Loss would clinch third in MINK League North for Clarinda; Chillicothe win would prompt rainout make-up Tuesday afternoon
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
Time finally has brought a clarity to the Chillicothe Mudcats’ situation they might have provided themelves, but didn’t.
With both the Mudcats and Clarinda (Iowa) A’s owning 19-21 MINK League records after the A’s defeated Sedalia a second night in a row Sunday – this time 4-3 at Clarinda, their respective potential paths are clear, at last.
When Chillicothe visits Clarinda’s Municipal Stadium tonight for a 7 p.m. contest, the host A’s can wrap up third place – and the second “wild-card” berth – in the league’s North Division by winning.
If the Mudcats, 1-4 against the A’s thus far in 2017, emerge victorious, they would take third either by defeating the St. Joseph Mustangs at Clarinda Tuesday afternoon in a full-length make-up game from their rainout Saturday night or by having St. Joe also down the A’s Tuesday night in a make-up of a rainout earlier in the season.
Indications are that, should Chillicothe win tonight and tomorrow, rendering the Clarinda-St. Joseph game meaningless, that would-be evening game will be cancelled. Similarly, if the Iowa team clinches tonight, neither Tuesday game would be needed.
Given that the Mustangs officially cilnched the North Division regular-season title and first-round bye in the league playoffs when Sedalia lost Sunday, they won’t have a particular incentive – aside from self-imposed integrity or pride – to put forth a maximum effort to win either or both Tuesday games. With their first of four possible playoffs games in four nights awaiting them, starting Thursday, the Ponies’ first responsibility Tuesday – should they have to play once or twice – would seem to be making sure they’re properly ready – physically and mentally – for their playoff action. That could involve resting fully or partially some front-line players and pitchers.
Whichever team takes third, it will visit Sedalia Wednesday in a 1-game “wild card” playoff, while the same thing was happening with the league’s South Division second- and third-place teams (Nevada and Jefferson City).
The “wild card” victors will visit their division’s champion (Ozark for the South) the next night in “do-or-die” contest which will produce the participants in the best-of-3 MINK League Championship Series Friday, Saturday, and – if needed, Sunday.
Tuesday’s prospective 3 p.m. make-up game between Chillicothe and St. Joseph in Iowa was necessitated by odd proceedings at St. Joseph Saturday night.
Seeking to knock off the division leader for a third time in five nights, Chillicothe got an errors-generated run in the second inning to get in front, then broke a 1-1 tie with another gift run in the fourth as a leadoff walk and 2-outs wild pitch plated it.
With Mudcats starting pitcher Zack Mathes havin thrown well thus far, the top of the fifth inning saw a controversial umpiring decision – the second in as many Mudcats-Mustangs games at St. Joseph – double Chillicothe’s lead.
With two outs, center fielder Kody Gardner jerked a high, deep drive down the right-field line toward the fair/foul pole only about 305 feet away.
The ball not only easily cleared the wall, but, according to broadcast reports, was above the height of the fair/foul pole, before landing in the stands on the foul side of the right-field line. That left it up to the umpires’ judgment whether the ball was over fair or foul territory when it went past the imaginary vertical plane of the fence.
With no one on base at the time, the umpire nearest the fence was the field umpire, positioned initially behind first base. After observing the ball’s flight, he signaled the ball to have gone foul before clearing the wall.
After being questioned by Jack Winters, Chillicothe’s head coach who was in the first-base coaches’ box and also is a reasonably-good position to view the ball’s position, the base umpire consented to consult with the home plate umpire, who likewise was able to be looking right down the foul line to the fence, just from at least 120 feet farther away.
The situation ironically was very similar to one in the teams’ July 3 in which what initially was ruled by the closest umpire – the field umpire – to have been been a catch leading to a double play was effectively overruled by the plate umpire and changed to a single which advanced a runner from first base to second. Both Mustangs scored later in the inning, snapping a 2-2 tie in a game St. Joseph then won, 4-2.
Saturday, in a victory for consistency and fairness, if not necessarily wisdom or clarity of authority, once again the original call was reversed after the umpires’ discussion. Foul became fair, Gardner had a solo home run, and Chillicothe had a 3-1 lead in the top of the fifth in a game it sorely needed to win.
The unusual continued to rule, however, when – as St. Joseph’s unanticipated new pitcher began warming up – clouds generating some lightning drew close enough that it was deemed potentially dangerous to those at the stadium. Even though there was no rain falling, play was halted – at least temporarily – at 8:40 p.m. to allow everyone to seek shelter, if they so desired.
With the game being St. Joseph’s last of the 2017 regular season, a post-game fireworks display was scheduled, so many fans chose to wait for a while either under the main grandstand’s pavilion roof or in their vehicles in the parking lot.
With, according to a source who was at the stadium, only light-to-moderate showers ever materializing and not for an extended length of time, field conditions likely could have been suitable for a resumption of play once the clouds and lightning passed by over the course of about 75-90 minutes.
However, at some point during the delay, the source confirmed, the St. Joseph team’s management opted to initiate its planned fireworks show. That necessarily involved shutting off the stadium’s field lights, which precluded starting any effort to get the field back ready for play.
Mudcats general manager Doug Doughty, who was not present, says he was told that, when 10 p.m. arrived, with the game having been idled for 80 largely-dry minutes, the game umpires departed – perhaps with the fireworks display still ongoing. That precluded any further play, even though the season was in its final four days and the contest had significant, direct impact on the league playoffs race.
Because the action was in the top of the fifth inning with the visitors leading, Saturday's play was four outs short of qualifying as an "official" game. Had five innings been complete (or 4-1/2 with the home team ahead), it would have qualified, under league rules, to become a "suspended" game with play resumed at the point it was stopped.
Instead, if required by a Chillicothe win tonight, the Mudcats-Mustangs game Tuesday would start as a completely-new game.