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Third time is not a charm. . .

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 It was a dark and stormy night. Well, not really.  It had been a dark and stormy afternoon, however, and about 4 p.m., I thought the River Cats series finale against the Colorado Sky Sox was in jeopardy of being rained out.

 

Fortunately, the storm broke around 5 p.m., and by game time there were only a few clouds in the sky.  I arrived about 6:30 and was pleasantly surprised to find a press pass waiting for me at Will Call.  I’d thought that ship might have sailed after the "flip flop incident," but apparently not.

I felt like a good cop, though somewhat of a loose cannon, who’d lost his badge and gun because of his erratic behavior.  Like Mel Gibson in "Lethal Weapon". On Monday, I got my badge back. .

 

Many factors — the pouring rain a few hours earlier, the fact that it was a Monday night, the record low temperatures (39 degrees at the Sacramento Airport) — resulted in a sparse but hearty crowd.  The listed game attendance was 6,169, but if there were 2,000 people there, I’ll eat my hat.

 

There were plenty of good seats to be had, and I had several of them.

 

I started the game two rows behind the River Cats dugout, behind a group of rambunctious middle schoolers and their chaperone.  The catcalls were flying, although most of their hooting and hollering was of the positive variety, and directed toward their hometown heroes.

They took a particular liking to catcher Anthony Recker, who seemed to be their favorite.  When Kyle Middleton threw a close strike in the first inning, the kids credited it to the catcher.  When Sky Sox leadoff hitter Cole Garner, who had reached base on a walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch, tried to steal third, Recker hosed him.  He threw a perfect strike to Steve Tolleson, beating the runner by two feet. The kids went buck wild.  "No one runs on the Recker!"  (I can’t be the first person to propose his nickname be "Home," can I?)

 

Corey Wimberly, who continued to impress, led off the home half of the first, but was left stranded. This was the first of four times that the River Cat catalyst (River Catalyst?) would reach base, but to no avail.  It was a frustrating evening for the men in white.

 

The second inning was memorable only for a catch made by Jack Cust on a ball crushed by former MLB’er Jay Payton. The blast tied up the erstwhile Athletic, and he ended up doing a full 360 pirouette before making the catch.  I’d always heard he wasn’t much of a fielder, but he performed admirably in left this night.

 

The third inning again had Wimberly’s fingerprints all over it. He made a diving catch to rob Sky Sox Warren Schaefer of a hit in the top of the inning, then had a single and was caught stealing in the bottom. "The Recker" isn’t the only one no one runs on.

 

At this point, I decided to switch vantage points, watching the next two innings from about six rows behind home plate.  Just as I sat down, Matt Miller smacked a single to right, then advanced to second when Michael Taylor threw a missile about 10 feet over the shortstop’s head.  It would be a tough night for the big right fielder from Stanford.

 

After Miller advanced to third on a groundout, Chris Ianetta roped a line drive single to right.  Miller had to wait and see if the ball would be caught. Taylor was not able to catch it, but he grabbed the ball on one hop and immediately let sail a perfect strike, on the fly, to the catcher.  It was a bang-bang play at the plate, but Miller slid in just under the tag. Almost a spectacular play but, unfortunately, this is neither horseshoes nor hand grenades.  1-0 Sky Sox.

 

The next few innings were fairly uneventful with a few highlights:

 

I wandered back over to the Cats’ dugout and met a couple of huge A’s fans, Jan and Adam, who were keeping score, right down to whether the strikes were swinging or looking. So what, you say. Well it wasn’t so much what they were doing, but how they were doing it: on an iPad.  There is an app for that, and it’s pretty incredible. They showed me the scatter grid for Eric Sogard’s last 10 hits.  Incredible; a couple of fans doing statistical analysis that MLB scouting departments weren’t capable of 30 years ago.

 

Wimberly got on base again, and got caught stealing again.  No one runs on Michael McKenry, apparently.

 

I headed down to the dugout press area to finally meet the man who provides the fantastic photographs for my stories, Ahsan Awan. He invited me to watch the last couple of innings with him from the dugout, which was pretty awesome.

 

The kids by the dugout are ball crazy. A particularly rambunctious young man named Darren kept asking me for a ball. I told him I didn’t have any and  to "try the guys on the field." Then he asked the Sky Sox third base coach. "Do you have any balls?."  When this elicited no response, he tried again: "How much balls do you have?"  The kid had gumption, I’ll give him that.

 

  A couple of minutes later, he was eying my program. "Where’d you get that? I want one."  I handed it over, knowing that it meant far more to him than it did to me.  This led to one of the more surreal moments of my life.  He ran off, only to return a moment later with a pen. "Can I have your autograph?" Ahsan was dying:  "Hold on, I want to get a shot of this."  After he had changed lenses, I obliged the precocious youngster with my signature.  Anything for the kids.

 

In the bottom of the seventh, Taylor hit a one-out double, and advanced to third on a wild pitch.  Tolleson hit a slow grounder to the third baseman, Taylor broke on contact.  When the Sky Sox third baseman decided to throw home, it looked like the ball would beat Taylor there by a half step.  This was going to be a great play at the plate.  Then Taylor stopped in his tracks, maybe 10 feet from home plate.  It could have been a bang-bang play at the plate or a monumental collision that Sky Sox catcher McKenry wanted no part of. Taylor is 6 feet 6 inches, 260 pounds and had a full head of steam, McKenry is 5 feet 10 inches, 200 pounds, and was standing in place.  Advantage, Taylor.

 

 It became an easy tag out. Taylor was fully pot committed and had the better hand, but he folded to a weak bluff.  Rally killed.

 

The Cats had another scoring opportunity in the bottom of the eighth, when Wimberly, who finished 3 for 3 with a walk, hit a two-out double.  Sogard followed it with a walk. Cust came up with a chance to tie the game or give the Cats the lead, but he couldn’t pull the trigger on a close 3-2 pitch and struck out looking.

 

The Cats kept scrapping in the ninth.  Carter struck out swinging but reached first base on a wild pitch by longtime Minnesota Twin Juan Rincon. Taylor continued his rollercoaster evening with a sharp single to center.  All of a sudden, there were runners on first and third, nobody out. The spattering of fans who remained on this frigid evening reminiscent of Candlestick were on their feet and could smell a victory.  Tolleson hit a swinging bunt, advancing Taylor to second. Rincon then intentionally walked Adrian Cardenas. The stage was set.

Bases loaded, one out, Recker stepped into the batters box.  I looked over at the kids behind the dugout and they were going bananas.  Recker worked a full count from Rincon, fouling off several tough pitches. Unfortunately, the last one just barely stayed in play and was caught by McKenry against the backstop. Michael Affronti was the Cats’ last hope, but he went down swinging. 

 

Game over, another heartbreaking defeat for the good guys.

 

To sum it up, I attended three games during the recent homestead. The home team lost all three games by a total of three runs. The kicker is that they gave up unearned runs in all three games: 4 of 9, 4 of 5, and 1of 1. And that doesn’t include several baserunning mishaps. It’s a shame, because it seems like they have the talent to win the division if they can just get out of their own way.

 

 

 

 

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