2013: A Chiefs Odyssey – #4

Happy New Year, Chiefs fans! Hope you all had a safe and enjoyable night while ringing in 2014 with a reasonable amount of champagne. Here at the Chiefs’ blog, however, we’re not quite done with 2013, as we’re four moments away from completing our countdown of the most memorable moments in 2013 Syracuse baseball. (Here’s yesterday’s post, in case you couldn’t read it through your giant color-changing “2014” glasses.) Here’s the fourth-most memorable…

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4. A Call to Arms

After a red-hot 5-1 start, the Chiefs’ caravan hit a month-plus-long patch of black ice, with a 10-25 stretch derailing Syracuse’s hopes for some early success. A mid-May trip to Toledo, however, threatened to turn the team’s fortunes around, with Syracuse winning three of four games against the Mud Hens before completing the road swing at Columbus.

(Quick aside: this trip was even more memorable for yours truly, as Columbus ranks as one of my two favorite International League cities, thanks to a luscious Brazilian steakhouse at which I dined twice and an off-day during which I went to the movies and watched Star Trek Into Darkness by myself. Good times.)

The Walt Disney World of restaurants, at least in terms of happiness.

The Walt Disney World of restaurants, at least in terms of happiness.

Much like the Chiefs’ four-game sweep at Indianapolis later in the year, this series featured close games, heroics from both sides and nothing but Syracuse wins. In game one, Micah Owings clubbed a grand slam and a solo home run, the Chiefs blew a ninth-inning lead on an Ezequiel Carrera homer and each team scored in the 11th – but Syracuse’s two in extras to Columbus’ one gave the Chiefs an 8-7 win. In game two, Corey Brown’s three-run homer led Syracuse to an 8-4 victory, with the Chiefs knocking around mega-prospect Trevor Bauer. And Syracuse edged the Clippers in the third game courtesy of a tying eighth-inning homer from Chris Rahl and a game-winning 10th-inning RBI for Eury Perez in a 2-1 triumph.

The most memorable of these games, though? The finale of the road trip – and, as it’d turn out, the finale of the winning streak – with the Chiefs closing out the set on a Sunday night, with a cushy 6:05 PM start time before a nine-hour bus ride home. Syracuse’s bullpen, both overworked and understaffed, was in need of a lengthy outing from Chris Young to save the Chiefs’ arms. Despite a four-run first for Syracuse’s offense, they didn’t get it.

Clippers 1st (Chiefs 4, Clippers 3) — T. Fedroff doubles to right-center field. With M. Lawson batting, T. Fedroff steals 3rd base. M. Lawson walks. C. Phelps hits a home run to right-center field on a 0-0 pitch, T. Fedroff scores; M. Lawson scores. C. Chen grounds out, B. Bocock to M. Costanzo. J. Hermida doubles through the hole at second base. R. Rohlinger grounds out, K. Watts to M. Costanzo. M. Carson walks. J. Diaz grounds out, C. Young to M. Costanzo. 
      (3 Runs, 3 Hits, 0 Errors, 2 LOB) 

Young labored through a 36-pitch first that, frankly, could have been worse. We’d soon find out it wasn’t entirely his fault. He left the game and was soon placed on the disabled list with a neck injury, eventually undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. We wouldn’t see Young again in 2013.

After the injury, the Chiefs had to squeeze eight innings out of a bullpen with barely any juice remaining. Xavier Cedeno had pitched in two of the series’ three games. Jeremy Accardo threw two innings the night before. Erik Davis had tossed twice. Mike Crotta labored through 33 pitches in the series’ second game. That left Jeff Mandel and Tanner Roark, each of whom had thrown two innings the night before, and each of whom were supposedly available for about two innings. Let’s work on that math:

1 (Chris Young) + 2 (Mandel) + 2 (Roark) = 5
9 (regulation innings in a baseball game) – 5 = 4
4 = oh crap.

Funny Math

How on Earth were the Chiefs going to get through this game without someone’s arm falling off? Was Micah Owings going to have to pitch? Would Tony Beasley have called up to the radio booth for Jason or I if need be?

Amazingly enough, it wouldn’t matter. Mandel – who entered with a 6.49 ERA – entered first and surrendered a second-inning run. But he seemed to get sharper from inning to inning, throwing scoreless innings in the third, fourth and fifth. He even came out for the sixth inning with a 6-4 lead, but a fifth frame was too much to ask for Mandel’s right arm. He gave up two singles before giving way to Tanner Roark, who immediately allowed a sacrifice fly, stolen base, wild pitch, walk and stolen base. Second and third, one out, Chiefs up one – and Roark buckled down. He struck out Matt Lawson and induced a Cord Phelps pop out, escaping the frame with the lead somehow intact.

After Corey Brown’s home run and Chris Marrero’s RBI single in the seventh gave Roark an extra cushion, we wondered how much longer Tanner could throw for the night. And much like Mandel, he delivered in style. 1-2-3 in the seventh. 1-2 – a single – then 3 in the eighth. And in the ninth, he shrugged off a leadoff double, retiring the next three Clippers to preserve an extraordinary win. On two days’ rest each, Mandel and Roark threw a combined 127 pitches and sent Syracuse to a 7-1 road trip and six straight wins. It was an effort more deserving of an honorary game ice bucket than an honorary game ball.

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