4. Bryce Chopper
Had to happen at some point, right? Though Mr. Harper’s first Triple-A home run shows up one spot higher on my list than it did on yours, JB, we’re back-to-back with the same event. And you’ve just heard the call of it – so perhaps there’s not much more to say. It was a 3-1 pitch from Jheurys Familia drilled over the right-field fence – I remember the shot like it was yesterday. Did I exaggerate the call somewhat? Yes. Is it the most majestic home run I’ll ever see? No. But – considering it was Harper’s only Triple-A home run – the swing was unquestionably unforgettable.
No one thought it would be his last Triple-A home run of the year, of course, after seeing the colossal blasts that Harper delivered over the fence in batting practice day after day. But after just four more games with Syracuse and sporting a not-otherworldly .243 average, the Nationals snatched up Harper when injured third baseman Ryan Zimmerman went on the Disabled List. The rest, of course, is history – a double in his debut at Los Angeles, an All-Star selection, a National League Rookie of the Year award and a key part in the Nationals’ NL East championship. All before he turned 20 years old.
It seems somewhat silly to remember so many seemingly minute details, but I remember driving home from the ballpark on April 27 after the Chiefs’ game against Charlotte was postponed due to cold weather. I remember Harper’s name out of the starting lineup on the lineup card, with Tony Beasley saying he was giving his young outfielder the day off. I remember finding out once I was home that Harper was called up to the Nationals, and calling Jason, who was still at the ballpark.
Sure, they all seem like insignificant details – but we seemed to know that once Bryce was gone, he wasn’t coming back. And last year was just the beginning of a long and prosperous career. I’m glad to witness at least a few weeks of it firsthand.
Jason, the Expectancy that the preceding game shows up on my list somewhere down the line is 100.0%. On to today’s #5
When starting pitcher Yunesky Maya gets into a groove, there are few better pitchers to watch in the International League. The Cuban baseball veteran hasn’t had a consistent major league career in his three seasons with the Nationals’ organization, but he’s been a solid starter for Syracuse, and he’s as much of a rhythm pitcher as perhaps anyone in baseball. When Maya’s on, the results take place at a breakneck speed. Get the ball. Throw the ball. Get it back. Throw it. Get it. Throw it. When the bases are clear, Maya works as fast as anyone in the International League.
What made last July 27 in Rochester such a gem was that the bases were always clear. Maya cut down the Red Wings 1-2-3 in the first inning. He notched his first strikeout in a perfect second. He claimed two more in a flawless third. He aced Rochester in the fourth and fifth, with three groundouts to second base in the two innings. And he got three consecutive outs in the sixth.
Meanwhile, Syracuse had staked Maya to a modicum of run support. RBI singles from Jarrett Hoffpauir in the fourth inning and Chad Tracy in the fifth had the Chiefs on top, 2-0. That seemed to be more than enough for Maya, who entered the seventh inning nine outs away from the unthinkable.
In the seventh, Brett Carroll entered the game in right field for rehabbing major league Jayson Werth. And the baseball gods, cruel as they are, would make sure Carroll’s number came up in some way. After groundouts from Brian Dinkelman and Tsuyoshi Nishioka put Maya just seven outs away from perfection, Chris Parmelee spoiled the party.
A visibly frustrated would punch out Wilkin Ramirez swinging to end the inning. The damage was done in terms of perfection – but Maya still did his part, tossing a 1-2-3 eighth, before Christian Garcia slammed the door shut with a scoreless ninth. The Chiefs had won behind Maya’s best pitching performance in his minor league career. But a few feet closer on one fly ball, and I’ve a feeling this post would be ranked four spots higher.
6. The Negrych Who Stole A Hit
Now this was weird.
On July 6, the Chiefs swept the league-worst Louisville Bats in a doubleheader, 2-1 and 1-0. That’s a nondescript beginning for sure – the Bats performed slightly better in 2012 than the remake of Total Recall. So why was this twin bill so special? Consider the following:
- The Chiefs’ finale in Louisville weeks beforehand had been washed out. Since Syracuse only makes one trip to Louisville, the second game counted as an “away” game for Syracuse in their own ballpark.
- In Game One, the Chiefs escaped the fifth inning by inducing Joey Gathright, maybe the fastest runner in Triple-A, to hit into an inning-ending double play. They then got out of the sixth inning on an RBI double – when Danny Dorn was thrown out at home plate.
- In the bottom of the seventh inning in that game, Chiefs second baseman Jim Negrych stepped up with two runners on and one out, hoping to hand Syracuse its first walkoff win of the season – in its 59th total game…
But then things got really, really weird in Game Two…
- Starting pitcher Jeff Mandel – in his first Triple-A start of the season – retired the first 11 batters he faced. In fact, he served up a grand total of one baserunner – a Neftali Soto single – in his five innings of work.
- But one hit is better than no hits. Despite facing right-hander Wirfin Obispo, who ended the game with a 5.52 ERA, Syracuse was no-hit through five innings. They walked four times against Obispo, who threw a mere 44 strikes in 80 pitches, but couldn’t get a hit. And in the sixth inning, Travis Webb also threw a hitless frame.
- So – the Chiefs, in their home ballpark, after the first two outs of the seventh inning, were one baserunner away from potentially being no-hit, since Louisville would have the final turn at bat. But Negrych, he of the heroic Game One hit, inside-outed a double down the left-field line that slammed off of third base. It won’t go on Jim’s personal highlight reel…
- …and neither will James Skelton’s result two batters later. After an intentional walk of Seth Bynum, Skelton had a chance to play hero…
- That sent home Negrych with the Chiefs’ second hit, and the game’s first – and only – run. In the least weird moment of the series, Christian Garcia would slam the door shut with a scoreless seventh, handing the Chiefs a bizarre doubleheader sweep.
#7: Fo’, Fo’, Two
You’ve already read about my #7 moment on this list – it’s Jason’s #12, a game where Mark Teahen and Jason Michaels each launched grand slams in a 10-5 win over Rochester on April 25. (Teahen also drilled a two-run single, leading to a: the Moses Mal0ne-inspired title of this post and b: the most offensively efficient Syracuse game of the season – 10 runs on three swings. That’s approximately 3.333333333 runs per run-scoring hit. Repeating, of course.)
I won’t delve into the details much, since Mr. Benetti’s already done that. But it’s worth noting something about Teahen in that game. His home run promised to be the first of many in 2012 for a former 18-home run-hitter in the major leagues. But in AAA, Teahen’s power was mainly to the gaps, not over the wall. In fact – Teahen hit just two more home runs throughout the entire remainder of the season. The second came exactly three months to the day of the first, on July 25 – and guess where it was.
Was a power surge in order? Not exactly. It took more than a month for Teahen to hit his third home run, and his first home run at Alliance Bank Stadium. Of course, it came against Rochester, the Tom Glavine to Teahen’s Mike Redmond.
But none of Mark’s home runs meant quite as much as that initial slam – the only homer that Teahen blasted in a Chiefs win. And with the way that baseball goes, next year, he’ll probably hit 20, with none against Rochester.
Thanks for pointing out something that’s always annoyed me, JB. Is it Hanukkah? Chanukah? Hannukah? None of the Above? A & B Only? At least Christmas only gets mislabeled as “XMas” occasionally, thanks to John Lennon.
Regardless, let me join Jason in welcoming all our fine readers a Happy and Healthy New Year. (Side note: why is New Year’s the only holiday that gets a “Healthy” tag? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to wish people a Healthy Halloween? Or is that just too much of a lost cause to even consider?)
#8: Nine-Win Wonders
Moment #8 of this here countdown takes place on a sticky late-June day in Durham, North Carolina, at the beginning of an eight-game road trip through Durham and Norfolk. I didn’t make the trip last season, but this year, I gladly tagged along. (That whole “gladly” part dissipated a bit two nights later with the 100-degree weather and a press box devoid of air conditioning, but that’s for another day.) And I wasn’t the only happy member of the Chiefs’ traveling party on this particular trip, since Syracuse was in the midst of a season-high winning streak – an eight-game run of wins that, as it turned out, had one more game to go.
It didn’t seem like a win was in the cards for the Chiefs until the eighth inning, though. Rehabbing right-hander Kyle Farnsworth tossed a scoreless first before previously scheduled starter Matt Torra shut down the Chiefs for 6.2 Piccaso-esque innings, striking out six while walking just one in a dominant effort. Dominant, that was, until he ran into Corey Brown in the eighth…
Thanks largely to Brown’s blast and a strong effort from starter John Lannan, the game headed to the ninth inning in a 1-1 tie. But after Brett Carroll ran for Chris Marrero, Tony Beasley had a defensive decision to make that neither Abbott nor Costello would have envied – who’d play first? Mark Teahen was DHing and Tyler Moore was up in Washington – so out came backup catcher Carlos Maldonado for the bottom of the ninth inning to man the corner.
This may not seem surprising at first, as most catchers typically have played at least a bit of first base in their lives. But Maldonado’s inclusion certainly stretched the limits of “a bit”. In 16 years and 1,245 career games in professional baseball, Maldonado’s played a grand total of eight – count ‘em, eight - games at first. That’s .006%. The man doesn’t even have his license to kill at the position.
Thankfully for “Maldy”, the action largely stayed away from his position. Outside of a harmless ground ball back to the pitcher, he could have been Peeves the Poltergeist for his two innings in the field and it wouldn’t have made a difference. But after a Carlos Rivero RBI single in the 11th inning put the Chiefs ahead, Beasley threw the DH position in the trash to go with his best defensive lineup, tossing Teahen out at first. You can probably guess what happened next – a walk, a single and a sacrifice bunt tied the game at 2. And the DH spot was due up fourth in the 12th.
Well, with runners on first and second and one out, Tony Beasley had another fun decision to make. And in the same guy that saw Maldonado play first base for the first time in a decade, Beasley sent starting pitcher Zach Duke up – in an American League game – to pinch-bunt. The decision worked out beautifully – Duke got the bunt down, Teahen was intentionally walked, and Jim Negrych had a chance to play the part of hero.
That would all be the Chiefs needed in a 3-2 win. It was also the capper of their longest win streak of the season – and in typically weird fashion, Syracuse did it with a first baseman who hadn’t played the position since Year Two of the George W. Bush era and a pitcher batting in the DH spot. OMC would have been proud.
9. No One Man Should Lose All That Power
The 2012 Syracuse Chiefs had a few games postponed because of rain this season. No surprise. The Chiefs also lost a game to snow in Rochester – not a shock for an April day in Western New York. And Syracuse even had a game postponed due to cold weather, which sounds outrageous but, again, shouldn’t come as a stunning result. But on July 13, the Chiefs set a new bizarre standard for postponements.
It’s not all that uncommon to hear the words “power outage” in baseball. They’re just a pair of words that typically correspond with a lack of team offense, or an individual’s lack of home runs. Much like a pitcher’s “cheese” isn’t literally a dairy product or a “moon shot” doesn’t actually leave the planet, a baseball “power outage” doesn’t literally refer to the loss of electricity. Except, you know, when it actually does. Like on July 13.
At around 5:40, before a 7:00 game against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (now RailRiders), former Chief Matt Antonelli was taking batting practice on a day where the high temperature reached 93 degrees. I was sitting in the radio press box, watching from overhead as Antonelli drilled one ball into left-center field – and suddenly, the music stopped. The video board beyond the outfield shut off as well. The Yankees turned around and started jeering at the press box, asking for someone to turn the music back on, and there was nothing anyone could do. A rolling series of power outages on the North Side of Syracuse had hit Alliance Bank Stadium, and the entire park had gone black.
The day proved to be a tricky scenario for us in the front office, since a large crowd was expected for Donate Life Night. And that crowd showed up, with nothing to do but mill about outside the stadium…
The game was also a television broadcast, with Time Warner Cable’s crew on hand. In fact, one of the crew members ended up getting stuck in an elevator when the power went down, and the fire department needed to come and rescue her. There have been better days to be claustrophobic than July 13.
The players and coaches sat in dark clubhouses and hallways, playing cards by whatever light they could find. Tanner Roark, the day’s scheduled starter, set up a table outside the clubhouse and wondered aloud why every one of his starts seemed to get pushed back for some reason or another. Had Tanner been scheduled to start today, perhaps we would have actually encountered the apocalypse.
Ultimately, the decision to postpone the game was made around 7:00, with no end to the power outage in sight. It was the right decision after a thoughtful process…and, of course, 15 minutes later, the power returned.
It feels odd to include a countdown moment that wasn’t actually a game, but July 13 was just too memorable to leave off this list, JB. Do all of your 12 memorable moments contain the proper amount of electricity?
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?)
Wait, I mentioned “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”?
#11: Suspension of Belief
Today’s pick may be a bit of an oddball choice, since it involves a game where nothing of substance really happened. The game was a 3-0 Chiefs loss to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, that 2012 traveling road show of a team without a home park for the year. The game featured only 11 combined hits, 10 walks, 12 strikeouts and no home runs. On first glance, there’s nothing to see here. But on second glance, there’s everything to see. (Just like in the following video.)
Our story begins on an overcast, rainy April day in Syracuse – and yes, you should try exceedingly hard to visualize this, seeing as it never happens. How rainy was April 10? Rainy enough that after four innings, the game was called with the Yankees up 2-0. Not to worry – the homeless Scrantonians would return to Alliance Bank Stadium in three days, and the teams would surely pick it up then. Simple enough, right?
There was just one chink in that solution’s armor: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was the “home” team in the team’s next series since, again, the Yankees had no 2012 home. PNC Field underwent renovations during the course of the season, and the Baby Bombers were forced to play “home” games in Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, Fargo, Allentown, Pawtucket, Batavia and Prague. (Two of those are made up. Batavia is not one of them.) The International League didn’t want to finish the suspended game – a Chiefs home game – on the same day as a Yankees home game, for logistical purposes. However, the next time the Chiefs would play Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in a Syracuse home game was on July 12, the day after the All-Star Break.
So, almost three months to the start of this Syracuse/Scranton duel, the teams took the field for the top of the fifth inning with a pair of wildly different lineups. Consider the play-by-play below:
How different, exactly, was the Chiefs’ April lineup for their July one? Let’s go through April’s…
- Batting third: Xavier Paul. On July 12: A valuable bench member of the eventual NL Central-winning Cincinnati Reds.
- Batting fourth: Tyler Moore. On July 12: 31 games into his rookie season with Washington, never to return to Syracuse.
- Batting fifth: Bryce Harper. On July 12: Heh.
- Batting eighth: Jason Michaels. On July 12: A Syracuse coach. Just call him Bill Russell.
- Batting ninth: Chris McConnell. On July 12: Out of baseball, after being released from the Nationals’ Double-A team. We love you, Mac.
Three other starters (Corey Brown, Seth Bynum and Mark Teahen) switched positions, leaving only one starting position player in his original spot – catcher Carlos Maldonado. I might as well have thrown blotches of paint at my scorebook.
But the game’s MVP truly belonged to starting pitcher Mitch Atkins, who’s now appeared in the first two moments of my countdown. Coincidence? (Yes.) Atkins tossed the first four innings of the April game before Tony Beasley decided to send him back out to the hill. On 92 days’ rest, Atkins gamely accepted the assignment, and tossed a gem that Roy Halladay would have been proud of. He worked the full nine innings, scattering five hits and six walks to allow just three runs (one earned), while throwing a superhuman 151 pitches, 94 for strikes. That’s right – 151 pitches! After the game, Atkins was seen soaking his right arm in a bathtub filled with a mixture of herbal tea, whipped cream and unicorns. And that is moment #11 on this magical countdown.
Postscript: There may have been a chance that Atkins actually threw the 151 pitches over TWO separate days, leading to a mere statistical quirk. I can neither confirm nor deny this, however. I can also neither confirm nor deny the existence of unicorns.
Here we go again…again.
It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for – the start of our offseason countdown chronicling the top 12 Syracuse Chiefs moments of 2012! We’re a little bit later this year as opposed to 2011, but Jason and I have needed months and months to compile our lists from an otherwise action-packed season. (Wait, does that excuse actually work? Let’s move on before you really have time to think about it.)
(Look, over here!)
I’ll start it off, and Jason will respond in kind (or in mean, I guess) on Friday.
#12: Keep The Fat Lady On Ice
When you’re 69-73 and 14.0 games back in the division with two games remaining in the season, it’s easy to calculate that you’re not exactly post-season bound. The Chiefs weren’t a playoff team this year, and they certainly knew it before the season’s penultimate game. But in the 2012 Alliance Bank Stadium finale, Syracuse had no intention of rolling over and playing dead, despite what the first six batters might have you believe.
Mitch Atkins started on the hill on that sunny Sunday for Syracuse (selling seashells by the sea shore), and his outing against the Rochester Red Wings started off with just a minor hitch, when shortstop Eduardo Escobar singled to center field. Not to worry, though, as Atkins was facing a Red Wings team that ranked third-to-last in the International League in runs scored. What was the worst that could happen here?
- Tsuyoshi Nishioka doubles (16) on a line drive to center fielder Corey Brown. Eduardo Escobar to 3rd.
- Brian Dozier singles on a line drive to center fielder Corey Brown. Eduardo Escobar scores. Tsuyoshi Nishioka to 3rd.
- Wilkin Ramirez doubles (17) on a ground ball to left fielder Jesus Valdez. Tsuyoshi Nishioka scores. Brian Dozier to 3rd.
- Clete Thomas singles on a soft line drive to right fielder Brett Carroll. Brian Dozier scores. Wilkin Ramirez scores.
- Rene Rivera homers (10) on a fly ball to center field. Clete Thomas scores.
Ah. So that’d qualify as “worst that could happen”, then.
In the blink of an eye, it was 6-0 Red Wings. Six batters, six hits, six runs, no outs, one bullpen set in motion. If Pat Lehman ever warms up earlier in a game, it’ll be because I started. The floodgates were as open as a 24-hour Wegmans.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the blowout – Atkins settled down, retiring the next three batters he faced. Then Corey Brown and Jesus Valdez homered in the first, slicing the deficit to 6-2. Then Atkins tossed a perfect second inning before Brett Carroll doubled in a run in the bottom half of the frame. 6-3. Then Atkins mowed down the Wings in the third, and the Chiefs responded with three runs, knocking out Rochester starter Nick Blackburn – the last of which came right here.
And just like that – we were all squared away at six. Yes, Mitch Atkins ended up with the longer stint of the game’s two starters after giving up six consecutive hits to start the game. Silly Mayans.
Of course, the Chiefs needed to do more than just tie the game, or else I wouldn’t be writing about this. Valdez and Chris Marrero knocked in seventh-inning runs, and Wilkin Ramirez’ eighth-inning home run wasn’t enough for Rochester, as the Chiefs won, 8-7. Turns out any comebacks in the season’s first 142 games were just appetizers for a hearty, medium-rare main course in Game #143. Now that’s going out in style.
So in case you were thinking “well, this season wasn’t that memorable” – that comeback ranks below 11 other moments for me. Beat that, Benetti.
Before you know it, it’ll be baseball season again in Syracuse…in fact, we’re just four months and a few weeks away from Opening Day 2013. Yes, that sounds like a long period of time, but once this whole Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus thing gets finished, it’ll zip right by.
But we’re not past looking back to last season, and that’s why Jason and I are getting ready for our second annual list of last year’s Top 12 memorable Chiefs moments. Last year’s list starts right here – and you can access all entries under the “Inside The Chiefs Blog Archive” drop-down menu on the right side of your screen.
This season’s list might be a little trickier to compile than last season’s, since nobody threw a perfect game or hit four home runs in one game in 2011. But 2012 still featured dramatic moments all around in its 144-game span, and we’d like you to help us pick them out. Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with your thoughts.
We’ll be starting the segment up within the next week. Until then, we look forward to hearing from you.