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.

11.20.2016

HOME RUNS, SHUTDOWN PEN KEY KANSANS SWEEP


In a matchup of Grapefruit Division wild cards, the St. Francis Kansans (89-73) advanced in the playoffs for the third time , sweeping a pair of games from the Oakland Larks (85-77) to advance in the 2016 BARB playoffs.  Timely power displays and, more importantly, great relief work allowed the Kansans to overcome a deficit in Game One and then ride out an early lead in Game Two.

GAME ONE:  ST. FRANCIS at OAKLAND

In the first contest, Kansans ace Max Scherzer (12-12, 4.07 ERA) showed both of the characteristics that defined his regular season:  the ability to get strikeouts (his 290 K’s led all BARB righthanders), and an unfortunate propensity to cough up the long ball.  Scherzer tied Arizona RHP James Shields in allowing a BARB-leading 48 HR in the regular season, and when Hunter Pence cranked a solo shot leading off the second inning, it gave his opposite number a 1-0 lead:  LHP Jaime Garcia (9-9, 3.12 ERA in the regular season) would allow only five baserunners to reach in seven frames.
Unfortunately for Garcia and the Larks, two of those baserunners had big blasts connected with them.  RF J.D.  Martinez hit a game-tying solo shot with one down in the top of the fourth, and the mighty mite, Jose Altuve, added another with two down in the sixth to narrow Oakland’s lead to 3-2 in the sixth.  This all came after the Larks had put together a rally with two out in the fifth:  Dee Gordon beat out an infield hit, Gerardo Parra drew a walk, and after a wild pitch allowed both runners to advance, Daniel Murphy hit a clutch two-run single to score both baserunners and put Garcia and the Larks a couple of good relief outings away from winning the opener:

OAKLAND 3, ST. FRANCIS 2!

It was not to be.  Garcia was lifted after throwing 88 pitches, and Francisco Rodriguez was brought on to bridge the 8th to putative closer Hector Rondon (26 saves).  “K-Rod” did exactly that, fanning pinch-hitter Brad Miller on four pitches, but Kansans leadoff man Dexter Fowler hit a solid single to put the tying run on first.  Justin Turner popped up harmlessly to shallow left, but with one down up came Altuve again.  The diminutive Kansans second-sacker, who had only homered 11 times in the regular season, hit his second bomb of the night, in the second row out in left field.  The Kansans, for the first time in the game, had abruptly stolen the lead, bringing the stunned crowd to a murmur.
With that turn of events, the St. Francis brain trust turned to their deep bullpen, and asked lefty Andrew Miller (8-2, more than 100 K’s  in the regular season) to get them a six-out save.  Miller was equal to the task, fanning right-handed hitters  Ian Desmond and Russ Martin in successive frames, then finishing the game by getting pinch-hitting rookie Tim Anderson to roll into a double play:

ST. FRANCIS 4, OAKLAND 3!

Sean Doolittle (1-0, 0.00), who had bailed out Scherzer in the bottom of the seventh, literally made only one pitch (to retire Daniel Murphy), but under the rules was awared win, while Miller earned the save.  Francisco Rodriguez (0-1, 9.00) retired the last four batters he faced, but that was one big Altuve blast too late to console him or his teammates.   The series now shifted back to Kansas, where Scott Hatfield’s club would only need to earn a split to advance.

GAME TWO:  OAKLAND at ST. FRANCIS

The second contest matched enigmatic left-hander Rich Hill (9-3, 2.88) versus young fireballer Jake Odorizzi (12-9, 4.05).   Hill’s work in the 2016 regular BARB season had been exemplary when available, but he had missed most of the summer with complications due to blisters, and his starts had been tantalizing in a bad way:  Hill allowed few runs and struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings (good), allowing no HR (really good), but also seemingly pitching out of at least one bases-loaded jam per start, and usually more than one, with most hitters running up deep counts against him.  Nerve-wrackingly for St. Francis, this playoff start featured more of the same, and Hill would depart after four-plus innings having allowed eight hits, two walks and a hit batter.
And yet, amazingly….NO RUNS.   

In the first, the speedy Dee Gordon singled and Tim Anderson walked to put another rabbit on base.  Daniel Murphy singled SHARPLY to right, but J.D. Martinez threw a one-hop bullet to Yadier Molina, who tagged Gordon out ahead of the throw for the first out!   Anderson took third and Murphy advanced on the throw, so the threat remained.  Yet (right-handed hitting) Nolan Arenado, the Larks’ best power bat, struck out on a high fastball.   DH Chris Carter, another slugging threat, worked a 3-2 count and then walked to load the bases for Hunter Pence, who had homered in the first game.  Pence fanned on Hill’s 25th pitch of the inning, however, leaving them loaded.

Can you say ‘snakebit’?  Oakland put two baserunners on each of the next three innings as well.  But Tim Anderson fouled off three sliders before fanning to end the second,  Hunter Pence hit into a double play in the third after Chris Carter was hit by a pitch, and J.D. Martinez threw out ANOTHER runner (C Russell Martin) attempting to score at home on a Dee Gordon single for the final out of the fourth. 

Meanwhile, as unlucky as Oakland’s lineup was, fortune smiled on the Kansans, who somehow scored two runs without a hard-hit ball in the third.  Light-hitting SS Danny Espinosa drew a leadoff walk off a wild Odorizzi to start the frame, and Dexter Fowler beat out an infield hit to short.  Odorizzi then hit Altuve to load the bases.  Justin Turner’s fly to right scored Espinosa, advancing Fowler…then David Ortiz a deeper fly to the wall in left-center to plate the Kansans CF.  J.D. Martinez then singled softly to right just over the leaping Murphy, and Oakland GM Jay Parks had seen enough:  control specialist Marco Estrada, a force in the Larks bullpen this year (135 relief IP), was brought in to get the final out, and he did:

ST. FRANCIS 2, OAKLAND 0!

For the FIFTH inning a row, however, the Larks put two baserunners on . . . this time with one out.  Having used up his daily Xanax prescription in the first four innings, St. Francis went to the bullpen as well, summoning Dave Robertson to finish the frame, which he did, getting Arenado to fly the wall in left, then fanning Chris Carter to end the threat. 
Estrada worked a scoreless fourth and fifth to keep things close, but with one down in his third inning of work finally hung a breaking ball, that RF Jay Bruce (a cunning final-week pickup by the Kansans) deposited over the wall to expand his club’s lead to three runs.  With that gap in play, St. Francis allowed hard-throwing southpaw Carlos Rodon an opportunity to contribute working the top of the seventh to left-handed hitting Charlie Blackmon . . . who promptly tripled into the RF corner, where he scored on a solid single by Dee Gordon:

ST. FRANCIS 3, OAKLAND 1!

Things were getting interesting.  Playing mix-and-match with his deep bullpen, GM Scott Hatfield use Ian Kennedy to face Ian Anderson (K), Sean Doolittle to work to Dan Murphy (HBP) and Ken Giles to work to Nolan Arenado, a slugger who . . . .

TOPPED a softly-hit ground ball just past a diving Brad Miller, into left field, loading the bases, putting the tying run on second for Chris Carter.  Having already used four pitchers in the frame, the St. Francis brain trust decided to continue to put their trust in Giles, whose BARB regular-season numbers (2-3, 5.60) inspired no confidence.  But Giles got Carter to take a slider for ‘strike 3’, and then induced Pence to chase a slider in the dirt:  TWO STRIKEOUTS, and a potential rally denied, by dominant pitching from an unexpected source.

Oakland brought on Hector Rondon to start the bottom of the 7th, and their erstwhile closer gave them a scoreless frame.   Impressed by the way Giles finished the previous inning, the Kansans let him begin the top of the 8th by fanning Ian Desmond, but when he walked Russell Martin, lifted him in favor of Andrew Miller, the hero of Game One.  Miller uncorked a wild pitch against pinch-hitter Ketel Marte, and eventually walked him.  But Dee Gordon swung through a 2-2 cutter for the second out, and Tim Anderson forced Marte at second to end the inning.

Francisco Rodriguez, the loser of Game One, got a chance to redeem himself in the bottom of the eighth, but walked J.D. Martinez on five pitches.   Previously-hitless Chris Davis doubled off the top of the wall in right-center to send Martinez to third, and when Jay Bruce walked, the bases were loaded with none down.  Yadier Molina, batting with a chance to deliver a ‘kill shot’ to Oakland’s hopes, still stung them with a scoring fly ball to left.  Pinch-hitter Danny Valencia and Dexter Fowler couldn’t cash in further, however, leading to this score after eight frames:

ST. FRANCIS 4, OAKLAND 1!

Andrew Miller got to start his fourth inning of the series in order to pitch to the left-handed hitting Daniel Murphy, who hit a HOT shot, but right at Altuve.  The ball popped out of his extended mitt, but he stayed with the play and retired Murphy at first.  Kenley Jansen (another late August ‘get’ for the Kansans) then came on after a September that saw him win two and save three more games.  Jansen had fanned an incredible 146 batters in the BARB regular season, more than any other reliever in the league.  But the Larks weren’t having any of THAT.   Nolan Arenado hit an 0-1 pitch sharply, but right at Brad Miller, who had been brought in for ‘defense’ after Valencia had hit for the (much better-fielding) Danny Espinosa.  But Miller stayed with the smash, and his throw across the diamond was in time to nip Arenado at first.  Down to their last out, the Larks called on left-handed power source Brandon Moss off the bench, who swung at the first pitch, and hit it HARD . . . .

Straight up.  To the infield.  To Justin Turner, who SQUEEZED it for the final out, to complete the sweep and send St. Francis to face the powerhouse Squirrels lineup:


KANSANS WIN THE SERIES, 2-0!

Playoff MVP Jose Altuve being bear-hugged by teammate Justin Turner.