So over the last two days there was a furious volley of emails between the Mets coaches, myself, Chris and Elliot, about how to play this game. We had to take into account: (1) inning restrictions on certain pitchers (primarily Reed - who had pitched the most for us); (2) whether Eian and Jallah would be available on Friday night (No on Jallah, Probably on Eian); (4) catching corps; and (3) defensive assignments. To reiterate, we were 3-0 and had two chances to win the final. But after much palaver it was clear that we really needed to play to win tonight.
We decided to go 3 innings with Reed pitching, then stretch Jallah as long as possible. If we had the lead, we'd go to Eian to close, but if we were behind, we'd save him to pitch in Friday's game with Emmett. I argued to put Liam in the outfield where he's been very succesful catching fly balls for us, and away from his recent assignment at second where he had contracted a bad case of ball-avoidance in the last couple games. I also argued for Emmett behind the plate as much as possible because he's the best at stopping the low pitches from skipping away from him, and when they do, he's very quick to get the ball. Nobody had scored from third on Emmett on a passed ball in 8 games. Eian's an excellent receiver, but when the ball gets by him, he's so slow to get it that it's an automatic advance for the baserunners.
Emmett's also been locked in at the plate. He hadn't struck out in about five games and had been pounding the ball and making regular contact.
Home team is determined by seeding, and since we're 3-0 and the White Sox are 2-1, we're home team. We get last ups.
We start with Reed on the mound, Eian catching, Nathan at first, Emmett at second, Jallah at short, Joaquin at third, Liam in center, Tony in left and Dario in right.
Now the White Sox have some good hitters, but they don't go as deep as our hitters. That is, they're very dangerous 1-4, but we can hit 1-7, and our other guys can all come up with the occasional big hit.
White Sox lead off with Matthew (Emmett's teammate from the tournament team, and son of the tournament team coach, Marcelo). He leads off with a clean single, advances on a passed ball, and the next batter walks. Two on, no outs. Doesn't look good. And indeed, their best player, Noah comes up and drills a double into right field gap, scoring two. Their cleanup slugger Sammy also gets a hit to move Noah up. Noah scores on a passed ball that, bangs off the backboard and rolls way up the line. Reed starts to lose it on the mound a bit, and Chris (his Dad) calls a timeout to go out and calm him down. Strikeout, pop-up, strikeout and we're off the field. Our ace has pitched and we're down 3-0 already. Strong hitting by the White Sox and passed balls killing us.
Our whole team is down in the mouth. We leadoff with our speedster, Nathan, who's been slumping at the plate. Getting a lot of walks and using his speed to score, but late with his swings. Nathan strikes out. Jallah comes up and hits a hard shot to shortstop, deep in the hole. Their shortstop makes an excellent play and throws him out with a long, strong throw. Reed comes up. He's our best player by far, but he's only had one big hit during the whole playoffs. Getting a lot of walks and an occasional strikeout from being over-eager. Jallah and Joaquin and Emmett have been our best hitters recently. Reed's usually ahead of the pitches and has a hard time slowing his swing down. But he makes good contact, hitting a hard shot to third base. Against most teams that's an automatic infield hit, but Sammy fields it for the White Sox and throws a rocket across the field. Reed beats it by half a step. Eian - like Reed - one of our best hitters, has also had only one big hit over the playoffs (admittedly it was the go-ahead double that won against the Rockies). Eian drills a hard shot to shortstop, and again their shortstop makes a pretty play to throw him out.
The White Sox are an excellent defensive team.
Top of the second inning, now we're into the easier part of their lineup. Reed induces a soft bloop from the first batter and Emmett comes in to make a running catch behind the pitcher's mound. One out. Next play, a hard chopped grounder that Emmett has to jump high to field. He makes the play to Nathan at first. Next batter gets a good swing on the ball and launches it high into centerfield. Liam camps under the ball and makes the out. All the defensive assignments paid off.
We do nothing in the second. Emmett strikes out for the first time in many games. He's back in his passive mode that caused his slump earlier in the season, taking the first strike. Noooo!!! We worked on this for months. He's got to be aggressive, because when he takes the first strike, he either (a) chases a bad pitch or (b) gets a bad call and he's down 0-2 and he gets frozen at the plate. Terrible time to cold at the plate.
After two innings, we're down 3-0.
Top of the third. Matthew leads off the Mets again with a sharp grounder up the middle. Reed gets a glove on it, which slows it down. Emmett picks up the ball, and has time, but his throw pulls Nathan (who isn't tall) just off the bag. Gah! Easy first out, and we can't afford to make errors. Passed ball and Matthew moves up. Clean hit by Noah and he comes around to score. Oy. They get another run before Reed gets a last strikeout. He's pitched three innings and we're down 5-0. Fuck.
Bottom of the 3rd, Matthew still pitching for the White Sox. We're down 5-0. Nathan strikes out. Jallah drills a clean single. Reed comes up. He swings through the first pitch. Jallah goes to second on a passed ball. Reed wants to win the game with one swing, but it's just not possible. He's pressing. He works the count. Fouls off a pitch. Then he gets all of a pitch, it's soaring deep into left field. I'm the third base coach. I'm wheeling Jallah in to score. The ball bounces just in front of the fence. Very nearly a home run. Reed's on second. Eian comes up and launches a ball deep into center. Reed comes around to score. We pinch-run for Eian (which doesn't take him out of the game under these playoff rules - as you can sub in and out and can pinch run twice from your bench. Odd rules, but we're taking advantage of them since Eian is so incredibly slow). Joaquin comes up and gets a hit, and the runner comes around to score. Emmett's up. He walks. They both advance on a ground out. One out, we have men on second and third. Now it's a cat and mouse game because the pitcher is throwing in the dirt and it's a case of go! stay! I'm the third base coach and I'm constantly talking to Joaquin, who's been a great player for us this year, but has been doubled off on soft liners twice this season. Two passed balls come hard off the backstop and back to the catcher. Joaquin breaks, stops, and scampers back to third. Finally a ball gets away, and he scores easily, and Emmett advances to third. He's bouncy and excited. We've scored four runs. The White Sox get a strikeout, and then throw out a baserunner at first so Emmett doesn't score.
After three innings, it's White Sox 5, Mets 4.
Top of the 4th, and Jallah is pitching. We desperately need him to have a good game. He hasn't given us two good innings in a row in many games now. We need at least two from him tonight. Emmett's catching now. Eian's at first, Reed's at short, Liam's at second. Jallah strikes out the first batter. Next is a hard chopper that goes up and over Liam's head (he's also fairly short) and clips off his glove. Runner on first. The White Sox are being fairly conservative about baserunning in this game. Ball gets away from Emmett and the runner advances. Noah rips another gorgeous liner, that scores the runner. Comebacker for an out, and then a pop-up into short center-left that Reed ranges back to get. We're out of the inning and only gave up one run.
We do nothing in the bottom of the fourth.
After four innings, it's White Sox 6, Mets 4.
Top of the fifth, Jallah is pitching, and Emmett's catching. We get a first out. Then we walk a runner. Their slugger Sammy hits a towering shot to centerfield. Nathan moves under it and makes the catch. Two outs. Runner moves up on a passed ball. Emmett's very active back there and making a lot of saves, but Jallah is in and out of the strike zone. Every at bat seems to be going to full count. Ball, ball, foul tip, ball, strike. Runner at third with two outs. Ball in the dirt squirts away, but Emmett gets it quickly, and Jallah's right at the plate to cover. They don't send the runner. We get a strikeout. No runs scored.
Bottom of the fifth, Reed leading off. Reed gets behind in the count, and then hits one through the infield. Eian looks hapless in his at bat, he's quickly down 0-2. The umpire has been consistent all game, but he's been calling a strike at the ankles which is flummoxing our hitters. We're getting that same call for our pitchers but it's definitely hard to hit that pitch, and it's really too low to be a strike. Eian digs in. Fouls off a pitch. Takes a close one for a ball. Fouls off a pitch. Pitch in the dirt and Reed moves up. Count goes full. Another pitch in the dirt, and Reed moves to third, and Eian has earned a very difficult walk. I'm the first base coach in this inning. They send Eian, who moves slower than the average pensioner. Eian toddles into second uncontested. We have runners at second and third with one out. We're down two. This is our chance. Joaquin and Emmett are both excellent contact hitters. One clean single can even it up. Even a grounder will score a huge run. Joaquin is up. There's a pitch in the dirt that gets away and Reed steals home. Then Joaquin strikes out looking. Gah! So frustrating. We've got the tying run at third, and just a grounder will even things up. Emmett comes up. He takes an easy first strike right over the plate. NOOOOOO! You've got to swing at that one. Next pitch is low and away, but is called for a strike. Fuck. Emmett takes a pitch. Works the count to 2-2, and then watches strike three without a swing. FUCK!
He walks back to the dugout. "What are you doing! You have *got* to cover the plate in that situation. You cannot be taking on anything close!" He gives me a dirty look.
He's sitting on the bench looking very disgruntled, when I remind him that he needs to suit up in his catcher's gear for the last inning. White Sox get a strikeout to end the inning. We only get one run out of a second and third with nobody out situation.
After five innings, it's White Sox 6, Mets 5.
Jallah goes out to pitch the sixth inning, which is the last. We still have last ups. I walk Emmett towards the plate where he's going to catch. "You need to focus and stop every pitch in the dirt. We can't let them score this inning." He's still pissed at me and gives me a shove away without saying anything. Okay. Fair enough. The sixth is much like the fifth inning. Jallah gets an out after battling to find the strike zone. Emmett's leaping around making saves and catches. We get an out. They get a runner. The runner moves up to second. We get another out without the runner advancing.
So it's still top of the sixth, man on second, two outs. It's another long at bat. Throw in the dirt. Emmett scrambles after it. Their runner gets a late break, but the coach is yelling for him to get down to third. Emmett comes up with the ball and fires it down to third. Tony makes the catch, lays down the tag and gets the runner on the foot. Emmett shot down the runner to make the last out in the top of the sixth. He comes running off the field all smiles and jumps into my arms.
Jallah has given us three quality innings, only giving up one run. It's huge.
Bottom of the sixth, White Sox 6, Mets 5. Our last chance. Dario leads off, then it's top of the order with Nathan. They're still pitching Noah - their best player and one of the best players in our league. I'm the third base coach. Now, surprisingly, I'm not feeling all that dire at this point. Because Jallah has given us three strong innings, which means we never had to use Eian. Which means if we lose, we can come back on Friday and pitch Emmett and Eian and still have a really good chance.
Also, I know two things about this particular match-up of Noah vs. Dario. Noah has been getting a lot of low-ball called strikes, but Dario is a free-swinger who has a real talent for reaching down and hitting nine-iron shots off the top of his shoes. Dario's this gangly, freckly kid. Fast, and with good reflexes, but hasn't played a lot of organized baseball. He looked kind of helpless at the beginning of the season, but he's definitely the most improved player over the course of the season. He had a huge hit for us in our win against the Rockies. We absolutely need for him to get on base. His helmet's too big and kind of flops down over his eyes. He bats left-handed. On the third pitch he shoots a hard shot right over the third base bag - it's fair! It should be extra bases! I look down the first baseline and Dario is jogging slowly to first, very content with his single. Go, go go! We're yelling. He looks up, surprised, as he rounds first, and trots rather slowly a third of the way to second. GO!!!!!! He turns it on just as their left fielder (who overran the ball) picks it up. But the leftfielder throws to the cut-off man, instead of to second base, and Dario does (barely) make it into second. Phew.
Okay. Man on. No outs. Top of the order coming up. Nathan up. He hasn't been hitting much lately. He's down in the count. He takes a close pitch. He makes contact and hits a grounder to short. Dario starts to run into the play, but is smart enough to hold at second base. The shortstop throws to first, but it tails away and gets past their first baseeman. I get Dario down to third, and Nathan's safe at first. It's cat and mouse time again. Jallah is up. Pitch gets away. I desperately need Dario to score to tie up the game. Look for a chance, I tell him. Don't get doubled off. Tag up on a fly ball. Blah blah blah. Dario's nodding, and his helmet's flopping down over his eyes. Nathan's at second now. Jallah strikes out, flailing at a low pitch way out of the strikezone. Two on, bottom of the sixth. One out. We're down by one run. Reed comes to the plate.
First pitch, and Reed pulls it hard, but foul. Next pitch a ball in the dirt. Go! No Stay! The ball bounces right back to the catcher. Aghhhhhh! We just need to tie it up.
I'm talking to Dario the whole time. Noah winds up, and fires a hard one, right over the plate and Reed crushes the ball. It makes a gorgeous, long arc to deep center field. I see it's going to drop. Go, go go! Dario goes in to score the tying run, and Nathan's almost to third. I look out to center and their fielder is just picking up the ball. Go, go, go! I'm windmilling my arm so hard and jumping up and down, sending Nathan in. All the parents on the Mets side are standing up and screaming. I'm hopping and hopping and hopping with my arms in the air as Nathan scores the winning run.
Pandemonium! Our whole dugout crashes out onto the field, tackling Reed and jumping all around. Emmett comes running at me and flies into my arms, and I swing him around and around and around in centerfield. Sheer jubilation. On our side. On the White Sox side - absolute devastation. We give them a quick cheer and go to shake their hands at home plate, and every single playeer on their team has tears in his eyes and they can barely stand to shake our hands. Noah's openly weeping. It's tough. They're an excellent team and played well. Interestingly, they made the finals by having two come-from-behind, last inning wins where their opponents had victory slip away at the end.
We wander around the outfield feeling dazed and drained and giddy. The parents join us and are jabbering away. It was an unbearably tense game for them to watch. Reed gets the game ball by unanimous proclamation. A spontaneous, "Dario! Dario! Dario!" cheer goes up from the team. What a fucking a game. We take a team picture in front of the outfield scoreboard with the final score, White Sox 6, Mets 7. The only time we were in the lead was when we won the game. We're the champs.