Game 1 of the Challengers' best of three NLB playoff series against the Flyers was rather enjoyable: Nick Lehmann pitched great, Oli Christen was once again effective out of the bullpen, and Danny Strolz got his first hit of the season. Heck, there was even a 5 second tantrum thrown by the author after he was called out on a close play at first. All in all, there were many highlights to celebrate in an 11-4 victory for the C's. But Game 2 was not nearly as much fun as Game 1.. First, there was the 8am meeting time, which of course two people missed by more than 20 minutes, then the obligatory delay (for the two other guys riding with me) while I ran to the bathroom, and then a trek through the woods in search of the batting cage, which had been mysteriously moved to another field. After all that, it was time to play - not just baseball, but also a game of "Guess what team these guys ACTUALLY play for" once the Flyers took the field. For those of you who haven't played before, the rules are simple: Just look at the defensive alignment, and try to figure out how many of the fielders really play for the Flyers, and which ones were there due to the absolutely ridiculous rule that players aged 20 and younger can just switch the licenses to other teams during the season. In Game 1, I counted three: former Challengers Yanik Probst, normally a member of the Eagles, batting first and playing shortstop, Alex Bruce of the Barracudas, batting third and catching, and then some other guy from Embrach who I'd never seen before was on the mound. In Game 2, there appeared to be just one, the starting pitcher, who was wearing his Lions hat. Hey at least the colors more or less matched. Yanik was stuck wearing his red Swiss National Team hat. You never want to be the one guy stuck wearing a red hat when everyone else is wearing blue. You just don't. Actually...now that I think of it, the pitcher was wearing his red Embrach hat, so I guess it was a little less embarrassing for Yanik. But only a little.
In any event, the Challengers starting things off sloppily, as Renzo Falcone once again hit a pop-up, didn't leave the batters box, watched the first baseman drop the ball, and then just barely make it to the base. I say once again, because literally the same thing happened in Game 1...the same guy even muffed the catch. Weird. Now to be fair, your author also found himself standing in the box and cursing rather than running out the play...only to watch in horror as the ball was dropped (and, unlike Renzo, I was still out). I hadn't been that embarrassed on a baseball field since the time in 7th grade when I made my hat into a "rally cap" and then forgot to turn it right-side out before going to play defense. Nonetheless, the Challengers were unable to take advantage of the error, and the inning ended on a ground out.
After striking out the lead-off batter, pitcher Kurt Kovac soon found himself in a tight spot. An error by third baseman Adderly Sarmiento allowed the second batter to reach safely, who then promptly stole second. A walk, stolen base, and a single later, it was 1-0 Flyers with runners on first and third with still only one out. However, Falcone was there to save the day for the Challengers, helping to turn a brilliant 6-3 double play, with Yusuke Azuma making a nice scoop at first.
The C's tied things up in the top of the third: Sarmiento reached on an error by the shortstop, and Michel Romang followed with a single to put runners on first and second with no one out. The runners each moved up a base on a long fly to center by Kovac, despite a very strong throw from the center-fielder, which was almost in time to nail Sarmiento at third. Daiki Sato brought Sarmiento home on an RBI ground-out to second. Meanwhile, Kovac was cruising on the mound, retiring the side in order in both the second and third, and recording 4 strikeouts.
The Challengers took the lead in the top of the 4th: Acting-coach Carlos Nepomuceno led off with a single, stole second, and then scored on an RBI single by Alex Gordon (who took second on the throw home). A bunt single by Nick Lehmann caught everyone off guard (including Gordon, who didn't advance on the play), putting runners on first and second with one out. Sarmiento bounced a potential double play ball to short, but after Lehmann was forced at second, the return throw to first went out of play, allowing Gordon to score the Challengers' third run.
In the bottom of the inning, the Flyers got both runs back - with some help from the Challengers and despite some (apparently) shaky umpiring: After Kovac got the lead-off man looking (his 5th K in 7 batters), the next batter doubled past a diving Gordon in left and a somewhat hobbled Sato (sore knee) in center, who stumbled chasing after the ball. After a stolen base and a walk, the Flyers had runners on first and third with just one out. The next batter bounced a grounder towards Azuma at first, who threw to Lehmann at home in an attempt to get the lead runner. Although the throw appeared to be late (at least from my vantage point in left), the runner was called out, causing him to have a complete meltdown as he stomped and cursed his disagreement with the call (I was a little nervous that he was going to burst into tears, which he may well have done, but there weren't any audible sobs, at least). Flyers' coach Andy Fleischaker came out to argue, but his bloviating was no more effective here than it had been in the National Team game against Great Britain -- only he managed (somewhat unjustly) not to get ejected this time.
Unfortunately, having just been handed (arguably) a huge gift, the Challengers handed it right back: With runners now on first and third, but with two outs, the runner on first broke for second. On a designed play, Lehmann's throw was cut off by Kovac, who then whirled and threw to third in an attempt to pick off the lead runner. Unfortunately, Kovac's throw sailed past Sarmiento at third (who may not have been expecting the throw, I'm not sure) and bounced out of play. Two runs scored - at least until the Challengers successfully argued that the runner had not yet reached second before the ball went out of bounds, and was sent back to third. This led Fleischaker to throw another fit, which was also ineffective and also not met with a richly-deserved ejection. Ironically, the whole brouhaha was rendered moot when the next batter singled, and the runner on third scored anyway.
The Challengers retook the lead in top of the 5th, as Kovac doubled, and then scored when Sato's grounder was mishandled by the shortstop. Unfortunately, Sato promptly ran himself into a double play, and was nailed at first after Falcone's long fly to left was caught. The score remained 4-3 Challengers until the bottom of the 6th, when things fell apart: After a walk and four consecutive singles (and then two RBI ground-outs), the Flyers pushed across 5 runs to take an 8-4 lead.
Ok, so I'm running up against the deadline for submission here, so let me move quickly: The Challengers got two runs back on RBI singles by Sato and Azuma, to make it 8-6. Azuma came on in relief of Kovac and struck out the side in the bottom of the 7th, but Fleischaker returned the favor in the top of the 8th. In the top of the 9th, the Flyers scored two crucial insurance runs, aided heavily by Azuma's throwing error and two wild pitches (one of his pick-off attempts also hit me square in the nuts, which was also unappreciated!!!).
Heading into the top of the 9th, it was 10-6 Flyers with the top of the Challengers' order coming up. Kovac led off with his third straight double, and, two outs later, scored on a single by Azuma, who took second on defensive indifference and then stole third. Nepomuceno drove in Azuma with a single of his own, and then took second on defensive indifference. That brought Gordon to the plate representing the tying run (although my chances of hitting a home run off of Fleischaker were admittedly remote...ok admittedly REALLY remote). After working the count full, Gordon hit a chopper towards short, and busted it out of the batter's box. In an effort to beat the throw, Gordon (me) took a lunging last step, stumbling over the base JUST after the ball had been caught for the third out. I thought that was the end of things...but I was wrong.
Immediately, the Flyers bench and fans (the NLA team that had shown up in advance of their own game) started howling that I had intentionally tried to cleat the first baseman. Further, Fleischaker was clearly heard (by me) telling the umpires that I had intentionally tried to injure his player, which a) was completely untrue, and b) caused me to leap up and "very politely" inquire as to just what exactly he had just said. The Flyers' fans continued to hurl impolite, and rather unimaginative, adjectives in my direction, while I courteously invited them, collectively, to perform biologically impossible feats. It really was too much. I mean no sport has more fake tough guys than baseball...I mean, it's not like you hear about guys sucker-punching opponents in the handshake line or anything, but it's close (What do you mean "maybe you should use another example"?). Anyway, I can clearly state for the record that I made no attempt to cleat anyone, intentionally or otherwise. If the Flyers want to believe otherwise, that's their business.
Speaking of business, the Challengers NLB team has some to take care of this Saturday. Looking forward to it!