Thursday, March 01, 2007

Baseball is Berry Berry Good to Me

I have been playing Strat-0-Matic baseball for over twenty years now. My first entry into this hobby was as the Pittsburgh Pirates in a keeper league called the American Baseball League. Along with 23 other individuals from around the country (coast to coast) I competed in a 160 game season to see who would have the honor of making the playoffs and fighting for the ABL championship. In twelve years, my Pirates won five division titles and were the wild card participant two other times … once making it to the World Series where my team was defeated 4-2.

These type of leagues are nothing like the rotisserie leagues that are all the rage. We don’t acquire players who then accumulate points for things such as stolen bases, strikeouts, wins, losses, etc. Strat-0-Matic actually number crunches the production of a player from the previous year … batting, on base average, slugging, outfield arm and accuracy, hold ability by pitchers, defense and defensive range, and much, much more are examined, eventually resulting in a very realistic replaying ability. Albert Pujols is going to be very Albert Pujols-like in Strat-0-Matic.

Anyway, about seven years ago, I joined a new, more advanced league called BRASS League (Bloomington Rotisserie and Strat-0-Matic Society). The role of general manager was further enhanced in this game with salary structures and free agency added. Now, I had to not only field a team and play against others, I had to pay my players, as well.

Two nights ago, my current team, the Cream City Pirates, culminated its most successful BRASS season by defeating the Montreal Sunsets to advance to the World Series. In seven years, my teams have won three division titles, but never advanced this far. The game itself was played face-to-face … over the Internet. Strat has come a long way, baby. Below is the recap of what was truly a remarkable game. Enjoy.

Derek Jeter Refused to Lose
Derek Jeter simply refused to allow Cream City to lose game six of its prize fight with the Montreal Sunsets. Because of his heroics, the Cream City Pirates await the winner of the Gold League playoffs after winning the Silver League championship series four games to two.

Cream City had lost the previous game to Johann Santana 8-0 … a game in which the slumbering Montreal bats finally game to life. For four games, Cream City’s pitching staff, especially its bullpen, had shut down the vaunted Sunsets attack. Now, trailing 3-2 in the series, Daniel Valois’ crew needed only to win game six to force a deciding game … one which would feature Roger Clemens and his supernatural card on the mound.

The game started out like game five. A one-out single by Mark Ellis was followed by a titanic shot by Chipper Jones to put the Sunsets up 2-0. Still reeling from that shot, starter John Patterson fed Travis Hafner a gopher that Hafner deposited into the seats in deep, deep right center field. Now trailing 3-0, the Pirates fans were stunned and silent (as was their stricken manager).

But not for long.

Kenny Lofton led off with a sharp single to right. Lofton was unable to get a good lead, but his antics at first were enough to distract Montreal starter, Carlos Zambrano, into issuing a free pass to Derek Jeter. After a fly out by Brian Roberts, Larry Walker strode to the plate and first ball hitting, lashed a double into the right field corner. By the time Bobby Abreu could retrieve the ball two runs had crossed the plate. Richie Sexson followed with a double off the wall in left center, just eluding the glove of Jonny Gomes and the score was tied.

Patterson and Zambrano settled down until the top of the fifth. David DeJesus led off with a double. After a ground out by Greg Zaun, Bobby Abreu was intentionally walked to face Mark Ellis. Hopes for a double play ball were foiled when Ellis dropped a blooper just beyond second basemen Brian Robert’s reach into right field and Montreal regained the lead 4-3.

Chipper Jones followed with a walk to load the bases. Sensing trouble, Cream City manager, Tim Rock, brought in Justin Speier to face Travis Hafner. Speier’s specialty is facing lefties with his reverse card and true to form, he struck Hafner out. Rock then brought on Bronson Arroyo, the Pirate’s long relief man for the series. The strategy backfired though when Gomes laced a single to left scoring two. Once again the Cream City faithful were silent (the Pirate’s manager cutting off an expletive deleted just in time).

In the bottom of the sixth, Richie Sexson gave the crowd something to cheer for with a solo shot to deep left field off Zambrano. Still, the Pirates trailed 6-4 after six complete.

In the bottom of the seventh, Derek Jeter decided to take matters into his own hands. Still trailing by two, Lofton got on with another of his patented singles to right. Once again, though unable to get a lead, he was able to distract Zambrano into throwing a wild pitch. With Lofton dancing at second, Zambrano turned to face Jeter and threw him a fat one right down the middle. Jeter took him deep to left center. The crowd roared its approval … the game was tied … there was hope yet in Sudsville.

Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell Jonny Gomes this was supposed to be Cream City’s day because he promptly led off the top of the eighth with a shot to left that just skipped over Hideki Matsui’s outstretched glove. Suddenly, the Pirates trailed again and time was running out.

The Pirates were retired meekly in the eighth inning, a two-out Ichiro Suzuki single wasted. The Sunsets were eliminated in the ninth.

Derek Jeter strode to the plate in the bottom of the ninth to lead off, facing Jason Isringhausen, who had come on with two-outs in the bottom of the seventh. Jeter wasted no time. On a 2-1 pitch, Jeter reached out and poked a ball to left that just kept going and going and going as though it were destined for greatness… dropping into the fourth row in left center field for a game tying home run. The crowd went berserk celebrating Jeter’s second home run of the game (the Pirates’ manager almost fell out of his chair). The Pirates failed to push anything else across and so the game continued to the tenth inning.

J. D. Drew led off the inning with a double to center off Neal Cotts. However, Cotts was up to the task and induced easy outs from the next three batters.

The stage was set.

Brandon Inge led off with a double to center off Hector Carrasco. Humberto Cota grounded out to second, allowing Inge to move to third. Montreal decided to pitch to Suzuki with the infield in and that strategy worked when Suzuki lined out to Ellis for the second out.

Now, Sunsets manager Daniel Valois faced a choice. Running out of pitchers, he decided to walk the red-hot lefty, Lofton, to pitch to Derek Jeter … a much more favorable match-up for the right-handed Carrasco.

Junior Spivey came on to pinch run for Inge and the Pirates decided to try some trickery. Lofton took off, hoping that the ball would come to second, giving Spivey a chance to steal home. But the Sunset foiled that by holding the ball. It was up to Jeter.

In hindsight, who could have known this was Derek Jeter’s day. The percentages favored the moves Valois made. It didn’t matter. Jeter took the pitch from Carrasco and sent it deep into the left field seats for a walk-off three-run home run, his third of the game. Bedlam ensued (imaginary and real).

The Pirates were going to the World Series.

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