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!”