Patriot League Division Series – Game 4

PBL Western Division Series, Game 4

SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 4, CALIFORNIA SHARKS 3

The California Sharks are strong in so many areas that it’s tempting to think of them as a team without flaws.  But throughout the season, they have had one Achilles hell: the bullpen.  Time and again through the first half of the season, California’s relief corps proved unable to hold the leads that their strong rotation delivered.  One of the weakest links was their closer, Eugene Grace.  The veteran left-hander recorded a respectable 24 saves, but with an ERA well north of 5.00 for much of the season, he inspired little confidence while doing so.

At the deadline, the Sharks shopped for a more reliable 9th-inning option, but didn’t find one available.  Instead, they acquired southpaw Olen Abernathy from Milwaukee and installed him as their primary lefty setup man.  They bumped Grace to a long-relief law and installed rookie Chris Lendon as closer.  The hard-throwing Lendon settled into the role, but he still was not the bulletproof option the Sharks were looking for.

Lendon’s shortcomings became all too clear in today’s Game 4.  Handed a one-run edge and with only three outs to get for California to claim a 3-1 series lead, the rookie closer let the game slip away and allowed the Silver City Outlaws to even the series with a 4-3 win.

“I feel sick,” said Lendon.  “Everybody was counting on me, and I let them down.  I let [starter] Todd [Warrant] down, I let [manager] Eduardo [Aponte] down, I let my teammates down.  Everybody.  But I’ve got to put it behind me and move on.”

Up until Lendon’s meltdown, everything seemed to be going the Sharks’ way.  Warrant’s knuckleball was at its fluttering, unpredictable best even in the thin air at the Corral, and the Outlaws flailed away in frustration.  He compiled 13 strikeouts over 8 innings and through the first seven frames, RF Nathaniel Wason’s homer was the only run Silver City could muster.  The Outlaws notched another tally in the 8th on an RBI single by 3B Rusty Brewmaker, but California still had the 3-2 edge.

Warrant offered to come back for the 9th, but Aponte elected to go to his closer instead.  That proved to be a disastrous decision.  Wason led off and smoked a liner that seemed to be headed for the right-field corner, but 1B Jamal Gerke leapt up and grabbed it as the visiting dugout heaved a sigh of relief.

Up next was 1B Muzz Elliott.  Lendon fell behind 2-1 before throwing a slider without much bite, and Elliott sent a rocket to left.  There was no snagging that one, and it landed four rows deep for a game-tying homer.

After that, things unraveled quickly for Lendon (0-1) and the Sharks.  2B Dominique Barkan walked on six pitches.  C Toby Watson singled and moved Barkan to third.  Then CF Tex Whittier, who had been inserted into the game in the 9th, dropped a single that scored Barkan and touched off a raucous celebration on the field and in the stands.

Aponte said that he still had faith in his closer, and focus on moving past the loss.  “We do not have time for our hearts to be broken,” said the Sharks manager.  “We must focus on tomorrow.”

If California loses this series, though, they may look back at this as the game when they had a chance to take control and let it slip through their fingers.

 

9/22/2017, CAL16-SCO16, The Corral
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Sharks            0  0  2  0  0  1  0  0  0     3 12  0     8  1
2016 Outlaws           0  1  0  0  0  0  0  1  2     4 10  0     6  1
 
Sharks               AB  R  H BI   AVG    Outlaws              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Corona            rf  5  0  3  0  .389    Ivey              dh  4  1  1  0  .071
Smyth             ss  4  0  0  0  .294    Brewmaker         3b  4  0  1  1  .250
Canales           cf  4  0  2  0  .200    Taylor            ss  4  0  0  0  .250
Mader             lf  4  0  1  1  .250    Wason             rf  4  1  2  1  .438
Nix               dh  4  1  2  0  .200    Elliott           1b  4  1  2  1  .125
Lockley           c   3  0  1  1  .231    Barkan            2b  3  1  0  0  .083
Gerke             1b  4  0  1  0  .167    Watson            c   4  0  1  0  .200
Oller             3b  4  1  1  1  .333    Cardona           cf  2  0  1  0  .250
Strachan          2b  4  1  1  0  .308     Barraza          ph  1  0  0  0  .200
                     36  3 12  3           Whittier         cf  1  0  1  1  .250
                                          Hintz             lf  3  0  1  0  .250
                                                               34  4 10  4
 
Sharks                           INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Warrant                          8.0  7  2  2  0 13 115  79  2.25
Lendon           BS 1, L 0-1     0.1  3  2  2  1  0  17   9 13.50
                                 8.1 10  4  4  1 13 132  88 
 
Outlaws                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Benson                           6.0 10  3  3  0  2  92  56  4.50
Humphrey                         0.2  1  0  0  1  1  17  10  0.00
Abbas            W 2-0           2.1  1  0  0  0  0  21  16  0.00
                                 9.0 12  3  3  1  3 130  82 
 
SCO: Barraza batted for Cardona in the 8th
     Whittier inserted at cf in the 9th
 
2B-Lockley(2), Ivey(1), Wason(2). HR-Oller(2), Wason(2), Elliott(1). 
RBI-Mader(2), Lockley(2), Oller(2), Brewmaker(2), Wason(4), Elliott(1), 
Whittier(1). SB-Cardona(1). CS-Corona. K-Smyth, Canales, Lockley, Ivey, 
Brewmaker, Taylor 3, Elliott 2, Barkan 2, Watson, Cardona, Hintz, Barraza. 
BB-Smyth, Barkan. SH-Lockley. 
GWRBI: Whittier
Temperature: 86, Sky: clear, Wind: out to left at 17 MPH.

 

PBL Eastern Division Series, Game 4

JACKSONVILLE DRAGONS 5, KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 2

Jacksonville Dragons ace Biggs McGee is well-known around the league for his extreme self-confidence and his braggadocious nature.  In fact, he’s arguably better known for his boasting and bluster than for his actual accomplishments on the mound.  That may change after today, though.

In Game 1 of the Division Series, McGee struggled against the Knoxville Smokies, lasting only 3 2/3 innings in an 8-7 Dragons loss.  He was penciled in to make his next start in Game 5.  For Game 4, manager Steve Califano listed his starter as “TBD.”  Jacksonville’s thin rotation didn’t leave many appealing choices; the leading candidates were plagued with serious control problems (Juan Sarmiento, Randy Tomblin), a propensity for allowing gopher balls (Jason Burtman), or were better suited as relievers (Juan Pascos).

While Califano mulled his options in the wee hours after Game 3, McGee strode into his office with a bold suggestion.  “How ‘bout me?”  Although he was working on short rest, McGee proclaimed himself “fresh as a daisy” after throwing only 79 pitches in his prior outing.  He also indicated a thirst for revenge, saying that “nobody beats Biggs twice in a row.”

Impressed by his ace’s offer, Califano took him up on it.  And McGee (1-0) came through with flying colors, firing 6 solid innings and leading the Dragons to a 5-2 win and evening their series with the Smokies at two games apiece.

“This is what the great ones do,” said McGee.  “Your team’s in a jam and they need someone to put the game on his back and say, ‘I got this.’  That’s just what I did, and damn, I was brilliant.”

Califano lauded his ace’s performance, even as he rolled his eyes slightly at McGee’s bravado.  “We needed a hero on the hill today, and Biggs stepped up,” said the Dragons skipper.  When asked about McGee’s assertion that he had turned in a “Hall of Fame performance,” Califano laughed and said “that might be slightly premature.  But I take that to mean that Biggs is feeling sexy about himself, which is good for us.”

Califano credited McGee for working a smart game.  “I loved seeing him be efficient with his pitches, pitching to contact and trying to extend his outing as long as he could, instead of trying to blow it by everybody and jacking his pitch count up.”  McGee needed only 82 pitches to complete his 6 innings.  He wanted to go deeper, but Califano pulled him in order to “keep my powder dry” for later in the series.

That left nine outs for the bullpen to get, and they did it in style.  Rookie southpaw Lance Newman struck out three across the 7th and 8th, keeping the Smokies off the board.  Then closer Razor Corridon took over; the veteran has struggled at times, but today he worked a 1-2-3 9th to earn the save.

“Let’s not sleep on what the pen did for us,” said Califano.  “Those weren’t easy outs, and they made them look easy.  Biggs was huge for us, but so were Lance and the Razor.  That’s the kind of performance that might help us go a long way.”

Meanwhile, the Dragons bats battered ex-teammate Randy Cannon (0-1) for five runs over 7+ innings.  Jacksonville’s big inning was the 4th, when an error by 2B Jeremiah Campo opened the door for a three-run rally that gave the Dragons a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Knoxville manager Snuff Wallace, who had predicted earlier in the series that his team would win in four or five games, remained confident headed into tomorrow’s pivotal Game 5.  “We let this one get away from us,” Wallace said.  “But we can still go out there and win tomorrow and grab this series by the nuts.  They have to win the next one.  I want to win it.”

McGee, one of the few people in the league who can match Wallace’s bluster, had a different take on the situation.  “Snuff’s boys better hope they can win the next two,” said the Texan righty.  “’Cause if there’s a Game 7, guess who’s going to be on the hill gunning for glory?  Yep, it’s your boy.  They’re gonna get a face full of Biggs McGee whether they like it or not.”

 

9/22/2017, KNX16-JAX16, Tesla Field
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Smokies           0  1  0  0  0  1  0  0  0     2  8  1     5  0
2016 Dragons           1  0  0  3  0  0  0  1  x     5  8  0     8  1
 
Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Dragons              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Johnson           lf  4  0  1  0  .294    Taliaferro        2b  4  1  1  1  .263
Campo             2b  4  1  1  0  .235    Kapoor            3b  4  0  2  0  .400
Battin            1b  4  0  1  0  .313    Hartley           lf  3  0  0  1  .188
Campo             rf  4  0  2  1  .353    Soria             1b  4  0  1  0  .294
Moriarty          ss  4  0  0  0  .375    Hopps             rf  4  1  1  0  .333
Credle            c   4  1  2  1  .375    Leon              cf  3  1  0  0  .214
Blair             cf  4  0  1  0  .143    Soltero           dh  2  1  0  0  .214
Valentim          dh  3  0  0  0  .357    Teachout          c   4  1  1  1  .267
Figeroa           3b  3  0  0  0  .357    Herdt             ss  3  0  2  2  .500
                     34  2  8  2           Burt             ss  0  0  0  0  .000
                                                               31  5  8  5
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Cannon           L 0-1           7.0  7  5  3  2  5 115  69  3.86
Wilkins                          1.0  1  0  0  0  0  11   7  0.00
                                 8.0  8  5  3  2  5 126  76 
 
Dragons                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
McGee            W 1-0           6.0  6  2  2  0  2  82  54  5.59
Newman           H 1             2.0  2  0  0  0  3  31  21  0.00
Corridon         S 1             1.0  0  0  0  0  1  11   8  0.00
                                 9.0  8  2  2  0  6 124  83 
 
JAX: Burt inserted at ss in the 9th
 
E-Campo. 2B-Kapoor(1). HR-Credle(3). RBI-Campo(5), Credle(3), Taliaferro(3), 
Hartley(3), Teachout(3), Herdt 2(4). SB-Kapoor(1), Herdt(1). K-Battin, 
Campo 2, Moriarty, Credle, Figeroa, Taliaferro, Hartley, Soria, Leon, 
Teachout. BB-Leon, Soltero. SF-Taliaferro, Hartley. HBP-Soltero, Herdt. 
HB-Cannon 2. WP-Cannon 2. 
GWRBI: Teachout
Temperature: 70, Wind: none.
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Kapoor to Donate for Refugees

Jake Kapoor
Jake Kapoor

Jacksonville Dragons designated hitter Jake Kapoor has pledged to give $1,000 to charities that help Syrian refugees every time he hits a home run this season, and Dragons owner/GM Eric Stetson has agreed to match his pledge. For the slugging Kapoor, who hit 29 homers last year while playing in Korea, the contribution may turn out to be substantial.

Kapoor, whose father is a Muslim originally from Pakistan and whose mother is an American Christian, explained his pledge as a dedication to the memory of his Pakistani grandfather, who was a refugee during the Partition of India in 1947. Hundreds of thousands of people died from sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims.

“We all have to learn to get along with people who are different from us,” said Kapoor. “That’s why I’m proud to be an American and proud to be a baseball player. We’re black, white, Latino, Asian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, but none of that matters, ’cause we’re all like brothers on the baseball field.”

Stetson said that he was proud of Kapoor’s decision and was more than happy to match his donation.  “Jake is setting an example for all of us,” Stetson told reporters.  “He understands that being a good person is as important as being a good player.  He’s exactly the kind of guy we want in our organization.”

Kapoor said he will split his donations between three charities: Refugees Welcome, a German organization that’s “kind of like Airbnb for refugees,” which matches people with spare rooms with refugees in need of housing; and Mercy Corps and Save the Children, both of which provide emergency food and supplies and education for refugee children.

Aponte Predicts Sharks Title

Eduardo Aponte
Eduardo Aponte

California Sharks manager Eduardo Aponte predicted this week that his team will win the Patriot League title this season.  “I look around at my team, and I see a champion,” Aponte told reporters during a press conference from the Sharks’ spring training site in San Gorgonzola.  “You know when you’re on a first date, and you get an idea whether it’s going to work out or not?  That’s the feeling I have.  I am dating a beautiful woman, and I believe we are destined for great things.  I feel I will be shopping for a ring soon.”

Aponte lavished praise on the Sharks’ starting pitchers, saying that “I am confident that our rotation is superior to any in this league, or any other league.  When I hear them warming up, it is like a row of cannons firing.”  He also raved about the gloves and arms of his outfielders.  “If opposing batters manage to hit the ball, it will go into the outfield to die,” said Aponte.  Additionally, he praised the top-to-bottom strength of the California lineup.  “We will not be hitting a great number of home runs,” Aponte predicted, “but we will be skilled at putting hits together.  We will score runs in the old-fashioned way, and I am an old-fashioned guy, so I like this very much.”

This is the 45-year-old Aponte’s first managerial position.  When asked how he could evaluate his team’s strength relative to the rest of the league before any games have been played, Aponte smiled and said, “I have played baseball since I was old enough to hold a bat, and I know what a winning team looks like.  Also, I am making sure that will will be in perfect shape.”  Aponte, renowned in his playing days as a fitness freak, is running his team through a grueling workout regimen designed to build the team’s endurance for a long season.  “CrossFit could learn something from Eduardo,” said Sharks LF Kenneth Mader.

If Aponte’s championship promises are going to come true, the Sharks will have to prevail in a tough Western Division race.  California’s rivals include the Silver City Outlaws, who built their team using sabermetric analysis; the Milwaukee Bear Claws, who have perhaps the league’s best hitter in 1B Felipe Mateo and a top closer in Oscar Buenaventura; and the Salt Lake Samurai, who recently expanded their front office.