Second double-header Sunday of the fall baseball season.
We’re playing at 10am and 4pm again, which is tough. The break between games means that our energy level falls, and we’re coming up against teams that are playing their second game of the day right after the first. You’d think that we’d have an advantage, with the time to rest, but the opposite seems to be the case.
Our first game of the day, Game 3, was against the St. Croix Ponies. We scored in the top of the first, then gave the Ponies 5 outs in an inning, letting them score 2 runs to take the lead. We got it back in the 4th with a big inning, scoring 5 runs to take a 6-2 lead. We sent in Alex K to pitch, and he was a K machine, getting two strikeouts in the 4th and 5th as he put two scoreless innings on the board.
With the time limit looming, we took the field with our 6-2 lead in the bottom of the 6th. Alex K got two quick strikeouts to start the inning, but we couldn’t close the door. A couple of walks, a hit batter, a ball that fell in for a single in short center, a seeing-eye single, missed throws to first – once again, we gave the Ponies 5 outs, and they used them to score 4 runs.
Final score: Iron Express 6, St. Croix Ponies 6 – our first tie.
Season record: 1-1-1
The second game of the day was against East Ridge. They were fresh off a comeback win against another team, and we were not sharp. Our pitchers were missing high and wild in general – we hit two more batters in this game, which is really unusual for us. They were also not getting their usual velocity, and so the Ridges were putting a lot of balls in play. Had we been playing our usual defensive game, this would not have been a problem, but we weren’t playing our usual game. None of our guys is used to losing – remember, the two teams we put this team together from went a combined 26-2 in the regular season, and 31-3 if you include the playoffs – and they were kind of rattled from the morning’s game.
We could blame it on a lot of things, but the end result was that we lost. The Ridges scored 2 runs in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd, and even though we got two back, we were still down 9-2 in the top of the 6th, when we managed to give the Ridges some extra outs and surrender 3 more runs to make the score 12-2 and trigger the mercy rule.
Game over. The high point for me was that Steven, one of our guys from the Ironpigs, came to see the game. He told me he’d figured out playing was a lot more fun than watching. At the end of the game, with the guys feeling down from having been trounced for the second time this season, I pointed out that playing was better than not playing, and asked Steven if he’d rather be playing, even on the losing team. He said “Yes!” I’m not sure if I got my point across – it’s hard to tell with teenage boys.
Final score: East Ridge 12, Iron Express 2
Season record: 1-2-1
We’ll get ‘em next time.
I think I may have previously mentioned that giving a team extra outs is a bad thing.
We did that in our second game, and it turned out poorly. We faced the Momentum Gray (an odd name in a league full of them), who I will call the Grays for the remainder of this post.
We had four hours off between games, and I think it cost us. The guys weren’t focused, and it showed. We were hoping that the Grays, who had just been playing for 2 hours, would be tired, but they weren’t – they were in the zone and ready to play. We were not.
I didn’t get a shot of the scorebook, but the final was 12-0 in 5 innings. We made errors all over the place and got just two runners as far as 3rd base. The Grays were using wooden bats, so their fly balls were dropping in front of our outfielders, and moving the outfielders in just meant that the balls that were not hit right to them skipped past for extra bases.
The bright spot of the game was that we got a chance to pitch Kieran, who throws really hard but had not pitched before. He did very well, and we’ll definitely use him again.
Final score: 12-0, Iron Express lose.
Season record: 1-1.
First games are always nerve-wracking. First game in a new league is doubly so. And since we’ve stepped up a level, playing in a 14-and-under league at the Competitive instead of Recreational, we have no idea what to expect.
We do have a pretty high opinion of ourselves, though. Half of our team went 13-1 in the regular season and 3-0 in the playoffs, with their only loss coming to… the other half of our team, who went 13-1 in the regular season and 2-1 in the playoffs, with their only playoff loss coming at the hands of the first half of our team. We’re pretty solid, especially on the defense side. The thing you can’t afford to do is to give a team extra outs. If you do that, they’re going to use them to beat you.
We were the visitors, so we batted first. We got a run on a single from Luke P and some aggressive baserunning. In the bottom of the inning, Alex gave up an unearned run; the first batter got on base with an E6, as Marco lost a fly ball in the sun and it bounced off his leg. He wound up on second, and scored on a double from the #2 batter. Alex settled down and got three quick outs on a nice catch of a soft fly by Lucas B, a solid 6-3 play and a strikeout.
We went down quickly on two strikeouts and a fly to 3rd base in the top of the inning. In the bottom, Alex gave up two more runs, despite getting two strikeouts. We just weren’t fielding crisply, and the St Paul boys were finding places to hit the ball where we didn’t have fielders.
We’re behind, 3-1.
New pitcher from the St Paul side, and we started to click at the plate. Three walks loaded the bases for Anthony, batting in the #12 spot (which won’t be the case for long). He hit a single to score 2 runs, and we kept going. We ended up sending 10 guys to the plate and scoring 6 runs to put us back in the lead. In the bottom of the inning, Brandon came in to pitch got three quick outs: a popup to short, a foul fly that Luke P handled against the fence at 3rd, a walk and then another foul fly to Luke at 3rd.
We’re winning, 7-3.
A new pitcher from the St Paul side shut us down hard, with a grounder to first, a walk and then a 6-4-3 double play. We took the field for the bottom of the inning and did our best to return the favor. We didn’t quite manage it, with Brandon facing a total of 5 batters, but we don’t give up any runs: walk, strikeout, 4 unassisted, walk, 5 unassisted. Brandon’s pretty clearly a fly ball pitcher at this point, and it’s working for us.
We’re still winning, 7-3.
St Paul still wants to get back into the game, and to do that, they need to keep us from scoring runs. In the top of the inning, they did that: strikeout, strikeout, single, 5-3. In the bottom of the inning, Luke P came in to pitch and kept the lid on, giving up one run on two strikeouts, two singles and an out on the bases.
We’re still winning, 7-4.
We’re up against the time limit, so this is the last inning. St Paul has got to keep us from scoring and then get 4 runs to win. We, obviously, have different plans. Ryan leads off and gets aboard on an error (E3), steals second, then scores as Nate gets on with another error (E5). Marco hits a double, scoring Nate. Lucas B strikes out for the first out. Kieran gets aboard on the 3rd error of the inning (E4), then steals second, with Marco scoring on the throw (which was not charged as an error, but should have been). Brandon hits into a 5-3 play for the second out, then David gets aboard on the 4th error of the inning (!, E6), with the ball rolling out into right field on the throw. David winds up at second, with Kieran scoring. Alex K gets under a ball and hits a soft fly that the shortstop catches to finally end the inning, with us having scored 4 runs.
The St Paul boys haven’t given up, though. In the bottom of the 6th, we make an error (E6) that puts a runner aboard. Luke P, our usual closer, gets a strikeout and a fly to left to get two outs, but can’t quite close the deal, giving up a walk to put another runner aboard, then we make our second error of the inning (E5) to put another runner aboard and score two. A single puts runners at 1st and 2nd, who steal 2nd and 3rd on defensive indifference, before Luke finally gets the last out on a strikeout.
Errors will kill you – we made three, and two of those batters scored. St Paul Midway made five, including four in one inning. Four of those five batters scored. They gave us a lot of extra outs, and we used them well.
Final score: 11-6, Iron Express win.
Season record: 1-0
So we’re playing “fall ball” – Alex is signed up for Gopher State baseball. He’ll be playing double-headers on Sundays in September and October, with a team made up of the first 5 batters from the Ironpigs, 6 guys from the Express, and a friend of one of the players from the Express.
Yes, we made a team from the two best teams in the A league. We’re the “Iron Express” and we’re signed up for the “competitive” level of play in Gopher State. We’re playing in a 14U league – all of our guys will be 14 as of May 2013, so we’re in the 14-and-under class.
Alex turned 14 today, in fact, and we had our first practice. The boys looked good, making strong throws and fielding well both in the infield and the outfield. We got a chance to scrimmage against a team of 15-year-olds who were practicing on the adjacent field. Each of us provided our own pitcher when we were batting, so we had an appropriate level of pitching – it would have been no fun for our guys to pitch against the 15-year olds, since most of our team is still 13, and two years makes a big difference. We did well, giving up just one run on a passed ball and only one hit. We can’t really claim too much credit for all the strikeouts, though, since the guy pitching to the other team was actually on that team. He had a wicked fastball, though.
We have a lot of coaches; in addition to me and Craig from the Ironpigs, we have Jeremy and Chris, who had coached in MAA previously but did not coach for the Express, as well as several of the other dads who are helping out on the field. It was interesting talking to Jeremy and Chris; I learned that the Express catchers were not giving signs, and that the coaches were not calling the baserunning game. Since those were a big part of our success, we’re going to keep doing those things
Practice again tomorrow; we’re going to work on baserunning, running through first base on a single and the run-down. That should be fun. I’m in charge tomorrow, with Jeremy and Craig both off at the coaches’ clinic for Gopher State. Wish me luck.
That’s what my friend and co-worker Arun Batchu said to me earlier this week.
I’d said something clever that captured the essence of a problem we were facing, about the forces that produce the situations we find ourselves in, and what we need to do to get the outcomes we want, and he shook his head in wonder and told me I should write a book. It’s possible that it was a clever ruse to get me to stop talking, but I don’t think so.
So, I’m going to write more essays that capture my insights into the way things work, and how to do them better. Maybe that will turn into a book. Maybe it won’t. But either way, I’m going to do it.
Wish me luck.
This is it. The championship game. We don’t need to save anything for later, because there is no “later.”
We’re up against the Maplewood Express, the other 13-1 team in our league. We saw them in Game 4 and beat them 4-2. We’ve been keeping an eye on them all year, and going into the tournament, we figured we’d be facing either them or the Twins, who are the only team to beat us all year.
The Express and the Twins faced each other yesterday, after we beat the Cubs to make it to the championship game. The Express won that one 8-4, so we got the rematch they wanted. I wanted this one too; while it would have been nice to face the Twins and play our game, the long-standing rivalry with the Express is just too good to pass up.
It rained overnight and into the morning, pushing back game start times by 2 hours, so our original 2:30 start time turned into a 4:30 start time. All that rain made the field was a lot softer than yesterday, which is a good thing — it was really hard and dusty yesterday.
We won the coin toss, and elected to be the home team. We’re feeling good about this — we’re good in the field, and being the home team gives us “last ups” (we’ll have the last opportunity to score runs, in the bottom of the 7th inning).
We take the field, and Alex starts. He gives up a run, but we get out without too much damage, and put three on the board in the bottom of the 1st to take the lead.
Alex pitches a scoreless 2nd and 3rd, and we add another run to make it 4-1. The Express are starting to let doubt seep in, and their coach is telling them to keep their heads up and stay in the game.
They do, and we start making errors in the field. A ball to right field drops in front of Joey, who grabs it and starts to run it in instead of throwing, and the Express score two to make it 4-3.
They get another two on a ball to left that pops out of Justin’s glove, taking the lead 5-4. Then they add three more in the 6th inning on a walk, two hits and another ball to right that Joey can’t catch up to. We’re down 8-4 — the same score that the Express beat the Twins by yesterday — and go down scoreless in the bottom of the inning.
Top of the 7th; Luke pitches like a closer, mowing down the Express to put a zero on the board. We’re still down by 4, but we’re not done — we get the last at-bat. If we can score 4, we force another inning. If we score 5, we’re the champions. We have the middle of our order coming up.
Anthony strikes out to start the inning, but Sam hustles out a single, then steals second. Elijah walks, and we put on the double steal to put runners at second and third. Steven hits a ringing double to left, scoring two and putting the tying run at the plate in the form of Justin.
The Express coach runs onto the field and gathers his infielders to talk. Their 4-run lead is down to two, and they only have one out. The game is most definitely on the line.
Justin takes a ball, with Steven stealing third, then a called strike, then swings and misses one. 1-2. He hangs tough, fouling off two more pitches, before finally missing one to give the Express their second out.
We send Sean to the plate. Sean’s the smallest guy on our team, but he swings hard and he hustles. He rarely strikes out, but since he doesn’t hit for much power, we have him near the bottom of the lineup. In this case, though, we don’t need power – we need to get Steven in from third base, and we need another baserunner.
Sean fouls one off, then swings through a second pitch. He makes good contact with the third pitch, hitting a sharp line drive up the middle. Unfortunately for us, the Express pitcher makes a nice play, gloving the ball for the third out and the end of the game.
We line up and congratulate the Express on a game well played. We didn’t win, but we played well, and we made them work right up to the last out.
Final score: 8-6, Express win.
Tournament record: 2-1, 2nd place.
We took home two trophies: one for 2nd place in the tournament, and one for winning the regular season.
Thanks, Ironpigs, for letting me coach. It was an honor to be along for the ride. See you next year.
Sometimes, a game can turn on a single decision.
We won our first game, so we can do no worse than 4th place. We have our sights set a bit higher, though. We’d like to win it all.
To do that, we need to win today. The Roseville Cubs, of course, think they should win. We played them before, and they played hard, so we’re expecting a good game.
Craig and I got a chance to catch up with the Cubs coach before the game. They had a fairly easy game in the first round, beating the Little Canada Blue Jays by 10 runs or so, but they’re expecting today to be hard.
We lose the coin toss, and the Cubs elect to be the home team. This is a good strategic call; it means that they will bat last. I think it’s also the call that lost them the game.
We score three runs in the top of the first. Alex starts and gives up a run, but we get three outs without much trouble.
In the second, we score three more run, and Alex pitches a scoreless inning.
In the third, we score another three runs, and Alex gives up his second run of the game.
Somewhere in the second inning, or maybe the third, the Cubs lost. They knew coming in that we’d beaten them before, and we were scoring runs in every inning and they weren’t. We were playing our game, and they weren’t playing theirs.
They shut us down in the 4th inning, finally getting a 1-2-3 inning by striking out our 9-10-11 hitters, but the mental damage was done. We added four more runs in the 5th to make it 13-2, and two more in the 7th to make it 15-2, and although the Cubs managed to get two runs in the bottom of the 7th, there was never any doubt about the outcome.
I think it came down to that initial decision; almost every time, being the home team is the right move. This time, it gave us the chance to score runs and rattle the Cubs, and we capitalized on that by playing excellent defense and scoring more runs to keep them off-balance. They never got a chance to start playing their game. Which is good, because we’d seen that before, and they could have beaten us.
They didn’t, though.
Final score: 15-4 Ironpigs.
Tournament record: 2-0. We’re going to the championship game.
It’s playoff time. We’re in the upper bracket, called the American League. We’re the #1 seed, since we finished in first place.
This means we’re playing the #8 seed, the Oakdale Red Sox. We played these guys in the regular season, and while we got in trouble early, we came back and won it 20-5.
If we win tonight, we’re playing Saturday afternoon, and can do no worse than 4th place overall. If we lose, we’re playing on Saturday morning at 8:45 am. Nobody wants that.
We win the coin toss, and choose to be the home team, so we take the field. Alex cruises through the first inning, with a comebacker to the mound that he throws to Lucas at first for the first out, a soft liner to the shortstop and a strikeout. He threw just 4 pitches to the first two batters, and eight total in the inning. In the bottom of the inning, Luke walks, then steals second and third with Alex batting. Alex walks and Luke steals home on the passed ball. Alex then steals second and third with Marco batting. Marco strikes out, but Lucas hits a single to score Alex. That’s all we manage, though, as the Red Sox starter, the same big lefty we saw before, gets Anthony and Elijah to strike out, mixing in a harmless walk to Sam.
2-0 Ironpigs. We’re in business.
The second inning does not go according to plan at all. Alex gives up a single to the first batter, who steals second and third, then tags up and scores on a fly ball. Another single puts a runner aboard, who makes it all the way around, scoring on an errant throw to third. A walk puts a third runnner aboard, who steals his way to third, then scores when we botch a rundown – we had the runner picked off third, but threw the ball away and gave up the run. Alex settles down and gets the third out with a strikeout, but the damage is done – we’ve given up 3 runs and we’re losing.
In the bottom of the second, we have our first baserunning adventure – Steven leads off with a big fly ball to deep center, but he overruns second base and is tagged out. Justin and Joey go down swinging, and we’re going to the third, trailing by a run.
3-2 Red Sox. This could be trouble.
Alex is mad now, and he gets the first two batters in the top of 3 to strike out, then gets a roller to third for an easy 5-3 play to end the inning and keep the Sox from adding to their lead. Joey leads off the bottom of the inning for us and strikes out, but Luke gets a single, Alex walks, Marco hits a double, Lucas walks (with Marco scoring on yet another passed ball), Anthony walks (with Lucas scoring on, you guessed it, another passed ball), and the Red Sox finally pull their starter and put in another pitcher. He gets Sam to fly out and Elijah to strike out, but we’ve scored 4 runs to take back the lead. This is Ironpigs baseball.
6-3 Ironpigs. We’re back.
Marco comes in to pitch the 4th inning, and gives up a single to the leadoff hitter, who makes it around to score as Marco is retiring the next three batters. In the bottom of the 4th, our 8-9-10-11 hitters come up to bat and keep the pressure on. Single from Steven, single from Justin, single from Sean to load the bases. Joey hits a sharp ball up the middle for a fielder’s choice that scores two, then he steals second and third, and we get our second baserunning adventure – Luke hits a ball to deep right field that the right fielder makes a great catch on. Joey took off when the ball was in the air, and didn’t hear me yelling “back back back!”, so he’s at home plate by the time the ball is caught. The Sox fielder follows up his great catch with a great throw, and the relay beats Joey back to third base, so he’s out. If he’d tagged up, he’d have scored easily from third and we’d still be batting, but instead, it’s a double play – 9-4-5.
The 5th inning is back on plan; Marco strikes out the side, making it look easy. Alex leads off with his third walk of the game, Marco hits his second double, then takes third and scores on yet another passed ball. Lucas strikes out – the first time I can recall him doing that in weeks, Anthony hits into a 5-3 fielding play, Sam walks, Elijah strikes out to end the inning. Two more runs for us.
The 6th inning is all about Luke. He’s in full-on closer mode, retiring the Red Sox 9-10-11 hitters with three neat strikeouts. The bottom of the 6th has our third wacky baserunning adventure. After Steven strikes out to end the inning, Justin hits a single, then steals his way to third. Sean strikes out, but the catcher drops the ball, so we’re yelling at Sean to run to first. He does, and the catcher throws to get him, and Justin steals home. Except he misses home plate, and as soon as the next batter steps in, the Red Sox protest and the umpire calls Justin out. Inning over.
We’re still leading by 6 runs, but the top of the Red Sox order is coming up, and there is no limit to scoring in the 7th inning. Not to worry, though, because Luke is still in closer mode. He strikes out the leadoff hitter, gets a great play by Sam on a fly ball to deep center for the second out, and gets the last out of the game on a 1-4-3 play, with the ball hitting off his glove and a nice catch by Anthony at second to Lucas at first.
Final score: 10-4 Ironpigs.
Tournament record: 1-0. We get to sleep in on Saturday.
Playoff standings are set – we were in first place last Friday, so we’re the #1 seed – but we still have a game left to play. And as it turns out, this one matters too.
We’re tied with the Maplewood Express, our long-term rivals, but since we beat them, we win the tiebreaker. But both of us have one game to play, and they’re facing the Oakdale Knights, who are 1-11. We figure they’re going to win. We, on the other hand, are up against the Little Canada Blue Jays, coached by Mike Murphy. They’re 11-2, in 3rd place. If we lose and the Express win, they’ll be in first place and we’ll be in third (since we’d be 12-2, tied with the Jays, who would have beaten us). Standings math is fun!
We’d prefer for that not to happen; there could be a trophy in it for us, and that would be a nice capper for a great season.
We have 11 guys tonight, and the Jays, who normally have 16, only have 9. This could be a good sign, or a bad one, depending on which 9 guys they have. Their coaches tell us they have 4 of their 6 pitchers, which could be trouble.
I didn’t get a shot of the scorebook, so I’m going from memory. Bear with me.
We’re visiting, so we start off at the plate. We score 3 runs, sending 8 batters to the plate. Alex starts and gives up a hit but keeps the Jays off the board.
In the second, our #9 batter, Sean, strikes out, then Joey walks, Justin gets a hit and the top of our order is up with 1 out and runners on 1st and 2nd. One pitch later, they’re on 2nd and 3rd, and two pitches after that, we’ve scored a run. We score 6 more, finishing with a monster 3-run homer to left by Sam. 7 runs is the limit, so we take the field. Alex pitches another scoreless inning.
The Jays keep us off the board in the 3rd inning, and manage to get another runner aboard in the bottom of the inning, but Alex gets the last two batters on strikeouts to end the inning with the runner stranded at third.
We add two more runs in the 4th. Marco comes in to pitch and retires the side 1-2-3.
In the 5th, we get a couple of runners aboard but can’t get them across the plate. The Jays finally break through, getting a run across the plate on a fielder’s choice in the bottom of the inning.
We add two more in the 6th. Marco stays in to pitch, and puts another zero on the board for the Jays.
We go down scoreless in the 7th. Luke comes in to close, and gets two quick outs before giving up a couple of sharp singles, a walk and a double to score 3 runs. He finally takes matters into his own hands, getting a strikeout to end the game.
A fitting end to a heck of a season. And we took matters into our own hands – we’re in control of our destiny.
Final score: Ironpigs 14, Blue Jays 4.
Season record: 13-1. First place.
This is the third game this week, and we’re playing short-handed. With three guys on vacation, we have just 9 guys. Except tonight, we’re missing Aaron, so we’re playing with 8.
This is legal; MAA rules allow us to play a game with 8 – we can even start with just 7 guys on the field, as long as we get up to 8 guys before the end of the game. Since we have 8 already, we’re good. So are the Orioles, who muster up 9 guys in time for the game to start.
We were originally supposed to play the Os back at the beginning of the season, but postponed the game due to a band concert. Their season has been pretty much the opposite of ours – another team of younger guys, they’re having problems putting together hitting and pitching in the same game, resulting in a 1-9 record.
So we’re facing a team that we should be able to beat, but we’re playing short-handed, and this one matters – the standings as of Friday (tomorrow as we play this game) will determine playoff seeding. We’re in first place ahead of the Express, but a loss would put us behind them in percentage. We don’t want that.
So we send Alex to the mound in the first. He walks the first batter, then gets a strikeout before giving up a single. We manage to hold the runners, and Alex gets another strikeout, and then a popup to short. In the bottom of the inning, we also send 5 guys to the plate, but some aggressive baserunning gets us two runs and a 2-0 lead.
Alex settles down in the second, retiring the Os 1-2-3 with a grounder to short (6-3) and two strikeouts. We bat around, sending 8 guys to the plate and scoring 4 runs.
The third inning sees the Os score a run on a two-out, nobody-on ball to the left field corner – with only 8 guys, we have a left-center fielder and a right-center fielder, and a well-hit ball that rolls all the way to the fence is a home run. It would have been a triple even with three fielders – it was a well-hit ball. Alex gives up a walk and a single before getting a ball to first base that Lucas handles for the third out. We come back big in the bottom of the inning. Sam hits a leadoff triple, Elijah follows up with a double, then Justin gets a triple. Luke walks, Alex gets a single, Marco hits a triple, Lucas walks, Anthony strikes out and Sam gets his second hit of the inning, a single, to plate the 7th run and end the inning.
Marco comes in to pitch a scoreless 4th, giving up a harmless walk while getting three strikeouts. We score 4 more runs in the bottom of the inning, although we’ve shut down the running game; the guys are not even advancing on passed balls, only on hits.
The 5th doesn’t go any better for the Os; they get a runner aboard with a walk, but he’s erased with a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. We score another 5 runs in the bottom of the inning. Sam leads off for the third time in this game, and gets his third extra-base hit (a double), and the inning ends with Anthony almost stretching a dropped third strike into a home run. The catcher overthrew first, so Craig and I were yelling at Anthony to keep going, and the Orioles finally managed to get the ball in the same place as the baserunner when he reached home plate.
This was the play I’d been trying to get on Wednesday night; a play at the plate resulting in an out. I know it’s odd to be sending your own guys into plays and hoping they’ll make outs, but we were leading by 20 runs at this point. I wanted the Os to have something to be excited about, and getting the runner at the plate is exciting. On Wednesday night, I sent a runner from third on a ball into short left field, expecting the throw to the plate and an out. Instead, the left fielder hung onto the ball, and I looked like a jerk for running up the score. Not tonight, though – the Orioles made the play for the third out.
Luke came in to pitch the sixth inning. Strikeout, strikeout, triple to left, strikeout. Since there was no time to play another inning, there was no point in us batting again, so the ump called the game.
Final score: Ironpigs 22, Orioles 1
Season record: 12-1, still in first place – and no way for anyone to displace us. Second best record is the Express at 11-1, and we beat them. Third best is the Twins, who beat us, but they’re 9-1.
First seed, here we come. We have one game left, and then it’s tournament time.