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.

 

Patriot Series Game 2

Milwaukee Bear ClawsKnoxville SmokiesMILWAUKEE BEAR CLAWS 4, KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 0

Milwaukee Bear Claws starter Benicio Torrenueva is a well-known bullfighting aficionado, and he approaches his starts like a matador preparing to enter the ring.  With the charged-up playoff atmosphere and a fierce opponent in the Knoxville Smokies, Game 2 of the Patriot Series definitely felt more like the San Fermin festival in Pamplona than a cool September night in Milwaukee.

Fortunately for the fans at High Life Field, the man known as “The Toreador” was up to the task.  With the Bear Claws desperately in need of a win, Torrenueva fired a complete-game shutout to defeat the Smokies, 4-0.

“Torre was in top form today,” said Milwaukee manager Poss Horton.  “If it was up to me, I’d award him both Snuff’s ears and his tail.”  The latter remark was a playful jab at Knoxville manager Snuff Wallace, who predicted a sweep at the beginning of the series.

Torrenueva (1-0) has struggled in cold-weather games before, but tonight he was masterful.  He limited the Smokies to four hits, all singles.  The only Knoxville batter that gave him trouble was the cleanup hitter, RF Jackson Campo, who went 2-for-2 with a walk.

Torrenueva seemed to feed off the energy of the crowd.  As he worked through each scoreless inning, the fans’ roars grew louder.  When the left-hander strode off the field at each inning’s end, he swept his arms upward and then bowed to the crowd, which did everything but throw roses at his feet.

“He sure has a flair for the dramatic, doesn’t he?” said Horton.

The closest that the Smokies came to scoring was in the 6th, when Torrenueva walked the bases loaded.  But then he got SS Armand Moriarty to hit a weak pop-up to first.  As 1B Felipe Mateo squeezed the ball to end the inning, the crowd worked itself into an ecstatic frenzy of delight.  Torrenueva thumped his chest, then pointed to Mateo before taking another sweeping bow for the crowd.

After the game, the typically reserved pitcher gave a passionate interview in Spanish, in which he dedicated the victory to the people of Milwaukee.  “I felt them with me all the way,” said Torrenueva.  “The cheers of the fans are like the blood flowing through my veins.  They give me the strength and energy to triumph.  I will not rest until I have brought the championship to these wonderful people and this beautiful city.”

Torrenueva also credited Bear Claws C Frances McGuigan, who snuffed out a couple early Knoxville threat.  In the 1st, McGuigan caught Smokies 2B Jeremiah Campo wandering off first base and picked him off and end the inning.  McGuigan then ended the 2nd by throwing out the other Campo brother, who was trying to steal second.

“Frank is the most heads-up player in the game,” Horton said.  “He doesn’t usually get talked about, but he’s done as much to help us this year as anyone.”

On the other side, Smokies starter Jack Jacques (0-1) turned in an unimpressive performance, surrendering 14 hits over his 8 innings.  He failed to record a single 1-2-3 inning in the game, and found himself pitching in trouble for most of the game.

“That wasn’t the Jack I’m used to seeing,” said Wallace.  “He’s always been this cold-blooded assassin, but today he didn’t assassinate nobody.”

In the 2nd, Jacques needed Moriarty to bail him out of a two-on, one-out jam.  The Knoxville shortstop speared a sharp grounder from McGuigan, which he turned into an inning-ending double play.  But when the big right-hander got into trouble in the 3rd, neither Moriarty nor anyone else could save him.

Bear Claws CF DeRonde Maxwell and SS Red Petitt both jumped on first pitches from Jacques, driving them for back-to-back singles.  2B Richard Iddings then laid down a bunt that moved the runners up for Mateo.  Jacques’ 1-1 splitter to the Milwaukee first baseman broke toward the heart of the plate, and Mateo drilled it to the upper deck in right for a three-run homer.

In the 5th, Milwaukee laced four straight singles that led to another run.  Thanks to Torrenueva’s dominant performance, the Bear Claws had more than enough to win.

“Except for Felipe’s homer, we weren’t really hitting [Jacques] that hard,” said Horton.  “But it worked.”

Horton contrasted his team’s approach to that of the Smokies, who kept taking big swings against Torrenueva, only to swing and miss or hit harmless flies and pop-ups.  “The Smokies were trying to bash the ball to the moon, and Torre used that against them.  You don’t need big hits to win.  You can beat a guy by chipping away at him again and again, like we did.  They’re trying to make it on SportsCenter; we’re just trying to win games.”

It may be too soon to say the momentum has shifted in the Patriot Series, but it certainly felt that way.  The last out of the game came on a slow roller to short by Smokies C Prince Carlo.  After Petitt scooped the ball and fired it to first, he turned toward the Knoxville dugout and shouted at Wallace.  “You got something to say now, Big Mouth?” Petitt barked.  For once, the ever-loquacious Smokies manager was silent.

The series now shifts to Rocky Top Park in Knoxville, tied 1-1.  In Game 3, Bear Claws right-hander Herculez Mendoza will match up against rookie Smokies lefty Woody Flowers.

 

9/23/2015, KNX15-MIL15, High Life Stadium
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2015 Smokies           0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0  0     0  4  0     8  1
2015 Bear Claws        0  0  3  0  1  0  0  0  x     4 14  1     8  0
 
Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Bear Claws           AB  R  H BI   AVG
Blair             cf  3  0  0  0  .375    Petitt            ss  4  1  1  0  .143
Campo             2b  4  0  0  0  .125    Iddings           2b  3  0  0  0  .143
Bryant            dh  3  0  0  0  .125    Mateo             1b  4  2  3  3  .571
Campo             rf  2  0  2  0  .714    Suzuki            3b  4  0  2  0  .375
Moriarty          ss  4  0  0  0  .000    Mealey            lf  4  0  2  0  .429
Battin            1b  4  0  0  0  .250    Raine             dh  4  0  2  1  .333
Aceuedo           3b  3  0  1  0  .167    Trumbauer         rf  4  0  1  0  .125
 Kurland          ph  1  0  0  0  .000    McGuigan          c   4  0  2  0  .250
Carlo             c   3  0  0  0  .286    Maxwell           cf  4  1  1  0  .250
Johnson           lf  3  0  1  0  .286                         35  4 14  4
                     30  0  4  0
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Jacques          L 0-1           8.0 14  4  4  0  5 128  92  4.50
                                 8.0 14  4  4  0  5 128  92 
 
Bear Claws                       INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Torrenueva       W 1-0           9.0  4  0  0  4  4 133  71  0.00
                                 9.0  4  0  0  4  4 133  71 
 
KNX: Kurland batted for Aceuedo in the 9th
 
E-Petitt. HR-Mateo(1). RBI-Mateo 3(3), Raine(1). CS-Campo. K-Campo, Moriarty, 
Battin 2, Petitt 2, Iddings, Suzuki, Trumbauer. BB-Blair, Bryant, Campo, 
Carlo. SH-Iddings. HBP-Campo. HB-Torrenueva. 
GWRBI: Mateo
Temperature: 55, Sky: cloudy, Wind: out to center at 4 MPH.

 

Patriot Series Game 1

Knoxville SmokiesMilwaukee Bear ClawsKNOXVILLE SMOKIES 6, MILWAUKEE BEAR CLAWS 3

Prior to the beginning of the inaugural Patriot Series, Milwaukee Bear Claws manager Poss Horton expressed cautious optimism about his team’s chances.  “Obviously, Knoxville’s a good team,” said Horton.  “But we’ve shown all year that we’re pretty darn good too, and resilient.  I expect it’ll be a hard-fought series, but I like our chances.”

His opposing counterpart, Knoxville Smokies skipper Snuff Wallace, had a blunter assessment, as is his wont.  “We’re gonna sweep,” said Wallace.  “The Bear Claws have been on cruise control since the All-Star Break.  They’re overrated, and I think the time is ripe for us to show the world who the real kings are.”

It remains to be seen whose forecast is closer to the mark, but round one went to Wallace and the Smokies.  On a chilly night at High Life Field in Milwaukee, the Smokies got a strong performance from ace Elicio Santana and posted a 6-3 triumph.

“See, what’d I tell y’all?” said Wallace.  “Everybody’s been rushing to crown those guys, but they ain’t nothing special.  We got the total package: pitching, hitting, running.  They’ll be lucky to get a game off us!”

The Smokies set the tone for the game in the 1st inning.  CF Joe Blair singled on the first pitch he saw, and 2B Jeremiah Campo bunted him over to second.  DH Malcolm Bryant then smoked a 2-0 pitch to the gap in left-center, scoring Blair and giving Knoxville a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.  Even though Bryant tried to stretch his hit into a triple and was gunned down at third, costing the Smokies a potential big inning, Wallace praised his team’s aggressiveness.

“How you like that!” the Knoxville manager exclaimed.  “We walked right in there and grabbed a lead real quick.  That’s ballin’ with swagger!”

Smokies 1B Eddie Battin doubled his team’s lead with a solo homer to lead off the 2nd.

Meanwhile, Santana got off to a flying start for Knoxville, setting the Bear Claws down in order in the first three innings.  Milwaukee finally got on the board in the 4th.  SS Red Petitt walked on four pitches.  2B Richard Iddings battled Santana to a full count, then hit a swinging bunt down the third-base line that died in fair territory for an infield single.  1B Felipe Mateo grounded out to the right side, moving both runners up.  3B Ikaru Suzuki then brought Petitt home on a grounder to short.

Milwaukee had a chance for more after Santana walked LF Arthur Mealey and drilled DH Rodolfo Raine.  But Santana used his big sweeping curveball to strike out RF Wally Trumbauer, ending the threat.

“That was my tough inning,” said Santana.  “After that, I was rolling like a mountain stream.”

Santana (1-0) wound up going 7 innings, his only other blemish a solo homer by Mealey to lead off the 7th.  “I bet [the Bear Claws] are losing sleep thinkin’ about having to face him again,” said Wallace of his ace.

Despite Santana’s brilliant performance, though, the Smokies were far from assured of a victory.  Milwaukee ace Lou Mallory (0-1) had an uneven outing, but Knoxville often struggled to take advantage.  Blair singled in a run in the 5th to make it 3-1.  But when Bear Claws CF DeRonde Maxwell’s error gave the Smokies two runners in scoring position with one out in the 7th, they couldn’t cash in.  LF Track Johnson tried to sprint home on a Campo grounder, only to see himself thrown out by 10 feet on a perfect peg by Mateo.  Bryant then flied out to center to end the threat.

“I don’t give a damn,” said Wallace.  “I want us making hustle mistakes, aggressive mistakes.  Better that than wussing out.  Besides, we won.”

After Mealey’s 7th-innning blast got the Bear Claws back within one, the Smokies responded with a tally in the top of the 8th on a Ronnie Aceuedo sac fly.  Wallace then summoned rubber-armed reliever Rick Wilkins, who got two out sandwiched between a single and a walk.  Wallace went to his closer, Charlie Pasternak, who allowed an RBI single to Suzuki but retired Mealey on a fielder’s choice to end the inning with the lead intact.

The Smokies finally put it away in the 9th.  A clearly exhausted Mallory remained in the game; Horton finally pulled him after the Smokies stroked back-to-back singles to start the inning.  After the game, the Bear Claws skipper took the blame for leaving Mallory in too long.  Five of the 13 hits the starter surrendered came in the final two innings.

“I know I should have gone to the pen sooner,” said Horton.  “Lou didn’t lose this one, I did.  But it’s a long series, and I don’t want to burn up my relievers this early.”

Righty Timmy Almon got the Bear Claws out of the 9th, but not before allowing both inherited runners to score on a groundout and a wild pitch.

“I wasn’t on my A game today,” admitted Almon.  “This isn’t the time of year for that.  I’m going to have to tighten it up.”

In the bottom of the 9th, Pasternak pitched around a leadoff walk to secure the save.  He finished with a flourish, ending the game on back-to-back strikeouts.

“That’s just the first shot across the bow,” said Wallace.  “Expect us to bring the real fireworks tomorrow.”

With the win, the Smokies take a 1-0 lead in the series.  Tomorrow’s game at High Life Field will pit Knoxville right-hander Jack Jacques against Milwaukee southpaw Benicio Torrenueva.

 

9/22/2015, KNX15-MIL15, High Life Stadium
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2015 Smokies           1  1  0  0  1  0  0  1  2     6 13  0     8  0
2015 Bear Claws        0  0  0  1  0  0  1  1  0     3  5  1     6  0
 
Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Bear Claws           AB  R  H BI   AVG
Blair             cf  5  2  3  1  .600    Petitt            ss  3  2  0  0  .000
Campo             2b  4  1  1  0  .250    Iddings           2b  4  0  1  0  .250
Bryant            dh  5  0  1  2  .200    Mateo             1b  3  0  1  0  .333
Campo             rf  5  1  3  0  .600    Suzuki            3b  4  0  1  2  .250
Moriarty          ss  4  0  0  0  .000    Mealey            lf  3  1  1  1  .333
Battin            1b  4  1  2  1  .500    Raine             dh  2  0  0  0  .000
Aceuedo           3b  3  0  0  1  .000    Trumbauer         rf  4  0  0  0  .000
Carlo             c   4  1  2  0  .500    McGuigan          c   4  0  0  0  .000
Johnson           lf  4  0  1  0  .250    Maxwell           cf  4  0  1  0  .250
                     38  6 13  5                               31  3  5  3
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Santana          W 1-0           7.0  3  2  2  2  5  85  49  2.57
Wilkins          H 1             0.2  1  1  1  1  0  15   7 13.50
Pasternak        S 1             1.1  1  0  0  1  2  20  13  0.00
                                 9.0  5  3  3  4  7 120  69 
 
Bear Claws                       INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Mallory          L 0-1           8.0 13  6  6  1  6 123  79  6.75
Almon                            1.0  0  0  0  0  0   7   6  0.00
                                 9.0 13  6  6  1  6 130  85 
 
E-Maxwell. 2B-Bryant(1), Campo 2(2), Carlo(1). HR-Battin(1), Mealey(1). 
RBI-Blair(1), Bryant 2(2), Battin(1), Aceuedo(1), Suzuki 2(2), Mealey(1). 
CS-Mateo. K-Blair, Bryant, Moriarty, Battin, Carlo, Johnson, Petitt, Raine, 
Trumbauer 2, McGuigan 2, Maxwell. BB-Moriarty, Petitt, Mateo, Mealey, Raine. 
SH-Campo. SF-Aceuedo. HBP-Raine. HB-Santana. WP-Almon. 
GWRBI: Bryant
Temperature: 48, Sky: partly cloudy, Wind: right to left at 8 MPH.