2012: A Chiefs Odyssey – Kevin’s #10
10. In A Central New York Minute…
In the middle of June, it didn’t seem like 2012 was going to be the year of the Chiefs. At 32-37 and losers of five out of six, Syracuse was floundering with the league-leading Pawtucket Red Sox coming to town. The Chiefs were probably anticipating that visit about as much as the Griswolds anticipated seeing Uncle Eddie in the Vacation series.
You see, the first time the PawSox came to town didn’t go so well for the Chiefs. The Rhode Islanders visited Alliance Bank Stadium from April 16-19, claiming a four-game sweep in excruciating fashion with a trio of late-game wins and one 11-7 slugfest mixed in. But as the ever-calm Tony Beasley and the Chiefs’ staff knew well, everything can change at a moment’s notice in baseball. And June 18 was the start of everything.
On that Monday evening, the Chiefs used a five-run seventh inning to launch an 11-7 series-opening victory. The next night, Zach Duke squeezed out six innings of three-run ball despite 12 baserunners and no strikeouts, leading Syracuse to a 4-3 win. But Wednesday would prove to be the crowning achievement of the series – and one of the team’s finest wins of the season.
There are some people looking ahead to the End of Days at the end of this week. (By the way, I’ll bet anyone $1 million that the world doesn’t end before Christmas. Just shoot me an email and we’ll work out the details.) But on June 20, the End of Days stood on the pitcher’s mound at Alliance Bank Stadium, ready to mow down the Chiefs once more – right-hander Justin Germano. You remember him, right? You know – the guy who did THIS last year?
Germano had already faced the Chiefs once early in the season, tossing seven shutout innings while allowing a mere three singles. And he’d thrown more than 20 consecutive scoreless innings against Syracuse heading into the night’s third inning – when newly signed catcher Koyie Hill took him deep for a solo home run. That wasn’t a sign of things to come, though, as Pawtucket took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning.
But Germano had to leave at some point, and the end of the seventh inning was his exit. Not coincidentally, the Chiefs’ bats soon sprung to life. With two runners on in the eighth inning, Corey Brown stepped up against Junichi Tazawa…
Syracuse would score no more in the frame, however, with Daniel Bard closing out the inning on a Mark Teahen fly out.
The Sox got another run in the top of the ninth, giving them a seemingly impenetrable 5-3 advantage with three outs to get. But a word on Bard, in case you’re not familiar with him: he’s the flame-throwing uber-prospect who shot through the Boston system a few years ago, only to lose any semblance of control this year when the Red Sox attempted to turn him back into a starter. His season fully came apart at the seams on June 3rd, when Bard gave up five runs in 1.2 innings against the Blue Jays…on a grand total of one hit. (He walked six batters and hit two others in the game.)
So Bard was shipped down to Pawtucket and returned to the bullpen, where he attempted to close out the Chiefs on this Wednesday night. But he allowed a pair of hits to start the inning – a Chris Marrero double and Xavier Paul single – before tossing a wild pitch to score Marrero. 5-4. The right-hander, however, would flip the switch right after that. He retired Carlos Rivero on a fly out and Koyie Hill on a groundout before going to two strikes on Jim Negrych, move along, nothing more to see here…and then, one pitch away from a win…this happened.
Down three runs with four outs to go, two runs with three outs to go and one run with one strike to go, the Chiefs had clawed their way back. The final obstacle? Former Syracuse hurler and aspiring app-creator Garrett Mock, he of the Bard-esque ultra-live arm and Bard-esque ultra-spotty control. Mock loaded the bases with one out in the 10th inning – but, in Mock-esque fashion, he struck out Seth Bynum and flied out Xavier Paul for a head-scratching exit.
One inning later, the Chiefs had finally had enough. With runners on first and third and one out, third baseman Jarrett Hoffpauir had a chance to be the hero.
The Chiefs had stolen a game they had no business winning, 6-5, and truly ignited a winning streak that wouldn’t end until six games later. Just like that.
(Postscript: Mitch Atkins was Syracuse’s starter in this game, just as he’s been in the other two games of my countdown so far. What the what?)