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.