Sunday, September 4, 2016

GWB - League Championships


Folks in the dessert are searching for their warranty cards, so they can see if the Big Unit is still under warranty.  Johnson was roughed up by the 1999 Mets and the 1999 Reds in the first games of Arizona's prior series.  In both instances, the DBacks had escaped elimination with stout pitching performances from their #2 starter, Omar Daal and their bullpen.  They also needed timely clutch hitting from Matt Williams, Luis Gonzalez and Steve Finley.  They would need a better performance from their ace against the 1998 Braves.

Looking at the matchup of Johnson (A17-XYZ) vs. Greg Maddux (A18-XZ) for Game 1 would put a smile on any APBA replayer's face.  The anticipation of two Hall of Famers going toe to toe on your tabletop is almost as good as watching the real thing.  But these two titans had experienced very different roads on their way to this marquee matchup.  Maddux (2-0, 0.53) had thrown the tournament's only no-hitter against the 97 Marlins in his first appearance, and followed it up by allowing only 1 run in 8 innings of work to Barry Bonds and the 2000 Giants.  Johnson (0-2, 12.14) had been the polar opposite of Maddux.  If Arizona thought his 5 1/3 innings early exit against the Mets was disappointing, it was nothing compared to the barrage of double dice rolls by the 99 Reds.  Johnson surrendered 7 runs, all earned, to Cincinnati in 1 1/3 innings.  After two bad losses, the Big Unit’s earned run average was north of 12.  Things had to get better, right?

In Game 1, the two centerfielders provided some early fireworks.  In the top of the 2nd Inning, Steve Finley blasted a two-run homer and Andruw Jones cut the margin in half with a solo shot in the bottom half of the inning.  After Finley ran into the Maddux offering, the Professor pulled the fangs out of the Snakes, holding them to only 2 hits over the next 7 innings.  Meanwhile, Chipper Jones picked up 3 RBIs with a home run in the 4th and a double in the 5th, as the Braves moved ahead to the final 6-2 margin.  Johnson was chased early (again), lasting only 4 2/3 innings, while surrendering the 6 Braves runs, all earned.  His record fell to 0-3, while even the bad outing reduced his gigantic 6’10” sized ERA to 11.57.  Maddux improved to 3-0, but his one mistake pitch to Finley, moved his ERA all the way up to 1.04.

Just as he had done in two prior outings, Omar Daal pulled the Diamondbacks back from the brink of elimination with a win, this time over the Braves second Hall of Fame starter Tom Glavine.  Andres Galarraga homered in the top of the first inning to put the Braves ahead early, 2-0.  But in the 2nd inning, Travis Lee drove a Glavine pitch into the seats to get the home team on the board.  Luis Gonzalez drove home Jay Bell with a single in the 3rd, then went yard in the 6th to put the DBacks up 3-2.  Daal held firm through 7 innings, before turning things over to Greg Swindell and Matt Mantei for scoreless 8th and 9th frames.

In the finale, Jay Bell and the Ice Man, Gerald Williams both found the Turner Field seats in the first inning.  But the Big Cat got hot crushing home runs in the 4th and 6th innings.  Denny Neagle worked the first 3 innings, allowing only 1 run.  John Smoltz hurled the next 4 innings, giving up 1 more.  John Rocker worked two scoreless innings for the save.  Kerry Ligtenberg was warmed and ready, but with a steady diet of Arizona lefty batters in the lineup, Rocker kept on rockin’.  The ’98 Braves won the National League title, and will advance into the Final Bracket as the only Brave representative.  How they fare against the AL champion will determine if the enter that field in the Winners Bracket of the Losers.


The Yankee Boy faced his old rivals in these tournaments, the Baltimore Orioles.  4 times he’s faced a team of O’s and 3 of those times, they’ve sent his team home.  In Game 1, the 98 Bronx Bombers started out fast again roughing Jimmy Key up for 8 runs in the first 2 innings, highlighted by a 2 run homer by Scott Brosius and two 2 run homers by Bernie Williams.  Unlike the game with the Chicago White Sox, where the Yankees got out to an 8-0 lead, only to give up 13 unanswered runs in the loss, the boys in pinstripes kept their foot on the gas and coasted to a 12-5 win.

When the series moved to Baltimore, it set up another classic pitching matchup.  David Cone would toe the rubber for the Yanks, while APBA tournament pitching great Mike Mussina would take the ball and try to keep his team’s hopes alive.  Through the first 5 innings, Mussina allowed 4 hits, while Coney gave up only 2.  In the 6th, Darryl Strawberry connected for a solo home run to put New York ahead 1-0.  At that point, the birds took flight, scoring 6 times in the bottom of the inning, highlighted by a bases clearing double by Brady Anderson.  Joe Girardi and Derek Jeter added solo homers, but NY could make no serious rally, and Baltimore evened the series with an 8-3 win.

Both of the first 2 games had been without a lot of suspense or drama.  Game 3 would make up for it.  Brady Anderson led off the game against David Wells with a double, Robby Alomar drew a walk, and B.J. Surhoff followed with a 3 run homer before most of the fans had settled into their seats at Yankee Stadium.  Geronimo Berroa added a solo shot in the 6th to put the Birds ahead 4-0.  Scott Erickson pitched 6 beautiful innings, allowing only 3 hits to the Yankees before handing the ball to the previously dependable Oriole bull pen in the 7th.  The Yankees finally came to life, batted around and scored 3 runs on 3 straight hits by O’Neill, Brosius and Girardi.  Brady Anderson smashed Mariano Rivera’s first pitch into the gap for a lead off triple and scored on a Robby Alomar sac fly to give Baltimore some breathing room, 5-3.  When O’Neill connected on a Jesse Orosco offering in the 8th to make it 5-4, it was clear New York was not going to just quit. 

Randy Myers couldn’t close the door in the 9th.  Homer Bush singled, stole second and scored when the Captain, Derek Jeter, singled him home to tie the game.  The teams moved into extra innings, and Ramiro Mendoza took over in long relief.  In 2 innings of work in the 10th and 11th, he faced 6 batters and retired them all.  Meanwhile, the brilliant Orioles manager (me) had burned through all of the quality Oriole pitchers trying to win the game in regulation.  When that failed, it left only Scott Kamieniecki as the best long relief option for Baltimore.  He retired the first batters he faced, but when Homer Bush singled in the 11th and Derek Jeter stepped back in the box, things had that old familiar feeling.  Jeter came through with a 33-6 double scoring Bush from first base for the walk off and advancing the Yankees into the finals against 98 Braves.  The Sinatra was cued up, and the word was spread.  The 98 Yanks solidified their spot in the final tournament of champions along with the 1985 and 1986 squads.

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