D-days' Rally Falls Just Short
By Andrew Walter / Staff Writer
ONEONTA Brandon League sat at one end of the dugout all game long, charting pitches and hoping hard. If the Auburn Doubledays could pull off one more rally and beat the Oneonta Tigers Sunday night, League would have one more chance to show his stuff, and start his first pro playoff game. The Doubledays had a heck of a time getting anyone to cross home plate all game long, until - son of a gun - they indeed rallied. They scored all three of their runs in the ninth inning off of Tigers closer Juan Figueroa, and had the bases loaded with one out and the tying run, pinch runner Eric Arnold, standing on third. But Tigers reliever Jordan Gerk then came on to strike out pinch hitter Scott Dragicivich and shortstop Brad Hassey on six straight pitches, ending Auburn's season with a 4-3 loss before 710 fans at Damaschke Field.
Auburn, which seemed to take advantage of everyone who could manage to reach base in Saturday night's 4-3 win, by contrast left 16 men on base Sunday night, compared to Oneonta's three. And League, who would've itched in Game 1 of the New York- Penn League's championship series against the Staten Island Yankees, was left with vanished possibilities. "Ohhh, yeah, I was just so hoping that we'd win again, and I could pitch one more time this season," the 19-year-old pitcher, Auburn's top starter for much of the season, said shortly after speaking to his mother home in Honolulu with the news. "Just to try to get in on the act, and hopefully I would've pitched really well. I just kind of wanted to get back in and make up for my last start (Thursday, when he left the game trailing Batavia).
Willie Rivera led off the ninth with a single up the middle, and he made it to second when Jason Waugh bounced a single into right. John Schneider was then hit in the midsection with a Figueroa fastball, loading the bases with one out. Pinch-hitting for reviously used inch hitter Cesar German, Paul Richmond hit a seeing-eye single through the hole between third base and shortstop, scoring both Rivera and Waugh to make it 4-2. Nom Siriveaw then fouled off two straight 2-2 itches before finally drawing a walk from Figueroa, and Arnold came on to run for Richmond at second. A.J. orfirio then walked on a 3-1 offering, reloading the bases, still with one out.
"Every time you bring your closer in in a non-save situation, ever since they invented the stopper all of a sudden, from the big leagues down to rookie ball, they just can't close the door," said Oneonta manager Randy Ready. "But (Figueroa) had something on his finger, and he wasn't going to say anything, and wasn't going to come out of the game. That's why he didn't have his best." Gerk, a lefthander, was finally summoned to face lefty-batting Clint Johnston, prompting Holmberg to send Dragicivich, a righty, to the late. But the recent callup from Medicine Hat was overmatched, quickly falling behind 0-2 and striking out with a half-swing. Hassey, representing the last out for Oneonta to make the cham ionshi series, also fell flat on three pitches.
"I thought we were going to pull it out," said an emotional Holmberg. "We just needed one more bat to put it in play, and I thought maybe Dragicivich was the right man in that situation to put the ball into play. He came here from Medicine Hat with good offensive credentials. But it's tough to come off the bench in a game situation like that, I understand that. You always second guess yourself. We were just looking for the ball to be put into play."
Oneonta scored one run in the fifth, on Drew Caravella's sacrifice fly off of Auburn starter Sandy Nin, then busted loose for three runs, and a 4-0 lead, in the seventh, an inning the Doubledays just couldn't get out of until Justin Maureau was summoned to strike out Victor Mendez. Nin, who allowed one earned run on two hits through the first six innings, started the inning, and gave up Jody Roughton's hard one-out double into the right field corner. Nin was replaced by righthander Brian Cardwell, who walked Curtis Reynolds and induced Chris Maples into a pop to second. Caravella, a lefthanded batter who didn't lay in either of the series' first two games, singled into left, scoring Roughton for his second RBI of the night. A.J. Porfirio bobbled the ball, so there was no throw home. Ramon Mora came on for Cardwell, who earned the loss, but was no more effective. Mora threw a wild pitch with his first offering to Eddie Romprey, advancing the runners to second and third. Romprey then hit a hard grounder to shortstop Brad Hassey, who bobbled the ball, for an RBI single scoring Reynolds. Kevin McDonald, Oneonta's ninth batter, reached out and hit a bloop single into center which scored Caravella for Oneonta's fourth run, chasing Nin for Maureau, Auburn's fourth pitcher of the inning.
Holmberg admitted second-guessing himself about his itching selection. "Yeah, I think so," he said. "First of all, Maureau was only available for one or two hitters. It was the seventh inning and 1-0, so you thought you might save him for the ninth. You still think you're just one pitch away from getting out of it. Hindsight is 20/20. You hate to use your best inch hitters early in the ballgame, and you hate to use your best guys in the pen early." Losing while leaving so many men on base is frustrating, but the Doubledays might take some comfort in coming back from the dead - a 4-0 deficit in the ninth - one last time in a season which saw the team claw back similarly many other times, en route to the inckney Division title. "The whole (ninth) inning was a microcosm of us as a team, as it has been all year," said Holmberg. "They battled and fought, and there were some games where we've lost that they battled their guts out to get back into it. That was them in the ninth inning: that was the heart, the determination, the desire, and the will to not give up . Sometimes they make mistakes, too, and that was it tonight."
www.auburnpub.com 9 September 2002