AA Angels beat White Sox in 13; 3 Teams Punch Tickets for Omaha

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Sunday, June 11.

On a typical blazing hot Alabama night, the AA Mobile Bears (Angels) and Birmingham Barons (White Sox) played a game as hot as the Alabama night. When all was said and done, Mobile came off a 7-5 winner in 13 innings after going back and forth all night long.

The Barons, who have used that team name since 1901 except for 8 years when they were the A’s, got the upper hand early taking a 2-0 lead. They’re a team that has slogged along as the White Sox’ AA team since 1986 and haven’t gotten a headline since Michael Jordan’s circus act in 1994.  Last night they couldn’t hold the lead in one of their two home stadiums. The Bay Bears put up one in the 7th and 3 in the 8th for a 4-2 lead. Zach Houchins sparked the visiting team with a 2-run triple in the 8th. The homestanding Barons  put up one in the 8th and tied it while down to their last strike. Each team put up a run in the 11th-Mobile doing it with the game’s only home run, a solo shot by Zach Gibbons. Birmingham’s offense could have petered out at that point, but Jake Peter managed a game-tying single in what would prove to be the Barons’ last stand for the night. With the sacks juiced in the 13th Forrest Allday put up a two-run single for a lead Mobile would keep. Living up to his name he was on base all day, reaching 6 times including 3 hits. Gibbons’ home run was one of 3 hits he notched. The Bay Bears are all chasing a dream, hoping to follow former Bears’ Max Scherzer, Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Gonzalez and Justin Upton among many others since their team began play in 1997. For their part Birmingham has an honor roll of famous names going back to the dawn of the game. Rube Marquard played there, as did Hall of Famer Pie Traynor a generation later.  Phil Cavarretta was a Barons’ manager, as were Terry Francona and Wally Backman.   In the 8 years Birmingham was with Oakland, such famous A’s as Sal Bando, Vida Blue, Bert Campaneris, Rollie Fingers,  Reggie Jackson, Tony La Russa and Joe Rudi reached the top by way of Birmingham. Mike Cameron who hit 4 home runs in a game in 2002 and Mark Buehrle who once pitched a perfect game in the majors would never have gotten there without a stop in Birmingham. Neither would Auburn’s Bo Jackson and Frank Thomas. Robin Ventura who nearly hit a grand slam in the 15th inning of an NLCS game in 1999 had cut his teeth in Birmingham.         Greg Mahle (pronounced Maily) who pitched a perfect game early this season was in the Mobile bull pen last night.  He’s struggled since his brush with baseball immortality, as his ERA is now 6.75.

3 of the 8 vacancies for the 2017 College World Series are now filled.  Louisville was the first, beating Kentucky 6-2.  Texas A&M dashed the hopes of the Cinderella team, the Davidson Wildcats.  Not that Davidson didn’t try-they had a 6-2 lead after 7 innings when their carriage turned into a pumpkin and their bull pen pitchers into white mice.  Up until then, their starting pitcher Evan Roberts had held A&M to two early solo home runs by Logan Foster and George Janca.    However, His time ran out in the 8th. The Aggies put up 7 runs in the 8th and 3 in the 9th.  The icing on the cake was a no-doubter, a 3-run home run by a .217 hitter, Walker Pennington. Roberts’ pitching line looks worse than it should.  It shows he gave up 5 runs but only 2 scored before he left the game. Austin Leonard let his inherited runs score, then gave up 3 more of his own. 2  more Davidson hurlers-Allen Barry and Josh Smutzer were equally ineffective.    A&M starter Corbin Martin would have been on the hook if the Aggies’ bats hadn’t put in a late appearance at the party.  He gave up 5 runs to Davidson and didn’t last past the fifth inning.  At that he threw 95 pitches (yes, even in college pitches are counted nowadays unlike the 1970’s and 1980’s when a guy could throw 200 pitches if his coach asked him to.)  John Doxakis finished the 5th and lasted until the end of the 7th.  When the Aggies went wild in the 8th he became the pitcher of record, ending up with the win. Kaylor Chafin pitched the last two innings and retired a defeated Wildcats’ team that were talked about with scorn by the A&M broadcasters in spite of the Wildcats’ holding their own for 15 innings on Friday.

Later, on a misty rainy night in Oregon, the Oregon State Beavers played their game as though oblivious to the rain and  the obscene scandal that has been uncovered concerning their star pitcher Luke Heimlich.  The Beavers found another starter (hopefully without a criminal record) and walloped Vanderbilt 9-2 to make their reservations for Omaha. 5 more super regionals continue today.  Only one is tied at a game apiece.  Cal State Fullerton destroyed Long Beach State 12-0 yesterday to tie the series after Long Beach had won 3-0 Friday.  The third and last game will take place this afternoon at Fullerton.  Florida State could advance to the World Series if they beat Sam Houston State, as they did 7-6 yesterday. The Florida Gators need just one win over Wake Forest, while the Deacons would have to win today and tomorrow to reach Omaha and deny the Gators a return visit. TCU and LSU each won their first games and could reach Omaha with wins later this evening.  TCU starts their game at 6 PM against Missouri State while LSU faces  Mississippi State. Any series tied tonight will feature a game 3 tomorrow.

While the college super regionals hold the attention of their devotees, the majors drone on toward the All-Star break.  The Yankees seemingly missed an extra point, considering their final score was 16–3 over Baltimore in a game where the Bronx Bombers unloaded 5 home runs. They meet again at 1 PM in today’s earliest major league start. The O’s go with Kevin Gausman while the Yankees promoted Chad Green from AAA to give Masahiro Tanaka an extra day off. Green, a 26-year-old native of Greenville, South Carolina was very lucky to avoid Tommy John surgery at the end of last year that would have cost him the entire 2017 season. His alma mater, Louisville will appear in the upcoming College World Series. The Marlins will start lefty Jeff Locke against his former team, the Pirates. He faces ex-Yankee Ivan Nova when the teams meet in Pittsburgh. After a doubleheader sweep where the Mets wiped out the Braves 6-1 and 8-1, they turn to Seth Lugo who was injured during the World Baseball Classic.  They Mets are desperate for him and Steven Matz to bolster a pitching staff that has been in shambles since Noah Syndergaard was hurt in May. Matz did his part, starting the second game of yesterday’s split doubleheader in Atlanta..  It was his 2017 debut.  Yoenis Cespedes also returned from the DL and made his presence felt with a grand slam.  Cespedes’ darker side also showed up when he failed to run out a grounder early on.  This has been seen to be a common practice when he plays for a losing team. Considering that most of the Mets’ outfielders-Granderson, Bruce and Cespedes are either aging, injury-prone or both there won’t be trouble keeping Michael Conforto’s hot bat in the lineup. The Phillies turn to Aaron Nola against the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright.    Nola went 8 innings in beating Atlanta Tuesday night. He was the first Phillies’ starter to last 8 innings all season long. As for Wainwright he was battered for 9 runs in less than 4 innings last time out. His pitching  was like the performance by the Long Beach pitcher yesterday who was getting abused by Fullerton as George Foreman once brutally beat up Joe Frazier in Jamaica.

I was yelling at the computer for the Long Beach coach to pull his pitcher and stop the beating but it took him far too long to do so. Wainwright was kept out there with the team hoping he would find his stride.  He didn’t. Jake Arrieta faces the Rockies at Wrigley.  When Arrieta pitches at the Friendly Confines, his opponent is academic. In 4 home starts he’s won 3 without losing.

When the Twins face San Francisco today They  turn to lefty Nik Turley to make his MLB debut after 10years riding buses around the minors. Come September, he’ll be 28.  He’s come a long way since being drafted out of high school. The Yankees took him in the 50th round in 2008.   Only two more men were taken before the end of the draft that year. Instead of a full ride to BYU, he chose the Yankees and no matter he was a 50th-rounder, the lowest of the low on baseball’s totem pole.  By 2012 he was the Yankees’ minor league pitcher of the year. He won the first game of the 2013 Eastern League championship Series, pitching for the Trenton Thunder for whom I throw out today’s ceremonial first pitch.  (My right arm is not amused.) Turley left the Yankees for the Giants at the end of 2014.                                   After failed efforts with the White and Red Sox, Turley pitched part of 2016 with the Somerset (NJ) Patriots in the independent Atlantic League.  This is where most_ baseball washouts go to die.  Not Turley. The Twins signed him in December and he has played for AAA Rochester hoping and praying this day would ever happen.  If he only pitches one game today in San Francisco, he can tell his grandchildren their Grandpa was a major league ball player and watch their eyes light up. He’s a rare major league rookie who already has six years of marriage on his resume. Even though he didn’t go to BYU, his Mormon faith still decrees that he must do missionary work at some point in his life.  He plans to do that when baseball is done. The Rangers’ Austin Bibens-Dirks gets a harsh task for his second major league start.  He only has to face the NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer in Max’s home park in Washington.  Dirks makes his second start, Scherzer has two no-hitters. Dirks is a 32-year-old rookie with a resume similar to that of the Twins’ Nik Turley. Dirks is 4 years older and played 4 years of college unlike Turley.  Dirks was a 16th-round draft choice back in 2006.Like Turley of the Twins, His career began before anybody had an I-Phone or even a Samsung  Galaxy. Neither would come out until 2009.  Dirks was relegated to independent ball by 2009 until the Cubs found him. While he was a Cubs’ minor leaguer he played winter ball for the Zulia Eagles in Venezuela.  If that didn’t make him fearless, nothing will. Last year he began his second stint in independent ball, this time with the Lancaster Barnstormers. My good friend Dave Collins signs the pay checks for the Barnstormers and has for some years now. A cousin of mine lets Lancaster players live in her home during the season, as they are paid too poorly to live on their own.  I don’t know about all host families but I’ll say for sure if my cousin was the host the player got square meals. The Rangers rescued Dirks from independent ball in June, 2016 and during the last month he has reached the majors for the first time. The Tigers and Red Sox meet in Fenway in the ESPN Sunday night game. Daniel Norris faces drew Pomeranz, not the best pitching each team  has to offer.

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