The Vancouver Canadians were looking for revenge tonight after last night's 12-5 loss to Eugene, but coach Juan Navarrete wasn't in prepared to swing for the fences. No, the Mexican League Hall of Famer had a different plan. Navarrete looked at tonight's Eugene line-up and thought to himself, "I know their weaknesses, and I shall exploit them with ruthless abandon."
And that's exactly what he, and the Vancouver Canadians, did.
For the first two innings of tonight's game, the C's were content to sit back on the pitching fury of Mr Trey "Phaser" Shields, who didn't disappoint the 4,366-strong crowd by continuing his habit of spewing 92mph fastballs in rat-a-tat fashion. But in the 3rd inning, things beyond Shields' control interfered with his pleasant afternoon. Wilber Perez, who showed all the defensive capabilities of a pasta sieve last night, managed to show that dropping the ball takes genuine talent when he commited a two-out error, which was followed by a steal, a walk, and a base hit to score the go-ahead run. If Perez had simply fielded the ball and thrown, as he's done a million times before this night, it would have been a clean inning, but that sniff of a chance was all Eugene needed to get their foot in the door.
Vancouver is full of gamers, however, so in the bottom of the 3rd, a determines group of C's hitters pulled off the same trick as Eugene - forcing an error and capitalizing on it.
With two outs, Justin Sellers came to the plate and, showing maturity far beyond his year (and also a huge pair of cajones), he bunted to the gap between pitcher Cesar Ramos and first baseman 'Daaaaaaryllll' Jones. Navarrete, knowing Jones is a defensive liability and that the pitcher wouldn't be expecting anything of the sort, called for the unlikely play and rejoiced as Jones and Ramos both went for the same ball with nobody at the bag to receive it once fielded. The coaching brain of J-Nav had once again brought a profit for the C's.
Chalon Tietje was up next, and promptly drilled a shot at the shortstop that the Eugene #6 couldn't handle cleanly, allowing Sellers to zip around to 3rd. It was called an error, but Tietje's effort deserved a far better fate than that - and now the C's were showing the Em's exactly what the other side of a two-out rally looked like.
With Travis Buck at the plate, Navarrete once again pulled the unexpected play out of his pocket, with a lot of help from the quick thinking Tietje. As the pitch came in, Tietje took off for second. A hurried throw from the catcher caught Tietje in a rundown, and the second-year Vancouver outfielder doubled back and forth a couple of times, keeping the play alive as Justin Sellers stole for home.
Eventually, Tietje was caught up to with a tag, but by that point the scores were level, and though it won't show it in the stats, Tietje essentially rang up an RBI by drawing the Em's into a suckerpunch move that a lot of Little League teams wouldn't have fallen for. J-Nav strikes again!
1-1 going into the 5th, when Shields dropped his defenses long enough to bean the lead-off batter, Daryl Jones, with a fastball. The Em's saw their chance to knock a runner along, and opted to play a little small ball, sacrifice bunting the runner along and then getting him home on a Drew Davidson single to left. 2-1 Em's, but the Canadians don't like to be pushed around, and thus they took charge in the bottom of the 5th.
With one out, Wilber Perez drew a patient walk, and J-Nav went into his mind game handbook once again to exploit Eugene weakenesses. Knowing that, on the mound, stood an absolute junkballer in Cesar Ramos (0-0, 7.16), and that behind the plate, catcher Brandon Gottier wasn't exactly likely to win any 'league's best arm' competitions, Navarrete called on Perez to use what genetics and good living had given him - a lightning quick pair of feet - to steal second.
He duly did so, and as the shame of the earlier error fell of Perez's shoulders like beer off Jason Giambi's back, Perez hurtled into second, sliding headfirst, without a throw even being registered. Perez dusted himself off, turned to Navarrete expecting congratulations, and must have wondered if he'd seen the right signal. "Steal 3rd? Are you sure?"
But Navarrete knew what he was doing, and sure enough, as Ramos started his 12-second wind-up routine, Perez took off, beating Gottier's pedestrian throw by a foot with another headfirst slide.
These are the kinds of plays that, when they go wrong, guys like me write nasty stuff about Navarrete breaking all the rules of smart baseball and wasting opportunities to score runs, but the coach had done his homework and was not so much taking risks, as he was taking advantage. A pitcher/catcher combo like Ramos/Gottier just begs to be exploited, just as the pitcher/first base combo of Ramos/Jones had earlier. Navarrete was playing the midn game, and with a pair of old-school tobacky-spittin' managers in the other dugout, the daring J-Nav was giving the old guard the creeps with his funky run'n'gun game.
With the pitcher rattled, Justin Sellers drew a walk, then with men on the corners once again, Chalon Tietje drilled a rocket shot groundball to right field, scoring one and moving Sellers to 2nd, forcing a pitcher change for Eugene. In came Arnold Hughey, with a 5.31 ERA and a 1-1 record, and Travis Buck responded by taking him up the middle, scoring Sellers to take the lead 3-2 and pumping up the home crowd.
The bottom of the 6th saw more vintage small ball, with Steve Kleen drilling a single to right, then committing the grandest of larcenies by stealing second. 'Squeaky' has done just about everything a player can do in the last couple of days, from pitching to hitting to playing first base, and now stealing basess - it's a good bet that when Jeff Bieker singled to center and drove Kleen home to score, that the 6'3" 11th rounder from Pepperdine then ran out back behind the stadium, climbed the ladder behind the center field wall, changed the scoreboard personally, then came back to sell a couple of hot dogs in Section O, then let himself into Club President Dan Kilgras' office to hit the phones and sell a few ads on the outfield walls, and then rotated the tires on the team bus, before returning to the dugout to figure out a few complex math problems and discover a cure for the hanging curveball. Mr Kleen can do it all!
But I digress, Canadians up 4-2, and the Emeralds are starting to get weary of chasing runners.
Thankfully for Eugene, Danielin Acevedo was warming up in the bullpen for the Canadians, because in Spanish, Acevedo apparently translates as "fungo pitcher." Acevedo, you'll remember, had been dropped fro Stockton after racking up a 1-3, 8.00 record, then sent up from the rookie leagues after managing a 0-0, 6.00 record over 3 games, and since he came to V-Town, he's garnered the not hardly respectable line of 1-0, with an 11.25 ERA.
Watching Acevedo come out to pitch to when he's in this kind of slump must be like watching the BC Lions replace their quarterback with a fat, bespectacled 15-year-old named Earl when you're three points down on your own 15 yard line with two minutes to go.Suddenly, anything is possible.
It's not that Acevedo can't pitch - he showed last year how capable he is with the ball - it's just that, right now, he's not pitching at anything above a high school level, and opposing teams are taking willful advantage of that fact. He should be pitching in Stockton right now, because he has the talent to hold his own there, but for whatever reason, the kid's head just isn't in it right now, and Eugene were about to exploit that for their last chance to get back into the game.
With one out, Jones singled to center, before Acevedo walked Kelvin Vazquez, and then gave up a Mike Sansoe single to load the bases good and proper. To the pitcher's credit, the next at bat should have been an inning ending double play, but the boy from Land'O'Lakes showed that his fingers are "just like buttah" by thinking 'throw' when he should have been thinking 'catch cleanly'. A run scores, and the Em's are down by one with the bases still loaded.
At this point, Acevedo was in trouble, and a lesser pitcher might have crumbled to a massive run-scoring inning. But Acevedo took a few words from Lefty Lefferts on the mound, then threw hard to draw an infield fly for the second out.
Chase Headley comes to the plate, and here it was - showdown time. The struggling pitcher versus the hard-hitting third baseman with the bases chocked. Acevedo reared back, planted his foot and drove through a fastball that had everything the kid had in him behind it. Headley, in turn, planted his own foot and drove through the ball like a Mack Truck, belting it deep to right.
At moments like these, you have to sit back in your seat, watch the ball and say to yourself, "whatever happens, I'm okay with it. We tried, we gave it our best, but if this ball leaves the park, there's nothing we could do about it." And then you watch the ball traveling upwards on a big arc. Up, and up, and up, then it flattens out and you start to wonder... "could this ball actually stay in the park? Not just that, but, is that right fielder catching up to it? Is it really possible that he could catch up to that ball and take a humungous over the shoulder running catch that saves our lead, and might just win us the game? You've GOT to be kidding me... that's TRAVIS BUCK out there!"
As the ball came down and the glove went out, Buck leapt high and hard, essentially snowconing the ball with one of the highlight reel catches of the season. Absolutely magnificent stuff, the sort of play that turns seasons into championships.
For a brief moment, all the trees around Nat Bailey leaned towards the mound, as Danielin Acevedo drew in the biggest, deepest breath a man has ever drawn in. If not for Buck, his stats would have looked horrifying. If not for Buck, he would have left this game with his name in the L column. If not for Buck, he might have been handed a ticket back home before he'd finished his shower.
But Travis Buck was in the house, and thus Danielin Acevedo lives on, the Vancouver Canadians live on, and a big streak of outfield grass dies, ripped up by the crashing thud of a high draftee's chest as he holds a baseball tight in his glove.
Stephen 'Bad News' Bryant then came in for the 8th inning and kept it clean, as per usual, holding the lead for closer Brad 'Killer' Kilby to come in for the 9th, but yet again, the comeback-inspired Emeralds would push the Canadians to the limit of their abilities.
With one out, Vazquez drew a Kilby walk, as the crowd, catcher and the hurler himself questioned what exactly the guy had to throw in order to register a strike. All night long, it seemed that balls in the dirt were being called strikes, while sizzler on the corners were somehow marked as balls. Had the umpire's hot chocolate been delivered to the change rooms too late, so that he would now take it out on the home team? Had the guy been rejected by a 41-year-old CFM boot-wearer at The Roxy the night before, causing him to lose concentration at every turn? Was he perhaps questioning whether it had been a smart move to become a profesisonal baseball umpire when he had been cross-eyed since birth?
Couldn't tell you, but I could tell you that Kilby was emitting flames from his mouth, eyes, and fist as he sent in his next volley of pitches, only for Mike Sansoe to send one back the other way and move the runner to 2nd. A Drew Davidson flyball to right made it two outs, but another questionable walk, this time to Nick "stop talking about my dad" Hundley, and suddenly we were at go-time once more.
A one-run lead, bases loaded, two outs, the closer in trouble, and up to the plate comes the same guy who had nearly put the Em's ahead two innings earlier - Chase "I'll kill you Travis Buck" Headley.
Kilby reared back and fired in heat, which Headley tipped out into foul territory. 0-1.
Kilby reared back again and fired in a curveball which caught Headley looking. 0-2.
With the crowd on it's feet and with fire in his eyes, Brad 'Killer' Kilby, the 6'2" lefty from San Jose State who had been ignored by every major league club until Oakland grabbed him in the 29th round, wrapped his fingers around the ball, bent his back and fired with everything he had.
The ball flew hard, the bat came forward to meet it, and the catcher's glove went "WHUMP!"
Headley strikes out! Killer Kilby notches another save and the Vancouver Canadians win the game, 4-3!
I need a drink.