1. Five For Hitting
Odds are Corey Brown won’t make the Nationals’ Opening Day roster in 2013. It’s nothing against Corey Brown – the Nats are stacked, with a Harper/Span/Werth triumvirate that starts and a likely Roger Bernadina/Tyler Moore bench. But Brown proved in 2012 that he’s simply too good to be considered a Triple-A player – and the middle of May defined just the reason why.
May 20 @ Toledo: Brown leads off against left-hander Casey Crosby. He sees a strike and a ball before teeing off on the game’s third pitch…
May 21 @ Toledo: Third pitches are so May 20…
May 22 @ Toledo: Brown decides not to homer in his first at-bat. How kind of him. At-bat number two is a different story…
May 24 vs. Columbus: One game shy of tying a Syracuse club record for consecutive games with a home run, Brown returns to his old ways (“old” meaning “May 21″)…
May 25 vs. Columbus: Brown goes 1 for 4 with a triple and two strikeouts in his first four at-bats, and it seems the streak will end. But Corey gets one more chance, batting in the bottom of the eighth with a chance for history…
Five games. Five home runs. Three in the first inning, one in the second, one in the eighth. Corey Brown may return to Syracuse for some amount of time in 2013 – but he’s Washington material through and through.
If this were a countdown of the most pivotal or most important individual games in the 2012 year, I’d say you’ve got that Buffalo game one spot too low. But, these are the most memorable games of 2012. Which leads me to this cop out….
#2: June boon
When the Chiefs opened play on June 18th, they were five games south of .500 at 32-37. The first-place Pawtucket Red Sox were in town to begin a four-game series. A week-and-a-half later, the Chiefs had won on how many straight occasions, Principal Ed Rooney?
Nine times, indeed, sir. Your Chiefs won nine straight games. Pawtucket, Gwinnett and Durham were the victims. And here are some of the curious things that happened over that time:
*In the first win, the Chiefs trailed 6-4 at the 7th-inning stretch. Then, Pawtucket committed two errors and the Chiefs scored five runs in the 7th. 11-7 final.
*In the third win, the Chiefs scored two runs in both the 8th and 9th innings to send the game into extras, where they scored in the 11th against former buddy and Zynga rival Garrett Mock. 6-5 final.
*In the fifth win, the Chiefs scored twice in the 7th and 8th against Gwinnett. 6-2 final.
*In the eighth win, the Chiefs and Braves scored at least one run in each of the first five half-innings. The score was 3-2 after one inning. 10-6 final.
*In the ninth win, the Chiefs and Bulls went to extras tied at 1. They ended the 11th tied at 2. Final score 3-2 in 12.
The odds of all of those things happening in one nine-game stretch are like the odds of a meteorite hitting Russia.
2. Buffalo Soldiers
Last year, the #1 spot on my list was a Chiefs loss. This year, the #2 spot is a Syracuse defeat. Some upbeat broadcaster I am, right? Of course, I’m not looking at this series negatively – it’s just happened that ridiculous and unforgettable things have happened in Chiefs losses over the past two years – and my #2 spot on this year’s list is no exception.
You’ve read about this game already in Jason’s countdown, at #6, but the Chiefs’ 14-inning loss to Buffalo on July 5 clocks in at the second-to-first spot on my list. It’s hard to quantify just how ridiculous this game was, but let’s give it a shot, in retro-live-blog style:
Top 2nd, 0-0: Mitch Atkins gets the inning’s first out by striking out Matt den Dekker, who somehow managed to go hitless in the game. Things unravel from there. Lucas May doubles in a run, Atkins wild-pitches in another and Josh Rodriguez singles in one. Next batter: Adam Loewen. Next strike: uh-oh.
Bottom 3rd, 7-0 Buffalo: The Bisons have just added another run in the top of the inning on a Lucas May single. Thanks for coming, Chiefs fans, get out while you can, we’re done here…Syracuse is only going to get one hit in this inning.
…of course, that one hit, a Carlos Maldonado single, was followed by a walk, a fielding error allowing pinch-hitter Zach Duke (yes, that one) to reach and a pair of sacrifice flies. Two runs without an extra hit after a leadoff single? Might be worth your time to stick around after all.
Bottom 4th, 7-2 Buffalo: Not many players would bunt to lead off an inning down five runs, but not many players are Brett Carroll. He lays down a beaut for an inning-starting hit. Carlos Rivero singles to follow and Maldonado walks, and Buffalo starter Dylan Owen’s on life support. Should Wally Backman go to the bullpen, with the bases full and Jesus Valdez up?
Bottom 5th, 7-6 Buffalo: Carlos Maldonado left this game at .207 – AFTER a 2-2, three-walk performance. So to say he was struggling may be a bit of an understatement. But we’ve only told you about one of those hits so far, haven’t we?
How is this game tied?!?! In the FIFTH, no less???
Top 7th, 7-7: Atahualpa Severino enters for the Chiefs. Worth noting: Severino’s had a solid season, but he gives up a lot of home ru…oh, whoops.
Bottom 7th, 8-7 Buffalo: Do the Chiefs have another comeback in them? They load the bases with nobody out, and it seems that Syracuse is about to take its first lead of the game – but then Rivero grounds into a double play. It scores a run, but the Bisons escape with nothing further, and it sure feels like Buffalo’s dodged a major bullet…
Bottom 10th, 8-8: Yunesky Maya steals a base. Seriously. This happened. (He was pinch-running for Maldonado.) But the Chiefs can’t score.
Top 12th, 8-8: Everyone is tired.
Bottom 12th, 8-8: Two on, two out, 3-2 count on Corey Brown, and Jeremy Hefner throws a curveball in the dirt…that’s called strike three? Huh?
Brown, understandably, is upset, and spikes his helmet in disgust. Home-plate umpire Jon Byrne, not a fan of getting helmets dirty, or dirt helmety, throws Brown out of the game. Not good for Tony Beasley, who now has to replace Brown. Let’s see here, who’s on the bench…Seth Bynum? No, he came in for Brett Carroll at some point. Koyie Hill? Nope, he’s catching after Maldonado left. Manny Mayorson? Pinch-hit in the sixth. Erik Komatsu? Pinch-hit in the eighth. Chris Marrero? Pinch-hit in the 10th. All right, let’s move on down the lineup card, to…
Top 13th, 8-8: …TANNER ROARK IS NOW PLAYING LEFT FIELD.
(Yes, that’s Syracuse starting pitcher Tanner Roark, with only me, you and Dupree still available.)
Of course, the inning endings with a fly ball to Roark, who catches it with the world’s widest smile on his face, and promptly airmails a fan in the seats asking for the ball.
Top 14th, 8-8: 1st and 2nd, one out, Jeff Mandel in…gee, I wonder if the ball’ll find the pitcher in left field again?
Bottom 14th, 9-8 Buffalo: All credit to Tony Beasley and Wally Backman by this point for not screwing up the lineup card. The Chiefs are set down 1-2-3 by Hefner, however, and that’s all she wrote, after 4 hours, 40 minutes, 462 pitches and one starting pitcher in left field. I’m tired just thinking about it.
3. Complete Domination
The complete-game shutout has gone the way of the dinosaur, basketball short shorts and Eddie Murphy’s acting career – a once-prominent standard, now essentially vanished from this earth. In fact, going into last season, the Chiefs hadn’t had a pitcher toss a complete-game shutout since Garrett Mock on June 22, 2009. And after the year’s first four months, there was more of a reason to expect a Coming to America sequel than a nine-inning, no-run game by an individual Syracuse hurler.
But on August 11, Zach Duke twirled a three-hit gem at Lehigh Valley, shutting out the IronPigs, 6-0. The soft-tossing left-hander was on fire, throwing first-pitch strikes to 15 consecutive batters at one point. It stood to reason that Duke’s performance would stand the test of 2012, frozen as the best Chiefs pitching performance of the season. Perhaps we’d even have another three-year gap in between complete-game shutouts.
As it turned out, we wouldn’t even go three weeks. Just 14 days later at Gwinnett, John Lannan turned the trick in a 1-0 win over the Braves. Lannan allowed just three hits and one walk, getting the shutout despite a mere two strikeouts.
That’s when things got really wacky. Mock to Duke took three years and two months. Duke to Lannan took two weeks. And Lannan to Jeff Mandel took 24 hours. The very next day – Mandel battled through 102 pitches to shut out the G-Braves on six hits in a 7-0 Chiefs win for his first ever nine-inning shutout. Fifteen days, three complete-game shutouts.
But Lannan had one more for the road. In his next start – his last of the season with Syracuse before a return to the major leagues – he provided the most memorable Syracuse pitching performance of the year. Lannan struck out a season-high 10 Knights and wriggled out of jam after jam, scattering eight hits in a 2-0 win. He threw an astonishing 122 pitches – a number that exceeded any other effort by a Chiefs starter this season.
Lannan’s early struggles this season were well-documented with Syracuse. He was roughed up in his first start and had a difficult couple of months after his very public trade demand following a demotion to Triple-A. But the Lannan we saw at the end of the season was the Lannan that’s been an Opening Day starter in the past for the Nationals. He’ll be across the division this year in Philadelphia – and if the end of 2012 is any indication, he’ll be a difficult task for Washington’s bats.
JB, I know this is more of a cumulative entry, but four complete games in a month? How could I leave that out?
Bryce Harper not in the top three? What is wrong with us? What could possibly be more interesting than a near-teenager who electrified the Major Leagues?
4. My Oh Maya
Yunesky Maya originally signed with the Nationals in 2010 for eight million dollars over four seasons. Because he was a Cuban defector, the amount of video on Maya wasn’t plentiful. Maya was such an enigma that there was extensive debate abut whether or not his name was spelled with an i. Some sources referred to him as Yuneski Maya. We quickly learned to spell his name with a y, but we’ve recently uncovered this long-ago-buried list of other rejected spellings which turned out to be relatives of his:
UNESCO Maya (His philanthropic brother-in-law)
Yuneskey Maya (His locksmith stepfather)
Yunesky Mayan (His South American cousin)
Soon-Yinesky Maya (His half-sister who married Woody Allen)
As you can see, it was quite difficult to determine exactly which person we were dealing with. And even when we figured out who he was, we didn’t exactly know what he was. Chiefs pitching coach Greg Booker told us that Maya had at least 12 pitches. He threw a typical fastball, curveball, slider and changeup, but threw each from varying arm angles, leading to more variety than your typical Laugh-In episode.
That grab bag of pitches was a negative at times, though, for Maya. Scouts felt that he didn’t rely enough on his fastball and threw too much “junk.” So, Booker made an effort this year to change that tendency. It clicked, it seemed, on a July night in Rochester.
The first 20 batters in the game for Rochester didn’t reach base. That means Maya went six innings and two-thirds without allowing a baserunner. He only threw to a third ball in the count twice in 20 batters. With two out, Chris Parmelee came to the plate.
Even though Parmelee homered, Maya finished eight innings and got the Chiefs the win. It was part of a five-game win streak for Maya.
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.