Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Extra frames in Omaha

I know I shouldn't base my expectations for the O-Royals 2008 season on what happened last year, but it's hard not to look forward to on-field fireworks every time I head to work. It has been a quiet season so far, with nobody - not even Mike Jerschele - being ejected or exchanging more than a word or two with the umpires.

But ohhh tonight. Tonight was a weird one from the beginning. Maybe it's just because I was sleep-deprived, or maybe it was something else entirely, but there was a weird feeling in the air. I felt like tonight's game would either be a blowout in Iowa's favor, or it would be a wild, contested, frustrating, bullshitty, scrapping and clawing sort of game that could go to either team.

It was the latter, in every possible way.

Things got a tiny bit hairy for Kyle Davies in the first, when Iowa loaded the bases, but Bobby Scales popped out to end that. In the bottom of the first, a pitch that hit Brian Buchanan also hit home plate umpire Dan Bellino in the ear. Bellino inexplicably decided to hold that against Omaha, and made some incredibly...interesting calls against the Royals later in the game.

The game moved along without a lot of incident for a lot of innings, and aside from a couple of runs, Davies wasn't too bad. (His line: 6.2 IP, 8 hits, 2 runs, 2 ER, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts) Still, there was something stifling and oppressive about the way the Royals couldn't get any offense going. The mood in the dugout was unusually tense. Then came the fireworks.

Here's the game recap for the top of the 9th:
# Casey McGehee advances to 2nd, on interference error by catcher Matt Tupman.
# Omaha Royals catcher Matt Tupman ejected by HP umpire Dan Bellino.
# Omaha Royals Manager Mike Jirschele ejected by HP umpire Dan Bellino.

That "catcher interference" was not, by any account that I heard, a fair call. The umpire alleged that the ball kind of rolled up Tuppy's arm and in behind his chest pads, which would have been interference. Problem was, the ball was in Tup's glove. But Bellino was in an ejecty mood, so he tossed Tupman. Then, Bellino was so impressed with his own "you're outta here" hand signal that he used it a moment later on Jersch. Fine, whatever. Tup should not have been ejected, but what can ya do?

Damaso Espino came in to catch, inappropriate things were said to and about the umpiring crew, and we all moved on. Everyone was antsy with the bottom of the 9th approaching and Omaha still down 2-0. Omaha hadn't been able to get much of anything working in any inning prior to #9, had gone down in order four times, and had batted only a four guys in a few other innings. I don't want to say that I didn't believe we could plate a few runs, but I would not have been surprised to lose again, the way things have been going for the team lately.

Sure enough, first batter strikes out. That brought up the catcher's spot, Damaso Espino's first AB of the game after being brought in for the ejected Tupman. Espino got down in the count 1-2 before fighting back for a walk. The first pitches to Jason Smith, the next batter, were the things that made me know something was going to happen. Smith didn't swing at either of the first two pitches, which he almost always does. Nor did he swing at the third or fourth, ball three and strike one. And then he swung. No way, no way is this ball going to make it out of the yard. Not the way things have been going all night. An Iowa outfielder - and I honestly can't remember if it was Andres Torres or Felix Pie, because I was not breathing - leapt, extending an arm over the wall. Oh no, did he really make that catch? I can't see; please tell me his glove is empty.

The umpire raised an arm and signaled "home run."

That was the most breathlessly, speechlessly, ohmygosh-did-that-just-happen excited I've been all season. I Finally. High fives all around; every fan I could reach got a hearty five. Tie game.

But it would not be a true matchup between the O-Royals and I-Cubs if it ended in only nine innings, so the next two batters struck out to send us to the tenth. The home plate umpire still wasn't done showing off his cool "outta here" move. Neal Musser allegedly balked, and was ejected after muttering something or another. It was kind of garbagey, and got some fans to wonder if the officiating crew was being sponsored by the Iowa Cubs. Brad Salmon came in and got out of the inning unscathed, thanks to a hell of a throw by Mike Aviles to cut a runner off at home.

In the 10th, Aviles came up to bat with two down. I figured if anyone could make the magic happen at that time, Aviles was the guy. Sure enough, he doubled. Then Shane Costa was intentionally walked, brining up Buchanan, who absolutely smoked a low liner down the third base line. I thought for sure it was a hit, but somehow - some-freaking-how, third baseman Casey McGehee got his glove down between his knees and snagged the ball on the fly.

Iowa managed a run in the 12th after being shut down by Salmon in the 11th. Dave Matranga led off the inning, and hit a high, deep drive out to right-center. For a moment, it looked for all the world like it would go out, but that was again probably just the way my tired brain perceived the situation. Mitch Maier and Mike Aviles both singled, and a wild pitch moved them to 2nd and 3rd. After that, Iowa decided to intentionally walk Costa again to load 'em up for Buchanan with one out.

I can't even pretend to be able to describe how the rest happened. Here's the account from the game log:
# Brian Buchanan grounds into a force out, second baseman Eric Patterson to shortstop Andres Blanco. Mitch Maier scores. Mike Aviles scores. Shane Costa out at 2nd. Brian Buchanan advances to 1st, on throwing error by shortstop Andres Blanco.

At that point I realized I was still barely breathing from the Smith home run. Did that really happen? No way, no way, that didn't just happen. Really? We won? Something went our way? WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I was told later that I looked completely ecstatic as I hopped up on the dugout to celebrate and throw out Victory Pigs. I don't remember any of it, and I'm still trying to breathe.


Anonymous said...

Minda - what's your take on Mike Aviles as far as his defense at shortstop?

Anonymous said...

but we looked ecstatic together, and we were, of course. It was awesome!

Minda said...

Hi Clark,
I'd love to tell you that I think his defense is major-league ready, but I don't think so. I wish I had numbers on his zone rating and range, but I have no idea how he stacks up in those categories. His ability to make flashy plays really masks the numbers of errors he commits - I had no idea that he committed THAT many last year until I read it somewhere (possibly Royals Authority). I'll do some watching and some asking around, and see what I can figure out beyond this.

Darn right! What a thrill that game was!! Would do again.