Prior to the start of the Patriot Series, Knoxville Smokies manager Snuff Wallace indicated that he planned to go with a four-man rotation. As soon as he announced this, observers began to speculate which starter would be bumped to bullpen duty, with many predicting that Woody Flowers would be exiled. The rookie lefty struggled with nerves and inconsistency throughout the season, and he had clearly lost the trust of Wallace, who questioned Flowers’ manhood on multiple occasions.
But when the Smokies released their projected starters list, Flowers was on it; veteran right-hander Sylvester Lighty was bumped instead. Wallace said that he believed Lighty would be better suited to relief duty. Given the chance to regain his manager’s confidence in Game 3, Flowers flopped, lasting only 2 1/3 innings as the Smokies were routed 11-2 by the Milwaukee Bear Claws.
“I don’t know what the hell it is with Flowers,” snapped Wallace after the game. “Time and time again I give him chances to man up and show me something, and he doesn’t do it. If you’re gonna succeed in this game, you’ve gotta be tough. You’ve gotta have some grit in your soul. Flowers has got talent, but there’s something missing. I’ve done what I can, but at some point he’s gotta look in the mirror and sack up.”
Flowers (0-1) received a rude welcome to Milwaukee from Bear Claws SS Red Petitt, who belted his first pitch over the old Pabst brewery in left-center for a home run.
“I guess he didn’t realize I was looking for heat,” said Petitt. “He started me off with a center-cut fastball, and I was on it like a dog on a bone. I wanted to blow him a kiss on my way around the bases, I was so happy.”
Flowers made it through the rest of the inning unscathed, but ran into trouble again in the 2nd. He allowed two singles and a walk to load the bases with one out. Smokies 1B Eddie Battin dug the hole even deeper by allowing a Petitt grounder to skip under his glove for an error. Fortunately for Knoxville, 2B Richard Iddings grounded into a double play to spare Flowers any further damage.
The wheels came completely off the bus for Flowers in the 3rd. Bear Claws 1B Felipe Mateo opened the inning by putting a full-count fastball ten rows deep in right. One out later, LF Arthur Mealey laced a single through the right side. DH Rodolfo Raine followed with a double past Battin and into the right-field corner, moving Mealey to third. After walking RF Wally Trumbauer on four pitches, Flowers fell behind C Frances McGuigan 2-0. The young lefty tried to steal a strike with a curveball that didn’t break. McGuigan lined the ball over the head of Smokies RF Jackson Campo, bringing in two runs to make it a 5-1 game.
As Flowers slouched back toward the Knoxville dugout, the Milwaukee faithful serenaded him with mocking applause and razzing cheers. “Flowers is Pushing Up Daisies,” said the sign held by one Bear Claws rooter.
“I know Snuff thinks I struggled because I’m not tough enough,” said Flowers, “but that’s not true. I was elevating my fastball from the beginning, and when my command of the breaking stuff abandoned me in the 2nd, I knew I was in trouble. You’re not going to last long in a gunfight when you’re out of bullets. I did what I could, but that wasn’t much.”
After Flowers’ departure, Wallace turned to reliever Jerry Tile to try and stop the bleeding. The iron-armed Tile was the manager’s go-to guy for long-relief appearances all season long. But in a curious decision, Wallace left Tile in for the remaining 6 2/3 innings of the game, long after it had become clear that a Smokies rally wasn’t in the cards.
Even after Tile clearly tired in the late innings, allowing five Bear Claws runs in the 7th and 8th, Wallace left his most effective reliever out in what was for all intents and purposes a mop-up appearance.
“I like guys I can count on,” said Wallace. “Jerry’s been a rock for us all year, and I’m not gonna stop trusting him now.” When questioned about the wisdom of leaving Tile in for so long, almost certainly rendering him unavailable for the next game or two, the Knoxville skipper snorted, “I bet it looks real easy from up in the press box. I don’t tell you how to write your stories, and you’re damn sure not gonna tell me how to manage.”
Bear Claws right-hander Herculez Mendoza (1-0) was another pitcher that many observers figured wouldn’t start in this series, as he struggled to a team-worst 5.07 ERA on the season. But Milwaukee manager Poss Horton stuck with his usual five-man rotation for the championship, and Mendoza rewarded Horton’s faith with a complete-game four-hitter.
“I am so glad to Mr. Horton for trusting me,” said Mendoza. “A lot of times this season, I pitched with bad luck and I got down on myself a lot. But Mr. Horton always told me he believed in me. He never doubted me, even when I doubted myself.”
Mendoza had a somewhat rocky 1st inning, loading the bases on two walks and a hit. But he limited the damage to a single run on a sac fly from SS Armand Moriarty, and proceeded to dominate the rest of the way. He retired 20 batters in a row before allowing a walk to 3B Ronnie Aceuedo leading off the 8th, and allowed only one more run on an RBI single by CF Joe Blair.
“Herc’s had a lot of bad luck this year,” said Horton. “But he’s always been better than the numbers suggested, and I knew he had a game like this in him. He came through big at the perfect time.”
The Bear Claws now hold a 2-1 lead in the Patriot Series. Game 4 is tomorrow at Rocky Top Park in Knoxville, with Smokies southpaw Rick Tomblin facing off against Bear Claws lefty Zack Perriman.
9/25/2015, MIL15-KNX15, Rocky Top Park 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E LOB DP 2015 Bear Claws 1 1 4 0 0 0 2 3 0 11 16 0 7 1 2015 Smokies 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 4 2 4 1 Bear Claws AB R H BI AVG Smokies AB R H BI AVG Petitt ss 5 1 2 2 .250 Blair cf 4 1 2 1 .417 Iddings 2b 5 0 0 0 .083 Campo 2b 3 0 0 0 .091 Mateo 1b 5 2 2 2 .500 Bryant dh 4 0 0 0 .083 Suzuki 3b 5 1 2 0 .385 Campo rf 3 0 1 0 .600 Mealey lf 5 2 3 2 .500 Moriarty ss 3 0 0 1 .000 Raine dh 4 3 4 0 .600 Battin 1b 4 0 0 0 .167 Fleitas ph 1 0 0 0 .000 Aceuedo 3b 2 1 0 0 .125 Trumbauer rf 3 1 0 1 .091 Carlo c 2 0 0 0 .222 McGuigan c 5 0 2 2 .308 Kurland ph 1 0 0 0 .000 Maxwell cf 4 1 1 1 .250 Bossard c 0 0 0 0 .000 42 11 16 10 Johnson lf 3 0 1 0 .300 29 2 4 2 Bear Claws INN H R ER BB K PCH STR ERA Mendoza W 1-0 9.0 4 2 2 3 3 128 79 2.00 9.0 4 2 2 3 3 128 79 Smokies INN H R ER BB K PCH STR ERA Flowers L 0-1 2.1 8 6 5 2 1 65 34 19.29 Tile 6.2 8 5 4 0 6 79 61 5.40 9.0 16 11 9 2 7 144 95 MIL: Fleitas batted for Raine in the 8th KNX: Kurland batted for Carlo in the 8th Bossard inserted at c in the 9th E-Battin, Johnson. 2B-Mealey(1), Raine 2(2), McGuigan(1). HR-Petitt(1), Mateo(2). RBI-Petitt 2(2), Mateo 2(5), Mealey 2(3), Trumbauer(1), McGuigan 2(2), Maxwell(1), Blair(2), Moriarty(1). K-Petitt, Mateo, Trumbauer 3, McGuigan, Maxwell, Blair, Moriarty, Kurland. BB-Trumbauer, Maxwell, Campo, Campo, Aceuedo. SF-Trumbauer, Moriarty. GWRBI: Petitt Temperature: 66, Sky: clear, Wind: out to center at 1 MPH.