PBL 2016 Season in Review: Carolina Comets

None of the four expansion teams that joined the Patriot League in 2016 seriously competed for a playoff spot, or even came particularly close to threatening the .500 mark.  But each team, to varying degrees and in different ways, showed hope for the future.  The Carolina Comets, alas, might have the longest road ahead of them. In the words of owner/GM Steven Roseman, “we had brief moments where we looked like a squad, just not enough to strike fear in anyone.”

Start with the record: 46-104, worst in the league and only one game better than Salt Lake’s all-time worst performance from last season.  As Roseman put it, “The season started and before I realized it my team was trying to dig out of an insurmountable hole.” The Comets spent the season getting “walloped in the chin by a number of teams.”

Take a look at the underlying numbers, which suggest that the team’s record was no surprise.  Carolina underwhelmed on both sides of the ball.  The Comets finished dead last in batting average (.236) and second-to-last in OPS (.713), while also bringing up the rear in ERA (5.78) and OPS allowed (.863).  Carolina’s relievers managed to convert only 33% of their save opportunities, an appalling number given that no other team converted fewer than 57% of their chances.

The Comets disappointed on an individual level as well.  At the season’s beginning, Roseman felt that his team had the talent to “compete for the pennant, or at least be competitive,” but that belief was undermined as the season went on.  Presumed ace Randy Flats was a flop, going 6-13 with a 5.97 ERA.  Hometown hero LF Stargell Jackson provided some sorely-needed speed, stealing 50 bases, but didn’t get on base often enough (hitting .252 with a .733 OPS).  Only three pitchers on the squad finished with an ERA under 5.00, and only four hitters finished with an average over the .250 mark.

Arguably the best player associated with the Comets franchise is one who never played a game for them.  One of Carolina’s top draft picks was left-handed starter Scott Green.  But in a stunning move, the Comets shipped him to Knoxville just before the season for journeyman lefty Tom Trane and second-base prospect Danny Kurland.

The deal was a head-scratcher at the time, and only looked worse as the season went on.  Green sparkled with Knoxville, contending for Rookie of the Year honors and helping the Smokies win their first league title.  Meanwhile, Trane went 5-21 with a 7.06 ERA, while Kurland struggled to keep his average over the Mendoza Line and failed to nail down the starting job at second.

Then there’s the volatile presence of manager Taylor “Two-Buck” Ashy.  Ashy is a disciple of Knoxville Smokies skipper Snuff Wallace; in his first season with Carolina, he tried to mimic Wallace’s brash and outspoken personality, but without the results to back it up.  Ashy’s abrasive style reportedly led to numerous conflicts with his players.  Two of the team’s best pitchers, starter Davey Skargard (2-7, 4.57 ERA) and reliever Avery Lavine (1-2, 3.60) finished out the season in the minors, reportedly after getting on the manager’s bad side.  Although Roseman declined to comment on Ashy’s performance, he did say that the Comets had “no identity or vision.”

Despite all of that, there were some causes for optimism if you squinted hard enough.  1B Pete Shives, another high draft pick, flashed a brilliant glove and displayed real thump, leading the team with 39 homers.  CF Joe Jones displayed some unexpected power as well, launching 35 round-trippers to make up for a less-than-sterling .251 average.  Between those two and Jackson, the Comets have the core of a lineup with some promise, even if there are numerous holes, especially in the middle infield.

It’s harder to see the same hope among the pitching staff, but starters like Flats and Deke Slater (8-16, 5.75) are young enough to be viable bounce-back candidates.  Right-hander Whitney Winslow (2-10, 1 save, 5.27 ERA) cycled through just about every possible role in the pen; he might improve if the team can settle on the best way to use him.

Roseman took primary responsibility for the team’s performance, acknowledging that “I didn’t do my homework” and “making critical mistakes was my undoing in the first year.” Looking toward next season, the owner said his focus is on “[h]aving a clear plan for the team and organization, following a consistent game plan from the draft throughout the season.”

Perhaps the key piece of the plan is the fate of the manager.  Roseman didn’t commit on whether Ashy would return, but he did say that “a major adjustment in philosophy will be implemented.”  Is Ashy capable of dialing back his cut-rate Snuff act for the sake of the team’s growth?  Can he avoid alienating his players and wearing out his welcome in the clubhouse?  Does he have the patience to oversee what is likely to be a long building process in Carolina?  If the answer to those questions is “yes,” then Ashy might be the man to guide this club for the long haul.  If the answer is “no,” however, Roseman might need to find a new skipper in order for the Comets to get better.

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PBL 2016 Season in Review: California Sharks

For the California Sharks, it was a good season with a bad finish.  The Sharks rode their way to 95 wins while putting up a strong showing on both sides of the ball, with their pitching staff finally living up to expectations and the batting order looking even stronger than last season.  But their championships dreams were dashed in the Western Division Series, as they fell to the underdog Silver City Outlaws in a tense and thrilling seven-game series.

“It was like having a gorgeous, sumptuous feast laid before you,” said California manager Eduardo Aponte, “then being cut off after the appetizer course.”

The Sharks established themselves as a strong offensive team in 2015, and they only got stronger this season, patching the few holes they had.  First base was a perpetual weak spot for California in ’15; this year, journeymen Jamal Gerke (.288/.376/.459, 15 HR) and Max Ortiz (.362/.393/.531 with 17 doubles in 207 AB) platooned to fill that hole admirably.  Veteran Johnie Oller (/269/.323/.533, 38 HR, 114 RBI) and rookie Justin Canales (.252, 31 doubles, 44 HR, 121 RBI) provided upgrades at third base and center field, respectively.

The Sharks were in the top three in every offensive category except walks (thanks to Aponte’s aggressive swing-first approach) and stolen bases (why risk getting caught stealing with so many boppers in the lineup?).  In short, California delivered at the plate.

On the mound, where the Sharks were a disappointment last season, thing took a turn for the better.  California finished second in ERA and OPS against, thanks to a staff that used pinpoint control to miss bats (leading the league in strikeouts with 1341 while allowing the second-fewest walks with only 399).  The biggest revelation was 21-year-old righty Kevin Conner, who blossomed overnight from a promising but raw talent into a superstar.  Conner went 19-1 with a 2.82 ERA, 180 strikeouts, and a .610 OPS allowed.  The rest of the rotation (lefties Stu Palmeiro and Matt Simpson and righties Pierre LaRue and Todd Warrant) also produced solid results.

“I’m proud of the fact that our rotation is tough from top to bottom,” said Sharks owner/GM Colin Mills.  “No matter who you’re going against, you’re in for a long day when you play us.”

Finding flaws in this roster is an exercise in picking nits, but there are a few soft spots.  C Thaddeus Lockley hit .256 with little power, a disappointment for him.  Expect youngster Matt Jensen to receive more playing time in 2017 unless Lockley’s numbers improve.  And while California’s pitching staff was overall quite good, they remained surprisingly homer-prone (they allowed 202 longballs, fifth-most in the league.)

The Sharks’ biggest shortcoming, though, is the same as last year: the bullpen.  After a season and a half of underwhelming results, Aponte finally evicted Eugene Grace from the closer’s role.  Rookie Chris Lendon was the replacement, and he didn’t fare too much better.  Another first-year lefty, Bob Orf, struggled in the long-relief role.  Rubber-armed righty Jan Arzola remained the only consistent arm in the Sharks’ relief corps.  A deadline trade for veteran southpaw Olen Abernathy helped a little, but not enough.

If California wants to win a title, they’d do well to add another late-inning arm or two.  Mills called that quest a top priority.  “For our club, those last six or nine outs have been the toughest to get,” said the California owner.  “If we can get one or two more lockdown relievers, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Sharks is that they’ve established themselves as one of the league’s best teams.  Within that rarefied air, can California take the next step and become champions?

“Our hunger is immense,” said Aponte.  “Everyone in this locker room is focused on a title.  That and winning back the highly prestigious Chum Bucket.  Nothing less will satisfy.”

PBL’s 2016 Award Winners Revealed

The Patriot League today announced the winners of its annual end-of-season awards.  The awards were voted on by the league’s owners, and are intended to recognize the top performers from the 2016 Patriot League season.

“I’m always glad to recognize the work of our talented players and managers,” said Patriot League Commissioner Jeremiah Mills.  “All the votes have been counted, and we are thrilled to recognize the winners.  As you can see from the list of winners, we believe that our players can compete against anybody.”

The list of winners can be found below.

Continue reading “PBL’s 2016 Award Winners Revealed”

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”

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 League Division Series – Game 7

PBL Eastern Division Series, Game 7

KNOXVILLE SMOKIES 7, JACKSONVILLE DRAGONS 5

When telling the story of the Knoxville Smokies’ 7-5 win over the Jacksonville Dragons in the deciding game of the Patriot League’s Eastern Division Series, there are a lot of names worth mentioning.

There’s Smokies RF Jackson Campo, who had a game for the ages, going 3-for-4 with 5 RBI.  There’s Dragons LF Rob Hartley, whose three-run upper-deck homer in the 5th looked for a while like it might carry Jacksonville to a shocking upset.  There’s the Knoxville relief trio of Jerry Tile, Rick Wilkins, and Charlie Pasternak, who combined to throw 4 scoreless innings to put the home team in position to win.  There’s Jacksonville starter Bryce Hobbs, a rookie who posted a 16-3 regular-season record but couldn’t get his team over the hump.  There’s Smokies manager Snuff Wallace, who guaranteed a victory before Game 7 and saw his team come from behind to pick him up.

But no account of this game would be complete without mentioning one key player, one who didn’t appear in the game at all: Dragons ace Biggs McGee.

After McGee turned in a strong outing on short rest in Game 4 to save his team’s season, he promised that he would deliver a repeat performance today. “If there’s a Game 7, guess who’s going to be on the hill gunning for glory?” McGee asked reporters.  “Yep, it’s your boy.  They’re gonna get a face full of Biggs McGee whether they like it or not.”

But when Game 7 rolled around, McGee didn’t get the start; Hobbs did.  And when Hobbs began to struggle in the middle innings, manager Steve Califano never summoned his ace, even though McGee was reportedly warming up in anticipation of a call that never came.  The big-talking pitcher who was determined to carry the team on his back never got the chance.

Califano declined to answer questions about his pitching decisions after the game, saying only that “I went with the guys who I thought could deliver for us.”  Why those guys didn’t include McGee, who was by all accounts ready and willing, is a question that will hang over this game for the ages.

The fact that Hobbs got the ball to start Game 7 wasn’t a surprise.  Although McGee and Kyle Palmer were able to start on short rest in Game 4 and 5, Hobbs told Califano that he couldn’t do the same in Game 6.  The Dragons started Juan Sarmiento instead.  So it made sense that Hobbs, on full rest, would be the starter in Game 7.

But all signs pointed to McGee being available at least in relief for today’s contest.  Califano yanked McGee in Game 4 after only 82 pitches, saying that he wanted to “keep my power dry.”  Asked before today’s game if he was ready for a relief appearance if needed, McGee said, “You bet your rosy-red butt cheeks.  I’m chomping at the bit to get in there.”

But when Hobbs allowed a three-run bomb to Campo in the 4th to overturn an early Jacksonville lead, Califano didn’t call on McGee.  When Campo stroked an RBI single in the 6th to cut the Dragons’ edge to 5-4, Califano stuck with his struggling starter.  It wasn’t until Smokies LF Track Johnson’s fielder’s choice in the 7th tied the game with only one out that the Jacksonville manager finally took Hobbs out, in favor of… Razor Corridon, the losing pitcher in Game 6.

According to team sources, McGee had started warming up when Hobbs began struggling in the 6th.  By the time Johnson tied the game in the 7th, he was “ready to go 100%.”  When Califano summoned Corridon instead, McGee slammed down his glove and sat down in disgust.

The manager allowed that he hoped that Corridon would get a couple groundball outs to escape the inning.  “In that situation, you need a guy who can keep the ball on the ground,” said Califano.  “Biggs is more of a fly-ball guy.  So right there, you figure the Razor gives you the better shot.”

Corridon did get Smokies 2B Jeremiah Campo to hit a grounder to first, allowing the Dragons to throw out DH Adam Valentim at the plate.  But the next two batters, 1B Eddie Battin and Jackson Campo, hit line-drive singles that brought home the runs that wound up deciding the game.

McGee claimed no hard feelings after the game.  “He’s the boss man, and he makes the call,” said the ace.  “That ain’t my job.  My job is to get guys out.  And I sure would have liked a chance to do that.”

Over in the victor’s locker room, Wallace said the win was “proof that my guys deliver when it counts.  We’re the champions, and we just showed it.  Now let’s go get the big trophy!”

The Smokies now go on to meet the Silver City Outlaws in the Patriot Series.  The Dragons head back to the weight room, where they’ll try to lift their way to a championship.

 

9/26/2017, JAX16-KNX16, Rocky Top Park
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Dragons           0  0  0  2  3  0  0  0  0     5 11  0     6  0
2016 Smokies           0  0  0  3  0  1  3  0  x     7 10  0     6  0
 
Dragons              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Smokies              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Taliaferro        2b  5  1  2  0  .226    Johnson           lf  5  3  2  1  .276
Kapoor            3b  5  2  2  1  .407    Campo             2b  4  1  1  0  .250
Hartley           lf  4  1  2  3  .333    Battin            1b  3  1  1  1  .269
Soria             1b  4  0  0  0  .185    Campo             rf  4  1  3  5  .370
Hopps             rf  4  1  2  1  .308    Moriarty          ss  4  0  1  0  .357
Leon              cf  4  0  1  0  .154    Credle            c   4  0  1  0  .308
Soltero           dh  3  0  1  0  .208    Blair             cf  3  1  1  0  .125
 Patterson        ph  1  0  0  0  .500    Valentim          dh  2  0  0  0  .286
Teachout          c   4  0  0  0  .160     Bossard          ph  1  0  0  0  .000
Herdt             ss  4  0  1  0  .381    Figeroa           3b  2  0  0  0  .227
                     38  5 11  5           Vernon           ph  0  0  0  0  .000
                                           Aceuedo          3b  1  0  0  0  .500
                                                               33  7 10  7
 
Dragons                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Hobbs            L 1-1           6.1  7  7  7  2  3  88  57  6.43
Corridon                         0.2  2  0  0  0  1  12   9  6.75
Newman                           1.0  1  0  0  1  3  20  11  0.00
                                 8.0 10  7  7  3  7 120  77 
 
Smokies                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Green                            5.0  9  5  5  0  4  81  58  9.00
Tile             W 2-0           2.0  1  0  0  0  3  27  17  0.00
Wilkins          H 1             1.0  0  0  0  0  0  11   6  0.00
Pasternak        S 3             1.0  1  0  0  0  1  15   9  0.00
                                 9.0 11  5  5  0  8 134  90 
 
JAX: Patterson batted for Soltero in the 8th
KNX: Vernon batted for Figeroa in the 7th
     Aceuedo inserted at 3b in the 8th
     Bossard batted for Valentim in the 8th
 
2B-Taliaferro(2), Credle(1). HR-Kapoor(4), Hartley(5), Hopps(1), Campo(2). 
RBI-Kapoor(6), Hartley 3(13), Hopps(2), Johnson(1), Battin(4), Campo 5(10). 
K-Kapoor, Soria, Leon, Soltero, Teachout 2, Herdt 2, Johnson, Campo, 
Moriarty, Credle, Valentim, Aceuedo, Bossard. BB-Battin, Blair, Valentim. 
SH-Vernon. 
GWRBI: Battin
Temperature: 57, Sky: partly cloudy, Wind: left to right at 17 MPH.

 

PBL Western Division Series, Game 7

SILVER CITY OUTLAWS 5, CALIFORNIA SHARKS 3

The Silver City Outlaws are a team steeped in the mythology of the Old West.  Their stadium is called The Corral, and the home-run landing ground in right field is called Boot Hill.  Both GM Hank Stroman and manager John Jarha liberally lace their public remarks with cowboy slang.  And the famously rowdy crowds often give off the vibe of a lawless frontier town, Tombstone or Dodge City.

If the Outlaws are a Western movie, RF Nathaniel Wason is their John Wayne.  Wason is tall, handsome, and laconic.  And when the situation calls for it, he doesn’t hesitate to play the hero.

Throughout the Western Division Series, facing a talented and dangerous opponent in the California Sharks, Silver City needed Wason’s heroism.  And as he has so often this season, Wason delivered.  During the seven-game series, Wason hit .481 and went deep five times.  And in today’s deciding game, the slugger went 2-for-4 and drove in four of the Outlaws’ five runs, including a game-winning homer in the 9th.

“Nate’s not the kind of guy to brag on himself, so let me brag on him a little,” said Jarha.  “This guy’s tougher than saddle leather, and he’s got nerves of cast iron.  No matter the situation, no matter the opponent, he doesn’t get rattled.  He’s a quick draw and his shot is true.  I’m not sure he’s human, to tell you the truth.”

Wason was the man the Outlaws needed today.  In the 3rd inning, with California ahead 2-0, Silver City had the bases loaded with two outs when Wason came up against Sharks lefty Stu Palmeiro.  “There was still a lot of game left after that,” said Jarha.  “But if we’d let Palmeiro wriggle out of that jam, it was gonna be a long day.”

Wason took a strike, then roped a Palmeiro sinker into the gap in left center for a bases-clearing double.  The hit took the air out of the crowd at Blue Note Stadium, but it fired up the Outlaws dugout.  “He hit a damn good pitch like he had it on a tee,” said 1B Muzz Elliott.  “He just went in there and dug it out.”

As the innings wore on, though, Palmeiro dug in and kept the Outlaws from further damage.  2B Palmer Strachan tied the game with a two-out double in the 5th, and it looked like neither Palmeiro nor Outlaws starter Rob Tildon would budge any further.

Finally, the 9th inning came around, and Palmeiro remained on the hill for California.  Wason led off the inning for Silver City.  The Sharks southpaw nibbled around the edges of the plate, trying to get Wason to hit a weak groundout.  But the slugger wouldn’t budge, running the count to 3-0.  Palmeiro fired in a get-me-over fastball, and Wason let it go by for strike one.

For his next pitch, Palmeiro tried to climb the ladder.  He fired a fastball up and in, and Wason hit a towering fly ball down the right-field line.  It had the distance, but would it stay fair?  As Palmeiro and RF Jessie Corona watched helplessly, the ball stayed just inside the foul pole.

Another hitter might have flipped his bat or Cadillaced it around the bases.  Not Wason.  The Silver City slugger kept his head down and circled the bases as nonchalantly as if it were spring training.

“Just doing my job,” Wason said.  “Not out to show anybody up.  Just playing for the W.”

The loss brings a disappointing end to an exciting season for the Sharks, who finished the season with 95 wins but couldn’t pull out four more.  “There is no shame in this ending,” said California manager Eduardo Aponte.  “Only heartbreak.”

The Outlaws move on to face the Smokies in the Patriot Series.  The Sharks head over to Zuma to get in some surfing before the season is over.

 

9/26/2017, SCO16-CAL16, Blue Note Stadium
 
                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
2016 Outlaws           0  0  3  0  0  0  0  0  2     5  9  0     5  2
2016 Sharks            2  0  0  0  1  0  0  0  0     3  5  0     1  0
 
Outlaws              AB  R  H BI   AVG    Sharks               AB  R  H BI   AVG
Ivey              dh  5  1  1  0  .143    Corona            rf  4  0  1  0  .250
Brewmaker         3b  4  0  0  0  .172    Ortiz             1b  4  1  1  0  .333
Taylor            ss  2  1  0  0  .185    Smyth             ss  4  1  1  2  .276
Wason             rf  4  1  2  4  .481    Mader             lf  4  0  0  0  .250
Elliott           1b  4  1  2  0  .214    Nix               dh  3  0  0  0  .160
Cardona           cf  4  0  0  0  .304    Canales           cf  1  1  1  0  .208
Whittier          lf  4  0  1  1  .250    Lockley           c   3  0  0  0  .273
 Baynes           pr  0  0  0  0 1.000    Oller             3b  3  0  0  0  .286
Barkan            2b  4  1  2  0  .238    Strachan          2b  3  0  1  1  .391
Barraza           c   4  0  1  0  .200                         29  3  5  3
                     35  5  9  5
 
Outlaws                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Tildon                           7.0  5  3  3  2  8 119  74  5.56
Abbas            W 3-0           1.0  0  0  0  0  0   8   5  0.00
Matsumoto        S 2             1.0  0  0  0  0  2  13   8  6.00
                                 9.0  5  3  3  2 10 140  87 
 
Sharks                           INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Palmeiro         L 0-2           8.0  7  5  5  1 10 135  89  4.50
Arzola                           1.0  2  0  0  0  1  17  11  0.00
                                 9.0  9  5  5  1 11 152 100 
 
SCO: Baynes ran for Whittier in the 9th
     Baynes moved to lf in the 9th
 
2B-Wason(3), Whittier(1). HR-Wason(5), Smyth(2). RBI-Wason 4(12), 
Whittier(2), Smyth 2(5), Strachan(6). SB-Barkan(3), Canales(1). CS-Ivey, 
Canales. K-Ivey, Brewmaker 2, Taylor, Wason, Elliott 2, Cardona 2, Barraza 2, 
Corona 2, Ortiz, Smyth 2, Mader 2, Lockley 2, Strachan. BB-Taylor, Canales 2. 
HBP-Taylor. HB-Palmeiro. 
GWRBI: Wason
Kent Whittier was injured for this game and 3 more days
Temperature: 64, Sky: cloudy, Wind: right to left at 13 MPH.