2.04.2018

WORLD SERIES GAME 7

Both teams have had their chances to take control and claim the Cup. So far, neither could establish the momentum needed to put away the other. So it comes down to this. The St. Francis Kansans at the Yuma Firebirds in Game 7 of a hotly-contested 2017 BARB World Series.

Coming off a blowout loss in Game 6, you’d figure the Kansans might be in shock and struggling to get energized for the rubber match.

Not so.

The visitors had their ace, Stephen Strasburg, on the mound for the third time in the World Series. In the opener, he struck out 11 and allowed just one run while pitching into the seventh. Game 4 saw a quicker hook in an attempt to keep him fresh for a start in just this situation. He still pitched five strong frames, giving up two runs and striking out 7. Including a dominant performance in the first game of the division series, where he wiped the floor with the Frostbite Falls Flying Squirrels to the tune of 13 Ks and one run in six innings, the San Diego-born righty had a 2.04 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 17.2 innings.

Needless to say, Kansans owner Scott Hatfield was bullish on his chances for a first BARB title.

Oddly enough, however, Yuma figurehead Chris Melkonian was also optimistic. He figured his offense’s familiarity with Strasburg would come out in his favor, and that by the end of the night his Firebirds would be hoisting a fifth BARB Cup in the league’s 15-year history.

On the mound for the hosts, and on full rest, was Game 3 starter Carlos Carrasco. In this situation just two years earlier, the right-hander was masterful in shutting down the New England Yankee Stompers on one hit over eight innings and scoring the only run in a Game 7 victory for the Firebirds. Earlier in this Fall Classic, however, Carrasco got rocked, allowing five runs on six hits in under five innings.

As soon as the first inning of Game 7 started, it seemed recent history would repeat itself. After a walk and a single, Cody Bellinger took a vicious cut at a 1-2 pitch…and HAMMERED the ball DEEP to right center…..GONE! St. Francis struck first in the winner-take-all contest with a crooked number before Yuma even came to bat!

At the end of one, that lead had been cut by a run – Dexter Fowler, on Strasburg’s second pitch of the night, launched a dinger of his own.

The rest of that frame passed quietly, but Anthony Rendon opened the home half of the second with a ringing double off the left-field fence. Following a pair of strikeouts, Brett Gardner took a borderline full-count pitch to put two on base. Mike Zunino scored Rendon with a seeing-eye single, and after another walk loaded the bases Joey Votto pulled a double down the line to score two more and give Yuma a 4-3 lead!

The home crowd re-awakened, Carrasco promptly allowed back-to-back doubles in the top of the third. The score once again knotted up, Carrasco was pulled in favor of Jose Quintana. The southpaw’s first offering saw the same fate as Carrasco’s final two pitches, as Justin Turner dumped a bloop on the chalk for two bases and an RBI giving St. Francis the lead.

Bellinger made it four doubles in four batters with a line drive to right-center (about 100 feet short of his blast in the first) to plate Turner and put the Kansans up, 6-4.

Unfazed, Yuma’s Rendon turned on a Strasburg fastball and parked it in the bleachers in left field with a man on in the bottom of the third. In the blink of an eye, it was back to a tie. Strasburg indeed was struggling to fool the Firebirds, and he made it only two outs into the fourth before a Mookie Betts triple knocked him from the ballgame.

The three-bagger didn’t damage the score, as Josh Hader struck out pinch-hitter Ben Zobrist to end the frame, but it was a foreshadowing of things to come. Hader pitched a perfect fifth and got the first out of the sixth before giving way to Trevor Cahill. In hindsight, maybe the Kansans should have kept the young southpaw in the game – Cahill went to full counts on each of the three hitters he faced, and he lost them all to free passes.

In came Chris Devenski, still fatigued from pitching in both Game 4 and 5, to face Betts. Mookie fell behind at 1-2, but Devenski couldn’t bury the changeup enough and the ball was ripped down the right-field line. Two runs scored, giving Yuma an 8-6 lead. Zobrist stepped up and worked the count full before getting a hold of a Devenski fastball that clearly didn’t have its normal zip. It sailed DEEP toward right. Marcell Ozuna got on his horse and leaped at the wall in an attempt to flag it down….


GONE!!

A stunning blast from light-hitting Zobrist completed the turning of the tide. After taking the momentum with a three-run first and their best starter on the mound, the St. Francis Kansans had been outgunned, overwhelmed at their own game of demoralizing quick-strike offense that carried them to 105 regular-season victories.

Three innings remained for the Yuma Firebirds to hold an 11-6 lead and become World Champions. Bryan Shaw worked a strong seventh and retired two in the eighth inning before Sean Manaea took over. Just before St. Francis’ last turn at bat, Yuma’s offense put the final nails in the coffin on a pair of singles, a double and a sacrifice fly to go up by eight runs.

With the crowd in a frenzy, ready to celebrate another title, Ryan Dull took the mound to start the ninth. Nerves got to him and he walked Kike Hernandez. Pinch-hitter Jesse Winker grounded out, and a wild pitch put Hernandez on third. Christian Vazquez came out from behind the plate to remind Dull to focus solely on the hitter with the huge lead, and Dull did just that. A grounder to first brought in the run, and then Jose Altuve chased a slider on the first pitch and hit a three-hopper directly at Ian Kinsler. The throw was in time, and the Firebirds rushed the field in celebration of their third BARB title in four years, with fireworks adding a concussive feel in the background.

FINAL: YUMA 14, ST. FRANCIS 7

Chris Melkonian glad-handed family and friends in the home owner’s box, while Scott Hatfield sat stone-faced after yet another playoff run gone awry for his long-suffering franchise.

The title was Yuma’s fifth, trailing just Santa Barbara/Frostbite Falls (seven) for most by a single team in BARB history.

MVP: Mookie Betts


Indeed, the electric outfielder was the most valuable component to Yuma’s rise to glory. He went hitless in just one game (Game 2) and stroked exactly two hits in each of the other six games. Betts hit .400 overall (12-for-30), slugged four homers among eight extra-base hits and drove in a whopping 10 runs. Votto also knocked in 10, but Betts’ average cinched the award. St. Francis totaled 15 home runs as a team in the Series and featured 10 different players hitting over the fence, but had they won Strasburg would have earned the nod. But Yuma took the title, and Betts was clearly their star.

2.02.2018

WORLD SERIES GAME 6

Scott Hatfield could almost taste it. 14 years after taking his Delta V’s to the inaugural BARB World Series, with three more title-round appearances under his belt but no ring to show for it, his St. Francis Kansans were just nine innings away from a clinching victory. But to do it, they’d have to go through the mighty Yuma Firebirds – on Yuma’s home turf.

In the top of the first, Jose Altuve doubled but ended up stranded on third. That would be as close as the Kansans would come to a lead all night.

Rich Hill, handed the ball with a chance to make up for his extra-inning blowup in Game 4, committed an error on a comebacker on the first pitch he threw. Rattled, he left a hanger to Joey Votto. There must have been a brisk breeze blowing in from left, as the ball stayed in the ballpark for the first out. Two singles and a groundout later, however, the hosts were on top, 2-0.

Things went from bad to worse in the third, when Hill faced four batters but could not record an out.

After a Votto walk, Mookie Betts hammered a 3-0 fastball on a frozen rope apparently into the left-field corner. Actually, it was hit so hard that it carried over the fence and just inside the foul pole! The two-run bomb doubled Yuma’s lead, and got the St. Francis bullpen up and warming in a hurry. It wasn’t quick enough, as Anthony Rendon doubled and the next pitch, Hill’s last, was a grounder kicked by Altuve.

In relief came Ervin Santana. He disposed of two hitters via strikeout to put the end of the frame in view, but then fell behind Ben Zobrist. “Zorilla”, given a rare playoff start as the left fielder, lofted a fly toward right field. It continued carrying, all the way over the fence. A stunning three-run blast, taking the wind completely out of the Kansans’ sails!

The 7-0 game after three innings changed the strategies of both sides. Yuma focused on piling on more runs and extending starting pitcher Chris Sale to save their bullpen for Game 7. St. Francis, on the other hand, recognized their lost cause and also hoped to use as few pitchers as possible.

The rest of the game flew by. The hosts scored three more times in the seventh and forced another pitching change, with Rendon adding a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth. St. Francis avoided the shutout with a top-of-the-ninth blast from Wilson Ramos, but they couldn’t do enough to knock Sale from the game – the Firebirds ace tossed a complete game tossed a complete-game three-hitter, with no walks and nine strikeouts.

FINAL: YUMA 12, ST. FRANCIS 1

As the Kansans trudged down to the locker room, Chris Melkonian cautiously glad-handed the guests in his owner’s suite – while the big win was refreshing after five close games, a similar performance from the 2016 Fall Classic was running through his mind. In Game 4 of that year’s Series, the Firebirds blew out the Frostbite Falls Flying Squirrels, 10-0…only to run out of steam and fall in seven games.


And, indeed, this year’s World Series would feature a Game 7 – the third-consecutive in BARB annals to go the distance – with Stephen Strasburg looming for the visiting Kansans.

2.01.2018

WORLD SERIES GAME 5

With Yuma’s win in Game 4 guaranteeing the 2017 BARB World Series would at least see a Game 6 in Arizona, both the Firebirds and their Game 5 host, the St. Francis Friars, looked to beleaguered pitching staffs to pull them within one win of a title.

And, amazingly, after the teams had combined to use 26 relievers in back-to-back extra-inning games the previous two days, the finale in St. Francis was a pitcher’s duel.

Chris Devenski, who tossed three innings of nearly-perfect relief for the Kansans in relief of Stephen Strasburg in Game 4, earned the start as Rich Hill, who took the turn after Strasburg’s Game 1 outing, struggled in a late appearance to take the loss in Game 4.

Other than a two-out triple in the third, Devenski didn’t encounter any trouble through four innings. His pitch count, at 65, was a tad high, but not terrible – he hadn’t issued a single free pass. In the top of the fifth, however, it all went downhill in a hurry. Ian Kinsler opened with a single before scoring two pitches later, on a Mike Zunino double to the wall in left-center. The Firebirds sensed a possible breakout inning against Devenski, so Brian Dozier was sent up to pinch-hit for starting pitcher Sean Manaea. Devenski walked him on five pitches and was pulled from the game after throwing 77 on the night.

A double switch brought Kyle Schwarber in to catch as Trevor Cahill took the mound. Three groundouts later, the Kansans were out of the inning. They did trail, 2-0, but the possible outburst was averted and the home team was still in the game.

Gerrit Cole was inserted in place of Manaea for the Firebirds, after the young southpaw finished four scoreless innings against one of the best offenses in the league. Cole, after an injury-riddled regular season, picked up where Manaea left off with goose eggs in the fifth and sixth frames (though the Kansans did threaten with a man on third in the fifth) and remained in the game after Jesse Winker, pinch-hitting for Cahill, blasted a first-pitch moonshot to right in the home half of the seventh.

With his team leading by one, Cole recorded the first out in the eighth on a groundout. He lost J.D. Martinez on a full-count, and with left-handed prodigy Cody Bellinger looming Yuma played the matchup game with Sean Doolittle. The veteran overmatched the young hitter for the second out to bring up Marcell Ozuna, who was 0-for-3 on the night.

An O-fer so far didn’t mean Ozuna wasn’t licking his chops at the first Doolittle offering, a hanging breaking ball. The slugger didn’t miss, launching a soaring drive to left as the home crowd exploded. The Kansans, trailing since the fifth inning, suddenly had the LEAD, 3-2!

As the game moved to the top of the ninth, most in attendance figured the Kansans had the game in the bag. Kenley Jansen, one of the best closers in the league, was called upon to close out the Firebirds and send the St. Francis crowd home happy one last time in 2017.

A couple quick outs pushed Yuma to the brink, but Kinsler took a close pitch for ball four and Ben Zobrist, in a pinch-hit appearance, did the same. Two on, two out for another bat off the bench…ICHIRO! The wily veteran eyed Jansen while pulling up his right sleeve, bat pointed to the sky. First pitch…low. A called strike on the inner half and a splitter slashed foul brought the count to 1-2. Jansen came set and exhaled, then fired a 98-mph fastball toward the outside. Ichiro tried to fight it off, but he put it on the ground in fair territory…right at third baseman Justin Turner. The throw was in time, and the Kansans practiced a subdued celebration. The home slate at The Monastery was over for the year, but St. Francis was just a single win from earning Scott Hatfield his first BARB title!


FINAL: ST. FRANCIS 3, YUMA 2