2016 Patriot Series, Game 6

KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 5, SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 6”

Advertisements

2016 Patriot Series, Game 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 5”

2016 Patriot Series, Game 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

2016 Patriot Series, Game 3

KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 10, SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 3”

2016 Patriot Series, Game 2

SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 8, KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 2”

2016 Patriot Series, Game 1

KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 10, SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “2016 Patriot Series, Game 1”

Patriot Series Game 6

Milwaukee Bear ClawsKnoxville SmokiesMILWAUKEE BEAR CLAWS 5, KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 2

Throughout a long and at times challenging season, Milwaukee Bear Claws manager Poss Horton has preached one consistent message to his players: relax.

“This ain’t brain surgery and it ain’t war,” said Horton.  “You can’t go through the season with your teeth gritted.  You can’t let yourself get too up or too down based on what’s happening today or this week.”

Horton’s take-it-easy philosophy has served the Bear Claws well this year.  It helped them charge out to an early lead in the Western division.  It helped them persevere through a mid-season slump and fend off a late charge by the California Sharks.  And now, it has helped them claim the inaugural Patriot League championship, withstanding a fierce challenge by the Knoxville Smokies and triumphing in Game 6 by a 5-2 margin.

“Poss is the one who got us here,” said Milwaukee SS Red Petitt, dripping wet after his teammates doused him with champagne.  “He didn’t let us get in our head about losing streaks, or panic about injuries, or anything.  He kept us steady and kept us together.  Poss is the man!”

A sellout crowd greeted the Bear Claws at High Life Field for today’s Game 6.  The Bear Claws took two of three games in Knoxville to claim a 3-2 lead in the series and push the Smokies to the brink of elimination.  The Milwaukee fans were vocal in support of their heroes, filling the park with a buzzing energy from the first pitch.

Milwaukee’s Game 6 starter, Lou Mallory, was eager to atone for his struggles in the series opener, when he dropped a 6-3 decision to Knoxville.  Similarly, Knoxville righty Jack Jacques was looking to rebound after the loss he took in Game 2.  Both starters were in much stronger form today.

“Lou really brought his A game today,” said Horton.  “I think he felt like he had something to prove.  But [Jacques] was dealing, too.  Another pitcher’s duel.”

The Smokies got on the board first, taking a 1-0 lead on doubles by 1B Eddie Battin and C Prince Carlo.  But the Bear Claws tied it up in the 3rd on an RBI double by 1B Felipe Mateo, as the crowd roared with delight.

After the initial exchange of runs, both pitchers clamped down and began trading zeroes, as the cheering in the stands began to take on a bit of a nervous edge as Jacques closed off repeated Milwaukee threats.

“We were getting guys on base, but we weren’t getting them in,” said Bear Claws 2B Richard Iddings.  “The longer it went on, the more we started to wonder what it was going to take to break this guy.”

The anxiety levels among the Milwaukee faithful only increased after the Smokies manufactured a run to take the lead in the top of the 7th.  Battin opened the inning with a single, and then a pair of groundouts moved him over to third.  LF Track Johnson then lifted a weak pop-up that dropped between Mateo and RF Wally Trumbauer, plating Battin and making it 2-1.

“That’s how [the Smokies have] done it all year,” said Iddings.  “They don’t beat your brains in with homers; they string together hits and grind out runs and win that way.  We knew we had to seize the momentum back in a hurry.”

The Bear Claws did that and more in a thrilling bottom of the 7th.  With one out, Petitt hit a seemingly routine groundball to second.  Smokies 2B Jeremiah Campo took a step back, fielded the ball, and threw to first… only to see Petitt beat it out with blazing speed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy motor like Red did there,” said Horton.  “It was a straight-up easy grounder, and Red flat outraced it.  Talk about motivation!”

Iddings then smashed a ball through the left side of the infield for another single, with Petitt scooting to second.  That brought up Mateo, Milwaukee’s most dangerous hitter.  Jacques (0-2) fell behind 2-0, then fired a fastball low in the zone.  Mateo dug the ball out and dropped it down the right-field line for a double, allowing Petitt to race home with the tying run.

“He put the pitch in my happy zone,” said Mateo, who was named Patriot Series MVP after a performance in which he batted .571 and drove in nine runs.  “I didn’t try to do too much with it, just find the grass.”

With the go-ahead run on third, Knoxville drew the infield in against Bear Claws 3B Ikaru Suzuki.  The Milwaukee third sacker slapped a three-hopper to short, and Knoxville SS Armand Moriarty fired home, but not in time to keep Iddings from scoring the go-ahead run on a gorgeous hook slide as the crowd shouted its approval.

Bear Claws LF Arthur Mealey chased Jacques with another double that scored a pair of runs, and gave Milwaukee some insurance.

Mallory (1-1) stayed in through the 8th, allowing only the two runs on eight hits.  Horton let him take the field to start the 9th before pulling him, so that Mallory could bask in the crowd’s adulation as he finished his work.

“After everything Lou’s done for us this year, he deserved a real nice ovation,” said Horton.

Closer Oscar Buenaventura finished the job with a 1-2-3 9th, recording his first save of the series.  Johnson recorded the final out of the game with a grounder to first.  Mateo plucked the ball, stomped on the bag, and then threw his glove and the ball in the air before joining his teammates in a dogpile in front of the mound.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s really over and we won,” said Mateo, wiping away a tear, or possibly a stray drop of champagne.  “I just feel so happy all over the place.”

The loss was a bitter pill for Smokies manager Snuff Wallace, who boldly predicted that his team would sweep the series.  Wallace was a bit subdued in his postgame press conference, but he remained defiant.  “Well, I gotta congratulate those guys,” said Wallace.  “They played a hell of a series and a hell of a season, and they’re deserving winners.  But they better not rest on their laurels.  ‘Cause the road to our championship starts right here and right now.  I’m sure our front office is already working on the deals that will get us over the top.  Y’all better get used to me, ‘cause I’m gonna be right back here next year, only I’m gonna be clutching a big shiny trophy when I do.”

The Bear Claws now look forward to an offseason full of sausage and beer.  The Smokies will spend the winter hunting and fishing in their namesake mountains.  That and making trades.  Lots and lots of trades. So many trades.

 

9/29/2015, KNX15-MIL15, High Life Stadium
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2015 Smokies           0  1  0  0  0  0  1  0  0     2  8  0     7  0
2015 Bear Claws        0  0  1  0  0  0  4  0  x     5 11  0    10  0
 
Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Bear Claws           AB  R  H BI   AVG
Blair             cf  4  0  1  0  .364    Petitt            ss  4  1  2  0  .269
Campo             2b  4  0  0  0  .130    Iddings           2b  5  2  2  0  .217
Bryant            dh  3  0  0  0  .136    Mateo             1b  4  1  3  2  .571
Campo             rf  4  0  2  0  .364    Suzuki            3b  4  1  0  1  .280
Moriarty          ss  4  0  1  0  .048    Mealey            lf  4  0  1  2  .304
Battin            1b  4  2  2  0  .190    Raine             dh  3  0  2  0  .619
Aceuedo           3b  4  0  0  0  .167    Trumbauer         rf  3  0  0  0  .095
Carlo             c   2  0  1  1  .235    McGuigan          c   4  0  1  0  .286
 Gomez            ph  1  0  0  0  .000    Maxwell           cf  4  0  0  0  .261
 Bossard          c   1  0  0  0  .000                         35  5 11  5
Johnson           lf  4  0  1  1  .300
                     35  2  8  2
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Jacques          L 0-2           6.1 10  5  5  2  1  90  51  5.65
Tile                             0.2  1  0  0  1  2  13   8  4.91
Lighty                           1.0  0  0  0  0  0   8   7  0.00
                                 8.0 11  5  5  3  3 111  66 
 
Bear Claws                       INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Mallory          W 1-1           8.0  8  2  2  1  2 107  77  4.50
Buenaventura     S 1             1.0  0  0  0  0  1  13  10  0.00
                                 9.0  8  2  2  1  3 120  87 
 
KNX: Gomez batted for Carlo in the 7th
     Bossard inserted at c in the 7th
 
2B-Battin(1), Carlo(2), Mateo 2(2), Mealey(2). RBI-Carlo(1), Johnson(1), 
Mateo 2(9), Suzuki(3), Mealey 2(5). SB-Campo(1), Iddings(2). CS-Trumbauer. 
K-Blair, Aceuedo, Bossard, Iddings, Trumbauer, Maxwell. BB-Bryant, Petitt, 
Mateo, Raine. HBP-Trumbauer. HB-Jacques. 
GWRBI: Suzuki
Temperature: 37, Sky: cloudy, Wind: right to left at 15 MPH.

 

Patriot Series Game 5

Knoxville SmokiesMilwaukee Bear ClawsKNOXVILLE SMOKIES 3, MILWAUKEE BEAR CLAWS 1

The Knoxville Smokies found themselves in a rare must-win situation today.  Trailing 3-1 in the Patriot Series to the Milwaukee Bear Claws, the Smokies needed a victory in Game 5 to stay alive.  Fortunately for the fans at Rocky Top Park, the Smokies were up to the task.  Ace lefty Elicio Santana came through with a brilliant performance, and a late homer from an unlikely source propelled Knoxville to a 3-1 win.

“A champion does his best fighting after you box him into a corner,” said Smokies manager Snuff Wallace.  “Our boys were up against the ropes, and they battled themselves back to the center of the ring.  Now we’ve got two more games to land the knockout blow.”

The unexpected hero of this game was Smokies 3B Ronnie Aceuedo.  Acquired during spring training in a minor deal, Aceuedo surprised most observers with a stronger-than-expected season.  But he had made little impact in the championship until he stepped up in the 7th to face Bear Claws starter “Stormin’” Patrick McNorman in a 1-1 tie game.

McNorman (0-1) had been cruising through the Knoxville lineup to that point in Game 5.  After a slightly bumpy 1st inning in which he allowed a couple of walks and an unearned run, the big Milwaukee righty had held the Smokies to three hits through the first 6 innings.

He’d opened the 7th by walking 1B Eddie Battin after a protracted struggle, but he felt confident as he faced the bottom of the Knoxville order beginning with Aceuedo, whom he’d already retired twice to that point.

After starting Aceuedo with a slider that missed the outside corner for a ball, McNorman decided to back him off with an inside fastball.  “[Aceuedo] was practically standing on the plate,” said McNorman.  “I wanted to get him to step back, then I’d come back with that outside slider and try to get him to roll into a double play.

McNorman’s pitch was where he wanted it, but rather than bail out, Aceuedo swung at it.  Aceuedo’s teammates have marveled at his bad-ball hitting all season.  “I think if you threw Ronnie a fastball at his head or bounced it in the other batter’s box, he could still get a bat on it,” said Smokies CF Joe Blair.

Somehow, Aceuedo managed to clear his wrists and meet McNorman’s fastball squarely.  At first, it looked like a high but harmless fly ball.  But with the wind blowing out to left, the ball was urged along by the stiff mountain breeze.

Bear Claws LF Arthur Mealey drifted back and back, trying to get a bead on the ball.  But he finally ran of room, dropping his head as Aceuedo’s blast came to rest in the third row.

“At first, I thought I didn’t have it,” said Aceuedo.  “Then I saw [Mealey] with his head down and the crowd yelling, and I knew I had it.”

As Aceuedo circled the bases, McNorman nodded to him in admiration.  “Sometimes all you can do is tip your hat,” said the righty.  “If I’d missed my location or gotten a bad call, that would be one thing.  But I put it right where I wanted it, and he still managed to muscle it out.  It was an impressive job by him.  Yeah, you never want it to happen to you, but you’ve got to give credit where it’s due.”

Aceuedo’s blast came one inning after Santana and the Smokies managed to keep Milwaukee from taking the lead.  The Knoxville ace opened the 6th by walking Mealey and then allowing a double to DH Rodolfo Raine, giving the Bear Claws a pair of runners in scoring position with nobody out.

Facing a dangerous hitter in RF Wally Trumbauer, Santana began nibbling and fell behind 2-0.  He came back with a fastball down the middle, and Trumbauer socked it to center.  Fortunately for the Smokies, the wind that would later aid Aceuedo’s blast now knocked down Trumbauer’s ball, and Blair chased it down shy of the track.  Mealey then broke for him, but Blair fired a perfect peg to the plate and C Prince Carlo tagged Mealey on the thigh, completing a huge double play.

“How about Joe Blair, boys!” crowed Wallace.  “I’ve been telling everybody all year he’s the best center fielder in the league and no one buys it. But he’s the total package: he can hit, run, field, throw.  You find me a guy who’s better than that, and I’ll eat my hat.”

Wallace yanked Santana after that inning, turning the ball over to right-hander Sylvester Lighty and lefty Tobias Dennis (1-0) for the 7th and 8th. The two kept Milwaukee off the board in those frames before yielding to closer Charlie Pasternak, who worked a 1-2-3 9th for his second save of the series.

The win kept Knoxville’s hopes alive, but the Smokies still have a tough road ahead.  The series shifts back to High Life Field in Milwaukee for the final two games, and Knoxville has to win them both in order to capture the Patriot League’s first championship.  But as usual, Wallace remains highly confident in his team.

“The pressure’s on Milwaukee, if you ask me,” said the Smokies skipper.  “They had a chance to close us out here, and they couldn’t put it away.  Now we’re going back to their place, but think about it.  They lose the next one, and suddenly it’s a tie series and the momentum’s all with us.  They might talk a good game, but I bet they’re shaking in their booties over there.”

In the visitor’s clubhouse, Bear Claws manager Poss Horton projected a relaxed confidence.  “I like it better this way, to tell you the truth,” said Horton.  “After everything our fans have done for us all year, it wouldn’t be right to clinch it on the road.  We’re right where we want to be.  We’ve got two more shots at home if we need them, we’ve got our ace going tomorrow, and [the Smokies] still aren’t hitting.  It’s definitely not over yet, but we’re in a very good position.”

After tomorrow’s travel day, Game 6 will match up Bear Claws right-hander Lou Mallory, who had a rough outing and took the loss in Game 1, against Smokies righty Jack Jacques, who surrendered 14 hits in a losing effort in Game 2.

 

9/27/2015, MIL15-KNX15, Rocky Top Park
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2015 Bear Claws        0  0  1  0  0  0  0  0  0     1  8  1     9  0
2015 Smokies           1  0  0  0  0  0  2  0  x     3  5  0     5  2
 
Bear Claws           AB  R  H BI   AVG    Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Petitt            ss  5  0  1  0  .227    Blair             cf  2  1  0  0  .389
Iddings           2b  3  0  2  0  .167    Campo             2b  4  0  1  0  .158
Mateo             1b  2  0  1  1  .529    Bryant            dh  3  0  1  0  .158
Suzuki            3b  4  0  0  0  .333    Campo             rf  4  0  0  0  .333
Mealey            lf  3  0  0  0  .316    Moriarty          ss  3  0  0  1  .000
Raine             dh  4  0  3  0  .611    Battin            1b  2  1  0  0  .118
 Fleitas          pr  0  0  0  0  .000    Aceuedo           3b  3  1  1  2  .214
Trumbauer         rf  4  0  0  0  .111    Carlo             c   3  0  1  0  .200
Maxwell           cf  3  0  0  0  .316    Johnson           lf  3  0  1  0  .313
Champney          c   4  1  1  0  .250                         27  3  5  3
                     32  1  8  1
 
Bear Claws                       INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
McNorman         L 0-1           8.0  5  3  2  4  5 117  67  2.25
                                 8.0  5  3  2  4  5 117  67 
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Santana                          6.0  6  1  1  4  2  99  57  2.08
Lighty                           0.1  1  0  0  0  0   8   6  0.00
Dennis           W 1-0           1.2  1  0  0  0  0  14   9  0.00
Pasternak        S 2             1.0  0  0  0  0  1   9   7  0.00
                                 9.0  8  1  1  4  3 130  79 
 
MIL: Fleitas ran for Raine in the 8th
 
E-Petitt. 2B-Petitt(1), Raine(3). 3B-Johnson(1). HR-Aceuedo(1). RBI-Mateo(7), 
Moriarty(2), Aceuedo 2(3). SB-Iddings(1), Bryant(1). K-Mealey, Champney 2, 
Blair, Campo, Moriarty 2, Battin. BB-Mateo 2, Mealey, Maxwell, Blair 2, 
Bryant, Battin. SF-Moriarty. HBP-Iddings. HB-Santana. 
GWRBI: Aceuedo
Rodolfo Raine was injured for this game only
Temperature: 77, Sky: partly cloudy, Wind: right to left at 16 MPH.

 

Patriot Series Game 4

Milwaukee Bear ClawsKnoxville SmokiesMILWAUKEE BEAR CLAWS 1, KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 0

Before the inaugural Patriot Series began, Knoxville Smokies manager Snuff Wallace predicted that his team would win in a sweep.  It was a typical bit of braggadocio from a showman, and few took his prediction seriously.  But after the Milwaukee Bear Claws pulled out a 1-0 victory in today’s Game 4, the Smokies find themselves on the brink of elimination in five games, a possibility that almost no one had considered going in.

“Hey, anybody ask ol’ Snuff how his sweep is holding up?” quipped Bear Claws manager Poss Horton.  “There’s a reason why you’re supposed to say it’s going to be a hard-fought series, even if you don’t really believe it.  Because if you predict an easy win and the other team whips you, you look like an idiot.”

Today’s game was an unexpected pitcher’s duel, as neither starter seemed a likely bet to dominate.  Bear Claws lefty Zack Perriman never quite got back on track after a midseason injury, and struggled with consistency and control down the stretch.  His opponent, southpaw Rick Tomblin, spent most of the season buried in the minors for the last-place Orlando Calrissians, before the Smokies liberated him in a deadline deal.

But in spite of both hurlers’ shaky reputations, they combined to put up string of zeroes on the scoreboard.  Neither one overpowered the opposing hitters; rather, they mixed up their pitches and induced weak contact again and again.

“That’s the key to my game,” said Perriman.  “I’m not really capable of blowing it by guys, but if I can fool them and get them to get themselves out, I win.”

Knoxville’s first serious threat came in the 3rd inning, when CF Joe Blair and 2B Jeremiah Campo hit back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners with one out.  But Perriman got DH Malcolm Bryant to swing at a diving slider and hit a double-play ball to short to end the inning.

“What I love about Zack is that he makes the hitters look silly,” said Horton.  “When he’s on, they all go back to the dugout shaking their heads and saying, ‘I can’t believe I swung at that.’  And I just laugh to myself.”

Tomblin, meanwhile, allowed more hits but managed to keep the Bear Claws off the scoreboard.  Milwaukee only went down in order once against Tomblin.

“I could tell they thought they were about to figure me out,” said Tomblin.  “But all they were hitting was singles, and as long as that was true, I knew I’d be able to hold them off.”

In the 6th, though, Tomblin’s velocity began to drop alarmingly.  After he allowed a one-out single to Milwaukee 3B Ikaru Suzuki, Wallace and trainer Bubba James came out to check on him.  After a brief conversation, they took Tomblin out of the game.

Post-game examination revealed that Tomblin was suffering from shoulder inflammation, and he is expected to be out for the remainder of the series.

“It’s a damn shame for my season to end like this,” said Tomblin.  “But I’m glad I had the chance to showcase my talent for a winning team down the stretch, and I’ll be ready to come back and kick [expletive] next year.”

With Knoxville’s usual long reliever, Jerry Tile, unavailable for today’s game, Wallace called on his other rubber-armed reliever, Rick Wilkins.  The veteran righty stumbled in a brief appearance in Game 1, but he has gotten the Smokies out of numerous tight spots this season, and Wallace felt comfortable putting the ball in his hand.

“Rick’s a hard-nosed guy,” said Wallace.  “He doesn’t get scared when the bright lights come on or things get tough.”

Wilkins didn’t have his A game today, but he demonstrated his ability to power through adversity.  In the 7th, he allowed back-to-back singles to the bottom of the Milwaukee order leading off the inning.  He worked out of that jam, however. He blew a couple fastballs past SS Red Petitt for a strikeout and got 2B Tony Anthony to line into an inning-ending double play, with Campo spearing the chest-high liner and stepping on second, with the crowd at Rocky Top Park roaring its approval.

“We could feel the momentum turn,” said Smokies LF Track Johnson.  “We shut them down in the top of the inning, and we were ready to come out and grab the game by the throat.”

The Smokies certainly took a shot at it, mounting their first rally since the 3rd.  SS Armand Moriarty got the party started with a one-out walk.  1B Eddie Battin launched a towering fly ball to right that brought the crowd to its feet, but it died at the warning track for the second out.  3B Ronnie Aceuedo dropped a long single down the left-field line, as Moriarty raced over to third.  As the crowd stomped, clapped, and hooted, Bear Claws pitching coach Zane Stafford ambled out to the mound to check on Perriman.

“I was just taking his temperature,” Stafford said afterward.  “He seemed pretty cool.  I asked him, ‘You need a shot of courage?  I got my flask in my pocket here.’  He laughed and said, ‘No, I got this.’  I knew he was gonna be fine.  So I told him, ‘There’s a pretty redhead in a Bear Claws jersey over by our dugout.  Get this guy, then go over and get her number.’  I wanted him focused on the task at hand.”

Perriman’s challenge was to retire C Prince Carlo.  He fell behind the Knoxville catcher 3-1, as the noise in the park reached deafening levels.  Carlo fouled off several tough pitches, but wound up grounded out to second to end the inning.

Immediately following the Smokies’ snuffed-out rally, Bear Claws 1B Felipe Mateo sucked the remaining energy out of the stadium by driving a 1-1 fastball from Wilkins (0-1) out to right to give Milwaukee the lead.

“We were so close, but that sequence just broke our backs,” said Johnson.  “One minute, we were on the brink of breaking it open.  The next, they’ve got the lead.”

Perriman (1-0) retired the Smokies in order in the final two innings to secure the win.

Despite trailing 3-1 in the series, Wallace remains confident in his team.  “Sometimes, it takes having your backs against the wall to bring out your best,” the Knoxville skipper said.  “I know I’ve got a champion squad over here, and I’m expecting them to respond like champs.”

Game 5 takes place at Rocky Top Park tomorrow, with Knoxville sending their ace Elicio Santana to the hill to oppose Milwaukee’s “Stormin’” Patrick McNorman.

 

9/26/2015, MIL15-KNX15, Rocky Top Park
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2015 Bear Claws        0  0  0  0  0  0  0  1  0     1 12  1    10  3
2015 Smokies           0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0     0  6  0     5  2
 
Bear Claws           AB  R  H BI   AVG    Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Petitt            ss  5  0  1  0  .235    Blair             cf  4  0  2  0  .438
Iddings           2b  3  0  0  0  .067    Campo             2b  4  0  1  0  .133
 Anthony          2b  2  0  0  0  .000    Bryant            dh  4  0  1  0  .125
Mateo             1b  3  1  2  1  .533    Campo             rf  4  0  0  0  .429
Suzuki            3b  4  0  2  0  .412    Moriarty          ss  3  0  0  0  .000
Mealey            lf  4  0  0  0  .375    Battin            1b  3  0  0  0  .133
Raine             dh  4  0  2  0  .571    Aceuedo           3b  3  0  1  0  .182
Trumbauer         rf  3  0  1  0  .143    Carlo             c   3  0  0  0  .167
McGuigan          c   4  0  1  0  .294    Johnson           lf  3  0  1  0  .308
Maxwell           cf  4  0  3  0  .375                         31  0  6  0
                     36  1 12  1
 
Bear Claws                       INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Perriman         W 1-0           9.0  6  0  0  1  1 100  62  0.00
                                 9.0  6  0  0  1  1 100  62 
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Tomblin                          5.1  6  0  0  1  4  77  44  0.00
Wilkins          L 0-1           3.2  6  1  1  1  3  53  34  4.15
                                 9.0 12  1  1  2  7 130  78 
 
MIL: Anthony inserted at 2b in the 5th
 
E-Petitt. HR-Mateo(3). RBI-Mateo(6). CS-Trumbauer. K-Petitt, Iddings, Mealey, 
Trumbauer, McGuigan 2, Anthony, Bryant. BB-Mateo, Trumbauer, Moriarty. 
GWRBI: Mateo
Richard Iddings was injured for this game only
Rick Tomblin was injured for this game and 5 more days
Temperature: 66, Sky: clear, Wind: right to left at 13 MPH.

 

Patriot Series Game 3

Milwaukee Bear ClawsKnoxville SmokiesMILWAUKEE BEAR CLAWS 11, KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 2

Prior to the start of the Patriot Series, Knoxville Smokies manager Snuff Wallace indicated that he planned to go with a four-man rotation.  As soon as he announced this, observers began to speculate which starter would be bumped to bullpen duty, with many predicting that Woody Flowers would be exiled.  The rookie lefty struggled with nerves and inconsistency throughout the season, and he had clearly lost the trust of Wallace, who questioned Flowers’ manhood on multiple occasions.

But when the Smokies released their projected starters list, Flowers was on it; veteran right-hander Sylvester Lighty was bumped instead.  Wallace said that he believed Lighty would be better suited to relief duty.  Given the chance to regain his manager’s confidence in Game 3, Flowers flopped, lasting only 2 1/3 innings as the Smokies were routed 11-2 by the Milwaukee Bear Claws.

“I don’t know what the hell it is with Flowers,” snapped Wallace after the game.  “Time and time again I give him chances to man up and show me something, and he doesn’t do it.  If you’re gonna succeed in this game, you’ve gotta be tough.  You’ve gotta have some grit in your soul.  Flowers has got talent, but there’s something missing.  I’ve done what I can, but at some point he’s gotta look in the mirror and sack up.”

Flowers (0-1) received a rude welcome to Milwaukee from Bear Claws SS Red Petitt, who belted his first pitch over the old Pabst brewery in left-center for a home run.

“I guess he didn’t realize I was looking for heat,” said Petitt.  “He started me off with a center-cut fastball, and I was on it like a dog on a bone.  I wanted to blow him a kiss on my way around the bases, I was so happy.”

Flowers made it through the rest of the inning unscathed, but ran into trouble again in the 2nd.  He allowed two singles and a walk to load the bases with one out.  Smokies 1B Eddie Battin dug the hole even deeper by allowing a Petitt grounder to skip under his glove for an error.  Fortunately for Knoxville, 2B Richard Iddings grounded into a double play to spare Flowers any further damage.

The wheels came completely off the bus for Flowers in the 3rd.  Bear Claws 1B Felipe Mateo opened the inning by putting a full-count fastball ten rows deep in right.  One out later, LF Arthur Mealey laced a single through the right side.  DH Rodolfo Raine followed with a double past Battin and into the right-field corner, moving Mealey to third.  After walking RF Wally Trumbauer on four pitches, Flowers fell behind C Frances McGuigan 2-0. The young lefty tried to steal a strike with a curveball that didn’t break.  McGuigan lined the ball over the head of Smokies RF Jackson Campo, bringing in two runs to make it a 5-1 game.

As Flowers slouched back toward the Knoxville dugout, the Milwaukee faithful serenaded him with mocking applause and razzing cheers.  “Flowers is Pushing Up Daisies,” said the sign held by one Bear Claws rooter.

“I know Snuff thinks I struggled because I’m not tough enough,” said Flowers, “but that’s not true.  I was elevating my fastball from the beginning, and when my command of the breaking stuff abandoned me in the 2nd, I knew I was in trouble.  You’re not going to last long in a gunfight when you’re out of bullets.  I did what I could, but that wasn’t much.”

After Flowers’ departure, Wallace turned to reliever Jerry Tile to try and stop the bleeding.  The iron-armed Tile was the manager’s go-to guy for long-relief appearances all season long.  But in a curious decision, Wallace left Tile in for the remaining 6 2/3 innings of the game, long after it had become clear that a Smokies rally wasn’t in the cards.

Even after Tile clearly tired in the late innings, allowing five Bear Claws runs in the 7th and 8th, Wallace left his most effective reliever out in what was for all intents and purposes a mop-up appearance.

“I like guys I can count on,” said Wallace.  “Jerry’s been a rock for us all year, and I’m not gonna stop trusting him now.”  When questioned about the wisdom of leaving Tile in for so long, almost certainly rendering him unavailable for the next game or two, the Knoxville skipper snorted, “I bet it looks real easy from up in the press box.  I don’t tell you how to write your stories, and you’re damn sure not gonna tell me how to manage.”

Bear Claws right-hander Herculez Mendoza (1-0) was another pitcher that many observers figured wouldn’t start in this series, as he struggled to a team-worst 5.07 ERA on the season.  But Milwaukee manager Poss Horton stuck with his usual five-man rotation for the championship, and Mendoza rewarded Horton’s faith with a complete-game four-hitter.

“I am so glad to Mr. Horton for trusting me,” said Mendoza.  “A lot of times this season, I pitched with bad luck and I got down on myself a lot.  But Mr. Horton always told me he believed in me.  He never doubted me, even when I doubted myself.”

Mendoza had a somewhat rocky 1st inning, loading the bases on two walks and a hit.  But he limited the damage to a single run on a sac fly from SS Armand Moriarty, and proceeded to dominate the rest of the way.  He retired 20 batters in a row before allowing a walk to 3B Ronnie Aceuedo leading off the 8th, and allowed only one more run on an RBI single by CF Joe Blair.

“Herc’s had a lot of bad luck this year,” said Horton.  “But he’s always been better than the numbers suggested, and I knew he had a game like this in him.  He came through big at the perfect time.”

The Bear Claws now hold a 2-1 lead in the Patriot Series.  Game 4 is tomorrow at Rocky Top Park in Knoxville, with Smokies southpaw Rick Tomblin facing off against Bear Claws lefty Zack Perriman.

 

9/25/2015, MIL15-KNX15, Rocky Top Park
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2015 Bear Claws        1  1  4  0  0  0  2  3  0    11 16  0     7  1
2015 Smokies           1  0  0  0  0  0  0  1  0     2  4  2     4  1
 
Bear Claws           AB  R  H BI   AVG    Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Petitt            ss  5  1  2  2  .250    Blair             cf  4  1  2  1  .417
Iddings           2b  5  0  0  0  .083    Campo             2b  3  0  0  0  .091
Mateo             1b  5  2  2  2  .500    Bryant            dh  4  0  0  0  .083
Suzuki            3b  5  1  2  0  .385    Campo             rf  3  0  1  0  .600
Mealey            lf  5  2  3  2  .500    Moriarty          ss  3  0  0  1  .000
Raine             dh  4  3  4  0  .600    Battin            1b  4  0  0  0  .167
 Fleitas          ph  1  0  0  0  .000    Aceuedo           3b  2  1  0  0  .125
Trumbauer         rf  3  1  0  1  .091    Carlo             c   2  0  0  0  .222
McGuigan          c   5  0  2  2  .308     Kurland          ph  1  0  0  0  .000
Maxwell           cf  4  1  1  1  .250     Bossard          c   0  0  0  0  .000
                     42 11 16 10          Johnson           lf  3  0  1  0  .300
                                                               29  2  4  2
 
Bear Claws                       INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Mendoza          W 1-0           9.0  4  2  2  3  3 128  79  2.00
                                 9.0  4  2  2  3  3 128  79 
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Flowers          L 0-1           2.1  8  6  5  2  1  65  34 19.29
Tile                             6.2  8  5  4  0  6  79  61  5.40
                                 9.0 16 11  9  2  7 144  95 
 
MIL: Fleitas batted for Raine in the 8th
KNX: Kurland batted for Carlo in the 8th
     Bossard inserted at c in the 9th
 
E-Battin, Johnson. 2B-Mealey(1), Raine 2(2), McGuigan(1). HR-Petitt(1), 
Mateo(2). RBI-Petitt 2(2), Mateo 2(5), Mealey 2(3), Trumbauer(1), 
McGuigan 2(2), Maxwell(1), Blair(2), Moriarty(1). K-Petitt, Mateo, 
Trumbauer 3, McGuigan, Maxwell, Blair, Moriarty, Kurland. BB-Trumbauer, 
Maxwell, Campo, Campo, Aceuedo. SF-Trumbauer, Moriarty. 
GWRBI: Petitt
Temperature: 66, Sky: clear, Wind: out to center at 1 MPH.