit a towering fly ball down the right-field line.  It had the distance, but would it stay fair?  As Palmeiro and RF Jessie Corona watched helplessly, the ball stayed just inside the foul pole.

Another hitter might have flipped his bat or Cadillaced it around the bases.  Not Wason.  The Silver City slugger kept his head down and circled the bases as nonchalantly as if it were spring training.

“Just doing my job,” Wason said.  “Not out to show anybody up.  Just playing for the W.”

The loss brings a disappointing end to an exciting season for the Sharks, who finished the season with 95 wins but couldn’t pull out four more.  “There is no shame in this ending,” said California manager Eduardo Aponte.  “Only heartbreak.”

The Outlaws move on to face the Smokies in the Patriot Series.  The Sharks head over to Zuma to get in some surfing before the season is over.

 

9/26/2017, SCO16-CAL16, Blue Note Stadium
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Outlaws           0  0  3  0  0  0  0  0  2     5  9  0     5  2
2016 Sharks            2  0  0  0  1  0  0  0  0     3  5  0     1  0
 
Outlaws              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Sharks               AB  R  H BI   AVG
Ivey              dh  5  1  1  0  .143    Corona            rf  4  0  1  0  .250
Brewmaker         3b  4  0  0  0  .172    Ortiz             1b  4  1  1  0  .333
Taylor            ss  2  1  0  0  .185    Smyth             ss  4  1  1  2  .276
Wason             rf  4  1  2  4  .481    Mader             lf  4  0  0  0  .250
Elliott           1b  4  1  2  0  .214    Nix               dh  3  0  0  0  .160
Cardona           cf  4  0  0  0  .304    Canales           cf  1  1  1  0  .208
Whittier          lf  4  0  1  1  .250    Lockley           c   3  0  0  0  .273
 Baynes           pr  0  0  0  0 1.000    Oller             3b  3  0  0  0  .286
Barkan            2b  4  1  2  0  .238    Strachan          2b  3  0  1  1  .391
Barraza           c   4  0  1  0  .200                         29  3  5  3
                     35  5  9  5
 
Outlaws                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Tildon                           7.0  5  3  3  2  8 119  74  5.56
Abbas            W 3-0           1.0  0  0  0  0  0   8   5  0.00
Matsumoto        S 2             1.0  0  0  0  0  2  13   8  6.00
                                 9.0  5  3  3  2 10 140  87 
 
Sharks                           INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Palmeiro         L 0-2           8.0  7  5  5  1 10 135  89  4.50
Arzola                           1.0  2  0  0  0  1  17  11  0.00
                                 9.0  9  5  5  1 11 152 100 
 
SCO: Baynes ran for Whittier in the 9th
     Baynes moved to lf in the 9th
 
2B-Wason(3), Whittier(1). HR-Wason(5), Smyth(2). RBI-Wason 4(12), 
Whittier(2), Smyth 2(5), Strachan(6). SB-Barkan(3), Canales(1). CS-Ivey, 
Canales. K-Ivey, Brewmaker 2, Taylor, Wason, Elliott 2, Cardona 2, Barraza 2, 
Corona 2, Ortiz, Smyth 2, Mader 2, Lockley 2, Strachan. BB-Taylor, Canales 2. 
HBP-Taylor. HB-Palmeiro. 
GWRBI: Wason
Kent Whittier was injured for this game and 3 more days
Temperature: 64, Sky: cloudy, Wind: right to left at 13 MPH.

Patriot League Division Series – Game 6

PBL Western Division Series, Game 6

CALIFORNIA SHARKS 5, SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 2

It’s been a difficult year for California Sharks starter Pierre LaRue.  The right-hander was expected to be California’s ace, but his numbers this season have been more in line with a mid-rotation innings-eater.  Both young righty Kevin Conner and quirky lefty Stu Palmeiro have outshone him this season; accordingly, the coveted Game 1 start in this division series went to Conner, not LaRue.

The bugaboo that’s plagued LaRue all year: home runs.  The right-hander has been unusually gopher ball-prone this season.  The 42 homers he allowed in the regular season were by far the most on the Sharks’ staff.  In his unimpressive Game 2 start, LaRue yielded three homers to the Silver City Outlawsand was fortunate to be bailed out by a late California rally.

LaRue is known as a studious, hard-working, and slightly obsessive technician on the mound.  He has spent much of the season tinkering with his arm slot and delivery, trying to keep the ball in the park.  After Game 2, the righty spent the next two days studying tape, throwing balls against the wall, trying to hone his mechanics in preparation for the critical Game 6.

Was he successful?  It depends on how you measure success.  LaRue was unable to avoid the home-run ball, allowing dingers to RF Nathaniel Wason and C Toby Watson.  But those were the only hits LaRue allowed, and his performance was strong enough to power the Sharks to a 5-2 win that forced a Game 7 in the series.

“When Pierre is on his game, he is a delight to watch,” said Sharks manager Eduardo Aponte.  “Today was a complete joy.”

LaRue (1-0) was aggressive in attacking the strike zone; of the 107 pitches he threw over 8 innings, 70 were strikes.  He kept the ball low and got the Silver City hitters to chase, racking up 12 groundball outs and eight strikeouts.

“Pierre was just toying with them today,” said C Thaddeus Lockley.  “I hardly even had to call any pitches.  I just stuck out my glove and he hit it, over and over.”

Facing a tough opponent in lefty Pedro Rodriguez, the Sharks got their licks in early.  1B Max Ortiz got California on the board with a solo homer in the 1st.  Then they hung three on Rodriguez in the 2nd inning.  Lockley worked a leadoff walk.  3B Johnie Oller tripled him home, and 2B Palmer Strachan followed with a single that plated Oller.  Thanks to an error by Outlaws 2B Dominique Barkan that extended the inning, LF Kenneth Mader had a chance to single home Strachan to make it 4-2.

Rodriguez (0-2) didn’t allow another run over the rest of his 7 1/3 innings of work, but the damage was already done.  “There’s no room for error in these games,” said Silver City skipper John Jarha.  “One bad inning is all it takes.  That’s life in the big leagues.”

Sharks closer Chris Lendon atoned for his Game 4 collapse by striking out the side in the 9th inning to earn his second save of the series.

The series now comes down to a winner-take all matchup at Blue Note Stadium tomorrow, with Palmeiro facing off against Silver City southpaw Rob Tildon.  “As close as this series has been, it always felt like we were gonna end up here,” said Wason.  “We’re ready to go out there tomorrow and take care of business.”

 

9/25/2017, SCO16-CAL16, Blue Note Stadium
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Outlaws           0  1  0  0  1  0  0  0  0     2  2  1     2  0
2016 Sharks            1  3  0  0  0  0  0  1  x     5  9  0     8  0
 
Outlaws              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Sharks               AB  R  H BI   AVG
Ivey              dh  4  0  0  0  .130    Corona            rf  5  0  0  0  .250
Brewmaker         3b  4  0  0  0  .200    Ortiz             1b  4  1  2  1  .353
Taylor            ss  4  0  0  0  .200    Smyth             ss  4  0  1  0  .280
Wason             rf  3  1  1  1  .478    Mader             lf  4  0  1  1  .292
Elliott           1b  3  0  0  0  .167    Nix               dh  3  0  0  0  .182
Barkan            2b  2  0  0  0  .176    Canales           cf  4  0  1  0  .174
Watson            c   3  1  1  1  .250    Lockley           c   2  2  1  0  .316
Cardona           cf  2  0  0  0  .368    Oller             3b  3  1  2  2  .333
 Barraza          ph  1  0  0  0  .167    Strachan          2b  3  1  1  1  .400
 Whittier         cf  0  0  0  0  .250                         32  5  9  5
Hintz             lf  3  0  0  0  .214
                     29  2  2  2
 
Outlaws                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Rodriguez        L 0-2           7.1  8  5  4  5  4 139  79  4.11
Abbas                            0.2  1  0  0  0  0  10   7  0.00
                                 8.0  9  5  4  5  4 149  86 
 
Sharks                           INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
La Rue           W 1-0           8.0  2  2  2  2  8 107  70  4.50
Lendon           S 2             1.0  0  0  0  0  3  17  11  7.71
                                 9.0  2  2  2  2 11 124  81 
 
SCO: Barraza batted for Cardona in the 8th
     Whittier inserted at cf in the 8th
 
E-Barkan. 2B-Oller(1). 3B-Smyth(1), Oller(1). HR-Wason(4), Watson(2), 
Ortiz(2). RBI-Wason(8), Watson(3), Ortiz(5), Mader(3), Oller 2(4), 
Strachan(5). SB-Barkan(2). CS-Ortiz, Canales. K-Ivey, Brewmaker, Taylor 4, 
Wason, Elliott, Watson, Cardona, Hintz, Mader 2, Lockley, Strachan. BB-Wason, 
Barkan, Nix, Lockley 2, Oller, Strachan. 
GWRBI: Oller
Temperature: 70, Sky: clear, Wind: none.

 

PBL Eastern Division Series, Game 6

KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 5, JACKSONVILLE DRAGONS 3

Knoxville Smokies SS Armand Moriarty is not a household name.  He’s not among the league leaders in batting average or home runs.  He’s a steady but unspectacular fielder.  He’s not the type to boast or give colorful quotes to the press.  He’s a professional, reliable player, but not someone who stands out in a crowd.

Moriarty might become a household name after this series, though.  In today’s Game 6, Moriarty went 2-for-4 to raise his average to .375 for the playoffs.  And one of his hits was a two-run homer that broke a tie in the 8th inning and lifted Knoxville to a 5-3 victory over the Jacksonville Dragons that tied the series at three games apiece.

“Y’all ain’t rid of me yet!” crowed Smokies manager Snuff Wallace after the game.  “But y’all better get used to saying Armand Moriarty’s name.  He ain’t a big talker, but he’s a damn assassin.  He’s one of those guys that just does his business and moves on.  Just like we’re gonna do after tomorrow!”

The Smokies didn’t expect that the game would be as close as it was, based on the pitching matchup.  Knoxville sent their ace, Elicio Santana, to the hill in this must-win game.  Jacksonville was expected to counter with Bryce Hobbs, following the examples of Biggs McGee and Kyle Palmer and starting on short rest.

But Hobbs indicated that he wouldn’t be able to go today, so manager Steve Califano turned instead to 24-year-old Juan Sarmiento.  The young right-hander is famous for two things: a fastball that regularly touches the triple digits, and a complete lack of control.  “Juan can throw a grape through a brick wall,” said Califano, “if he can find the wall.”

When his team needed him, though, Sarmiento delivered.  Over 7 innings, Sarmiento was effectively wild, striking out nine and walking four while allowing only five hits.  Of the three runs he gave up, only one was earned.

“I was proud to be the man for my team,” said Sarmiento.

Santana was even stronger for Knoxville.  After allowing two runs in the 1st on a mammoth blast by Dragons LF Rob Hartley, Santana gave up only a single over the next 5 innings.  In the 7th, though, Jacksonville tied the score on a solo shot by DH Sandy Soltero.

In the bottom of the 8th, Sarmiento gave way to reliever Razor Corridon, one of the Dragons’ rock-solid troika of late-inning relievers.  Today, though, Corridon was off his game.  The first pitch he threw was ground back up the middle by Smokies 1B Eddie Battin for a single.  The next batter, RF Jackson Campo, got overeager and popped a changeup to third for the first out.  That brought Moriarty to the plate.

Corridon started Moriarty with a slider that dove out of the zone; the shortstop didn’t bite.  Ball one.  Corridon then went for an inside fastball; Moriarty offered at it and missed.  One and one.

Dragons C Judson Teachout called for another fastball, but Corridon shook him off and went to the changeup.  “I thought I could get Moriarty out front, like I did with Campo,” said Corridon after the game.  “I figured he was sitting dead red.”

Moriarty, though, was ready for the pitch, and drove a high fly ball to left center.  Dragons CF Alfonso Leon raced back toward the track, but the ball kept carrying and finally came down ten rows deep for a two-run homer.

“When I saw him shake [off the sign], I figured he was going to something off-speed,” said Moriarty.  “So I took a beat, then I swung.”

Knoxville closer Charlie Pasternak succeeded where Corridon had failed, tossing a scoreless 9th for his second save of the series.

Brash as ever, Wallace guaranteed a victory in tomorrow’s deciding game.  “Now’s the time for the champs to rise up,” said the Knoxville skipper.  “This is our time.”

 

9/25/2017, JAX16-KNX16, Rocky Top Park
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Dragons           2  0  0  0  0  0  1  0  0     3  4  1     4  1
2016 Smokies           1  2  0  0  0  0  0  2  x     5  9  1     8  1
 
Dragons              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Taliaferro        2b  4  0  0  0  .192    Johnson           lf  3  1  1  0  .250
Kapoor            3b  3  1  0  0  .409    Campo             2b  3  0  1  2  .250
Hartley           lf  4  1  2  2  .304    Battin            1b  4  1  1  0  .261
Soria             1b  2  0  0  0  .217    Campo             rf  4  0  1  0  .304
Hopps             rf  4  0  1  0  .273    Moriarty          ss  4  1  2  2  .375
Leon              cf  4  0  0  0  .136    Credle            c   3  1  1  0  .318
Soltero           dh  4  1  1  1  .190    Blair             cf  4  1  0  0  .095
Teachout          c   3  0  0  0  .190    Valentim          dh  2  0  1  1  .316
Herdt             ss  3  0  0  0  .412     Arias            pr  0  0  0  0  .000
                     31  3  4  3           Gaytan           ph  0  0  0  0  .000
                                          Figeroa           3b  3  0  0  0  .250
                                           Aceuedo          ph  1  0  1  0 1.000
                                                               31  5  9  5
 
Dragons                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Sarmiento                        7.0  5  3  1  4  9 120  69  1.29
Corridon         L 0-1           1.0  4  2  2  1  1  28  15  9.00
                                 8.0  9  5  3  5 10 148  84 
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Santana          W 2-0           8.0  3  3  2  2 11 114  79  1.69
Pasternak        S 2             1.0  1  0  0  1  0  20  12  0.00
                                 9.0  4  3  2  3 11 134  91 
 
KNX: Arias ran for Valentim in the 7th
     Gaytan batted for Arias in the 8th
     Aceuedo batted for Figeroa in the 8th
     Aceuedo moved to 3b in the 9th
 
E-Taliaferro, Figeroa. 2B-Johnson(1). HR-Hartley(4), Soltero(1), Moriarty(2). 
RBI-Hartley 2(10), Soltero(3), Campo 2(4), Moriarty 2(5), Valentim(1). 
SB-Campo(1), Arias(1). K-Taliaferro 3, Kapoor, Hartley, Soria, Leon 2, 
Soltero, Teachout, Herdt, Johnson, Battin, Campo, Moriarty, Credle, Blair 2, 
Figeroa 3. BB-Kapoor, Soria 2, Johnson 2, Credle, Valentim, Gaytan. SH-Campo. 
PB-Teachout 2. 
GWRBI: Moriarty
Temperature: 79, Sky: cloudy, Wind: left to right at 6 MPH.

Patriot League Division Series – Game 5

PBL Eastern Division Final Game 5

JACKSONVILLE DRAGONS 5, KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 0

The Jacksonville Dragons are far better known for their hitting than their pitching.  To the degree that they’ve become known for their arms, most of the chatter circled around big-talking ace Biggs McGee, rookie sensation Bryce Hobbs, or the late-inning trio of Blueberry Jackson, Lance Newman, and Razor Corridon.

One name that rarely comes up is the Dragons’ #2 starter, Kyle Palmer.  The hard-throwing youngster quietly put together a solid 2016 campaign (17-7, 4.28 ERA, .739 OPS against), but few would consider him an elite starter.  He’s knocked for being inconsistent and injury-prone, and there’s a sense that he hasn’t figured out how to get the most out of his tremendous natural ability.  After the Knoxville Smokies raked Palmer in a 9-1 rout in Game 2 of this series, the chorus of critics only grew louder, saying that Jacksonville would never be a real contender unless they could find a better second starter.

Palmer’s start in today’s Game 5, though, may start to change the perception around him.  Inspired by McGee’s winning start on three days’ rest in Game 4, Palmer went to manager Steve Califano and volunteered to go on short rest as well.  And while McGee impressed with a solid 6-inning start that helped the Dragons to victory, Palmer (1-1) did him one better: he tossed a complete-game two-hit shutout, lifting Jacksonville to a 5-0 win that moved them within one game of a stunning series victory.

“My main man Kyle Palmer!” exclaimed McGee after the game.  “I’ve always known that he was something special.  He just needed the right moment to shine.  And inspired by my example, he delivered us to victory!”

Califano raved about Palmer’s poise and confidence.  “I’ve always been a believer in Kyle, but he’s always been a guy who’s been on the brink of figuring it out but not quite there,” said the Dragons skipper.  “He’s got the tools, but when he struggles, he tends to fall back on throwing instead of pitching.  Today, he was a pitcher.  He wasn’t just rearing back and firing; he was working to the hitters’ weaknesses and using that to his advantage.  Just masterful.”

For offense, the Dragons relied on another underrated player: LF Rob Hartley.  The mountain-sized slugger is known around the league for his prodigious bombs, but he rarely comes up in discussions of the league’s top players.  Either he’s caricatured as a one-dimensional freak of nature, or he’s ignored because of his introverted, press-shy personality.

Today, Hartley made himself impossible to ignore, driving in all of Jacksonville’s runs.  In the 1st, he hit a long fly to center that nearly went out, but instead went for a sac fly that brought in the game’s first tally.  In the 3rd, he broke the game open with a mammoth blast down the left-field line for a three-run homer.  In the 5th, he hit an 0-2 sinker from Smokies starter Jack Jacques (0-1) to the upper deck in left center for a solo shot.

“Rob is a national treasure,” said Califano.  “People think he’s just an all-or-nothing slugging machine, but he’s been so much more for us.  I know he doesn’t like the spotlight, but sometimes the game finds you, and he came through when it counted.”

While Califano lavished praise on his starter and his slugger, his opposite number was in a very different mood.  Smokies manager Snuff Wallace had widely predicted that his team would roll right over the underdog Dragons.  Now, his team is just one loss away from a shocking and embarrassing defeat.

During a terse and snappish press conference, Wallace called out his players for lackadaisical effort.  “Seems like they were taking it for granted,” said the Knoxville skipper.  “They won a couple game and then hit the snooze alarm.  Good thing for them we had some [expletive]-around room.  Well, now there’s no more [expletive]-around room.

“We’ve got two games at home, and we’ve got to win them both.  There’s plenty enough talent here to win it, but do they have the killer instinct?  We’ll find out.”

 

9/23/2017, KNX16-JAX16, Tesla Field
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Smokies           0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0     0  2  0     5  0
2016 Dragons           1  0  3  0  1  0  0  0  x     5  6  0     4  0
 
Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Dragons              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Johnson           lf  4  0  0  0  .238    Taliaferro        2b  3  1  0  0  .227
Campo             2b  4  0  1  0  .238    Kapoor            3b  4  1  3  0  .474
Battin            1b  3  0  0  0  .263    Hartley           lf  3  2  2  5  .263
Campo             rf  2  0  0  0  .316    Soria             1b  4  0  0  0  .238
Moriarty          ss  4  0  1  0  .350    Hopps             rf  3  0  0  0  .278
Credle            c   3  0  0  0  .316    Leon              cf  4  0  0  0  .167
Blair             cf  3  0  0  0  .118    Soltero           dh  3  0  0  0  .176
Valentim          dh  3  0  0  0  .294    Teachout          c   3  0  0  0  .222
Figeroa           3b  3  0  0  0  .294    Herdt             ss  2  1  1  0  .500
                     29  0  2  0           Burt             ss  0  0  0  0  .000
                                                               29  5  6  5
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Jacques          L 0-1           8.0  6  5  5  2 14 136  86  7.90
                                 8.0  6  5  5  2 14 136  86 
 
Dragons                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Palmer           W 1-1           9.0  2  0  0  3  6 134  90  3.14
                                 9.0  2  0  0  3  6 134  90 
 
JAX: Burt inserted at ss in the 8th
 
2B-Kapoor(2), Herdt(3). HR-Hartley 2(3). RBI-Hartley 5(8). K-Johnson, 
Battin 2, Campo, Moriarty, Blair, Taliaferro, Kapoor, Hartley, Soria 3, 
Hopps 2, Leon 2, Soltero, Teachout 2, Herdt. BB-Battin, Campo 2, Hopps, 
Herdt. SF-Hartley. HBP-Taliaferro. HB-Jacques. 
GWRBI: Hartley
Temperature: 84, Sky: clear, Wind: in from left at 4 MPH.

 

PBL Western Division Series, Game 5

SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 16, CALIFORNIA SHARKS 4

Up to this point, the Western Division Series has been an incredibly close and thrilling matchup.  The first four games of the series were each decided by one run.  “So far, we have had the pleasure of seeing two strong and talented team playing chess at the highest level,” said California Sharks manager Eduardo Aponte.

That all changed in today’s Game 5, as the Silver City Outlaws got their offense going early and often.  They shelled Sharks ace Kevin Conner, then pulverized the bullpen and left them for dead in a 16-4 blowout that gave the Outlaws a 3-2 lead in the series.

On paper, this game looked like a mismatch: Conner was one of the best starters in the league and dominated Silver City in Game 1, while Outlaws starter Kevin Jennings was a rookie who went 10-10 with a 4.73 ERA and had just returned from an ankle injury.

As it turned out, the game was indeed a mismatch… but not the one that was expected.  Conner struggled to keep the ball in the park, allowing longballs to LF Marlon Hintz and CF Javier Cardona in the first 3 innings.  But the Sharks also had some success against Jennings, and it seemed like the game would turn into a shootout.

Then came the bottom of the 4th, when the game went from a shootout to a slaughter.  Aponte pulled Conner after he issued a one-out walk, bringing in former closer Eugene Grace instead.  The veteran left-hander did not provide the relief Aponte was seeking.  He surrendered two singles, a double, a stolen base, and two runs while recording only one out.

Aponte then brought in Matt Simpson, the team’s fifth starter during the regular season, and things did not improve.  He allowed a single, a walk, and then Cardona’s second homer of the day, a three-run blast.  Suddenly the score was 11-4, and the competitive portion of the evening was over.

Meanwhile, Jennings (1-0) settled down after his early rocky outing, scattering four singles over the final 5 innings to collect the complete-game win.

In the mind of Outlaws skipper John Jarha, there was another factor in Silver City’s big win: the famously raucous crowd at The Corral.  “This is a tough place to play for a visiting club,” said Jarha.  “The crowd is right on top of you, and they don’t let up from the first pitch to the end.  You’ve really got to have a set of stones to come in here and win.  And this bunch from California… they’re good players, but I don’t know if they’ve got the testicular fortitude.  The fact that they won the two games in their yard, and we won all three in ours… I don’t think that’s an accident.”

As for Aponte, he had very clear instructions for his team about the takeaways from this game: “Forget about it.  Burn the tape, flush it down the memory hole.  As far as we are concerned, there was no game today.  We must turn our attention to Games 6 and 7.  That is our focus.”

 

9/23/2017, CAL16-SCO16, The Corral
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Sharks            0  0  1  3  0  0  0  0  0     4  9  0     6  0
2016 Outlaws           1  1  3  6  0  1  2  2  x    16 18  1     8  2
 
Sharks               AB  R  H BI   AVG    Outlaws              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Corona            rf  5  0  0  0  .304    Ivey              dh  5  1  2  0  .158
Smyth             ss  4  0  1  0  .286     Ginder           ph  0  0  0  1  .000
Canales           cf  4  0  0  0  .158    Brewmaker         3b  5  1  1  1  .238
Mader             lf  4  1  2  0  .300    Taylor            ss  5  1  1  1  .238
Nix               dh  4  0  1  0  .211    Wason             rf  4  1  3  3  .500
Lockley           c   4  1  2  1  .294     Whittier         rf  0  0  0  0  .250
Gerke             1b  3  1  0  0  .111    Elliott           1b  5  1  2  1  .190
Oller             3b  3  0  0  0  .267    Barkan            2b  3  3  2  1  .200
 Gonzalez         ph  0  0  0  0  .000    Watson            c   3  2  1  1  .231
Strachan          2b  4  1  3  3  .412     Barraza          ph  0  1  0  0  .200
                     35  4  9  4          Cardona           cf  5  3  4  6  .412
                                          Hintz             lf  3  2  1  1  .273
                                           Baynes           ph  1  0  1  0 1.000
                                                               39 16 18 16
 
Sharks                           INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Conner           L 1-1           3.1  7  6  6  3  4  68  43  6.10
Grace                            0.1  3  2  2  0  0   9   7 54.00
Simpson                          2.1  4  6  6  2  5  59  35 23.14
Orf                              1.0  4  2  2  2  1  42  21 18.00
Arzola                           1.0  0  0  0  0  2   7   7  0.00
                                 8.0 18 16 16  7 12 185 113 
 
Outlaws                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Jennings         W 1-0           9.0  9  4  4  2  5 130  86  4.00
                                 9.0  9  4  4  2  5 130  86 
 
CAL: Gonzalez batted for Oller in the 9th
SCO: Whittier inserted at rf in the 8th
     Barraza batted for Watson in the 8th
     Baynes batted for Hintz in the 8th
     Ginder batted for Ivey in the 8th
     Barraza moved to c in the 9th
     Baynes moved to lf in the 9th
 
E-Taylor. 2B-Mader(1), Strachan(2), Ivey(2), Elliott(1), Watson(1). 
HR-Strachan(2), Wason(3), Cardona 2(3), Hintz(1). RBI-Lockley(3), 
Strachan 3(4), Brewmaker(3), Taylor(3), Wason 3(7), Elliott(2), Barkan(1), 
Watson(2), Cardona 6(7), Hintz(2), Ginder(1). SB-Ivey(2), Taylor(1). 
K-Smyth 2, Mader, Lockley, Gerke, Ivey 2, Brewmaker 2, Taylor 4, Elliott 2, 
Watson, Hintz. BB-Gerke, Gonzalez, Brewmaker, Wason, Barkan 2, Watson, Hintz, 
Barraza. SF-Taylor, Ginder. WP-Orf. 
GWRBI: Elliott
Temperature: 85, Sky: clear, Wind: out to left at 5 MPH.

Patriot League Division Series – Game 4

PBL Western Division Series, Game 4

SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 4, CALIFORNIA SHARKS 3

The California Sharks are strong in so many areas that it’s tempting to think of them as a team without flaws.  But throughout the season, they have had one Achilles hell: the bullpen.  Time and again through the first half of the season, California’s relief corps proved unable to hold the leads that their strong rotation delivered.  One of the weakest links was their closer, Eugene Grace.  The veteran left-hander recorded a respectable 24 saves, but with an ERA well north of 5.00 for much of the season, he inspired little confidence while doing so.

At the deadline, the Sharks shopped for a more reliable 9th-inning option, but didn’t find one available.  Instead, they acquired southpaw Olen Abernathy from Milwaukee and installed him as their primary lefty setup man.  They bumped Grace to a long-relief law and installed rookie Chris Lendon as closer.  The hard-throwing Lendon settled into the role, but he still was not the bulletproof option the Sharks were looking for.

Lendon’s shortcomings became all too clear in today’s Game 4.  Handed a one-run edge and with only three outs to get for California to claim a 3-1 series lead, the rookie closer let the game slip away and allowed the Silver City Outlaws to even the series with a 4-3 win.

“I feel sick,” said Lendon.  “Everybody was counting on me, and I let them down.  I let [starter] Todd [Warrant] down, I let [manager] Eduardo [Aponte] down, I let my teammates down.  Everybody.  But I’ve got to put it behind me and move on.”

Up until Lendon’s meltdown, everything seemed to be going the Sharks’ way.  Warrant’s knuckleball was at its fluttering, unpredictable best even in the thin air at the Corral, and the Outlaws flailed away in frustration.  He compiled 13 strikeouts over 8 innings and through the first seven frames, RF Nathaniel Wason’s homer was the only run Silver City could muster.  The Outlaws notched another tally in the 8th on an RBI single by 3B Rusty Brewmaker, but California still had the 3-2 edge.

Warrant offered to come back for the 9th, but Aponte elected to go to his closer instead.  That proved to be a disastrous decision.  Wason led off and smoked a liner that seemed to be headed for the right-field corner, but 1B Jamal Gerke leapt up and grabbed it as the visiting dugout heaved a sigh of relief.

Up next was 1B Muzz Elliott.  Lendon fell behind 2-1 before throwing a slider without much bite, and Elliott sent a rocket to left.  There was no snagging that one, and it landed four rows deep for a game-tying homer.

After that, things unraveled quickly for Lendon (0-1) and the Sharks.  2B Dominique Barkan walked on six pitches.  C Toby Watson singled and moved Barkan to third.  Then CF Tex Whittier, who had been inserted into the game in the 9th, dropped a single that scored Barkan and touched off a raucous celebration on the field and in the stands.

Aponte said that he still had faith in his closer, and focus on moving past the loss.  “We do not have time for our hearts to be broken,” said the Sharks manager.  “We must focus on tomorrow.”

If California loses this series, though, they may look back at this as the game when they had a chance to take control and let it slip through their fingers.

 

9/22/2017, CAL16-SCO16, The Corral
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Sharks            0  0  2  0  0  1  0  0  0     3 12  0     8  1
2016 Outlaws           0  1  0  0  0  0  0  1  2     4 10  0     6  1
 
Sharks               AB  R  H BI   AVG    Outlaws              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Corona            rf  5  0  3  0  .389    Ivey              dh  4  1  1  0  .071
Smyth             ss  4  0  0  0  .294    Brewmaker         3b  4  0  1  1  .250
Canales           cf  4  0  2  0  .200    Taylor            ss  4  0  0  0  .250
Mader             lf  4  0  1  1  .250    Wason             rf  4  1  2  1  .438
Nix               dh  4  1  2  0  .200    Elliott           1b  4  1  2  1  .125
Lockley           c   3  0  1  1  .231    Barkan            2b  3  1  0  0  .083
Gerke             1b  4  0  1  0  .167    Watson            c   4  0  1  0  .200
Oller             3b  4  1  1  1  .333    Cardona           cf  2  0  1  0  .250
Strachan          2b  4  1  1  0  .308     Barraza          ph  1  0  0  0  .200
                     36  3 12  3           Whittier         cf  1  0  1  1  .250
                                          Hintz             lf  3  0  1  0  .250
                                                               34  4 10  4
 
Sharks                           INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Warrant                          8.0  7  2  2  0 13 115  79  2.25
Lendon           BS 1, L 0-1     0.1  3  2  2  1  0  17   9 13.50
                                 8.1 10  4  4  1 13 132  88 
 
Outlaws                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Benson                           6.0 10  3  3  0  2  92  56  4.50
Humphrey                         0.2  1  0  0  1  1  17  10  0.00
Abbas            W 2-0           2.1  1  0  0  0  0  21  16  0.00
                                 9.0 12  3  3  1  3 130  82 
 
SCO: Barraza batted for Cardona in the 8th
     Whittier inserted at cf in the 9th
 
2B-Lockley(2), Ivey(1), Wason(2). HR-Oller(2), Wason(2), Elliott(1). 
RBI-Mader(2), Lockley(2), Oller(2), Brewmaker(2), Wason(4), Elliott(1), 
Whittier(1). SB-Cardona(1). CS-Corona. K-Smyth, Canales, Lockley, Ivey, 
Brewmaker, Taylor 3, Elliott 2, Barkan 2, Watson, Cardona, Hintz, Barraza. 
BB-Smyth, Barkan. SH-Lockley. 
GWRBI: Whittier
Temperature: 86, Sky: clear, Wind: out to left at 17 MPH.

 

PBL Eastern Division Series, Game 4

JACKSONVILLE DRAGONS 5, KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 2

Jacksonville Dragons ace Biggs McGee is well-known around the league for his extreme self-confidence and his braggadocious nature.  In fact, he’s arguably better known for his boasting and bluster than for his actual accomplishments on the mound.  That may change after today, though.

In Game 1 of the Division Series, McGee struggled against the Knoxville Smokies, lasting only 3 2/3 innings in an 8-7 Dragons loss.  He was penciled in to make his next start in Game 5.  For Game 4, manager Steve Califano listed his starter as “TBD.”  Jacksonville’s thin rotation didn’t leave many appealing choices; the leading candidates were plagued with serious control problems (Juan Sarmiento, Randy Tomblin), a propensity for allowing gopher balls (Jason Burtman), or were better suited as relievers (Juan Pascos).

While Califano mulled his options in the wee hours after Game 3, McGee strode into his office with a bold suggestion.  “How ‘bout me?”  Although he was working on short rest, McGee proclaimed himself “fresh as a daisy” after throwing only 79 pitches in his prior outing.  He also indicated a thirst for revenge, saying that “nobody beats Biggs twice in a row.”

Impressed by his ace’s offer, Califano took him up on it.  And McGee (1-0) came through with flying colors, firing 6 solid innings and leading the Dragons to a 5-2 win and evening their series with the Smokies at two games apiece.

“This is what the great ones do,” said McGee.  “Your team’s in a jam and they need someone to put the game on his back and say, ‘I got this.’  That’s just what I did, and damn, I was brilliant.”

Califano lauded his ace’s performance, even as he rolled his eyes slightly at McGee’s bravado.  “We needed a hero on the hill today, and Biggs stepped up,” said the Dragons skipper.  When asked about McGee’s assertion that he had turned in a “Hall of Fame performance,” Califano laughed and said “that might be slightly premature.  But I take that to mean that Biggs is feeling sexy about himself, which is good for us.”

Califano credited McGee for working a smart game.  “I loved seeing him be efficient with his pitches, pitching to contact and trying to extend his outing as long as he could, instead of trying to blow it by everybody and jacking his pitch count up.”  McGee needed only 82 pitches to complete his 6 innings.  He wanted to go deeper, but Califano pulled him in order to “keep my powder dry” for later in the series.

That left nine outs for the bullpen to get, and they did it in style.  Rookie southpaw Lance Newman struck out three across the 7th and 8th, keeping the Smokies off the board.  Then closer Razor Corridon took over; the veteran has struggled at times, but today he worked a 1-2-3 9th to earn the save.

“Let’s not sleep on what the pen did for us,” said Califano.  “Those weren’t easy outs, and they made them look easy.  Biggs was huge for us, but so were Lance and the Razor.  That’s the kind of performance that might help us go a long way.”

Meanwhile, the Dragons bats battered ex-teammate Randy Cannon (0-1) for five runs over 7+ innings.  Jacksonville’s big inning was the 4th, when an error by 2B Jeremiah Campo opened the door for a three-run rally that gave the Dragons a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Knoxville manager Snuff Wallace, who had predicted earlier in the series that his team would win in four or five games, remained confident headed into tomorrow’s pivotal Game 5.  “We let this one get away from us,” Wallace said.  “But we can still go out there and win tomorrow and grab this series by the nuts.  They have to win the next one.  I want to win it.”

McGee, one of the few people in the league who can match Wallace’s bluster, had a different take on the situation.  “Snuff’s boys better hope they can win the next two,” said the Texan righty.  “’Cause if there’s a Game 7, guess who’s going to be on the hill gunning for glory?  Yep, it’s your boy.  They’re gonna get a face full of Biggs McGee whether they like it or not.”

 

9/22/2017, KNX16-JAX16, Tesla Field
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Smokies           0  1  0  0  0  1  0  0  0     2  8  1     5  0
2016 Dragons           1  0  0  3  0  0  0  1  x     5  8  0     8  1
 
Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Dragons              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Johnson           lf  4  0  1  0  .294    Taliaferro        2b  4  1  1  1  .263
Campo             2b  4  1  1  0  .235    Kapoor            3b  4  0  2  0  .400
Battin            1b  4  0  1  0  .313    Hartley           lf  3  0  0  1  .188
Campo             rf  4  0  2  1  .353    Soria             1b  4  0  1  0  .294
Moriarty          ss  4  0  0  0  .375    Hopps             rf  4  1  1  0  .333
Credle            c   4  1  2  1  .375    Leon              cf  3  1  0  0  .214
Blair             cf  4  0  1  0  .143    Soltero           dh  2  1  0  0  .214
Valentim          dh  3  0  0  0  .357    Teachout          c   4  1  1  1  .267
Figeroa           3b  3  0  0  0  .357    Herdt             ss  3  0  2  2  .500
                     34  2  8  2           Burt             ss  0  0  0  0  .000
                                                               31  5  8  5
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Cannon           L 0-1           7.0  7  5  3  2  5 115  69  3.86
Wilkins                          1.0  1  0  0  0  0  11   7  0.00
                                 8.0  8  5  3  2  5 126  76 
 
Dragons                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
McGee            W 1-0           6.0  6  2  2  0  2  82  54  5.59
Newman           H 1             2.0  2  0  0  0  3  31  21  0.00
Corridon         S 1             1.0  0  0  0  0  1  11   8  0.00
                                 9.0  8  2  2  0  6 124  83 
 
JAX: Burt inserted at ss in the 9th
 
E-Campo. 2B-Kapoor(1). HR-Credle(3). RBI-Campo(5), Credle(3), Taliaferro(3), 
Hartley(3), Teachout(3), Herdt 2(4). SB-Kapoor(1), Herdt(1). K-Battin, 
Campo 2, Moriarty, Credle, Figeroa, Taliaferro, Hartley, Soria, Leon, 
Teachout. BB-Leon, Soltero. SF-Taliaferro, Hartley. HBP-Soltero, Herdt. 
HB-Cannon 2. WP-Cannon 2. 
GWRBI: Teachout
Temperature: 70, Wind: none.