2016 Patriot Series, Game 6


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 6”

2016 Patriot Series, Game 5


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 5”

2016 Patriot Series, Game 4


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

2016 Patriot Series, Game 3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 3”

2016 Patriot Series, Game 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 2”

2016 Patriot Series, Game 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 1”