Shut out by Trevor Maly on three hits through eight innings, Clarinda (Iowa) A's pelt Maly, Morris for five hits in ninth to walk off with 4-3 victory Monday, July 24
CLARINDA, Iowa — A 2017 Chillicothe Mudcats season which opened 7-1/2 weeks earlier with a last-inning loss to the Clarinda A’s ended the same way Monday night, but in a far-more stinging manner.
A campaign which saw the Mudcats respond to that 10th-inning home loss to the Iowa-based team with victories in 10 of the next 11 games was terminated with shocking suddenness when Clarinda – shut out on three hits and behind 3-0 through 8-1/2 innings Monday – exploded for five hits and four runs to post a 4-3 walk-off victory that clinched for it the MINK League’s final North Division playoffs berth.
The comeback win lifted the A’s’ league record to 20-21, a mark Chillicothe (24-22 overall, 19-22 MINK) no longer could surpass with only one contest remaining. Since the A’s had a 5-1 advantage in head-to-head results – the first tiebreaker if the clubs were to conclude with identical league marks, it meant Clarinda had earned third place in the final division standings and the North’s last playoffs berth.
The Mudcats sustained their first-ever last-place finish in either the league’s divisional-play (2009-present) or full-league (2002-08) eras during their existence. By virtue of winning all five of their non-league games this summer, they kept alive the franchise-long distinction of never having had a losing overall final record by a small margin, but, after winning 10 of their first 12 games, the Fish went 14-20 in their last 34 under first-year head coach Jack Winters.
The final ledger being only two games over .500 is the third-poorest in team history, ahead of only the 22-22 mark in 2007 and 21-20 record in the inaugural 2002 season.
The final 19-22 mark in league competition equals the team record for most league losses and is the only third losing MINK mark in the team’s 16 years of play. The .463 winning percentage is the lowest ever; the ’07 club went 14-16 (.467).
Monday night at Clarinda, with Chillicothe in a do-or-die predicament and its pitching staff emaciated by mid- and late-season departures by choice or injury, Winters tried to squeeze a complete game out of starting pitcher Trevor Maly. At the last moment, though, the A’s thwart it.
Sensational through eight innings – five of them 1-2-3 frames, Maly (5-1) was just beyond 90 pitches thrown when, his team up 3-0 since the first inning, he was sent back out to pitch the ninth, even with highly-effective July addition Houston Morris fresh and available.
Clarinda No. 9 batter Jordan Abushahlah plopped a soft single into short left-center field to begin the home ninth, bringing the top of the A’s lineup around for its fourth crack at the Chillicothe starter.
A solid single to right field by Danny Mitchell hinted that, perhaps, Maly was on fumes, but his head/pitching coach stuck with him, rather than calling in Morris, who had permitted only one run on seven hits over 10 innings and seven prior outings since arriving at the end of June.
Perhaps hoping to hold Morris completely in reserve for an extended outing in a potential Tuesday make-up game against St. Joseph (if Chillicothe won Monday, both it and Clarinda would make up previous rainouts against St. Joseph the following day), Winters’ faith was briefly repaid when Maly got an infield popup for the first out of the ninth. Now, he and the team needed two outs before three runs scored to live to fight another day.
They did not get any.
A potent July addition to the Clarinda position-players roster, Garrett Calvert smashed a hard basehit to left field, giving the A’s as many hits in four ninth-inning batters as they’d had in the first eight innings combined. The blow was so sharp and the urgency to score Abushahlah with the first of three needed runs so low, that Clarinda gladly settled for a bases-loaded situation.
Still only one, potential double-play pitch away from a shutout win that would let the Mudcats try to win the playoffs berth this afternoon, but also now one bad pitch from a potential game-ending grand slam, Maly was given one more opportunity to wrap up his stalwart effort.
On his first pitch to Drew Holtgrieve, he induced soft contact, but didn’t have good luck. The righthanded hitter poked a looper over the head of the first baseman for a single. With Calvert at first base carrying the only important run among the baserunners, Mudcats right fielder Tanner Baker unwisely threw toward home plate, trying to cut down the speedy Mitchell, whose run could not tie or beat Chillicothe, rather than to third in an effort to either retire Calvert or convince him to stay at second. Whether a throw to third would have produced an out or kept the potential tying run two bases from home, rather than only one, can’t be known, but the too-late peg to the plate tightened the noose around the Fish’s neck.
Because the potential tying run now was at third and possible winning run at first as Morris belatedly was summoned to the mound, Chillicothe was in a defensive quandary.
Had Calvert been kept at second, the new pitcher would have had the opportunity to save the game by retiring the next two batters, even if the first out came on a deep fly ball. A single or an error could mean only having the bases loaded with another chance to get another out or two for a 3-2 win.
Instead, with runners at the corners, the infielders had to play “in,” improving the batter’s chances of getting a hit through. In addition, it meant there was risk on a throw if Clarinda were to gamble with a stolen-base attempt by the trail runner.
That latter possibility turned to reality a few pitches into Alec Paz’s at-bat. As Holtgrieve headed for second, rather than a drawn-in middle infielder beating a retreat to second at an awkward angle and then trying to catch a throw from catcher Cris Cabral and make a tag while keeping Calvert in mind at third, the throw toward second was caught well in front of the base, just in case Calvert was intending to break for the plate upon the throw’s release. Reading the infielders’ positioning, he remained at third, meaning the A’s now had both the tying and winning runs in scoring position with one out.
With Morris already behind on the count to Paz 3-1 and no forceout double play currently possible, the only real option for Chillicothe was to toss ball four to the batter, loading the bases with one out to create a chance for a forceout at any base to, if not prevent the tying run, at least get a second out – perhaps on the potential winning run. Clarinda’s Ryan Hunter had different ideas, though.
The lefthanded hitter pulled the third pitch of his at-bat against righty Morris toward right-center field for a quickly-obvious hit. As the tying run trotted home from third, Holtgrieve followed from second well before the futile throw from the outfield. After dominating Clarinda for eight innings, Maly had been charged with all four A’s runs in the ninth and Morris – entering with next-to-no margin for error – had not retired either batter he faced and Chillicothe’s season was over.
The finish of Monday’s game mirrored the finish of its season.
Only a few nights before – last Thursday – they had defeated league-leading St. Joseph for a second time in three nights to have the third playoffs berth nearly in their grasp and Clarinda’s back against the wall.
However, the Iowa team reeled off five consecutive victories over the next four nights and Chillicothe went 0-3, coming up short at the wire.
Monday’s contest saw sensational pitching by Maly and Clarinda hurlers Cam Bednar and A.J. Slaughter bracketed by two big half-innings of scoring.
Chillicothe started the game like the A’s ended it – with a flurry of hits and runs and steals.
A game-starting walk to Mudcats leadoff batter Ramger Iglesias soon was followed by his theft of second base. Kody Gardner’s hit to right gave the visitors a 1-0 edge two batters into the action.
Gardner then stole second and took third as Anthony Lantigua beat out an infield hit. As Justin Blasinski batted, Lantigua swiped Chillicothe’s third base of the opening frame, putting him in position to score behind Gardner on Baker’s 1-out hit to right-center.
Baker then stole Chillicothe’s fourth sack of the first inning – a flash of ultra-aggressive baserunning promised prior to the season by Winters and offensive assistant coach Ken Durling, but rarely implemented, even when the hitting sagged significantly after a blazing start, but eventually was stranded at third.
Armed with the 3-0 advantage, Maly walked speedster Mitchell to open the Clarinda first, but soon picked him off. Victor Perez singled to replace Mitchell on base, but a double play turned on Calvert’s grounder to shortstop Iglesias began a streak of 13 A’s batters in a row the Chillicothe starting pitcher would set down.
Carrying a 1-hitter into the sixth, but still up only 3-0 as Clarinda starter Cam Bednar had settled down and was in the process of retiring 15 straight, Maly easily worked around the A’s second hit – a leadoff single – in the sixth and stranded Calvert after his 1-out double in the seventh.
With his teammates hitless since Cabral’s single leading off the second, Maly set the Iowans down in order a fifth time in the eighth – including his seventh strikeout – to bring his team to the brink of victory and survival for another day. However, when that seventh strikeout victim – Hunter – batted again the next inning, he ended the game joyously for his team.
Statistically, Maly (5-1) – unjustly for how well he pitched in the pressurized game – wound up charged with four runs, all earned, in 8-1/3 innings. He walked only one.
Had he or Morris been able to close out the ninth with Chillicothe still ahead, Maly – who apparently would not have been available for use during the playoffs, due to restrictions from his college program coach – would have joined 2003 Mudcats righthander Kyler Wetherington as the franchise’s only pitchers ever to win at least six games in a season without a loss. Nine others have won six or seven, but had at least one loss each.
As good as Maly was through eight Monday, Clarinda’s Bednar was just as good, except for his stumbling start. Part of what ended up tipping the scales the A’s way was that lefthander Slaughter threw scoreless innings of 1-hit relief, earning the win in what the league’s statistical website indicates was his first appearance of the season.
Offensively, with the decisive 5-hits outburst in the ninth, Clarinda out-hit the Mudcats 8-5. No Fish had more than one hit and Dawsen Bacho’s double to deep center with two outs in the top of the ninth was his team’s only safety after Cabral’s single to open the second.
Despite batting anywhere from sixth to ninth in the lineup in 35 of the 43 games in which he played, Baker’s 2-runs hit in the first gave him 30 runs batted in for the summer, the second-most on the team. In the eight games in which he batted somewhere in the top five spots in the order, as he did Monday, the Grand Canyon University outfielder drove in 11 total runs. In half of those eight, he had two or more RBI.
Going without a run batted in Monday meant outfielder Justin Blasinski finished with a 2017-best 42 RBI. That’s the second-highest total in team history behind the 45 by Travis Dunlap in 2003.