SAN RAFAEL AND SONOMA TO MEET FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP

Pacifics Head to Sonoma for Sunday Night Finale

The beauty of baseball is defined by the tension of unfolding drama.  We cherish those rare, delicious games when one pitch, one “seeing eye” grounder, one broken bat blooper can repeatedly churn the emotions from gloom to elation and back again over nine suspenseful innings.

Last night’s classic semi-final game at Albert Park between the Pacifics and Admirals, defined throughout by a display of pure pitching prowess, offered an anthology of those sensual, thrilling moments to be stored away for the winter in the scrap book of memory. 

Like those great games of the past, Game 6 of the 1975 Series between the Red Sox and Reds comes to mind, this matchup between the defending champion Admirals and the three-time champion Pacifics kept the crowd in knots throughout a sultry first of September evening when it was all on the line to determine which team would advance to the 2018 championship game. 

Once the aging ballpark’s lights were dimmed and the brooming of the grandstand clanked against the quiet, one could reflect on a game well-played by both teams clinging desperately to the hope for a shot at tonight’s championship.  Immediate thoughts focused on the stunning pitching performances we’d just witnessed, Rando Moreno’s clutch triple, the two critical errors that helped define the outcome and that edge-of-the-seat top half of the 9th that gripped the soul. 

“I’m drained right now,” said a wearied manager Matt Kavanaugh.  “We got the pitching we needed, a big hit from Moreno and we just barely held on.  Miller (Admirals pitcher Jalen Miller, Sr.) was terrific but our guys, Koenig and Beatty, were just plain awesome.”

Kavanaugh sent out his ace left-hander Jared Koenig (12-1, 3.57 ERA), leading the league in wins and strikeouts (148), and Koening wasn’t just good, he was superb, going 6.2 innings allowing only 4 hits and one unearned run while striking out 8.

His counterpart, the aforementioned Jalen Miller Sr. (2-6, 4.65 ERA) was equally brilliant, throwing 8 innings of 3 hit ball while striking out 9 along the way. 

The Pacifics had earlier mounted a threat against Miller in the bottom of the 2nd but stranded runners at second and third. 

It wasn’t until the 3rd that the game saw its first swivel point. 

Aaron Brill worked a leadoff walk. DonAndre Clark then hit a tailor-made double play ball to second baseman Rian Kinary that, in his rush to turn two, he booted, giving the Pacifics runners at first and second to open the inning. On a 1-0 count, Rando Moreno ripped a 2 RBI triple into the right-field corner.  Corey Dempster followed with a sacrifice fly to left center to score Moreno and give the Pacifics a 3-0 lead. 

The stalwart Koenig wouldn’t surrender the lead, though he did allow a run in the top of the 4th after a leadoff walk was followed by a Chevy Clark single. After punching out Greylin Derke, Koenig walked Brandon Fischer to load the bases. Catcher Nick Crouse hit a high chopper up the middle that the 6’8” Koenig stretched his full frame to snare before throwing home to force out Kinary for the second out. 

On a full count to 9-hole hitter Chris Fornaci, Koenig picked over to first as Crouse left too early, creating a rundown. When Clarke at third broke for the plate, Moreno’s throw home was off line, allowing Clarke to score. Koenig struck out Fornaci to end the threat without further damage. 

Both Koenig and Miller remained in complete command of the game, littering a couple of walks between them, but holding firm until the top of the 7th when Koenig allowed a 2-out double to Vladimir Gomez. After an intentional walk to the league’s home run and RBI champ, Nick Akins Sr., Kavanaugh made a pivotal decision pulling Koenig for veteran starter Max Beatty (9-3, 4.02 ERA). 

The first man Beatty faced was former Pacifics shortstop David Kiriakos, who lined out softly to Jake Taylor at first on the first pitch he saw to end the threat and release the collective breaths of Pacifics fans everywhere. 

Miller was unrelenting, retiring the Pacifics in order in the 7th and 8th with three strikeouts.  In lock-step, Beatty sandwiched a single in the 8th with three groundouts to Brill at second. 

With a 3-1 lead in the 9th, the palpable drama built as the boisterous crowd erupted on every pitch.  Beatty got 2 quick outs via a pop up and a strikeout, but on a 1-2 count Gomez flared a broken-bat bloop single down the right-field line, landing only inches fair. 

The tying run was at the plate in the person of…you guessed it, Nick Akins, Sr.

Throughout the night, the powerful and imposing Akins had been held at bay, walking twice and harmlessly popping out twice.  Kavanaugh made clear to his pitchers that Akins would not be the one to beat them.  Yet, here it was in the 9th inning, with the game and the season on the line, that Akins came to the plate, clenching his bat in a menacing stare down with Beatty.

Not to be intimidated, Beatty threw a high hard one that Akins ripped at and missed.

Not a soul in the stands with even a modicum of knowledge of basic pitching technique could doubt that Beatty would next go soft, low and away.  Akins, however, was not among them, whiffing weakly at the dodging slider…low and away.

At 0-2, Gomez stole second base uncontested.  His run mattered little either at first or second as the building pressure-point focused on Akins.  Beatty, all assumed, would waste one to entice an errant swing, but Akins wouldn’t bite at the next slider well off the plate. 

Now at 1-2 Beatty was ready for a challenge pitch, hard and up, to maybe get a swing and miss or induce a pop up.  Akins read it well but fouled it off. 

Eschewing another off-speed, low and away slider, Beatty went to his bread-and-butter cut fastball, but it hung over the plate and Akins slammed it into left for an RBI single. 

 A dropped pin would have echoed in the grandstand as the score narrowed to a precious one run with the tying run at first.

It was now up to the pesky Kiriakos to keep alive Vallejo’s hopes for a repeat championship.  Beatty fell behind 2-0, losing the strike zone on his first two cutters. 

Sitting on a certain fastball, Kiriakos pounded a deep shot to center.  The eyes of all in the park turned upward at first to follow the ball’s flight then lowered to watch a streaking DonAndre Clark in full sprint across the outfield chase it down, stretching out his gloved arm to secure the final out and the Pacifics place in tonight’s championship game. 

Tonight’s championship game is at Arnold Field in Sonoma. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 pm. The Pacifics are 2-6 on the year in Sonoma, but the two clubs are 8-8 overall against one another. 

Come out and support your Pacifics on Sunday in Sonoma as they compete for yet their fourth title!