2013: A Chiefs Odyssey – #7

Welcome back to “2013: A Chiefs Odyssey” – a countdown of our 12 most memorable moments of Syracuse’s 2013 season.

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Before we get into today’s seventh-most memorable moment of the Chiefs’ year, a quick look in case you missed it – Syracuse announced an extension yesterday on its Player Development Contract with the Washington Nationals, ensuring the Chiefs will be affiliated with the Nationals until 2018. More information can be found on our website here. We’re all thrilled about the chance to continue the relationship, with the Nationals continuing to emerge as a premier major-league franchise. Now, to #7…

7. You’ll Get Nothing and Like It

The Chiefs’ hitting this season could best be described as a roller-coaster ride – a supremely hot start, an ice-cold month after that, and spurts of up and down and up down thereafter. The pitching, however, was more like a slide, or like the opposite of a Drake song – it started from the top before plummeting to the bottom, at least as far as ERA’s concerned.

Now we here.

Now we here.

Syracuse’s monthly ERA decreased in every full month the Chiefs played in, meaning the Chiefs simply got better as they went along – from a high-water mark of 5.10 in April to a beautiful 3.13 number in August. In late June, however, that monthly improvement was in doubt. April’s 5.10 staff ERA gave way to a 4.46 May mark, but the Chiefs were struggling through an 8-18 June with two games to do and a staff mark hovering closer to 5 than the team would have liked. Thankfully for Syracuse, two of their unlikely pitching mainstays were set to start over the weekend of June 29 and 30 – Tanner Roark and Caleb Clay.

We touched a bit on Roark in our last post, but his stunning success this past season bears a continual look. In 2012, Roark’s first Triple-A campaign, the right-hander was up and down, sporting a 4.39 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 28 games (26 starts). (He also led the league in losses with 17, for whatever that’s worth – which, considering he “lost” five consecutive quality starts, is worth nothing in this corner. But I digress.) 2013 threatened to be even rockier. Sure, Roark tossed six no-hit innings in his first start of the season at Lehigh Valley, but just two starts later, he posted the following line against Buffalo:

3.2 IP  12 H  10 R  10 ER  1 HR  1 HBP  1 BB  2 K  1 WP
(Suffice it to say, we’ll be talking about this game at some point in the near future.)

Roark was demoted to the bullpen immediately after that, where he initially struggled, allowing multiple runs in three of his first four games to jolt his ERA skyward to a staggering 8.49. But he soon settled down, putting up a 1.21 ERA in May and working through a near-scoreless June. Roark was rewarded with a spot start June 23 at Gwinnett, which he aced with five scoreless innings. Six days later, he took the hill against Rochester.

Roark dominated. In six innings, he held the Red Wings to a pair of scattered doubles and nothing more, twirling a pair of double plays after errors. Tyler Robertson (one inning) and Mike Broadway (two) did the rest, with Chris Rahl’s sacrifice fly providing the lone Syracuse run in a 1-0, 2-hour, 11-minute gem. As a team, Rochester went 3 for 30 in the game with one walk.

Post-mortem: Roark put up a 1.51 ERA in 53.2 Washington innings this year after an August promotion.

Post-mortem: Roark put up a 1.51 ERA in 53.2 Washington innings this year after an August promotion.

The next day, another one of the Chiefs’ unlikely success stories followed Roark to the mound for a Sunday matinee – Alabaman right-hander Caleb Clay. Clay, a 2006 first-round pick of the Red Sox, had toiled in Boston’s system for six years, never reaching Triple-A and finding himself in the bullpen for all but one start in 2012. The Nationals were eager to change that, and Clay put up a 3.46 ERA in 13 starts with Double-A Harrisburg before his mid-June promotion to Syracuse. He excelled in a pair of games before getting the Sunday start.

With just 14.1 innings of Triple-A experience under his belt, Clay went right at Rochester’s lineup, carving up Red Wings right and left. He matched Roark with six scoreless frames, allowing just six base runners in his start. This time, the bullpen’s names were different – Jeff Mandel, Xavier Cedeno and Mike Crotta – but the three-inning scoreless result was the same. The Chiefs scored in the third and fourth innings for a 2-0 win, taking care of the Wings in a tidy 2:23 this time.

These probably aren’t a pair of games that stick out in anyone else’s memories from this past season. But to me, they’re a relic of a bygone baseball era, when shorter, lower-scoring games were the norm. They were separate works of art – strike-throwing pitchers painting corner after corner, infielders turning slick double plays, hitters coming up with key situational whacks rather than blindly swinging for the fences. I’ll take ‘em over an 8-6 game any day of the week.

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