January 08, 2011

The Time We Played the #1 team in the State

I'm bored, can't sleep for some reason, and have learned that this isn't a good time to play poker. So I figured why not blog? Had a couple of options a settled on one from my high school playing days. It was 2003, I was a junior and starting catcher on the varsity team. I had grown up playing with a lot of my teammates and for many of us these were our first varsity games. I think we only had 4 seniors on the team that year. We started the year off 5-1 and rolled into our 7th game of the year. It was a road game at Greece Arcadia. They were undefeated and incredibly talented. They were in a class higher than us but still in our league so we would play them twice.

At this point, our team was naive enough to believe that winning on the road wasn't that hard, wrong. We weren't prepared for the awful sunfield in right and just didn't play well coming off the bus. Fell behind 5-0 after 1 and it just got worse from there. Nobody played well, they were very good, and we went home with our tail between our legs. I don't remember the final score but it was a lot to a little. 

So when we had to play them a couple weeks later nobody was very excited. They were still without a loss and had risen to being ranked #1 in the state. Our field was under construction so our "home" game was at a nearby high school. It was our 6th game of the week and our starting pitcher who is usually our SS had only pitched in one game all year. It was on a Saturday morning and I remember saying to my Dad before I left the house "I'd just like to be in it going into the last inning." He wished me luck and I went off to the school.

Our pitching coach couldn't make it that day so I was in charge of calling pitches. At this point I was very green in that regard. I obviously thought I knew a ton about it and would be awesome but if I could re-watch the game I guarantee I'd pick it apart 7 years later. The game couldn't have started off worse. They scored 3 in the first and most of their hits were rockets. During the top of the second I don't remember the exact situation but their 9 batter (last hitter) was up. He had 2 strikes on him and he fouled off pitch after pitch before he hit a laser to CF for a base hit. When he did that I thought this team is unbeatable and we have no chance at winning. I even looked at the scoreboard and remember thinking "Is there a mercy rule?"

They ended up going up 6-0 after the top of the 2nd. Sometime in the middle of the second I looked out and saw our centerfielder puking. I was thinking "that's fitting". He would eat a snickers and chug a warm red bull before every game as part of a superstition and this was an extremely warm day in which the 2 didn't mix well apparently.

We scored three runs in the bottom of the second to make it 6-3. In the 3-5 innings our pitcher was able to get out of jam after jam. I could be a little off on the details but in the third inning he got out of a 1st and 3rd one out jam. Wiggled out of a 2nd and 3rd one out pickle in the 4th and bases loaded 2 out jam in the 5th. One play at the plate a kid came in hard and slid right into my foot blocking home plate. The next morning my whole foot had bruised up but I was in no pain for the game. Adrenaline is an amazing thing.

It was at this point our pitcher was at about 100 pitches through 5. Our scorekeeper, one of the parents on the team went up to the pitcher and said he's at 100+ and he's telling the coach. Our player basically said he's not leaving the mound. As a player at that point I agreed with our pitcher, but as a coach after looking at pitchers for a few years now and the abuse they take from coaches I completely understand what he was trying to do. In fact if I were him I would've pushed harder to the coach to take him out. Fortunately for our sake he didn't.

They were able to scratch across 2 more in the 6th and we were down 8-3 going into the bottom of the inning. Certainly not terrible and definitely respectable. In the home half of the inning we scored 3 runs and it was 8-6 heading into the 7th. They didn't score in their half of the inning and in the bottom of the inning we scored one run, then with a runner on second and one out I came up to the plate. Unfortunately this meant nothing since I wasn't a very good hitter and I grounded out to short. Our leadoff hitter, one of our seniors and team leaders then hit a rocket down the third base line. The third baseman dove, the ball hit his glove and bounced away. The runner scored on the double and we were tied.

Our next batter blooped a single to right, our leadoff hitter flying around third and heading for home with their RF charging and coming up firing. He threw a perfect one hopper to the plate. With our whole team out on the field ready to celebrate the throw and runner arrived at the exact same time. Our guy didn't slide, their catcher did a great job of blocking the plate, he missed home and was tagged out. To this day I'm still not sure how he didn't score, with 2 outs on a blooper and a fast runner that's generally an easy run. My only guess is he thought there was only one out and hesitated before seeing the ball down. Whatever, new game, free baseball, we're playing with the house's money at this point.

Innings 8, 9 and the top of the 10th were a blur. I do remember one of their innings ending on a double play which was always fun for me since I was backing up first base with just a runner on and I'm sure I let out a loud "yeah!" at the end of the play. Our starting pitcher had gone all 10 innings throwing 160+ pitches. Before the 10th inning I heard one of their coaches go "Can we hit this kid already?! We've seen him 5 times!". It was one of the guttier performances I had ever seen and it was about to end. The 10th was his last inning and I was warming up a reliever on the side while we were hitting.

With two outs and a runner on first base it looked like we were going to the 11th. Our 2 hitter was able to get on base. Our four hitter, another senior followed that with a single up the middle. Then our 5 hitter, hit a rocket down the third base line. There was no play at the plate this time, the runner scored easily and there was pandemonium on the field.

There's not too many better feelings in sports than winning games you're not supposed to. Coaches refer to it as "stealing one". If there was a betting line for this game, we'd probably be about 20-1 underdogs and after falling behind 6-0 the odds were probably about 100-1 against us. However, 100-1 still gives you a chance and baseball is a funny game. That team ended up winning sectionals and advancing to the state tournament while we got upset in the first round. However, for that one day we were the best team in the league and the headlines in the paper the next day will be something I never forget.


Men succeed when they realize that their failures are the preparation for their victories. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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