Once behind 8-0, Mudcats rallied to catch visiting A's in eighth Thursday before Clarinda reclaimed 15-13 lead prior to halt, due to lightning
By Paul Sturm, C-T Sports Editor
Virtually every season of Chillicothe Mudcats baseball brings a game or two so remarkable, complex, bizarre, or topsy-turvy that encapsulating it with any brevity is nigh impossible.
Thursday night’s action against the Clarinda A’s at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park stadium undoubtedly will rank as one of 2017’s “wildest” games, especially when considering that, when the teams left the park, neither had yet won, despite nearly four hours of play.
The arrival of a storm system packing plenty of what used to be dismissed as “flash” lightning (as compared to “chain” lightning), but ultimately not very much actual precipitation in Chillicothe proper, prompted the game to be suspended until resumed at the point of stoppage an undetermined future date.
When the lightning delay a few minutes before 11 p.m. almost immediately became an official suspended game, play was in the top of the ninth inning with Clarinda batting with the bases loaded, one out, and holding a 15-13 lead.
With the game being Clarinda’s last scheduled visit to Chillicothe, options for the eventual resumption of play figure to be doing so on prior to one of the Mudcats’ two remaining trips to the southern Iowa town or the A’s making the 2-hours-plus journey back a fourth time, potentially for only five outs of play.
As comedian/comic actor Ronnie Graham put it in the closing, oft-interrupted wedding scene in Mel Brooks’ Star Wars spoof “Spaceballs,” here’s the “short, short version” of Thursday’s unfinished action.
Clarinda plated four runs in each of the first two innings to grab a seemingly-comfortable 8-0 lead. Eventually, though, determined Chillicothe chipped away as it tried to keep a 7-games winning streak alive and, by the sixth inning, had drawn within 9-7.
The visiting A’s then used a flurry of 3-straight seventh-inning singles and a 3-runs home run over the left field wall by Kale Emshoff to reestabish a sizable lead, 13-7, in the seventh.
The Mudcats then struck for six runs in the bottom of the eighth to fully catch up and just miss taking their first lead of the game.
However, in the top of the ninth, three no-outs walks by Chillicothe closer Austin Gussman were followed by a 2-runs single to right field by Wyatt Ball. With the bases refilled by a hit batsman, an infield popup became the first out. Before another pitch was thrown, lightning from the advancing storm registered near enough for the action to be halted – and, in short order, suspended for the night.
A more-detailed recap of the game begins with the visiting A’s – the only conqueror of the Mudcats in Chillicothe’s first 11 games this summer, having turned the trick twice – seizing an 8-0 lead after 1-1/2 innings. The Iowans capitalized on slipshod Chillicothe defense and ineffective, slow-paced pitching by starter Tyler Hansen for four unearned runs in that time.
Beginning with a pair of third-inning runs and then three in the fourth, the home team signalled its intent to play what Baseball Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa liked to call “ a hard nine,” clawing within 9-5 after four.
With relief pitcher Chris Peres seemingly having almost-unhittable stuff while retiring the first eight A’s he faced, the Mudcats narrowed the one-time 8-runs gap to only two at 9-7 when they tallied twice in the bottom of the sixth before leaving the bases full. An overturned “out” call at first base paved the way for those two Chillicothe runs.
Having totally failed to solve Peres since he entered with two outs in the fourth, Clarinda suddenly – though only briefly – could do nothing but hang line drives on the end of Peres pitches in the seventh.
Three successive singles moved the score to 10-7 before the A’s Kale Emshoff – one night after tattooing two home runs over the fence of Clarinda’s much-chummier home field in a loss to Chillicothe – smashed a no-doubt, 3-runs circuit clout over the more-distant left-field wall at Shaffer Park stadium to seemingly put the game safely back in his team’s control at 13-7.
Uh, no – not on this night.
Just as abruptly as Peres lost his edge and gave up four rapid-fire runs, he was back on the beam. He retired the last two batters after the roundtripper and the last three in the top of the eighth after a leadoff walk.
The hitters for the host Fish, who had spotted the A’s a 6-1 lead in the middle of Chillicothe’s home and season opener a couple of weeks earlier before charging back to tie at 6-6 and then losing 7-6 in 10 innings, took Peres’ cue that, despite appearances, the game wasn’t over.
With Clarinda’s fifth pitcher of the game walking three of the first four Mudcats batters in the bottom of the eighth and the other one stroking a single, Chillicothe resumed chopping away at its deficit.
Finally, with the gap once more down to two, lefthanded-batting Chillicothe right fielder Tanner Baker faced Clarinda’s lefty ace closer Samuel Reed with the bases juiced and two outs. Working the count full and all three speedy runners aboard taking off as Reed delivered the payoff pitch, the Mudcat pounded it into the dirt in front of home plate, causing it to bounce high in the air toward the second baseman.
As the ball descended with Baker – his swing’s momentum having given him a quick start – getting closer and closer to first base, the Clarinda second baseman had to wait to glove it on the second bounce. Unloading as quick a throw to first as he could, he got it there just too late to retire Baker. When that occurred, not only was the Mudcats runner who’d been at third able to score, but Anthony Lantigua – off and running with the start of Reed’s motion to the plate – had raced around third even before the chopper had been fielded and dashed home with the tying run without a play. A 2-outs, 2-runs infield single had finally brought the Fish all the way back from the seemingly-insurmountable, early 8-0 deficit tied at 13-13.
With speedster Ramger Iglesias having gone first to third on Baker’s kangaroo-hop hit, Chillicothe was able to have Baker pressure the Iowans’ defense with a steal attempt, forcing the A’s to choose between risking a double-steal attempt by throwing through to second or allowing the Mudcats to have two runners in scoring position with the inning still going. Not surprisingly, Clarinda chose the latter course and was rewarded when the batter followed with an inning-ending fly out to center field, rather than something which could score Iglesias and Baker and put the home club up for the first time all night.
Thus the game moved into the top of the ninth inning knotted, even as the approaching storm moved ever closer.
Having drawn ever, Chillicothe head/pitching coach Jack Winters handed the ball to perhaps his team’s most-effective pitcher to date – lefty closer Austin Gussman – for ninth, hoping for a quick top of the ninth that could lead to a walkoff victory in the bottom half.
Instead, in keeping with the wildness and wackiness of the long night – the game was more than 3-1/2 hours old as the ninth inning began, Clarinda batters immediately began reaching base safely, which led to a couple of Chillicothe departures.
After walking the first batter, Gussman threw a wild pitch which advanced the potential lead run into scoring position with no outs. On what multiple observers closely tracking the game had as a 2-2 pitch, a checked swing by Morris John “Mojo” Hagge on a low pitch was ruled – on appeal from the home plate umpire to the field umpire – to have been stopped short of being a swinging strike. It was only the latest of an unusually-high rate of such routine-appeal “no swing” rulings on the night, even though, statistically, review of video of half-swings in professional games show a majority of attempts to stop the swing short of the “swinging-strike” criteria are unsuccessful.
When the field umpire’s “no-swing” ruling was signalled, the batter – either on his own or directed by the home-plate umpire – headed toward first base, bringing the Chillicothe pitcher off the mound toward the plate to challenge that the count was only now 3-2.
At the same time, Mudcats head coach Jack Winters emerged from the third-base dugout to try to get an explanation from the home-plate umpire – without initially arguing that specific call, which is not allowed, by rule – why virtually none of the appealed “checked” swings in the game had been ruled as swinging strikes. Only one had been so judged and it resulted in a Chillicothe batter being a strikeout victim during one of the middle innings.
After about 15-30 seconds of contesting the situation, Winters verbally crossed the line, in the plate umpire’s assessment, and was ejected, leading to the coach’s loud utterance of several epithets.
After Winters was waved off the field, assistant coach Ken Durling – at the urging of Gussman and other Mudcats – addressed Hagge’s presence at first base with the plate umpire. A short consultation with the field umpire, who also is supposed to track the balls-strikes count as a redundancy, Hagge was allowed to stay at first base on a walk. That drew further apparently-derisive comments from the Chillicothe team’s dugout and starting pitcher Zack Mathes also was ejected by the plate umpire.
When play resumed after the several-minutes interruption, Gussman continued to display uncharacteristic trouble putting pitches where he wanted.
He loaded the bases by walking Emshoff, then fell behind Wyatt Ball. Battling back to a full-count, Gussman had the 3-2 pitch laced on a short hop past the drawn-in second baseman and into right field. Two runs scored on the hit and Clarinda once more was on top, now 15-13.
Down on the count to the next batter, Gussman threw a low, inside pitch on a 3-1 offering that skipped off the dirt and then the batter for a hit batsman, rather than just a base on balls.
Finally, the Chillicothe reliever got an out with popup caught just in front of the mound, but that was the last pitch of the night.
Adding to the strange twists and turns of the eventually-incomplete contest is that it creates an odd situation for the Mudcats, in terms of their chase of team history.
Having entered Thursday’s contest with a 7-games wins streak, should Chllicothe claim its first two or all three games at Joplin this weekend, it could be argued both that the winning streak HAD been extended to either equal or exceed the current team standard of nine in a row, and that – should Thursday’s game against Clarinda eventually end up as a loss when it it resumed – it was halted at seven.