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.

Patriot League Division Series – Game 3

PBL Eastern Division Series, Game 3

JACKSONVILLE DRAGONS 9, KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 3

When last we saw the Eastern Division Series, the Knoxville Smokies had demolished the Jacksonville Dragons in a rout to take a 2-0 series lead.  According to Smokies manager Snuff Wallace, the only question left was whether his team would win the series in four games or five.

Well, Wallace’s dreams of a sweep are now dead.  Thanks to a late rally and the support of the home crowd at Tesla field, the Dragons thumped the Smokies 9-3, a result that suggests the series will be competitive after all.

“Looks like there will be a Game 5 after all!” said Jacksonville skipper Steve Califano after the game.  “I know Snuff was hoping to get out of here quick and maybe get some golf in before the Patriot Series, but it looks like he’ll have to keep doing his job a while longer.  Too bad!”

On paper, this looked like a solid pitching matchup.  The Smokies’ Scott Green has been a tremendous find, a rookie virtually stolen from Carolina in a preseason trade, who put up an 18-6 record with a 3.23 ERA.  The Dragons’s Bryce Hobbs, meanwhile, posted a gaudy 16-3 record with a less-impressive 4.16 ERA.

And through the first 6 innings, the game was dead even.  Jacksonville’s offense was a one-man show, with 3B Jake Kapoor homering in his first two at bats to drive in three runs.  Knoxville, meanwhile, countered with a pair of RBI singles and a run-scoring double to score three of their own.  It would have been more, but a strong throw from RF Roderick Hopps and a great relay from 2B Emerson Taliaferro nailed Smokies C Jon Credle, who tried to score from first on CF Joe Blair’s two-bagger in the 3rd.

In the top of the 7th, Knoxville had another chance to go ahead when RF Jackson Campo doubled with 1B Eddie Battin on first.  But again, a strong relay from Hopps to Taliaferro to C Judson Teachout got Battin at the plate.  “You just don’t run on Hopper,” said Kapoor.  “He’s got a cannon for an arm.”

In the bottom of the 7th, the Dragons broke the game open.  DH Sandy Soltero and SS Alan Herdt both doubled, giving Jacksonville its first lead since the 1st inning.  Taliaferro’s grounded out to the mound for the inning’s second out, but then Green (0-1) melted down.  He uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Herdt to scamper home, then gave up a single to Kapoor.  The Smokies hurler then fell behind LF Rob Hartley 2-0 before firing a fastball down the middle, which Hartley crushed out to left-center to make it 7-3.

Wallace faced criticism after the game for sticking with Green all the way through the 7th inning, despite clear evidence that he had run out of steam.  “What, it’s a bad thing if I’ve got faith in my guy to get the job done?” the manager snapped to reporters.  “Y’all can kiss my [expletive].”

Hobbs (1-0) pitched into the 8th before yielding to rookie lefty Lance Newman, who recorded the final four outs to earn a save.

The Smokies’ sweep chances might be shot, but Wallace’s bravado remains intact.  “Y’all don’t really expect me to piss my pants just ‘cause we lost a game do you?” said the Knoxville skipper.  “We’re still the best team, and we’re going to get this done.”

 

9/21/2017, KNX16-JAX16, Tesla Field
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Smokies           0  1  2  0  0  0  0  0  0     3 11  1    10  0
2016 Dragons           1  0  2  0  0  0  4  2  x     9 14  1     6  0
 
Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Dragons              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Johnson           lf  4  0  0  0  .308    Taliaferro        2b  5  1  2  0  .267
Campo             2b  5  0  0  0  .231    Kapoor            3b  4  3  3  3  .364
Battin            1b  4  1  2  0  .333    Hartley           lf  5  1  1  2  .231
Campo             rf  5  1  2  1  .308    Soria             1b  4  0  1  0  .308
Moriarty          ss  3  1  1  0  .500    Hopps             rf  4  1  2  0  .364
Credle            c   4  0  1  0  .333    Leon              cf  4  1  2  0  .273
Blair             cf  4  0  1  1  .100    Soltero           dh  4  1  1  0  .250
Valentim          dh  4  0  2  0  .455    Teachout          c   4  0  1  1  .273
Figeroa           3b  4  0  2  1  .455    Herdt             ss  3  1  1  2  .444
                     37  3 11  3           Burt             ss  0  0  0  0  .000
                                                               37  9 14  8
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Green            L 0-1           7.0 10  7  7  0  9 118  84  9.00
Provenza                         1.0  4  2  2  1  2  30  18  9.00
                                 8.0 14  9  9  1 11 148 102 
 
Dragons                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Hobbs            W 1-0           7.2 11  3  3  3  6 141  88  3.52
Newman           S 1             1.1  0  0  0  0  1  12   8  0.00
                                 9.0 11  3  3  3  7 153  96 
 
JAX: Burt inserted at ss in the 9th
 
E-Blair, Taliaferro. 2B-Campo(2), Blair(1), Valentim(2), Taliaferro(1), 
Soria(1), Soltero(1), Herdt(2). 3B-Battin(1). HR-Kapoor 2(3), Hartley(1). 
RBI-Campo(4), Blair(1), Figeroa(4), Kapoor 3(5), Hartley 2(2), Teachout(2), 
Herdt 2(2). K-Battin, Campo 3, Moriarty, Blair, Valentim, Kapoor, Hartley, 
Soria, Hopps, Leon 2, Soltero 3, Teachout 2. BB-Johnson, Battin, Moriarty, 
Kapoor. SF-Herdt. WP-Green, Hobbs. 
GWRBI: Herdt
Temperature: 80, Sky: clear, Wind: out to left at 7 MPH.

 

PBL Western Division Series, Game 3

SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 4, CALIFORNIA SHARKS 3

After coming up on the short end of the two one-run games in Long Beach, the Silver City Outlaws came home to The Corral hoping that the hot air and the rowdy home crowds would tilt things in their favor.  It was another close run, but this time it was the Outlaws who handed the Sharks a 4-3 loss.

“Now we’re playing our game,” said Outlaws manager John Jarha.  “We got a strong outing from [David] Otto, great work from the pen, and our bats came through when it counted.  I like our chances the rest of the way.”

Otto, a 19-year-old lefty, reminded the Silver City faithful of last year’s wunderkind, Pedro Rodriguez.  Though he lacks Rodriguez’s physical stature and gaudy strikeout totals, Otto proved just as effective through the first 6 innings.  A homer by 2B Palmer Strachan was the only run California was able to push across.  Meanwhile, CF Javier Cardona and SS Danny Taylor homered off of Sharks starter Stu Palmeiro in the first 3 innings to stake the Outlaws to a 3-1 lead.

California roared back in the 7th inning, however, as 3B Johnnie Oller and pinch-hitter Aaron Brown led off with back-to-back jacks that knocked Otto out.  That put the game in the hands of Silver City’s bullpen, which has proven to be a hit-or-miss proposition.

Today, though, the Outlaws relief corps was rock solid.  Right Emilio Abbas (1-0) faced only three batters in escaping the 7th.  Left-handed knuckleballer Cliff Humphrey worked out of a two-on threat in the 8th.  Then closer Go Matsumoto retired the Sharks in order in the 9th to pick up the save.

Meanwhile, Silver City’s hitters manufactured the winning run in the 7th.  2B Dominique Barkan drew a one-out walk – the only free pass Palmeiro would allow in the game – then stole second before C Carlos Barraza doubled him home.

This meant that Palmeiro – who pitched a complete-game six-hitter and struck out 13 – wound up with a loss for his effort.  “Baseball’s a cruel mistress,” said the left-hander with a shrug.  “If you’re expecting everything to be fair, you’re in the wrong line of work.”

Silver City will look to veteran right-hander Cloyce “Hoss” Benson to even the series tomorrow, while the Sharks will counter with knuckleballer Todd Warrant.  “This is anybody’s series,” said California manager Eduardo Aponte.  “You have two strong teams playing excellent baseball.  This is a wonderful series to watch.  To manage, however, it is a bit nerve-wracking.”

 

9/21/2017, CAL16-SCO16, The Corral
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Sharks            0  0  1  0  0  0  2  0  0     3 10  1     8  0
2016 Outlaws           0  1  2  0  0  0  1  0  x     4  6  0     4  1
 
Sharks               AB  R  H BI   AVG    Outlaws              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Corona            rf  5  0  1  0  .308    Ivey              dh  4  1  0  0  .000
Ortiz             1b  5  0  1  0  .308    Brewmaker         3b  4  0  0  0  .250
Smyth             ss  4  0  1  0  .385    Taylor            ss  4  1  2  2  .333
Mader             lf  3  0  1  0  .250    Wason             rf  4  0  1  0  .417
Nix               dh  4  0  1  0  .091    Elliott           1b  4  0  0  0  .000
Canales           cf  4  0  1  0  .091    Cardona           cf  3  1  1  1  .200
Lockley           c   4  0  1  0  .200    Whittier          lf  3  0  0  0  .000
Oller             3b  3  1  1  1  .375    Barkan            2b  2  1  1  0  .111
Strachan          2b  2  1  1  1  .333    Barraza           c   3  0  1  1  .250
 Brown            ph  1  1  1  1 1.000                         31  4  6  4
 Gonzalez         2b  0  0  0  0  .000
 Gerke            ph  1  0  0  0  .000
                     36  3 10  3
 
Sharks                           INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Palmeiro         L 0-1           8.0  6  4  3  1 13 121  89  3.38
                                 8.0  6  4  3  1 13 121  89 
 
Outlaws                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Otto                             6.0  8  3  3  1  6  97  60  4.50
Abbas            W 1-0           1.0  1  0  0  1  0  16  10  0.00
Humphrey         H 2             1.0  1  0  0  0  1  10   8  0.00
Matsumoto        S 1             1.0  0  0  0  0  1  17  10  9.00
                                 9.0 10  3  3  2  8 140  88 
 
CAL: Brown batted for Strachan in the 7th
     Gonzalez inserted at 2b in the 7th
     Gerke batted for Gonzalez in the 9th
 
E-Smyth. 2B-Lockley(1), Wason(1), Barkan(1), Barraza(1). HR-Oller(1), 
Strachan(1), Brown(1), Taylor(1), Cardona(1). RBI-Oller(1), Strachan(1), 
Brown(1), Taylor 2(2), Cardona(1), Barraza(1). SB-Barkan(1). K-Corona, Smyth, 
Mader, Canales 3, Lockley, Gerke, Ivey, Brewmaker 2, Taylor, Wason 2, 
Elliott 2, Cardona, Whittier 2, Barraza 2. BB-Mader, Oller, Barkan. 
GWRBI: Barraza
Temperature: 92, Sky: partly cloudy, Wind: in from right at 1 MPH.

Patriot League Division Series – Game 2

PBL Western Division Series, Game 2

CALIFORNIA SHARKS 6, SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 5

Although the California Sharks were built to win on pitching, they’ve thrived thanks to an surprisingly potent offense.  They hit .298 this season as a team, only one point behind Jackson for the league lead.  Their 257 homers were good for third behind Silver City and Orlando.  And they were the runaway leaders in OPS (.878) and runs scored (929).

“We’ve got a lineup like a Mack truck,” said Sharks DH Eddie Nix.  “We can just flat run you over if we have to.”

California’s hitting prowess was on full display in today’s game, as they twice came from behind and ultimately walked off with a 6-5 win and a 2-0 lead in the Western Division Series.

“We have shown that even when our pitching is not at its sharpest, we still can win games,” said Sharks manager Eduardo Aponte.  “It is a joy to manage such a balanced and capable team.”

After being largely muzzled by righty Kevin Conner in Game 1, the Outlaws offense showed up in Game 2 eager to even the score.  Facing California’s Pierre LaRue, the would-be ace who has struggled a bit this season, Silver City found success.

LaRue has struggled with gopher balls this season, and he displayed that same troubling tendency in today’s game.  RF Nathaniel Wason started the party off with a two-run blast to right-center in the first.  After the Outlaws strung together some singles to plate another run in the 3rd, 3B Rusty Brewmaker belted a solo shot in the 5th that landed in virtually the same spot that Wason’s ball did.

While the Outlaws were feasting on LaRue, the Sharks were struggling to get going against Silver City starter Rob Tildon.  Through the first 4 innings, California managed only three weak singles.  If anything, Tildon seemed to get strong as the game went on.  After Tildon struck out the side in the 4th, you could hear a pin drop inside Blue Note Stadium.

But then came the 5th.  3B Johnie Oller led off and worked an eight-pitch walk against Tildon.  After 2B Palmer Strachan flied out to left, RF Jessie Corona punched a single through the right side on an 0-2 count.  Next, Game 1 hero Max Ortiz slashed a ball to left, scoring Oller.  California had broken the shutout and gotten back-to-back hits for the first time in the game.

SS Rubin Smyth was the next man up.  On a 2-2 count, Tildon tried to finish the Sharks shortstop with a big curveball.  But the ball spun a bit, and Smyth caught it cleanly and hit a laser that just cleared the wall in left.  Suddenly, the score was tied and the seemingly invincible Tildon was finished.

“That’s how dangerous this team is,” said Smyth.  “One minute, it looks like we’re going to get stomped; the next, we’ve pulled even.”

California’s elation was short-lived, however, as LaRue allowed yet another homer to C Toby Watson in the top of the 6th to give the Outlaws a 5-4 lead.  But the Sharks didn’t panic, even as Silver City relievers Aurelio Menard and Emilio Abbas blanked them in the 6th and 7th.

“We know we’ve got the ability to get back at any time,” said Smyth.

Their chance came in the 8th.  Lefty Cliff Humphrey recorded the first two outs, but both came on fairly deep flyballs.  With C Thaddeus Lockley coming to the plate, Outlaws manager John Jarha decided to go to closer Go Matsumoto for a four-out save.  It was a decision he would live to regret.

Matsumoto got a 1-2 count on Lockley, then tried to finish him with a back-door slider.  The pitch broke back over the heart of the plate, though, and Lockley jumped on it.  He hooked it so sharply, in fact, that he thought he’d hit it foul.

“I watched it curling toward the foul pole and I was like, ‘Damn.  That was my pitch and I got on it too early,” said Lockley.  As it turned out, though, the ball stayed just fair and tied the score.  Lockley kissed his bat and flexed his muscles toward the California dugout as the crowd roared.

In the 9th, the score was still tied and Matsumoto was still on the hill.  He got the first two outs quickly ahead of dangerous LF Kenneth Mader.  He got ahead 0-2, then tried to finish it off with a slider.  This one broke as intended.  “Only Superman could hit that one out,” Jarha said later.

Superman did.  Mader dug it out and sent a towering fly to left.  Outlaws LF Marlon Hintz sprinted back to the wall and leapt for it.  The ball just cleared his glove for a game-winning homer.

The famously low-key Mader didn’t shout, gesture, or kiss his bat.  Instead, he put his head down and circled the bases as quickly as he could.  He managed to dodge the Gatorade shower awaiting him at home plate; he couldn’t quite escape the mob of teammates there to congratulate him, but he broke away as quickly as he could and dashed for the locker room.

“When we finish this thing off, then maybe I’ll celebrate,” said Mader.  “We’ve still got work to do.”

 

9/19/2017, SCO16-CAL16, Blue Note Stadium
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Outlaws           2  0  1  0  1  1  0  0  0     5  7  0     3  0
2016 Sharks            0  0  0  0  4  0  0  1  1     6 11  0     8  0
 
Outlaws              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Sharks               AB  R  H BI   AVG
Ivey              dh  2  0  0  0  .000    Corona            rf  5  1  2  0  .375
Brewmaker         3b  4  3  2  1  .375    Ortiz             1b  4  1  1  1  .375
Taylor            ss  4  0  2  0  .250     Gerke            ph  1  0  0  0  .000
Wason             rf  4  1  2  3  .500    Smyth             ss  5  1  3  3  .444
 Whittier         rf  0  0  0  0  .000    Mader             lf  5  1  1  1  .222
Elliott           1b  4  0  0  0  .000    Nix               dh  4  0  0  0  .000
Barkan            2b  4  0  0  0  .000    Canales           cf  4  0  0  0  .000
Watson            c   4  1  1  1  .167    Lockley           c   3  1  1  1  .167
Cardona           cf  4  0  0  0  .143    Oller             3b  2  1  1  0  .400
Hintz             lf  3  0  0  0  .200    Strachan          2b  4  0  2  0  .286
                     33  5  7  5                               37  6 11  6
 
Outlaws                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Tildon                           4.1  6  4  4  2  5  92  55  8.31
Menard                           1.2  2  0  0  0  0  29  17  0.00
Abbas            H 1             1.0  0  0  0  0  0   9   5  0.00
Humphrey         H 1             0.2  0  0  0  0  0  10   7  0.00
Matsumoto        BS 1, L 0-1     1.0  3  2  2  1  2  28  20 18.00
                                 8.2 11  6  6  3  7 168 104 
 
Sharks                           INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
La Rue                           6.0  7  5  5  2  5  93  58  7.50
Abernathy                        2.0  0  0  0  0  3  20  16  0.00
Arzola           W 1-0           1.0  0  0  0  0  0   7   5  0.00
                                 9.0  7  5  5  2  8 120  79 
 
SCO: Whittier inserted at rf in the 8th
CAL: Gerke batted for Ortiz in the 9th
 
2B-Strachan(1). HR-Brewmaker(1), Wason(1), Watson(1), Smyth(1), Mader(1), 
Lockley(1). RBI-Brewmaker(1), Wason 3(3), Watson(1), Ortiz(4), Smyth 3(3), 
Mader(1), Lockley(1). CS-Ivey. K-Ivey, Brewmaker, Wason 2, Barkan, Cardona 2, 
Hintz, Corona, Smyth, Mader, Nix, Canales 2, Lockley. BB-Ivey 2, Lockley, 
Oller 2. 
GWRBI: Mader
Temperature: 74, Sky: partly cloudy, Wind: out to left at 1 MPH.

 

PBL Eastern Division Series, Game 2

KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 9, JACKSONVILLE DRAGONS 1

After surviving a scare from the Jacksonville Dragons in Game 1, the Knoxville Smokies reasserted their dominance in Game 2, getting a fine outing from southpaw Elicio Santana and rolling to a 9-1 thrashing for a 2-0 series lead.

“Now there’s the [expletive]-kicking I was waiting for!” crowed Smokies manager Snuff Wallace.  “We put our spikes right on top of their windpipe and crushed it.  Now the only question is whether we’re gonna go ahead and sweep this thing, or if we’re gonna be nice guys and let ‘em win one.  And I ain’t a nice guy.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Jacksonville actually struck first in this game, as RF Roderick Hopps singled in a run in the top of the 1st.  When 1B Miguel Soria tried to score from second on CF Alfonso Leon’s subsequent single, though, he was nailed by a perfect strike to the plate from Smokies CF Joe Blair.

And after that, Santana (1-0) had the Dragons eating out of the palm of his hand.  The lefty was far from perfect; he was throwing extremely hard but very wild, allowing six walks over 8 innings.  But he also struck out nine, and managed to work out of the jams he got himself into.  Jacksonville stranded 12 runners on the evening.

“I was maybe a little too excited,” said Santana.  “But maybe that helps me too.  When fastball might be coming for your head, it’s maybe kind of scary.”

“Santana had all that knucklehead energy going for him out there,” said Wallace.  “I wouldn’t have been digging in too deep against him, for sure.”

Meanwhile, Knoxville’s hitters teed off on Dragons starter Kyle Palmer (0-1).  Like Santana, Palmer racked up strikeouts – eight in 5 1/3 innings – but he didn’t miss nearly as many bats, allowing 11 hits.  C Jon Credle tied it up with a solo shot to lead off the 2nd, and back-to-back doubles from DH Adam Valentim and 3B Curt Figueroa gave the Smokies the lead.

After a sac fly from 2B Jeremiah Campo tacked on another run, a two-run blast from Figueroa in the 6th spelled the end of the line for Palmer.  In the 8th, Campo’s twin brother Jackson smacked a three-run homer to the upper deck in left-center, capping off a four-run inning that put the final nails in Jacksonville’s coffin.

Heading home with an 0-2 deficit, Dragons manager Steve Califano remained confident.  “There’s a lot of life left in us,” the manager said.  “We’ll have the home crowd behind us now, and we’ve got Bryce [Hobbs] going in Game 3.  Let’s get that one, and we can start building from there.”

 

9/19/2017, JAX16-KNX16, Rocky Top Park
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Dragons           1  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0     1  7  0    12  2
2016 Smokies           0  2  0  1  0  2  0  4  x     9 17  2     8  1
 
Dragons              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Taliaferro        2b  5  0  1  0  .200    Johnson           lf  5  0  3  0  .444
Kapoor            3b  4  0  0  0  .143    Campo             2b  4  1  2  1  .375
Hartley           lf  3  1  0  0  .250    Battin            1b  4  1  1  1  .250
Soria             1b  4  0  1  0  .333    Campo             rf  5  1  1  3  .250
Hopps             rf  4  0  2  1  .286    Moriarty          ss  5  0  3  0  .556
Leon              cf  4  0  1  0  .143    Credle            c   4  1  2  1  .375
Soltero           dh  4  0  1  0  .250    Blair             cf  3  1  0  0  .000
Teachout          c   3  0  1  0  .286    Valentim          dh  4  2  2  0  .429
Herdt             ss  3  0  0  0  .500    Figeroa           3b  4  2  3  3  .429
                     34  1  7  1                               38  9 17  9
 
Dragons                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Palmer           L 0-1           5.1 11  5  5  2  8  91  56  8.44
Khan                             2.2  6  4  4  0  0  53  33  6.75
                                 8.0 17  9  9  2  8 144  89 
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Santana          W 1-0           8.0  6  1  1  6  9 134  79  1.13
Provenza                         1.0  1  0  0  0  1  17  12  0.00
                                 9.0  7  1  1  6 10 151  91 
 
E-Moriarty, Figeroa. 2B-Campo(1), Moriarty(2), Valentim(1), Figeroa(1). 
HR-Campo(1), Credle(2), Figeroa(1). RBI-Hopps(1), Campo(2), Battin(3), 
Campo 3(3), Credle(2), Figeroa 3(3). K-Taliaferro, Kapoor, Hartley 2, Soria, 
Leon 2, Soltero, Teachout, Herdt, Battin 2, Campo 2, Moriarty, Blair 2, 
Figeroa. BB-Kapoor, Hartley 2, Soria, Teachout, Herdt, Battin, Blair. 
SF-Campo. WP-Palmer 2. 
GWRBI: Figeroa
Temperature: 65, Sky: partly cloudy, Wind: right to left at 10 MPH.

Patriot League Division Series – Game 1

PBL Eastern Division Series, Game 1

KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 8, JACKSONVILLE DRAGONS 7

In the Jacksonville Dragons locker room after loss, SS Alan Herdt sat in front of his locker and stared at the floor.  Around him, his teammates went about showering and getting dressed, but Herdt sat there in full uniform, drawn in on himself.  Every once in a while, he’d bark a curse or slam his glove against his stool, causing everyone to look up briefly.  The quiet and mild-mannered veteran rarely attracts much notice, but today, everyone was doing their best to give him space.

No one asked why Herdt was so upset.  No one had to.  Even though the shortstop had gone 3-for-3 and scored a pair of runs, he also made a pair of crucial errors in the 4th inning that allowed the heavily favored Knoxville Smokies to wriggle off the hook and escape with a narrow 8-7 win in Game 1 of the Patriot League Eastern Division Series.

“I lost the game,” said Herdt when he finally faced reporters.  “If I make those two plays – plays I’ve been making since I was in Little League – we win this game.  I let everybody down.”

Herdt’s manager, Steve Califano, was quick to dispute Herdt’s assessment.  “No way was that game all Alan’s fault,” said Califano.  “We’re a team here; we win and lose as a team.  If we’d gotten a little better pitching, or if a couple of those balls that died at the track made it out, we’re not talking about this.  Alan’s one of those lunch-pail guys who just shows up and does a job, never flashy, but steady.  For the spotlight to find him like this… that’s cruel.  I really want us to win this and pick him up, because he deserves it.”

Before Herdt’s gaffes, it looked like Jacksonville might be able to steal Game 1 on the road and throw a scare into the Smokies.  Knoxville drew first blood in the game in the very first inning; leadoff hitter Track Johnson leaned into a fastball from Dragons ace Biggs McGee, and 2B Jeremiah Campo followed up with a triple down the right-field line.  1B Eddie Battin followed with a sac fly, and the Smokies led 2-0 only five pitches in.

But 3B Jake Kapoor launched a two-run bomb to left center in the 3rd to tie the game.  Knoxville grabbed the lead back in the bottom of the inning with two-out back-to-back jacks by SS Armand Moriarty and C Jon Credle, but then Jacksonville broke out in the top of the 4th and threatened to leave the Smokies in the dust.

1B Miguel Soria got things started by dropping an 0-2 slider into left for a single.  RF Roderick Hopps worked a walk, and then CF Alfonso Leon dropped down a surprise bunt and almost beat it out.  After that, the hits kept coming like cannon shots, as the Dragons jumped on the first pitch again and again.  DH Sandy Soltero drilled a triple down the right-field line, scoring Soria and Hopps to tie the game.  C Judson Teachout hit a grounder to short, and Soltero beat the throw home to give the Dragons their first lead.  Herdt lined a ball that fell just fair for a double.  2B Emerson Taliaferro dropped a single into right that brought Teachout and Herdt home.

Suddenly, the Dragons led 7-4.  They had Jack Jacques, Knoxville’s most reliable starter, on the ropes.  The orange-clad crowd at Rocky Top Park had fallen silent.  Were the underdog Dragons about to seize the upper hand in the series?

Then came the bottom of the 4th.  Campo drew a one-out walk, but Battin hit a roller to short that looked like a tailor-made double play.  Herdt glided into position, bent down, went to grab the ball… but it squirted between his legs.  No double play; both runners were safe.  That meant that McGee’s strikeout of Campo’s twin brother Jackson, which should have ended the inning, was only the second out.  That allowed Moriarty to bat, and he spanked a hanging 2-0 curve from McGee to the gap in left-center for a double.  Jeremiah Campo scored easily, but Leon got to the ball quickly and fired it to Herdt.  Battin, no speedster, was still a good 12 feet from the plate.  A strong throw from Herdt would nail Battin, allowing Jacksonville to escape the inning with a 7-5 lead.

Herdt didn’t make a strong throw.  In fact, his pitch bounced well wide of the plate, and Teachout couldn’t come up with it.  Battin slid in safely, and Moriarty made it to third.  That allowed the Smokies shortstop to score on the ensuing passed ball that Teachout allowed, deadlocking the score at 7.

Although Knoxville didn’t score the winning run until the 6th, when Battin hit a solo shot off of reliever Blueberry Jackson (0-1), everyone agreed that the bottom of the 4th swung the game.

“It was real sweet of [Herdt] to gift-wrap the game and hand it to us,” said Smokies manager Snuff Wallace.  “He ain’t even on my payroll!”

If the Dragons lose this series, they may look back at this game as a golden chance squandered.  But Califano has no interest in playing the what-if game.  “As far as I’m concerned, this game showed that we can hang with them,” said the Dragons skipper.  “If Snuff’s boys aren’t worried, they ought to be.”

 

9/18/2017, JAX16-KNX16, Rocky Top Park
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Dragons           0  0  2  5  0  0  0  0  0     7 12  2     6  0
2016 Smokies           2  0  2  3  0  1  0  0  x     8  8  0     7  2
 
Dragons              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Taliaferro        2b  5  0  1  2  .200    Johnson           lf  4  1  1  0  .250
Kapoor            3b  3  1  1  2  .333    Campo             2b  4  2  1  1  .250
Hartley           lf  5  0  2  0  .400    Battin            1b  4  2  1  2  .250
Soria             1b  5  1  2  0  .400    Campo             rf  3  0  1  0  .333
Hopps             rf  3  1  0  0  .000    Moriarty          ss  4  2  2  3  .500
Leon              cf  3  0  0  0  .000    Credle            c   4  1  1  1  .250
Soltero           dh  4  1  1  2  .250    Blair             cf  3  0  0  0  .000
Teachout          c   4  1  1  1  .250    Valentim          dh  3  0  1  0  .333
Herdt             ss  3  2  3  0 1.000    Figeroa           3b  3  0  0  0  .000
 Patterson        ph  1  0  1  0 1.000                         32  8  8  7
                     36  7 12  7
 
Dragons                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
McGee                            3.2  7  7  4  3  5  79  49  9.82
Jackson          L 0-1           1.2  1  1  1  2  1  41  21  5.40
Khan                             2.2  0  0  0  0  0  25  15  0.00
                                 8.0  8  8  5  5  6 145  85 
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Jacques                          5.2  9  7  7  3  7  97  63 11.12
Tile             W 1-0           2.1  2  0  0  0  3  29  20  0.00
Drawdy           H 1             0.1  0  0  0  0  0   2   1  0.00
Pasternak        S 1             0.2  1  0  0  0  0   6   4  0.00
                                 9.0 12  7  7  3 10 134  88 
 
JAX: Patterson batted for Herdt in the 8th
     Patterson moved to ss in the 8th
 
E-Herdt 2. 2B-Herdt(1), Campo(1), Moriarty(1). 3B-Soltero(1), Campo(1). 
HR-Kapoor(1), Battin(1), Moriarty(1), Credle(1). RBI-Taliaferro 2(2), 
Kapoor 2(2), Soltero 2(2), Teachout(1), Campo(1), Battin 2(2), Moriarty 3(3), 
Credle(1). CS-Kapoor. K-Taliaferro 2, Hartley 2, Soria 2, Hopps, Leon, 
Soltero 2, Johnson, Campo, Battin, Campo 2, Blair. BB-Kapoor 2, Hopps, Campo, 
Campo, Blair, Valentim, Figeroa. SH-Leon. SF-Battin. HBP-Johnson. 
PB-Teachout. HB-McGee. 
GWRBI: Battin
Temperature: 80, Sky: clear, Wind: in from left at 10 MPH.

 

PBL Western Division Series, Game 1

CALIFORNIA SHARKS 3, SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 2

Max Ortiz has played a lot of different roles for the California Sharks.  When he arrived at the trade deadline last season, he quickly became a favorite among both fans and teammates for his excellent bat, his upbeat personality, and his reputation as a clubhouse “glue guy.”

The 35-year-old corner infielder proved popular enough that when the Sharks dealt him away during the offseason, the outcry was strong enough that the team made another deal to get him back.  He’s served as half of a first-base platoon that shored up a major hole in California’s order – hitting .362 in 68 games – but Ortiz has worn many more hats than that this season.  He’s served as assistant hitting coach, life advisor, unofficial translator, father confessor, older brother, clubhouse DJ, and much more.

“What Max has given us, it means more than you can imagine,” said Sharks manager Eduardo Aponte.  “Team chemistry is a difficult thing to measure, but guys like Max bring so much to the table.”

And now, after Game 1 of the Western Division Series, Ortiz can claim a new role: hero.  His three-run homer in the bottom of the 3rd inning was responsible for all of California’s runs, lifting the Sharks to a 3-2 victory over the Silver City Outlaws.

“I’m glad I came through when I had the chance,” said Ortiz, who went 2-for-4 on the day.  “In the playoffs, a game can turn on one or two runs, so you have to make the most of your chances.”

Ortiz’s blast couldn’t have come at a better time.  The Outlaws had grabbed the lead in the top of the inning without the benefit of a hit.  C Toby Watson worked a leadoff walk, then stole second.  California starter Kevin Conner quickly retired the next two hitters, and appeared to be out of the inning when DH Brant “Poison” Ivey hit a grounder to the right side of the mound.  But as Conner ran to field it, he looked up for a second and failed to grab the ball.  Ivey wound up reaching, and then he and Watson pulled off an audacious double steal that scored the game’s first run.

“A little old-fashioned small ball,” grinned Silver City skipper John Jarha.  “We knew Conner was dealing, and we decided to take a shot at manufacturing something there.”

The Sharks came to bat looking for some quick retribution.  3B Johnie Oller rapped a solid single to right, and one out later, RF Jessie Corona worked a walk on a full count.  That brought Ortiz to the plate against the Outlaws’ hard-throwing lefty, Pedro Rodriguez.

Ortiz doesn’t have a reputation as a power hitter, so he figured Rodriguez might start him with a fastball.  “I decided to go up dead red, and see if I could ambush him,” said the Sharks veteran.  “Against a guy like Pedro, it doesn’t pay to wait around.”

Sure enough, Rodriguez (0-1) started Ortiz with an inside fastball, but not quite as inside as he wanted it.  Ortiz met it squarely and sent it soaring toward the wall in left center.  Outlaws CF Javier Cardona could only watch helplessly as the ball sailed a dozen rows deep.  Ortiz pumped his fist and circled the bases as the crowd at Blue Note Stadium roared.

“The right man at the right time,” said Aponte.  “If you were making a movie of this game, it could only have been better if he had hit it in the 9th.”

Armed with a lead, Conner (1-0) disposed of the Outlaws with near-lethal efficiency.  Silver City put another run on the board in the 5th on LF Marlon Hintz’s RBI double, but that was it.  Conner allowed only four hits through 7 innings and 107 pitches before hitting the showers.  “We want him to keep something in the tank for later,” Aponte explained.

The California pen picked up where Conner left off, with lefty Olen Abernathy working a hitless 8th and closer Chris Lendon staring down the heart of the Outlaws order in the 9th for the save.

“We’ve got plenty of bullets left in our gun,” said Jarha.  “This series is just getting started.”

 

9/18/2017, SCO16-CAL16, Blue Note Stadium
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Outlaws           0  0  1  0  1  0  0  0  0     2  5  0     3  0
2016 Sharks            0  0  3  0  0  0  0  0  x     3  6  1     5  2
 
Outlaws              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Sharks               AB  R  H BI   AVG
Ivey              dh  4  0  0  0  .000    Corona            rf  3  1  1  0  .333
Brewmaker         3b  4  0  1  0  .250    Ortiz             1b  4  1  2  3  .500
Taylor            ss  4  0  0  0  .000    Smyth             ss  4  0  1  0  .250
Wason             rf  4  0  2  0  .500    Mader             lf  4  0  1  0  .250
Elliott           1b  4  0  0  0  .000    Nix               dh  3  0  0  0  .000
Barkan            2b  3  0  0  0  .000    Canales           cf  3  0  0  0  .000
Watson            c   2  1  0  0  .000    Lockley           c   3  0  0  0  .000
Cardona           cf  3  1  1  0  .333    Oller             3b  3  0  1  0  .333
Hintz             lf  2  0  1  1  .500    Strachan          2b  3  1  0  0  .000
 Barraza          ph  1  0  0  0  .000                         30  3  6  3
 Whittier         lf  0  0  0  0  .000
                     31  2  5  1
 
Outlaws                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Rodriguez        L 0-1           8.0  6  3  3  2  9 118  78  3.38
                                 8.0  6  3  3  2  9 118  78 
 
Sharks                           INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Conner           W 1-0           7.0  4  2  1  1  9 107  67  1.29
Abernathy        H 1             1.0  0  0  0  0  1  10   9  0.00
Lendon           S 1             1.0  1  0  0  0  1  16  12  0.00
                                 9.0  5  2  1  1 11 133  88 
 
SCO: Barraza batted for Hintz in the 8th
     Whittier inserted at lf in the 8th
 
E-Conner. 2B-Hintz(1). 3B-Mader(1). HR-Ortiz(1). RBI-Hintz(1), Ortiz 3(3). 
SB-Ivey(1), Watson 2(2). K-Ivey, Brewmaker 3, Taylor 2, Wason, Elliott, 
Watson 2, Cardona, Smyth 2, Mader 2, Canales 2, Lockley 2, Oller. BB-Watson, 
Corona, Nix. 
GWRBI: Ortiz
Temperature: 65, Sky: clear, Wind: right to left at 5 MPH.

Hammerheads Fire Henley

Today, the Jackson Hammerheads announced that they had fired manager Bob Henley after one season. Henley managed the team to a disappointing fourth-place finish and 79-71 record.  Reached for comment, Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler directed reporters to the following statement, which was posted on Twitter and emailed to season-ticket holders.

A LETTER FROM THE BUTLER FAMILY

Dear Jackson Hammerheads fans,

Two seasons ago, when baseball returned to Jackson, we envisioned drunk fans at Cash Carter Downs every night cheering on the hometown team. Your energy until the very end of this year’s season, to be honest, disappointed us as we reflected on how far our team and our fanbase have come (a saying usually reserved for franchises that have accomplished something). As our organization has developed into a perennial contender (though never even making the playoffs), you’ve somewhat stood by our side — cheering our successes, keeping us honest in our approach to improvement, and celebrating with us as we’ve captured no titles or even really been in the postseason conversation.

Together, we’ve brought competitive, winning baseball back to Jackson (even though it has been here for a while at this point with no postseason success) with a passionate fanbase that every team in the Patriot League would be proud to call its own. More than anything, we want to confuse you with this line: “we want to share with you the elation of the final out going in our favor, when we can finally bring a championship home to Jackson.”

Even though this ultimately wasn’t our season, we remain devoted to that cause by firing our manager and in no way maintaining consistency at the position in further pursuit of that goal. This was an incredibly difficult decision for us. Bob Henley represented our get-on-base mentality on and off the field (hey ohhhhhhhhh!). We never really wanted to pay him an amount of money fair to a well-experienced manager with an equally respectable contract term, so we won’t even bother with the well wishes.

We won’t lie-we don’t really have a plan, nor do we expect to change anything about our manager hiring process, so take this for what it is: a self-indulgent ploy to make it seem like we aren’t cheap bastards when it comes to hiring a manager.

 

Sincerely,

The Butler Family (but let’s be real, it’s Sultan)

Final 2016 PBL Standings

West W L Pct. GB L10 Strk RS RA
y-California Sharks 95 55 .633 5-5 L2 929 658
x-Silver City Outlaws 91 59 .607 4 7-3 W1 799 681
Milwaukee Bear Claws 76 74 .507 19 5-5 W2 716 721
Kalamazoo Kazoos 64 86 .427 31 4-6 L1 667 710
Salt Lake Samurai 64 86 .427 31 8-2 W8 681 831
Las Vegas Narwhals 53 97 .353 42 2-8 L7 626 878
                 
East W L Pct. GB L10 Strk RS RA
y-Knoxville Smokies 100 50 .667 6-4 L3 833 580
x-Jacksonville Dragons 85 65 .567 15 5-5 W1 880 739
Orlando Calrissians 81 69 .540 19 9-1 W9 733 739
Jackson Hammerheads 79 71 .527 21 3-7 W1 842 781
New Orleans Sazeracs 66 84 .440 34 3-7 L1 609 743
Carolina Comets 46 104 .307 54 3-7 L1 645 899

x-clinched playoff spot.

y-clinched division title.