2.18.2017

2016 BARB WORLD SERIES

The 14th BARB World Series was set, and it matched a two-time defending champion, the Yuma Firebirds, against a Frostbite Falls Flying Squirrels club three years removed from their last title. In addition, the matchup re-ignited an age-old question: Does good pitching beat good hitting? Cactus division champion Frostbite paced the league with a .282 team batting average, 1025 runs and 281 round-trippers. On the flip side, the Yuma pitching staff blew out the rest of the circuit in ERA (3.42) and strikeouts (1563). So without further ado…

GAME ONE: BIG FLIES = BIG WIN

A pair of southpaws, Chris Sale and Francisco Liriano, scaled the mound to get their respective teams going in the first game of a series many expected to go the distance.

The hosts’ strength showed up early, as lefty-killer Franklin Gutierrez pulled a Sale full-count pitch into the stands with Adam Eaton on base for a 2-0 Flying Squirrels lead in the second inning. Mike Trout added a run with a blast to lead off the third inning, and Nick Hundley (earning a platoon start ahead of rookie Gary Sanchez) doubled in Gutierrez with a two-out double in the fourth for a four-run advantage.

In the sixth, the Firebirds began their rally with small ball against a laboring Liriano. Joey Votto opened with a free pass before Andrew McCutchen singled to center. The pair executed a double steal, and one out later Votto crossed the plate on a Brian Dozier groundout.

Liriano stranded McCutchen on third that inning, but in the seventh he was removed after a quick single and walk. Brett Cecil retired one but allowed two safeties to cut the lead to one. Darren O’Day was brought on to stem the bleeding, but a single and sacrifice fly tied the game before he struck out pinch-hitting Joe Panik to end the frame.

Sale, nearing 100 pitches, was allowed to start the bottom of the seventh. A drawn-out battle with Jason Kipnis ended in Frostbite’s favor with an error by Corey Seager. After a strikeout, Bryce Harper drew a walk on Sale’s 115th pitch, bringing in A.J. Ramos. The right-hander couldn’t find the strike zone, but Evan Longoria helped him with a can of corn on a 3-1 pitch. Adam Eaton and Kendrys Morales didn’t have to take the bat off their shoulders; eight straight balls drove in a run and drove Ramos from the game in favor of Jake McGee, who Didi Gregorius greeted with a double down the line to score two runs and open a 7-4 lead.

Paul Goldschmidt added insurance runs in the eighth with a two-run homer in a light drizzle, and despite McCutchen matching the feat in the ninth the Flying Squirrels took game one.

FINAL: FROSTBITE FALLS 9, YUMA 6

GAME TWO: THE BRYCE HARPER SHOW

In stark contrast to the first game, game two of the BARB World Series was a nailbiter, with a total of three runs coming across the plate.

That number could have been much higher had it not been for Frostbite Falls right fielder Bryce Harper.

The young star gave his usual 110% with the leather and robbed no less than THREE hits, including a home run, to lead his team to a 2-1 victory over the visiting Yuma Firebirds.

The show started in the first inning, when Corey Seager lined a shot destined for the gap. Harper glided across the pasture, dove, and snared the ball just above the grass.

Frostbite Falls went on the scoreboard in the fifth with a Mike Trout sacrifice fly (after a triple by…Nick Hundley?!?!), and Denard Span led off the top of the sixth. Span, who routinely flied out deep to the outfield throughout the playoffs, put a charge into a Julio Teheran pitch and watched as it soared toward the right field wall. Harper reached the track and took off, reaching high above the fence to pull back a sure game-tying blast.

Andrew McCutchen became Harper’s third victim in the seventh inning, as his shot down the line was caught in a slide by the flashy young star.

Hundley was the catalyst for the Flying Squirrels’ second run, this in the bottom of the seventh, as he hit a solo home run to left-center field.

In the eighth, a mini-rally by Yuma knocked Teheran from the game, and a two-out error by Didi Gregorius allowed the Firebirds to pull within one. Brett Cecil and Chris Withrow shut the door, however, for a 2-0 series lead.

FINAL: FROSTBITE FALLS 2, YUMA 1

GAME THREE: ABE LINCOLN PUTS YUMA IN THE WIN COLUMN

The Yuma Firebirds returned home for game three of the BARB World Series in a 2-0 deficit. Rather than giving up, they fought back with a solid start from young righty Jharel Cotton, roughed up Frostbite Falls ace Jake Arrieta and plated a five-spot in the eighth to run away with a 10-5 victory.

It was all offense from the get-go, with Flying Squirrels cornerstones Mike Trout and Bryce Harper going deep in the first inning. The outcome looked bleak for the Yuma faithful when Gary Sanchez singled with two away and the Firebirds bullpen quickly heated up, but Cotton recorded the final out and didn’t allow another run until the sixth.

Arrieta came out and immediately walked Denard Span, then fired a get-it-in fastball to Joey Votto and saw it go back the way it came for a single. Andrew McCutchen singled to score one and Mookie Betts grounded out to tie the game after one.

McCutchen was back at it in the fifth, this time crushing a no-doubt three-run blast, and in the blink of an eye Yuma had a 5-2 lead.

The lead was cut by a run in the top of the sixth, as Gary Sanchez homered with two away. Two innings later Jason Kipnis and Paul Goldschmidt sandwiched solo round trippers around a Trout strikeout, and the game was tied again. Frostbite had hit FIVE solo home runs, without much else on offense.

Reliever Hansel Robles came out for the bottom of the eighth and immediately walked Betts. Darren O’Day entered and walked Buster Posey before Joe Panik doubled to re-take the lead. Brad Boxberger continued the relief pitcher procession and the Firebirds methodically moved around the bases, with Betts coming up for a second time and ending the frame with a fly out. When the dust settled, five runs had come across and Yuma was safely ahead for the first Series victory.

FINAL: YUMA 10, FROSTBITE FALLS 5

GAME FOUR: ALL YUMA TO TIE THE SERIES

A.J. Griffin started for Frostbite Falls in game four. Griffin didn’t make it out of the first inning. The mid-season free agent signee faced seven hitters, walking two and allowing four hits, and recorded just one out in possibly the shortest starting appearance in BARB World Series history. Long reliever Jeremy Hellickson (a solid starter during the regular season) stemmed the bleeding with two quick outs to close the frame, but not before Yuma scored four times. If it weren’t the playoffs, Mike Noakes would have let his starter remain in the game and work through the trouble. Knowing his offense’s propensity for scoring, however, he made the call to keep the deficit at four.

The Frostbite Falls offense didn’t come through. They were shut down on two hits by Marcus Stroman, who was removed after five shutout innings in an effort to keep him fresh for a possible later appearance.

Hellickson was decent, allowing a run in the third, three in the fifth and two in the sixth. After using nearly every reliever the night before, Frostbite didn’t want to waste any important bullets in the lost cause, so Hellickson used 124 pitches to get the game to Brad Boxberger in the sixth.

Yuma’s offense spread the wealth, as nine different players stroked a hit and five knocked doubles. Brandon Crawford hit the only home run and drove in three.

FINAL: YUMA 10, FROSTBITE FALLS 0

GAME FIVE: FIREBIRDS ROAR BACK FOR SERIES LEAD

A pair of left-handers earned starts and tried to propel their teams to within one win of a world championship. Chris Sale did his job. Francisco Liriano wasn’t quite as good.

The game was scoreless into the third inning, with “Houdini” Liriano somehow escaping a bases-loaded, no outs jam in the second. The goose eggs were broken when Mike Trout stepped up in the third and, you guessed it, hit a solo home run.

A manufactured run knotted the score in the bottom of the fourth, and Yuma went ahead in the fifth after Sale induced a double play to wiggle out of a bases-loaded situation of his own. With one out, Ben Zobrist grounded a single back through the box. Joey Votto followed with a triple to put the Firebirds in front, and Votto came across on an Andrew McCutchen groundout.

Wade Davis and Will Harris combined for nearly four innings of one-hit relief, and the Firebirds could taste their third World Series in a row.

FINAL: YUMA 3, FROSTBITE FALLS 1

GAME SIX: EXTRAS NEEDED

The series returned to Frostbite Falls, and the hosts hoped the trend of the home team winning every game would continue. If Yuma took just one of two games in northern Minnesota, the 113-win season of the Flying Squirrels would be a mere footnote in the history books.

David Price and Julio Teheran matched pitches through five-plus innings. Offensive roles were reversed as Yuma scored in the first on a Votto homer, and Frostbite benefitted from Didi Gregorius beating out the back end of a double play in the second to bring home Adam Eaton.

In the fifth, Votto again bested Teheran, and a Buster Posey sixth-inning single brought Frostbite Falls’ beleaguered bullpen into the fray. They held off the Firebirds and Paul Goldschmidt tied the game back up with a leadoff home run of his own in the bottom of the inning.

From there, the game progressed excruciatingly slowly, pitch after pitch becoming exponentially more important. The teams exhausted regulation play, and the game went to the 10th in a 2-2 tie.

In the 10th, Chris Withrow walked Andrew McCutchen with one out. A groundout meant two down, but Mookie Betts also drew a free pass and a wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position. Joe Panik was walked intentionally to set up a force at any base, and Pedro Baez stepped in to face Ben Zobrist. A hit or a walk would bring in the go-ahead, and possibly World Series-winning run. The count ran full, as did the suspense of the crowd. Finally, a ball in play…right at Gregorius. The fans exhaled as he threw across to keep the game tied.

The score was still 2-apiece when Bryce Harper stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th. He grounded weakly to short, and Brandon Crawford wound up for his usual cannon shot...but this time he airmailed it! The ball went out of play and the leadoff man was on – the potential winning run 180 feet away! Will Harris retired two batters in quick succession, however, with Harper advancing one base on a fly to deep right field.

Jake McGee came in after an intentional walk to face light-hitting Gregorius. The Dutchman took a strike and a ball. Finally he saw a pitch he liked and roped it…BETWEEN short and third! Harper trotted home, and the second RBI of the game for Gregorius had pushed the epic series to a game seven!

FINAL: FROSTBITE FALLS 3, YUMA 2

GAME SEVEN: HOW ELSE COULD THIS END?

Yuma. Frostbite Falls. The two winningest teams in BARB in 2016. Between them, 10 of the 13 titles in league history. Number 11 came down to one game. Would Frostbite prevail at home for their seventh title, or would Chris Melkonian finally gain the upper hand after three second place finishes to Andrew Haynes’ club?

The site: Frostbite Falls. The pitching matchup: two aces, Marcus Stroman and Jake Arrieta, with all hands on deck if need be.

The first three frames went by scoreless. Two Firebirds to start the second, but Arrieta settled down with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout.

Top of the fourth: Buster Posey doubled. Corey Seager drew a one-out walk. Mookie Betts singled to load the bases. Denard Span up, with two away. The speedy flycatcher had been stymied on offense throughout the series, with an average below .200. Hard contact was finding leather nearly every game. Not this time. Span lined the ball to shallow center. Mike Trout laid out…AND MISSED THE BALL! It rolled out toward the warning track. Posey scores. Seager scores. BETTS all the way around to score, and Span pulled up at third! A bases-clearing TRIPLE, and the Firebirds struck first!

In the bottom of the fifth, the lead was cut to one. Kendrys Morales lined a double to lead off, and rookie masher Gary Sanchez played his game with a two-run blast to left-center field to energize the Rocky Top faithful!

Still, the Flying Squirrels trailed with outs disappearing. Sanchez had another chance in the sixth, but this time he lined to left to strand runners on the corners.

The seventh inning was a different story. Tony Sipp replaced Stroman to face Alex Gordon, but Franklin Gutierrez pinch-hit for the matchup advantage and doubled to left-center on the first pitch. Jharel Cotton relieved Sipp, but Evan Longoria greeted him with a single to right as Gutierrez stopped at third. Game six hero Didi Gregorius struck out. Trout was next, hoping to make up for his mistake in the field earlier. He jumped on the first Cotton pitch and laced it to left-center, scoring Gutierrez to tie the game at 3!

Next on the hill for Yuma was Jose Quintana for a lefty-lefty battle with Jason Kipnis. Quintana was unable to keep the go-ahead run from scoring, as Kipnis beat the odds with a humpback liner into left field. Longoria and Trout both scored to put Frostbite Falls ahead, 5-3.

Arrieta was still in the game in the eighth, and he retired Joey Votto on a groundout. Posey singled to center, and Arrieta was given one more hitter. He made the most of it, striking out Andrew McCutchen. Finally Arrieta handed the ball to Brett Cecil, a southpaw coming in to face young left-handed stud Corey Seager. The veteran reliever made quick work with a three-pitch “SEE YA!”

Top of the ninth: Cecil pops up Betts. Ben Zobrist goes down swinging in a full count. Brian Dozier pinch-hit for Span, the last chance for Yuma. Again a full count. Fastball, above the letters…SWING AND A MISS!!!

Frostbite Falls players rushed the field, exuberant with their first World Series title since 2013. In somewhat of a rarity, the top team from the regular season capped off their campaign with a title.

FINAL: FROSTBITE FALLS 5, YUMA 3

MVP: Mike Trout
(Harry How/Getty Images)

Trout was a terror at the plate to opposing pitchers and made nearly all of his plays in center (the misplayed line drive in game seven notwithstanding). A .357 average, one double and three homers with five RBI, the best player in the game showed it in the biggest moments.

1.02.2017

DIVISIONAL ROUND: FROSTBITE FALLS VS ST. FRANCIS

Would 113 wins and a Cactus division title lead to domination from the Frostbite Falls Flying Squirrels? Or might the Grapefruit wild card St. Francis Kansans stun the BARB world after sweeping their wild card series? The first post-season meeting between the two teams since the 2013 World Series – and only the fourth all-time between teams run by Scott Hatfield and Andrew Haynes – would be their first semifinal-round matchup.

GAME ONE: LEAVE IT TO GARY

Frostbite Falls rookie catcher Gary Sanchez came to the plate four times. He struck out twice and stroked only one hit. All the home crowd remembered was a blast that put their team ahead for good.

With the score tied at two in the sixth inning, Sanchez stepped up as the leadoff batter against fellow youngster Carlos Rodon. The lefty’s second pitch was hammered to left and into the stands for a 3-2 Frostbite lead.

One run was all the hosts would need, as three relievers pitched shutout ball in relief of Francisco Liriano’s five-inning, five-walk (albeit just two runs and seven strikeouts) outing.

On the other side, Hatfield used a litany of relievers: seven, to be exact. They were needed thanks to Frostbite’s daunting lineup – and John Lackey’s ejection.

Lackey had compiled a 2.44 ERA in 10 starts after coming to the Kansans in a trade, and he was the choice to start game one after Max Scherzer and Rich Hill were burned dispatching the Oakland Larks in the wild card round.

The veteran right hander was staked to a 2-0 lead after a half-inning on four hits and an error, but Jose Altuve gave a run back in the bottom of the first on a blunder of his own – kicking a two-out ground ball with men on first and third.

After Liriano escaped a bases-loaded situation in the top of the third, and his offense immediately took advantage of their own rally with ducks on the pond as Evan Longoria lifted a sacrifice fly to right field to plate Jason Kipnis.

Lackey was sent to the showers early after arguing a ball four call to Jason Kipnis with two out in the bottom of the fourth.

Liriano suffered an injury during the game, leaving his availability for the remainder of the series in doubt.

FINAL: FROSTBITE FALLS 3, ST. FRANCIS 2

GAME TWO: SCHERZER OUTDUELS ARRIETA

His season won-loss record was at .500. His ERA? 4.07. But Max Scherzer struck out 290 batters in 2016 and was the acknowledged ace of the Kansans staff. He pitched like it to even the series in game two.

Scherzer pitched into the ninth inning and struck out 12 Flying Squirrels before giving way to hard-throwing relievers Kenley Jansen and Andrew Miller, and his offense turned a late-inning nail-biter into a comfy cushion with three eighth-inning runs.

Each team scored twice in the second inning: St. Francis on a Yadier Molina double and subsequent Dexter Fowler single, and Frostbite Falls via Kendrys Morales’ two-run bomb to right-center field.

A couple innings later Fowler and Jose Altuve teamed up to put the visitors on top. Fowler led off the fifth by taking advantage of Jake Arrieta’s wildness, crushing a booming double to right field on a get-it-in 3-1 fastball. Altuve lived up to his contact reputation, dumping a soft single to center as Fowler motored around from second.

For a while it appeared game two would feature the same final score as game one, with the victors switched. The St. Francis offense made certain that wouldn’t be the case, as pinch-hitter Danny Valencia (a former Squirrel) took reliever Hansel Robles deep with two on and two out in the eighth for important insurance runs.

FINAL: ST. FRANCIS 6, FROSTBITE FALLS 2

GAME THREE: TEHERAN’S CONTROL THE ISSUE

Frostbite Falls starting pitcher Julio Teheran didn’t have control. But he was in control.

The righty took the ball for the now-visiting Flying Squirrels in game three of the semifinal round against St. Francis, and he walked six batters on 124 pitches. He earned the win, however, by pitching into the ninth inning with just one hit allowed, continually frustrating Kansans rallies.

Teheran’s opposite number was Rich Hill, the veteran returned to the big leagues after rediscovering his curveball.
Hill spun Uncle Charlie through a scoreless three innings, but Evan Longoria picked on a mistake with two out and the bases empty in the fourth for a 1-0 Frostbite Falls lead.

Hill held on until falling apart in the sixth; Alex Gordon and Paul Goldschmidt reached base to open the frame before St. Francis management called on erstwhile starter Adam Wainwright. “Waino” recorded an out when Longoria grounded slowly to shortstop for a fielder’s choice. Next up was Andrew Miller, the Kansans’ best reliever, for a same-side matchup against left-handed batting Jason Kipnis. The move backfired, as Kipnis opened the game up with a three-run blast to right as Scott Hatfield threw his arms in the air in the owner’s box at The Monastery.

Backed by the newfound run support, Teheran set down the next nine St. Francis hitters to reach the bottom of the ninth. A frozen rope off the bat of Justin Turner found Bryce Harper’s glove for the first out, but it was apparent Teheran was tiring. That became obvious when he issued three straight free passes, the last a four-pitch walk to Chris Davis.

Squirrels lefty Antonio Bastardo was given the task of facing pinch-hitter Danny Valencia. The home fans clamored for a game-tying grand slam, but all Valencia could muster was a sacrifice fly. Another slugging Danny, Espinosa, subbed for Yadier Molina and singled up the middle off Chris Withrow to plate the second Kansans run.

It all came down to Brad Miller. Withrow got ahead in the count and finally froze the slugger with a surprise 1-2 fastball.

FINAL: FROSTBITE FALLS 4, ST. FRANCIS 2

GAME FOUR: HAPP BESTS HELLICKSON

The St. Francis Kansans needed a win at home to keep their season alive. J.A. Happ set the foundation in game four, and his offense finished it off near the end to send the series to a deciding fifth game.

Happ’s counterpart, Jeremy Hellickson, saw early trouble with a deep Justin Turner fly out followed by a “Big Papi” big fly in the first. Two more crossed in the second – with Yadier Molina on second and two away, Jason Kipnis couldn’t handle a routine grounder off the bat of Brad Miller, and Dexter Fowler made the Flying Squirrels pay for the mistake with a booming double over the head of Mike Trout.

Frostbite Falls broke through in the fourth against Happ, as Evan Longoria led off with his second home run of the series. The visitors nearly put up a crooked number, but Franklin Gutierrez was gunned down at the plate after trying to score from first on a Didi Gregorius double.

Another close play at home went in St. Francis’ favor in the bottom of the inning, as Miller slid in just ahead of the Nick Hundley tag on another Fowler double.

In the fifth inning, however, Paul Goldschmidt decided to wake up. The hulking first baseman entered the game hitting .111 in the series and was 0-for-2 going to the fifth inning, when he launched a majestic solo blast with two away. Two innings later, he faced Andrew Miller with Trout on base and one out. This time it was a line drive whistling by the foul pole in left, good enough to tie the game and flummox Miller, the dominant reliever who also gave up a home run in game three.

The Flying Squirrels seemed to have momentum and a World Series birth in their sights – but they didn’t reckon with Jay Bruce.

A midseason Hatfield pickup, Bruce clubbed seven homers in 35 games with his new team, and he stepped to the plate with one out and one on in the bottom of the eighth. Mike Noakes countered with left-hander Antonio Bastardo, seeing as how Bruce hadn’t homered off a lefty in a Kansans uniform. It didn’t matter. The count in his favor, Bruce electrified the crowd with a two-run shot to right, giving St. Francis even footing in their quest for a championship appearance.

FINAL: ST. FRANCIS 6, FROSTBITE FALLS 4

GAME FIVE: ACES SQUARE OFF

John Lackey for the visiting St. Francis Kansans. Jake Arrieta towing his home rubber for the Frostbite Falls Flying Squirrels. In just a few hours, one would celebrate a trip to the 2016 BARB Classic, while the other would slowly sulk out the clubhouse doors.

For five-plus innings, neither starter flinched. In fact, one didn’t even allow a hit.

St. Francis pushed a runner the furthest in the early going, but Brad Miller was caught stealing third by the cannon of Gary Sanchez after he had beaten out a third-inning infield single.

The Kansans made some of their best contact against Arrieta in the fifth, as J.D. Martinez to right and Yadier Molina hit a laser to center – but right at Mike Trout for the third out of the frame.

Going to the bottom of the sixth, Lackey was on fire. One Frostbite batter reached base: a two-out hit-by-pitch in the second. Other than that, Lackey was setting down the vaunted lineup with ease. Just 16 batters faced, five strikeouts and 57 pitches thrown. He could do no wrong.

Until he faced Sanchez, with one gone in the sixth. The breakout star – with only one hit (a home run) to his name so far through four-plus playoff games – fell behind in the count before Lackey made his first mistake of the game. Dexter Fowler and Jay Bruce gave chase, but the ball disappeared into the roaring Frostbite faithful in left-center.

No-hitter, over. Scoreless tie, no more. Floodgates…OPEN.

Jason Kipnis was nailed in the hip, himself behind 1-2. Trout deposited a first-pitch fastball near the same place as Sanchez’ shot. An out, then Paul Goldschmidt grounded through the right side.

St. Francis ace Max Scherzer, ready in the bullpen, came in to the 3-0 ballgame, but Kendrys Morales wasn’t impressed. He greeted the burly righty with a single in the same spot as Goldschmidt’s. Alex Gordon lined a base hit to plate a run, bringing up Evan Longoria. The ninth batter of the inning worked the count to 3-1 and let it rip. GOODBYE! Scherzer and teammates slumped over as Longo’s third blast of the series cleared the fence. In just a few minutes, the game had gone from a Lackey no-no to almost no chance for his team. Frostbite lead, 7-0.

All that was left was Arrieta finishing the game off. Seemingly rusty after the long break on the bench, he gave up two runs – both of the solo homer variety – in the seventh before retiring the side in order in the eighth and ninth. His 114th pitch of the night saw J.D. Martinez flailing at 96 above the letters, followed by fireworks and a dogpile.

FINAL: FROSTBITE FALLS 7, ST. FRANCIS 2

St. Francis had taken the league’s best regular-season team to the middle of game five, but they couldn’t overcome an offense ready to break out at any time.

“I will return (next year) in an attempt,” said St. Francis Owner Scott Hatfield after the game, “to get into the playoffs for the 11th time, reach the Series for the fifth time and HOPEFULLY win a championship.”


Frostbite Falls quickly turned their attention to their next task: taking on two-time defending titlist and frequent World Series foe Yuma. The Flying Squirrels punched a ticket for the first time since 2013, when they beat the Firebirds and (then-) Friars to take their sixth BARB title. This would be the fourth time Chris Melkonian and Andrew Haynes squared off for the championship. The trophy went to Frostbite in 2005, 2006 and 2011, but Yuma was geared to end that streak in 2016.

12.22.2016

DIVISIONAL ROUND: NEW ENGLAND VS YUMA

The New England Yankee Stompers conquered BARB’s Grapefruit division with 95 regular-season wins. Their reward? A divisional-round matchup with the Yuma Firebirds, runners-up in the Cactus division and two-time defending BARB champions, for a 2015 World Series rematch.

GAME ONE: COTTON STUMPS STOMPERS

Four days of rest for the Yankee Stompers, which meant an opportunity to kick off their 2016 playoffs at home with ace Jon Lester on the mound.

Yuma was coming off a close series against Cactus #2 wild card Brooklyn, and tossing rookie Jharel Cotton – who made only one regular-season start – to the wolves with Chris Sale, David Price and Marcus Stroman fatigued from wild card series starts.

Naturally, New England would be favored. But that’s not how it happened.

Lester struggled – failing to make it out of the fourth inning – and Cotton allowed only six hits while throwing a complete game in Yuma’s 6-2 win.

The Firebirds kicked off the scoring in the top of the first, sending seven men to the plate and collecting only one hit in addition to three walks. In an astounding turn of events, Lester, who is noted for ignoring runners on first base, threw over FOUR TIMES before his second pitch to Andrew McCutchen after Joey Votto led off with a free pass.

A Matt Wieters leadoff double led to a Yankee Stomper run in the third, but Yuma answered right away with a sacrifice fly.

The single-run frames continued with the Firebirds in the fifth, sixth and seventh and a Dustin Pedroia blast in the eighth.

The head-turning final numbers from the game included five extra-base hits out of New England’s total of six safeties (four doubles and the Pedroia homer) and nine singles in addition to three doubles for Yuma. The Firebirds ended up drawing seven walks off three New England hurlers, while Cotton pitched to contact (no walks, four strikeouts in the complete game effort).

FINAL: YUMA 6, NEW ENGLAND 2

GAME TWO: STARTERS SMASHED

It was all offense in the first four frames, with each side putting up two crooked numbers.  

Yuma lit up New England rookie sensation Michael Fulmer for three runs on four hits in the first, and they finished him off with a four-run outburst in the fourth thanks to five hits (including a Joe Panik two-run blast) and a sacrifice fly.

In the meantime, Chris Sale was having a rough go of it himself. The host Yankee Stompers notched three legs of the cycle in the second inning to tie the score off the lanky lefty. Sale didn’t make it out of the third as he allowed two runs for a 5-3 lead before Adam Warren was inserted with one out.

By the time the fourth inning ended, the starting pitchers had combined for 5 and 2/3 innings, 14 hits, 12 runs (all earned) and two trips to the showers. The bullpens would have to take five frames apiece to determine if New England could tie the series or if Yuma would take a commanding 2-0 lead.

The Firebirds’ 7-5 lead was tenuous, and New England continually threatened to knot it back up. The Yankee Stompers pulled within one run on a Dustin Pedroia RBI double in the sixth, but two harmless groundouts (including the third of Miguel Cabrera’s four hitless at-bats) stranded the potential tying run.

After Warren, Chris Melkonian’s side threw three other relievers: Jose Quintana allowed the run in the sixth, but Wade Davis and Will Harris each stranded a man over one-plus innings of work to close out the victory. Yuma headed home needing just one win in three games to advance to their third-straight BARB World Series!

FINAL: YUMA 7, NEW ENGLAND 6

GAME THREE: EXTRAS NEEDED

Yuma came out on fire in front of the home crowd. The Firebirds, needing just a single victory to have a chance to be the first team in league history to win three straight titles, took advantage of Drew Pomeranz’ wildness to score three times on NO hits in the bottom of the first. It all began with Joey Votto’s discerning eye drawing a walk on a close 3-2 pitch. A potential double play ball right back to the box was airmailed to center by the lefty, who subsequently lost his composure with three more walks in a row. A sacrifice fly later plated a run before Brandon Crawford’s can of corn ended the inning after 41 Pomeranz pitches.

Why didn’t John Farrell pull his starter during a marathon first inning in an elimination game? No one is sure. What we do know is that Pomeranz settled down to the tune of four more innings and no additional runs.

New England’s bullpen played a shutdown role as well, tossing a combined five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and just four runners reaching base.

Yes, five innings for the starter and five for the relievers. Yuma failed to add to their first-inning outburst as the Yankee Stompers fought all the way back to tie it in the sixth against David Price.

The first chink in the armor came on a Yoenis Cespedes two-run bomb in the fourth inning – after another Miguel Cabrera out – and Dustin Pedroia sent a solo shot inside the left-field foul pole in the sixth for the third run.

With the score still tied in the late innings, New England called on Jeremy Jeffress. The young flamethrower turned in a quick eighth inning and came back out for the ninth…but soon was put in a bad spot by his defense. Normally sure-handed Xander Bogaerts kicked a one-out Andrew McCutchen grounder, and Buster Posey shortened his swing to lace a single to right. Brian Dozier was plunked by a 3-1 pitch to load the bases, still just one away. Yuma played the platoon game, subbing versatile Ben Zobrist for righty-deficient Chris Young.

All “Zorilla” needed to do was put the ball in play without a pop-up or double play. It didn’t happen. The switch-hitter reached on a 3-1 offering and hit it right to Martin Prado, drawn in at third base. Prado fired to J.T. Realmuto for the force at the plate, and the catcher made a quick turn to get Zobrist at first base as the Yuma faithful came down from their near-crescendo.

The momentum was squarely on the side of the visitors, and Jackie Bradley, Jr., sliced the ball JUST FAIR inside the right-field pole to lead off the tenth. Three straight singles plated another run, and Dellin Betances shut the door with a perfect bottom half for a crucial Yankee Stomper victory.

FINAL: NEW ENGLAND 5, YUMA 3

GAME FOUR: PITCHING WINS THE DAY

Twelve hits. No runs.

When that happens, all you can do is shake your head and give credit to your opponent’s staff for pitching out of trouble.

That’s what James Herndon was resigned to do after he saw his New England Yankee Stompers double up the Yuma Firebirds in the hit column, 12-6, but fall, 2-0, where it counted: the runs column. The Firebird win clinched a third-straight World Series appearance and kept Herndon from his third title try.

For once, Miguel Cabrera had a good game: three hits in four at-bats, after one safety in the first three games combined. All of his hits were singles, however, and his teammates couldn’t bring him around.

New England left multiple runners on base in the first, third, sixth (bases loaded), seventh and eight innings and stranded 11 men for the game.

Yuma also left 11 on, but they got two across. Six walks and a pair of hit batters contributed to the hosts’ deluge of runners, and some of the less-experienced players came up with clutch hits to score the only runs needed.

In the bottom of the fifth, Adam Conley retired the first two hitters but gave up a booming double to Buster Posey before hitting Brian Dozier with a 1-2 offering. Ryan Raburn grounded just inside the bag at third for a run-scoring single, and Corey Seager added the game’s final run on a single up the middle (both off Eduardo Rodriguez).

FINAL: YUMA 2, NEW ENGLAND 0

The victory sends Yuma back to the BARB World Series, where they’ll face the winner of Frostbite Falls and St. Francis.


Herndon, for his part, wasn’t completely disappointed. He told the press after the game that he was at least relieved he wouldn’t have to go through another one-run, game-seven loss in the Fall Classic (as happened in 2012 against Pottsylvania and 2015 against Yuma). Two straight playoff appearances have set a good foundation for the future of the Yankee Stompers.