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30 in 30: A Chiefs Countdown to Opening Day – Day 1

If you looked at the title of this post and did a double take, I don’t blame you. How can baseball be 30 days away when it’s not even close to 30 degrees outside? For the love of Hank Sauer, it’s closer to -15 degrees than it is to 30. Negative 15!

And yet here we are just the same, with the good folks here in the offices of NBT Bank Stadium plugging away as we prepare for 2014 baseball in Syracuse. Every day from now until Wednesday, April 2nd, we’ll post here about something relating to the Chiefs’ upcoming season and the return of baseball in Syracuse. There’s no rhyme or reason for our selection of topics outside of “Chiefs” and “baseball”, so things might get a little wacky around here.

Today, Day 1, we’ll take a look at the new man in charge on the NBT Bank Stadium diamond…Chiefs manager Billy Gardner, Jr.

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After two seasons of Tony Beasley, Chiefs fans will soon learn to know a new managerial style. Billy Gardner joins the Chiefs after seven years at the helm of the Montgomery Biscuits, the Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. For more on that managerial style, and the new skipper’s background, I sat down with Billy at the team’s annual Hot Stove Dinner a few weeks ago…


Syracuse will be the 11th stop as manager for the well-traveled Gardner. The previous 10, in order:

  • Butte, Montana
  • Lowell, Massachusetts
  • Battle Creek, Michigan
  • Augusta, Georgia
  • Trenton, New Jersey
  • Sarasota, Florida
  • Wilmington, Delaware
  • Adelanto, California
  • Dayton, Ohio
  • Montgomery, Alabama

I’ve attempted to crudely link together those stops on one picture, thanks to my brilliant MS Paint skills. Behold!

Gardner travelsThe life of a minor-league manager, folks.

Tune in for Day 2 tomorrow on 30 in 30: A Chiefs Countdown to Opening Day. What’s next? Who knows? (Seriously, though. I actually have no idea what’s next. Your guess is as good as mine.)

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Have something you want to see or talk about on the blog? Hit us up on Twitter @ChiefsRadio – or shoot me a message at kbrown@syracusechiefs.com.

Kevin Brown

2013: A Chiefs Odyssey – #1

1. Bison Meat

I am NOT a negative person.

I feel the need to start off this final post of our “2013: A Chiefs Odyssey” series with this sentence, because of what I am about to do. I am about to pick a game where the Chiefs lost by 18 runs (eighteen runs!!!) as my most memorable Syracuse Chiefs moment of 2013. I am also, as astute readers may note, about to pick a Chiefs loss in my top three for the third straight year of this exercise. (In fairness to me, #1 in 2011 was a perfect game, and #2 last year was the turning point of the season and a 14-inning, seven-run-come-from-behind game in which Tanner Roark played left field.)

But, much like winning Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” does not mean you have to be a a good person, being selected as the most memorable moment of the Syracuse Chiefs’ 2013 does not mean that moment has to be a win. It’s most memorable, not most uplifting. And was anything more memorable than a game in which 36 runs were scored and where Buffalo had more hits and runs in a single game than any game in the previous 40+ years of International League baseball? Absolutely not.

Here are some of the things that happened during a wildly wind-aided game on April 18th, 2013:

  • Buffalo led 5-0 after one. Syracuse cut the lead to 5-4 after three. Buffalo led 10-4 after three-and-a-half. Syracuse cut it to 10-7 after five. Buffalo extended the lead to 13-9 after six. Then the Bisons scored 10 runs in the seventh. And, because why the heck not, four in the ninth.
  • Jim Negrych (2012 Chiefs All-Star) hit for the cycle. By the sixth inning.
  • Moises Sierra was 6 for 6, scored five runs and fell a home run short of the cycle.
  • Luis Jimenez drove in EIGHT runs.
  • Two of the first three Buffalo batters in the game tripled.
  • Ryan Langerhans scored five runs, homered twice and drove in six runs.
  • Josh Thole had four hits and four RBIs. As a reminder, all of these happened in the same game.
  • Andy LaRoche homered, scored three times and drove in three runs.
  • Every Chiefs player had a hit. Mike Costanzo and Chris Marrero homered.
  • The Chiefs didn’t use a position player, somehow, in a game where they allowed 27 runs.
  • Syracuse had a .390 on-base percentage and four extra-base hits in a game in which they lost by 18 runs.
  • Tanner Roark allowed 12 hits, one walk and 10 runs in 3.2 innings. He was removed from the starting rotation in the next go-around. His ERA jumped to 8.59, even though in one out of his previous two starts he threw six no-hit innings. From that point forward, he was arguably the best pitcher in the International League. I just don’t know how to explain any of this paragraph.
  • …oh, the wind was 19 mph out to left field. That might start to explain it. (The game definitely got windier and weirder as it went along.)

Once again: there were more hits and more runs for Buffalo in this game than for any team in the history of the International League over at least the last 40 years. I’ll never forget this game. It has to be #1 on this list, as the entirety of the day was a supreme odyssey.

And to close out the countdown, in case you’ve forgotten this game or want to re-relive it – here’s the glorious highlight reel. (Oh, also, the game was televised, so I was on the air by myself for all 36 runs, 43 hits and 3:41 of nine-inning baseball. Sorry in advance.)


That’s it and that’s all for our countdown of the 12 most memorable moments in 2013 Chiefs baseball. Enough for reminiscing – now it’s time to get ready for the 2014 year. More to come…

KB

2013: A Chiefs Odyssey – #2

2. Wal-koff

The Chiefs, as previously detailed, had a few memorable game-ending moments this year. There were Jimmy Van Ostrand’s walkoff hits in back-to-back home wins. There was Francisco Soriano’s shocking 14th-inning double to beat Columbus. There was even a walkoff relay to home plate in Pawtucket.

Were they all unforgettable endings? No doubt. But there’s nothing in baseball quite like a walkoff home run. The loud crack of the bat. The moment where the batter’s follow-through has finished and the entire stadium stands frozen in wait. The majesty of a baseball being shot higher and higher into the air, practically scraping the base of a cloud as if feverishly launched from a cannon. The tension of an outfielder pausing at the wall and determining whether or not he’ll make a leaping attempt. There’s something beautiful about the whole endeavor that transcends pure sport.

This type of poetic moment, however, had only occured once at NBT Bank Stadium since August 12, 2010, when Seth Bynum blasted off a game-winner in the 13th inning to nudge Columbus. And believe it or not, the one time it happened between that date in August 2010 and August 20, 2013 – the one time somebody ended a game in NBT Bank Stadium with a home run – it wasn’t by the Chiefs. It was against them. Remember this?


Yes, way back when in the good old days of 2012, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailR…no, sorry, they were still the Yankees…didn’t have a standing stadium and had to play all their games against Syracuse at NBT…no, wait, it was still Alliance Bank Stadium back then…and as such, had the final turn at bat in half of those games. So when Russell Branyan launched a ball halfway to Oswego, it meant the Chiefs were walked off upon in their own building.

But on August 20th of this past year, the Chiefs were the home team in their own park. That meant they got to bat in the bottom of the eighth, trailing Indianapolis 2-0 against former Yankees setup man Kyle Farnsworth. And that set the stage for this, from Danny Espinosa…


And this, from Chris Marrero…


Vic Black would retire Will Rhymes to end the threat and send the game to the ninth in a 2-2 tie. After former Indian Mike Crotta tossed a scoreless top of the inning, the Chiefs had a chance to win it with one swing. And who better to do that than the International League’s co-home run leader in 2013…Mr. Zach Walters?


Walters wouldn’t hit another home run in 2013. He certainly went out with a bang. I talked about the night a bit more in my postgame wrap-up afterward:


It was a truly magical night by baseball standards – the most magical of the Chiefs’ season in 2013…but it wasn’t the most memorable Syracuse baseball moment of 2013. Why not?

Find out on Monday. We’ll see you then.

2013: A Chiefs Odyssey – #3

3. Won on the Fourth of July

2013 was an odd season for Danny Espinosa. There are probably a few other words that can be thrown into that spot between “as” and “season”, but “odd” makes plenty of sense, as Espinosa’s 2013 deviated sharply from the baseline level the Nationals had come to expect. After posting near-league-average offensive numbers in his first two-plus major-league seasons, Espinosa got out to a difficult offensive start in 2013, posting a .158 average and 27 OPS+ in 44 games with Washington, hampered in part by a few injuries.

The Nationals optioned Espinosa to Syracuse in early June, and he stayed with the Chiefs the rest of the year. His first 20 games were a tough adjustment, with Espinosa posting an .088 average and 34 strikeouts while trying to get over a fractured right wrist. But in a Fourth of July doubleheader, he sprung to life. In the opener, Espinosa singled and walked in a 7-4 win. But it was the nightcap where the second baseman shot forth with what would be the highlight of his season with the Chiefs.

In front of nearly 9,000 fans, the Chiefs took the field for a 7:55 first pitch in Game Two on Independence Day. They found themselves down two runs at the end of a half-inning, but the deficit wouldn’t last long. Espinosa’s bunt single after a Jeff Kobernus hit-by-pitch and steal helped spark a two-run rally, evening the score. He’d help bring the next run home, as well – down 5-2 in the sixth of a seven-inning game, Espinosa slammed a leadoff double against former Chief Mike MacDougal and eventually scored on a wild pitch. Syracuse, though, still trailed by two runs heading into the final frame, with IronPigs right-hander Justin Friend on the mound. What followed would mark one of three Syracuse wins on the year in which the Chiefs trailed heading into their final turn at bat.

Mike Costanzo – the phormer Phillies pharmhand – greeted Friend with a solo home run to right field. 5-4. Kris Watts singled, Josh Johnson bunted him over. Tying run at second. Chris Rahl came in to pinch-run. Will Rhymes stepped up to pinch-hit. Friend walked him. First and second. Jeff Kobernus walked. Bases loaded, one out, one-run game, Espinosa at the plate…and…


That one didn’t require Danny to do anything but stand there. The next pitch, however, did.


Fireworks before the fireworks. Espinosa would follow with a two-hit game and a three-hit game immediately after in what became an up-and-down year in Syracuse. He’s expected to have a good chance to win an infield role for the Nationals in 2014 if healthy and may never come to Syracuse again. But we’ll always have the Fourth of July 2013 – a day where Espinosa’s swing was rewarded with some much-needed freedom.

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.

2013: A Chiefs Odyssey – #5

Welcome back to “2013: A Chiefs Odyssey” – a countdown of our 12 most memorable moments of Syracuse’s 2013 season. Hope you all had a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Festive Festivus, etc…here’s the fifth-most memorable moment of the year, as chosen by our committee of one.

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5. The Cisco Kid

Winning is nice in the minor leagues – but make no mistake, it’s a clear second to development. Major-league franchises will take improvement over victories at the minor-league level every day of the week. That means not every minor-league promotion is a merit-based one – if a player’s sent up to Washington, you’ll often get a random minor-leaguer just to plug a hole for a couple of days, rather than uproot a pivotal part of Double-A Harrisburg’s roster and mess with development.

That was the situation on May 11th, when the Nationals called up Eury Perez to replace injured outfielder Jayson Werth, and Washington gave the Chiefs in return a little-known outfielder named Francisco Soriano from Advanced-A Potomac. Soriano, a 26-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, hit just .209 in 72 Potomac games…a full two levels below Syracuse. He began his Syracuse tenure innocuously enough, pinch-hitting in a 14-1 loss to Norfolk on May 12th before pinch-running for Chris Marrero the following night. The chances of Soriano getting a meaningful at-bat seemed slim to none – and slim had one foot planted on the doorway.

No, no...not this kind of "slim"...

No, no…not this kind of “slim”…

 

But the following night, May 14th, the Chiefs rallied for four runs in the seventh inning against Columbus to tie the game at five, and Soriano suddenly found himself in a pivotal position, replacing Micah Owings in left field for the top of the 10th. He’d come to bat twice in the coming innings, striking out in both the 10th and 12th frames, but Syracuse’s pitching held up its end of the bargain – sending a scoreless game deep into the night, with the 5-5 scoreline holding still into the 14th. A one-out Will Rhymes single was sandwiched in between a pair of harmless flyouts, with Soriano all that stood between the Chiefs, Clippers and a 15th (!) inning of baseball. Surely, punishing left-hander Scott Barnes would have no issue with the Triple-A newbie…but a funny thing happened on the way to “surely”.


Soriano would end the season 4 for 15 with the Chiefs after playing in just four more games with Syracuse before a return to Potomac. Who knows if he makes it to Syracuse again? Either way, he provided the unexpected memory of a lifetime – one that I’ll certainly never forget in terms of the Chiefs’ 2013 season.

#4 will come by later this week. Happy New Year, everyone!

2013: A Chiefs Odyssey – #6

Welcome back to “2013: A Chiefs Odyssey” – a countdown of our 12 most memorable moments of Syracuse’s 2013 season. Yesterday’s entry detailed a pair of weekend shutouts. Today’s entry features a few more runs, but also details two separate games…

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6. If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Harold Camping's words to live by.

Harold Camping’s words to live by.

There’s been a ton of e-ink spilled recently in the debate over whether or not “clutch hitting” is a skill that exists. It seems like certain players rise in the clutch, but the statistical evidence to support such a claim is indefinite. Sometimes, it’s simply about the volume of opportunities a player gets – if you don’t bat in the ninth, you can’t win the game on a walkoff. (Yes, duh.)

Is Jimmy Van Ostrand, then, a “clutch” hitter? Was he “clutch” last year? Or did he just happen to come up in big situations? If you all may allow me to answer my questions with a question, well – who the heck knows? Either way, Van Ostrand played in just 21 games for the Chiefs last year, but stepped up with two memorable moments just nine days apart.

On April 14th, Van Ostrand sat on the bench while the Chiefs dropped a 5-2 decision to Lehigh Valley in game one of a doubleheader. In the second game, the former Team Canada Olympian got the start at third base and saw the Chiefs jump out to an early 2-0 lead. Lehigh Valley, however, would end up tying the game while down to its final out in the seventh inning, with a Steve Lerud single off of Erik Davis evening the score at two. In extra innings (shocking that a Chiefs game would make it there, I know), Syracuse struck. Jeff Kobernus opened the bottom of the eighth inning with a single, advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt, stole third and stayed put as Chris Marrero and Mike Costanzo walked. After a Zach Walters force out, Van Ostrand punched a single into center field, giving the Chiefs their first walkoff win of the year.

It didn’t do much for the concept of “momentum” in baseball, though. That game stood as the Chiefs’ lone home win until April 23rd, with Syracuse dropping the other two games against Lehigh Valley and four straight versus Buffalo en route to a 1-6 home record heading into a series against Rochester. And that game – surprise! – went into extra innings as well, with the Chiefs coming back from an early 5-0 deficit to tie the game in the eighth.

Once more, Van Ostrand had a chance to be the hero. Ninth inning, 6-6, runner on second, two outs…a chance to be the hero!

…and Van Ostrand flied out to center field.

The Red Wings responded with an 11th-inning run, and two outs in the bottom of the inning later, all hope seemed lost for the Chiefs. But after a Mike Costanzo walk, Will Rhymes drilled a triple into the right-field corner, scoring Costanzo all the way from first to tie the game once more. And after Micah Owings was intentionally walked, Van Ostrand stepped to the plate with another chance to claim victory!

…and he grounded out to first.

The baseball gods, however, would not let this one by decided a mere mortal – and in the 13th, once more, the baseball Hercules found himself at the center of the action once again. A bunt single, a sac bunt + error, a sac bunt, an intentional walk, and the bases were loaded with one out against Mike O’Connor, with Van Ostrand – who was, by the way, 0 for 6 at this point – had a chance to win, again…


Thus concluded perhaps the most spectacular 1-for-7 day in Chiefs history, giving Syracuse two home wins – both of which featured Van Ostrand walkoffs. He’d play just seven more Syracuse games, spending the rest of the season in Double-A Harrisburg, but he left an unforgettable mark behind.

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Next week, we begin the Top Five moments from the Chiefs’ 2013 season. It’s been fun seeing your responses so far – keep them coming here on the blog, @ChiefsRadio or at my email address, kbrown@syracusechiefs.com.

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.

2013: A Chiefs Odyssey – #8

Welcome back to “2013: A Chiefs Odyssey” – a countdown of our 12 most memorable moments of Syracuse’s 2013 season. Last week ended with our recap of the Chiefs’ wild suspended game at – and versus – Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, found here. On to #8…

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8. Sweep Dreams in Indy

With degree of difficulty factored in, you could make a case that July 26 through July 29 was the best four-game stretch of the Chiefs’ season, with Syracuse traveling to I.L.-best Indianapolis. The Chiefs were 45-59 and 4-4 since the All-Star Break. The Indians were 63-44 and playoff locks. But one day after the season’s longest bus ride, Syracuse turned into I.L. juggernauts, with a combination of unforgettable moments throughout the four games.

Friday: Chiefs 5, Indians 2

Ryan Tatusko had never pitched a minor-league game this close to his home state of Noblesville, Indiana. He had practically an entire section of the ballpark devoted to his friends and family. Did it faze him? At first, it sure seemed that way – Tatusko surrendered a two-run blast to Andrew Lambo in the second inning, putting the Indians ahead 2-1. But from that point on, it was road, sweet home for the right-hander, who tossed six innings without any further damage. The offensive star? Third baseman Zach Walters, who finished a double shy of the cycle in a 4-4 performance that included this…


Saturday: Chiefs 7, Indians 5 (10 innings)

Left-hander and I.L. All-Star Kris Johnson shut down Syracuse’s offense for seven innings, with Indianapolis taking a 5-1 lead into the eighth inning. That’s when the wheels fell off…


Brown’s two-out, two-strike, three-run home run off of Ryan Reid (ERA after the long ball: 1.43) sliced the deficit to one run. In the ninth, Walters – pinch-hitting after feeling under the weather to start the day – doubled with one out. Two batters later, Jeff Kobernus snuck a two-out single through the middle, and Erik Davis escaped a first-and-third, one-out jam in the bottom of the inning to send the game to extras. The final hero? Soon-to-be-Indian Kelly Shoppach, who drove in Brown in the 10th with the winning run – Shoppach’s final at-bat as a Chief before the Nationals released him and the Pirates signed him and assigned him to Indianapolis.

Sunday: Chiefs 2, Indians 1

The most pitches thrown by a Syracuse hurler in 2013? Tanner Roark, with 124 tosses in seven-and-two-thirds scoreless innings here, in a prelude to Roark’s late-season big-league success. We didn’t know why Roark was stretched so far out in the game – it made sense soon thereafter, with Roark throwing just one more start before a well-deserved promotion to Washington. Indy made it interesting in the ninth, putting across one run against Mike Crotta and getting Felix Pie to third base with two outs, but a force out preserved a third straight Syracuse win at Victory Field.

Monday: Chiefs 9, Indians 8

The Cliff Notes version: 3-0 Chiefs after three. 7-0 Chiefs after four. 7-3 Chiefs after six. 7-7 tie after seven. 9-8 after nine. 28 hits, five errors. The long read: Tyler Moore doubled, homered twice and drove in six runs – with this solo homer in the ninth giving the Chiefs the lead for good.


Zach Walters tripled and singled to cap off a 9 for 14 series. The Chiefs finished off their first four-game sweep of Indianapolis since…who knows? A beautiful series in a beautiful ballpark.

2013: A Chiefs Odyssey – #9

Welcome back to “2013: A Chiefs Odyssey” – a countdown of our 12 most memorable moments of Syracuse’s 2013 season. Moment #10 can be found here. Today: the ninth-most memorable moment of last year’s rain-soaked campaign…

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9. The Stefon Game

When Bill Hader stepped down as one of the primary cast members on Saturday Night Live at the end of last season, it signaled the end of an era – not only of one of the show’s funniest and most versatile actors, but of one of the show’s most memorable characters ever – Stefon, a bizarrely flamboyant “New York City correspondent” who associates himself with the most bizarre phrases and people imaginable, such as Snoozin Lucci, DJ Baby Bok Choy, Jewish Dracula Sidney Applebaum and a bulldog who looks like Wilford Brimley. (And those are some of the tamer ones.)

That's Stefon on the left, with Weekend Update anchor and apple-of-Stefon's-eye Seth Meyers on the right.

That’s Stefon on the left, with Weekend Update anchor and apple-of-Stefon’s-eye Seth Meyers on the right.

Stefon’s appearances always featured a nonsensical listing of things featured in his preferred clubs, which followed the phrase “this place has everything”. In that way, I think of July 12, 2013 as the Chiefs’ version of a Stefon bit. For a 2013 Chiefs contest, this game had everything: rain, extra innings, late leads lost, games deep into the night…and they even played at two separate stadiums!

July 12th was the start of the game, at least, with the Chiefs wrapping up their season series at the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders’ PNC Field. Early on, it didn’t seem like we were headed for an out-of-the-ordinary finish, with Syracuse staking its claim to a big offensive lead, thanks in part to a fifth-inning explosion…


…but a win wouldn’t be that easy. The RailRiders shaved the deficit to one after a four-run sixth and evened the score one inning later, thanks to Fernando Martinez…


With 12 runs through the first seven innings, a betting man might figure the Chiefs and RailRiders weren’t long for at least one more score.  Reason #147 you should never gamble. 6-6 we stayed into the eighth, and 6-6 we remained through a tense but scoreless ninth, with Erik Davis stranding a pair of RailRiders. A long-foreshadowed rain made its presence known at the beginning of a soon-to-be-scoreless 10th, with a soggy 11th also wielding no runs.

(Perhaps the luckiest guy during all this weather? Infielder Zach Walters, ejected by home-plate umpire A.J. Johnson in the third inning for arguing balls and strikes and promptly got to have a roof over his head for the remainder of the night. Just call him the Oracle.)

That's Zach on the left.

That’s Zach on the left.

After the scoreless 11th, PNC Field resembled the Everglades, with trees and alligators replaced by a mountain and a giant moose mascot. The infield mud could take no more, and the game was suspended after 11 innings with no victor. Of course, this being the Chiefs’ final game at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2013, the teams were forced to partake in a familiar scenario from 2012 – a RailRiders home game completed in Syracuse. Yes, one year after the nomadic Scranton campaign, the Triple-A Yankees would bat in the home position, for at least a pair of innings.

On August 6th, with five new position players in their lineup, the RailRiders took the field and took the win on an eventual 13th-inning walkoff single by Alberto Gonzalez (not on the July 12th roster) to score Melky Mesa (not on the July 12th active roster)  at NBT Bank Stadium (not the July 12th game site). 7-6, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, was all she wrote – “she”, of course, being narcoleptic club owner Snoozin Lucci.

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Kevin Brown
kbrown@syracusechiefs.com
@ChiefsRadio

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