2015: A Chiefs Odyssey – Kevin’s #3

Eric, I think the fans wanted more overlap…

3. Cardiac Chiefs

Tony Gwynn, Jr. came up with big hit after big hit for the Chiefs last season. (Syracuse Chiefs)

Tony Gwynn, Jr. came up with big hit after big hit for the Chiefs last season. (Syracuse Chiefs)

There wasn’t a more thrilling finish than the Chiefs’ comeback last Thursday, July 30th. Syracuse, as Eric detailed yesterday, scored four runs in the ninth to erase a 4-0 deficit, with Trea Turner’s two-run single, Tony Gwynn’s RBI single and Matt Skole’s RBI double sending the game to extra innings. A ground-ball RBI single from Steve Lerud in the 10th sealed the deal.

That ending was even wackier, though, when you break it down. So let’s break it down…

  • That comeback would have been significantly easier if the Chiefs hadn’t coughed up a pair in the top of the ninth. Right-hander Paul Demny entered in a 2-0 game and struggled through a 28-pitch inning. With two outs and the bases loaded, eventual I.L. MVP Matt Hague served a two-run single into center field, doubling the Bisons’ lead.
  • The bottom of the ninth started in bizarre fashion. With Chamberlain on in relief, Caleb Ramsey hit a chopper to Hague at first base. What should have been a routine out turned into an infield single when Chamberlain ambled over to the base, causing first-base umpire Doug Vines to call Ramsey safe. However…replays showed Ramsey was, while close, clearly out. Chamberlain’s foot beat him to the bag. The improbable rally, as it turns out, began on a blown call.
    • Side note: Buffalo manager Gary Allenson likely would have blown a gasket after the call; however, he’d already blown his share of gaskets. Allenson was ejected arguing a line-drive double play in the sixth inning, claiming that first baseman Matt Skole’s foot came off the bag before he received a throw. Ironically, video replays showed that Allenson was wrong on this account – Skole stuck to the base for just enough time.
      Okay, back to the ninth…
  • After Ramsey’s controversial infield single, Josh Johnson grounded a ball off Chamberlain that bounced to the third-base side for another infield single. The Bisons’ staff came out to check on Chamberlain afterward. He stayed in the game to face Steve Lerud…
  • …who nearly extended the rally. Lerud hit a blooper down the left-field line, but Dalton Pompey raced in to make a nifty sliding catch, stealing a hit from the Chiefs. It felt like a backbreaker at the time.
  • Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. Darin Mastroianni singled to load the bases. That led to a visit to the mound from Bisons pitching coach Randy St. Clair. Why it didn’t propel Chamberlain’s ouster, we still don’t know…
  • …but Joba stuck around long enough to allow a two-run single to Trea Turner. That marked the end of Chamberlain’s night. Bizarrely, the Bisons let him throw 27 pitches, several of them high-stress, in his third game in four days after being signed from the free-agent wire. Even more bizarrely, on Chamberlain’s way off the field, he walked over to first base and began a conversation with Turner that lasted a full 44 seconds. Steve Grilli, our TV analyst that night, said that was “something I’d never seen in baseball”. (Turner told me after the fact that Chamberlain was asking him how his pitches looked. He’d never seen that, either.)
  • Back to the game…Bobby Korecky, in the midst of a difficult season, took over for Chamberlain and faced Jason Martinson. With the count 2 and 2, Korecky fired a fastball generously above the belt… that plate umpire Jansen Visconti signaled to be strike three. Grilli, on the broadcast, described it as “borderline at best”.
  • That put the game in the hands of Gwynn, Jr. Here’s another forgotten moment of the inning – Gwynn wasn’t in the game until the eighth. He pinch-ran for cleanup hitter Kevin Keyes in the previous inning. Fresh off the bench, Gwynn worked the at-bat of the night. He fouled off three two-strike pitches and, on the ninth offering from Korecky, served the table-setting single into center field.
  • That set the stage for Skole’s tying double, with Gwynn thrown out at home on a perfect relay by right fielder Ty Kelly and second baseman Jon Berti. The Chiefs had roared back to life, however, and a 1-2-3, two-strikeout 10th from Rafael Martin sent the game into the bottom, where Lerud was the hero.
Steve Lerud's third hit of the night on July 30th was the game-winner. (Syracuse.com | Gary Watts)

Steve Lerud’s third hit of the night on July 30th was the game-winner. (Syracuse.com | Gary Watts)

Here’s the TL;DR version; top-of-inning struggle, blown call (which manager didn’t argue because he was ejected for arguing an actually correct call), ground ball off pitcher, injury mound visit, sliding catch, pitcher hung out to dry, 44-second chat between departing pitcher and batter who just recorded a hit off him, bad third-strike call, nine-pitch last-gasp single in player’s first at-bat, perfect relay to the plate. Oh, and five runs for the comeback of the year, somewhere in there.

Not bad for a Thursday night.

2015: A Chiefs Odyssey – Eric’s #4

4. Rudy, Rudy

Steve Lerud got the gatorade bath after the Chiefs come from behind 5-4 win on July 30th (Jeff Irizarry)

Steve Lerud got the gatorade bath after the Chiefs come from behind 5-4 win on July 30th (Jeff Irizarry)

If one theme has come out of my selections for this list, it is that the 2015 Chiefs were the Comeback Chiefs, whether it was a cold April afternoon or the final at-bat of the season. There were plenty of great comebacks to choose from, but the best comeback, to me, is an easy choice.

Really, the entire four-game series against Buffalo July 27th-30th was one of the most memorable of the season. Stephen Strasburg made his first of two rehab starts with Syracuse during the series. Miguel Castro and Daniel Norris each made their final appearance with the Blue Jays organization before being dealt as part trades for David Price and Troy Tulowitzki that helped lead Toronto to the A.L. East title. And finally, former Yankee Joba Chamberlain suited up for Buffalo for the first time, trying to work his way back to the majors.

Job Chamberlin made three appearances against the Chiefs in July 2015 (Courtesy William Chase/27 Outs Baseball)

Job Chamberlain made three appearances against the Chiefs in July 2015 (Courtesy William Chase/27 Outs Baseball)

Chamberlain threw an inning on July 27th and 29th, tallying four strikeouts and a save in two hitless frames. Frankly, he was outstanding. But in his third outing of the series, that all changed.

The game started as a pitchers duel between Taylor Jordan for the Chiefs and Todd Redmond for the Bisons. Jordan threw six shutout innings before Buffalo scored two runs in the seventh and two in the top of the ninth inning to take a 4-0 lead.

Redmond combined with four other Bisons to shutout the Chiefs through eight innings of six-hit ball. Chamberlain came on in the bottom of the ninth to try and close out the game. And once again, the Chiefs took a somewhat hopeless looking situation and turned it into one of the great comebacks of the year. After Syracuse loaded the bases with one out, the comeback was on…

 

Joba would depart the game for Bobby Korecky, but the drama didn’t end there…

 

Not the first time a game went to extras when the potential winning run was cut down at the plate (more on that next week). On to the tenth we went, and after Rafael Martin shut down the Bisons in the top of the tenth, the never-say-die Chiefs turned to Steve Lerud with one out and two on.

 

The Comeback Chiefs did it again.

 

2015: A Chiefs Odyssey – Kevin’s #4

4. The Trea Hey Kid

Imagine you’re an accountant. You graduate college in May with an accounting degree from a prestigious university. Next thing you know, you’re on the fast track, hired by a firm in June. You get right to work and immediately start moving up the corporate ladder.

Suddenly, in December, your boss calls you in. There’s a related firm across the country that wants your services. They’ve decided to take you on, but they won’t have space until the following June – so, you’ll stay at your current firm, which no longer requires your services, for an additional half-year. Oh, and, you have no say in this matter.

Got it? Now you might understand Trea Turner’s 2015 a little better – and understand just how impressive it was.

Trea Turner didn't join the Chiefs until late June. (Syracuse Chiefs)

Trea Turner didn’t join the Chiefs until late June. (Syracuse Chiefs)

Turner starred at N.C. State before being selected by San Diego with the 13th pick in the 2014 draft. It didn’t take long for Turner to, well, turn heads with his play – he hit .369 in 46 games with Class-A Fort Wayne after an early promotion. Turner seemed like a large part of the Padres’ future – a young infielder with world-class speed, a strong bat and good instincts.

In the blink of an eye, that changed. On December 19, 2014, Turner was traded to the Nationals in a three-team, 10-player deal – except, he wasn’t. Because of a decades-old rule forbidding players from being traded within one year of their draft selection, Turner was technically a “player to be named later”. He couldn’t report to the Nationals until the second week of June.

Thus begun baseball’s oddest standoff. Everyone knew Turner was headed to Washington, but nobody could do anything about it. His agent talked about filing a grievance, but the rule didn’t change until after the fact. Turner reported to Padres camp and ended up in Double-A San Antonio. Here’s where both Turner and the Padres deserve credit – from Trea’s perspective, he didn’t sulk. He showed up, went to work, and delivered, sporting a .322/.385/.471 line in 58 Double-A games. The Padres, meanwhile, who had nothing at all to gain, slotted Turner into the middle of the San Antonio lineup and made him an integral part of their organization during his brief time there.

Eventually, Turner made his way to Syracuse in late June, coming over after a 10-game stint with Harrisburg. Eric covered his early struggles and first home run a couple of weeks ago, so I’d like to cover the overall impact Turner had on the Chiefs here. This isn’t a memorable “moment”, per se, but a collection of items on why Turner’s impact stands out as one of the defining memories of last season…

  • Turner’s first Chiefs game was June 26th. His last of the year was August 19th. In that time span, the Chiefs went 30-22. Before his arrival, the team was 26-48.
  • Between August 3rd and August 14th, the Chiefs won a season-high 11 games in a row, the most for the franchise in decades. In that span, Turner hit .318 and went 5-for-5 in stolen bases, playing in 10 of the 11 wins.
  • In just 48 games, Turner had three triples and 14 steals. He may have been the fastest runner in the league. In fact, during his major-league cup of coffee, he may have been the fastest man in the bigs.
  • Once Turner snapped his 0-for-18 streak to begin his Syracuse career, he began an immediate 13-game hit streak. In total, he reached base in 39 of 45 starts with the Chiefs.
In under two months, Trea Turner picked up 17 multi-hit games with the Chiefs. (Bill Gentry | Indianapolis Indians)

In under two months, Trea Turner picked up 17 multi-hit games with the Chiefs. (Bill Gentry | Indianapolis Indians)

All told, Turner’s impact wasn’t measurable simply by statistics. The burst of energy, youth and speed he gave the Chiefs seemed to resonate throughout the team. It culminated in a major-league call up in late August. That doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of Turner, who might find himself in a starting Syracuse role rather than straddling the Nationals’ bench – but it’ll be hard to top that first impression.

Time for more overlap, Eric?

2015: A Chiefs Odyssey – Eric’s #5

So much for not overlapping…

5. Syracuse’s Favorite Summer Holiday: Strasmas

Stephen Strasburg made two rehab starts with the Chiefs in 2015 (Syracuse Chiefs)

Stephen Strasburg made two rehab starts with the Chiefs in 2015 (Syracuse Chiefs)

“When baseball’s amateur draft begins Tuesday night, Stephen Strasburg, a right-handed pitcher from San Diego State, is expected to be taken by the Washington Nationals with the first pick. This is because going any earlier than first would require a pretty nifty reversal of time-space, the only power with which Strasburg’s 102-mile-per-hour fastball has not yet been credited.”

That is how the June 6, 2009 New York Times article began on that year’s draft and the would be #1 pick. Pick your superlative, it was attached to the hard-throwing right hander. Syracuse got to be a part of Strasburg’s meteoric and unprecedented rise through the Nats system back in 2010, when he was routinely known as the best pitching prospect ever. But when Strasburg returned to Syracuse in July of 2015, the viewpoint around Washington and baseball was not of someone who had lived up to that hype, but as someone who we weren’t quite sure of where he fit in the Nats rotation going forward. Kevin already outlined the specifics of Strasburg’s two Syracuse outings. But what made both starts fascinating was that taken together, they illustrated a microcosm of his season and in some ways his career.

Strasburg had spent time on the disabled list twice in 2015 before taking the NBT Bank Stadium mound in late July. He had posted a sub-par 5.15 ERA in 13 starts early in the season. And in that first start he just seemed off, even committing a bases-loaded balk in four innings of three-run, four-hit ball.

But then five days later, Strasburg was brilliant. He struck out 11 in five and two-thirds innings, a performance reminding us all who was out there. Sure he may not be the best pitcher ever. But as Strasburg left the mound after that second start the message was clear. I’m still Stephen Strasburg and I’m still about as good as any pitcher in baseball. The results the rest of the year in Washington certainly proved that, as Strasburg posted a 2.09 ERA in his final 9 starts of the year.

Once again, a trip through Syracuse played a part of a Stephen Strasburg season.

2015: A Chiefs Odyssey – Kevin’s #5

5. Stephen-11

Stephen Strasburg sent a jolt into the Chiefs' rotation for one superb start in August last year. (Herm Card)

Stephen Strasburg sent a jolt into the Chiefs’ rotation for one superb start last August. (Herm Card)

Year by year, some of the shine has eroded from Stephen Strasburg. I find this to be simultaneously fair and unfair. It’s fair to the extent that Stephen Strasburg is not the single greatest pitcher on the planet Earth, which seemed to be the universal expectation even before Strasburg was the #1 pick of the Nationals in 2009. It’s unfair because Stephen Strasburg has, in six professional years, pitched to the tune of a 3.09 ERA and 2.83 FIP while striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings and allowing just 7.6 hits per nine.

Objectively, Stephen Strasburg has been better than just about everyone on Earth over the past six, or four, or two years at effectively throwing a baseball. Maybe he’s not The Biggest Deal anymore, but he’s still A Big Deal. So when Strasburg returned to Syracuse for a pair of rehab starts this summer, NBT Bank Stadium wasn’t packed to the gills as in 2010, when a fresh-faced 21-year-old took the International League by storm. There was, however, certainly still a buzz in the yard last summer, when Strasburg made a pair of rehab starts for Syracuse while recovering from a left oblique injury.

The first of those starts, on July 29th vs. Buffalo, wasn’t particularly memorable. The most noteworthy moment could qualify for the oddest of the season, when Strasburg simply stepped off the mound mid-windup and committed a bases-loaded balk in the second inning. In total, Strasburg allowed four hits and three runs in four innings in that game.

His second and final rehab start, however, was – can you use the term “vintage” for a 27-year-old? – vintage Strasburg. On August 3rd, a set-to-be-stretched-out Strasburg took the mound vs. the Pawtucket Red Sox. He wasted little time in establishing his dominance…

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 1.30.37 PM

The Ks continued. Two more in the second. Two in the third. Two in a perfect fourth. One more in the fifth.

In the sixth, when Strasburg punched out former Chief Sandy Leon for the third consecutive time, that was that. The final tally: five and two-thirds innings, five hits, two earned runs, zero walks and 11 strikeouts. No Chiefs pitcher struck out as many in a game all season.

After Strasburg's two rehab starts, he returned to Washington and posted a 1.90 ERA in his final 10 starts, striking out 92 in 66.1 innings. (Herm Card)

After Strasburg’s two rehab starts, he returned to Washington and posted a 1.90 ERA in his final 10 starts, striking out 92 in 66.1 innings. (Herm Card)

Strasburg may not be Sandy Koufax. He may not be Walter Johnson. He may not be Greg Maddux. But being Stephen Strasburg is pretty darned good. And getting an in-person reminder of that, for an early August night, was thrilling.

Oh, and, one more note…that game, coincidentally or not, kickstarted the Chiefs’ longest winning streak in decades – which I’m certain we’ll be hearing more about in the days to come…

2015: A Chiefs Odyssey – Eric’s #6

In fact, I’ll pick up right where you left off…

6. The Comeback Chiefs Do It One More Time

The 2015 Syracuse Chiefs were fighters. I mentioned it in my #10 moment, and its been a theme of this look back so far. The Chiefs were in no way the best team in the I.L. in 2015, but you’d be hard pressed to find a group that fought back as many times as Syracuse did. That credo was on display so many times, but maybe never more than during that last game of the season.

Emmanuel Burriss' Chiefs career was capped with a season finale walk-off.

Emmanuel Burriss’ Chiefs career was capped with a season finale walk-off (Jeff Irizarry)

The Chiefs-RailRiders season-finale (as Kevin so eloquently described yesterday), was nothing more than formality. The only thing left to officially decide in the I.L. playoff picture was whether the RailRiders would be headed to Columbus or Indianapolis for their first-round playoff series (it would be Indy). The last day of the season is notorious for being one of the fastest games of the season, with a lot of first-pitch swings and short counts. But as the game rolled along, neither team played that way. In a lot of ways it was a game played for the love of the game.

By the bottom of the eighth, I was already out of the radio booth and headed to the camera well adjoining the Chiefs third-base dugout. Syracuse led 3-2 into the ninth (after coming back from a 2-1 deficit two innings earlier), and Juan Gutierrez was on the mound trying to close it out. I was in my customary position ready for a final on-field interview after the last out. But the game did not end quickly.

Scranton skipper Dave Miley still had a few tricks up his sleeve in what would end up being his final regular season game in an 10-year stint as the Yankees Triple-A manager (9 with SWB). Miley pinch-hit Kyle Roller, who singled, then pinch-ran Ben Gamel, two starters who were resting that day before the playoff run. After a walk, Ali Castillo drove home his third run to square the game at three.

With the potential for a Chiefs rally possible at any point in the ninth (and then in extra innings), I stayed down on field level, watching the last three innings from a fan’s perspective. This is something baseball announcers rarely get to do for their team as we’re obviously a little busy upstairs during the game. The idea is to be down there for a limited time with the game’s conclusion impending, but on this day the game simply would not end.

In the bottom of the ninth, and top and bottom halves of the tenth, each team would put runners on but could not score. What was noteworthy though, is that Burriss was inserted into the game as a pinch runner in the tenth. And he would prove hero soon enough.

The RailRiders took the lead in the eleventh against Connor Overton on Castillo’s fourth RBI hit of the game. Overton had not thrown an inning above Low-A ball in his life before his emergency call up from near-by Auburn. But Overton fought his way through that inning, striking out Aaron Judge and Rob Segedin in impressive fashion to end the frame and keep the deficit at just one.

It would have been so easy for the Chiefs to just go down quickly in the 11th and the long day and long season would be over. But that just wasn’t the way the 2015 Chiefs did things.

Syracuse had runners on first and second with two outs in the 11th, and Miley, somewhat oddly, made a pitching change and brought in Andury Acevedo. Acevedo did not get an out. In fact he barely threw a strike. He walked Scott Sizemore on six pitches to load the bases and Jason Martinson on four pitches to bring in the tying run. Then it was time for Manny, who singled to right-center field on the third pitch, winning the game and ending the season in such a special way.

The Chiefs celebrate their season-finale walk-off win (Courtesy Erin Locascio/27 Outs Baseball)

The Chiefs celebrate their season-finale walk-off win (Courtesy Erin Locascio/27 Outs Baseball)

When I found Manny in the celebration and brought him over for the interview, you could see the pure and true joy on his face, and all of his teammates faces. I am usually pretty good at avoiding the gatorade bath, but Manny grabbed me as the guys came out with the bucket and made sure I couldn’t escape this one. It was a special moment personally and full-circle way to cap off my first Triple-A season.

Sometimes when you are in the grind of a season, it’s easy to lose sight of what baseball means to people. That last game meant absolutely nothing in the standings, but it was the farthest thing from meaningless. Being down in the stands that afternoon and getting to watch the last three innings play out with the Chiefs’ loyal brethren, it illustrated what baseball is all about. Folks on the edge of their seat the whole way through extras. The Chiefs not giving in and fighting all the way to the end meant the world to people there. And then seeing not relief that the game was over on the players faces, but pure joy and emotion is something that shouldn’t go unnoticed. That was the DNA of the 2015 Chiefs. That’s why we love baseball. It’s a day I’ll remember for a long time.

2015: A Chiefs Odyssey – Kevin’s #6

6. Manny B. Good

Manny Burriss dazzled at the plate and in the field in his two years with the Chiefs. (Rick Nelson)

Manny Burriss dazzled at the plate and in the field in his two years with the Chiefs. (Rick Nelson)

Emmanuel Burriss was the bedrock of the Chiefs the last two seasons. He didn’t play much in the majors. He didn’t win the league MVP, like Steven Souza, Jr. in 2014. He didn’t even make an All-Star team. I’ll argue, however, that there was no more important Chief than Burriss, on and off the field. He anchored the team’s infield at shortstop and second base. He surged to career-best offensive years and power numbers under hitting coach Joe Dillon. Off the field, Burriss was everybody’s friend – just look at the way he jokingly eased Kevin Keyes and Ricky Hague into Triple-A.

My most memorable Manny moment comes from 2014. After the Chiefs clinched their first division title in decades, I trekked down to the Pawtucket clubhouse to watch the celebration. Not two minutes later, I found myself dragged into the middle of the maelstrom by Burriss and Josh Johnson, doused with beer and sprayed in the face with champagne. It was exhilarating in the moment – and unfortunate in the aftermath. I had little in the way of extra clothing and a five-hour drive through the night to Syracuse ahead of me.

Thankfully, Manny turned from playful aggressor to helping hand. He loaned me a pair of his socks for the ride back. Funny thing about that – they’re the highest socks I’ve ever worn. These socks reached literally halfway up my knees. So my clothing combination was a mixture of a T-shirt and shorts from the night before, a gray fleece, sneakers and the world’s highest hosiery. (Needless to say, I let my girlfriend grab snacks inside the gas station on the way back. I stayed anchored to the car, afraid to show my getup to the world.)

No matter what happened in last year’s season finale, Burriss certainly left an impression in his time in Syracuse. But he couldn’t resist going out with a bang.

Burriss played the hero role one last time in his Chiefs finale. (Jeff Irizarry)

Burriss played the hero role one last time in his Chiefs finale. (Jeff Irizarry)

I’m sure Eric will cover this game in more detail, but the Chiefs’ season finale with playoff-bound Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was frankly interminable, as meaningless last-day-games go. 12 walks and four errors led us to the bottom of the 11th inning, where the Chiefs trailed 4-3. A bases-loaded walk by Jason Martinson tied the game, setting the stage for Burriss one final time…

 

Nearly seven months later, Burriss is trying to fight his way back to the big leagues in Phillies training camp. We’re pulling for ya, Manny.

2015: A Chiefs Odyssey – Eric’s #7

7. Mighty Paolo at the Bat

Paolo Espino was simply brilliant in his first Chiefs start (Herm Card)

Paolo Espino was simply brilliant in his first Chiefs start of 2015 (Herm Card)

Kevin already laid out Paolo’s superlatives with both the bat and on the mound in his first Triple-A start of 2015. But what made May 24th even more special was a) when it fell on the calendar and b) what it started.

On the calendar, the Chiefs had lost eight straight going into that Sunday of Memorial Day weekend against Indianapolis. And after eight losses in a row, you wouldn’t expect a last minute Double-A spot-starter to be the guy that ended the streak. Let alone, it was a pitcher hitting his first career home run that sparked the offense to get the win.

The win would prove even more significant, as it would end up as the only win in Syracuse’s worst stretch of the year, winning just that lone game in 21 played from May 16th-June 5th.

But more importantly, Espino’s greatness on the mound proved to be no fluke, and just the start of an outstanding year. The Panamanian right-hander was promoted to Syracuse again six days later, and allowed just two runs in six and two-thirds innings in Durham. Six days after that, back on the roster he went, and once again it was seven innings, only two runs. Over Espino’s first six starts with Syracuse in 2015, he went at least six and two-thirds innings and allowed no more than two runs in each. Six quality starts, and a 1.30 ERA. And even that wasn’t all. Espino finished a career year with a 3.21 ERA, and posted 12 quality starts. Pretty impressive for a last minute spot starter.

2015: A Chiefs Odyssey – Kevin’s #7

Funny you should mention the lack of overlap…

7. Changing of the Guard

Ricky Hague celebrates after homering in his first Chiefs at-bat. (Courtesy Syracuse Chiefs)

Ricky Hague celebrates after homering in his first Chiefs at-bat. (Courtesy Syracuse Chiefs)

Here’s how bad things were before June 15th – the Chiefs had recently gone from 16-19 to 17-38. That’s a 1-19 stretch in a 20-game period. Their 3-6 record in the nine games after that didn’t move the needle much before the arrival of Keyes and Hague.

Starting with the five-run first and blasting of Toledo, the Chiefs won six of their next eight games. They promptly lost 8 out of the following 10. Turning point? It’s normally impossible to pick one turning point in a 144-game baseball season. There are so many major or minute points that shift a team on its axis from month to month or week to week.

June 15th seemed to be a trend-setter of sorts, though – it may have marked the day the Nationals began a mini-overhaul of the Chiefs’ roster. Infielder Chris Nelson joined six days later. Starter Joe Ross and shortstop Trea Turner, two of the organizations’ most prized possessions, soon followed. Those two, along with Keyes and Hague, certainly firmed up the backbone of the Chiefs’ roster for some time until the team became more whole as the year went along.

A couple of other notes on that game, which Eric covered in detail otherwise…

  • Manny Burriss tried his best to lighten the mood for Keyes and Hague beforehand, per Lindsay Kramer of The Post-Standard

    After both were called up from Double-A Harrisburg to make their Triple-A debuts against Toledo at NBT Bank Stadium, Burriss asked each whether they were nervous about the big moments.

    Repeatedly.

    “Manny was giving us both a hard time,” said Hague, a second baseman. “Like, just to stay in the moment, don’t let it get too big. Just messing with us. Just shrug it off, laugh a little bit.”

     

    Nerves? Hardly.

    …………………………..

    “After the homer (Burriss) didn’t give me a hard time after that.” Hague said.

    “I thought I was going to have a lot (of jitters),” Keyes said. “Burriss kept asking me if I was scared again and again. I was like, no, I don’t think I am. He was just trying to lighten the mood.”

  • You’ve heard the audio…now, here’s the video, of Hague’s first (and, to date, only) Syracuse home run…

One last side note: we didn’t know Ricky liked to be called, well, Ricky, until postgame. That’s why I called him Rick in the video. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a 1:1 ratio of “games not being identified by the preferred name” to “games with a home run” for Rick(y).

Chiefs Roster Updates and 2015: A Chiefs Odyssey – Eric’s #8

(Clockwise L-R) A.J. Cole, Taylor Jordan and Matt Grace are set to return to Syracuse in 2016 while Wilmer Difo will make his Chiefs debut.

(Clockwise L-R) A.J. Cole, Taylor Jordan and Matt Grace are set to return to Syracuse in 2016 while Wilmer Difo will make his Chiefs debut. (First three courtesy Herm Card, Difo courtesy Ed Sheahin)

By Eric Gallanty (@ericgallanty)

I’ll get back to the A Chiefs Odyssey series later in this post, but the Chiefs roster is starting to fill up and I want to start there. Here are the first few moves out of Nats’ camp that may affect the Chiefs:

From the looks of things, the Chiefs could have another great pitching staff in 2016. We’ll post all of the roster moves affecting the Chiefs on our @Chiefsradio twitter page as they come in.

Now to the good stuff…

We haven’t had any overlap yet and that will continue for today. But I don’t think we’re quite done reliving Josh Johnson’s pitching prowess. More on that later. I mentioned in my #9 that Trea Turner’s first Triple-A home run was a candidate for the Chiefs turning point of the season. But in many ways, the real turning point came on June 15th…

8. The Keyes to the Turnaround

Ricky Hague hit his first and only Triple-A home run of the season in his first career Triple-A at-bat on June 15th.

Ricky Hague hit his first and only Triple-A home run in his first career Triple-A at-bat on June 15th (Jeff Irizarry)

The Chiefs returned home from the annual Ohio road trip 24 games under .500, winners of only 20 of their first 64 games in 2015. And as the team busses rolled into the NBT Bank Stadium parking lot in the early morning hours of June 15th, there wasn’t much to signal that a turnaround was on the day’s horizon.

There were, however, two new call-ups from Harrisburg who would join the Chiefs that June Monday. Kevin Keyes and Ricky Hague were each promoted to Triple-A for the first time in their careers. Roster moves of course happen a lot at this level, and on paper, Keyes and Hague would not have been the guys you’d peg to be the saviors from Harrisburg. Keyes held a .235 average with five home runs in 56 games with the Senators in 2015, while Hague was at .259, without a home run in nearly a calendar year. But any assumptions about these two Triple-A newcomers would be very, very wrong.

Kevin Keyes’ first Triple-A at-bat came with two outs in the bottom of the first inning with Jason Martinson on second base. Ricky Hague was three batters away. What happened from here, no one saw coming…

Keyes’ first of two doubles in the game was just the start to the first inning magic. Three batters later, with the Chiefs up 2-0, Ricky Hague stepped in with two on and still two out. Remember, Hague’s last home run was in June of 2014…

Kevin Keyes hit .462 in his first week with the Chiefs.

Kevin Keyes hit .462 in his first week with the Chiefs (Scott Schild)

It would be Hague’s only home run of the season with the Chiefs, but boy did it have an impact. The ball just snuck over the right field wall in the corner to give the Chiefs their largest offensive output in an inning to that point in the season.

Keyes and Hague weren’t one-hit wonders either. Keyes went on to hit .462 in his first Triple-A week, with a league-leading 12 hits, four doubles, five runs scored, and seven RBIs, slugging .615. The week didn’t go unnoticed as Keyes was named I.L. Batter of the Week. Not to be outdone, Hague picked up a hit in each of his first six I.L. games, holding a .381 average with seven RBIs as well. The Chiefs picked up their first four-game win streak of the season during the week, and things were on their way.

Now for the turning point question. Was it June 15th? There are arguments for and against. But what is true is that from that date forward, no one in the International League had a better record than the 2015 Syracuse Chiefs. Hague and Keyes were here to stay.

On to #7…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,249 other followers

%d bloggers like this: