A Terrific Series
Although I get to see a lot of Norfolk Tides games during a season, it’s unusual that I will see an entire four-game series against a specific opponent. I can’t work any non-holiday weekday afternoon games because I have a day job that pays the bills, allowing me to work as many games as I do. Baseball Info Solutions requires that I enter the games I work for them within 48 hours; hence, I can’t work games on two consecutive weekdays after I work a game for BIS.
However, this past Memorial Day weekend the schedule broke well and I saw all four games of the Tides series against the Columbus Clippers. The Clippers had the best record in the International League – three games better than the second-best record – and the Tides had the worst record in the International League – four games worse than the second-worst record. On its face, this should have been a series of blowout victories for Columbus. But this four-game series proved to be four of the most entertaining games I’ve seen.
Game 1 featured strong starting pitching from Columbus’ Zach McAllister and Norfolk’s Chris Jakubauskas. Lonnie Chisenhall slugged a mammoth home run over the deep right-center field fence, into the teeth of a strong wind. Norfolk tied the game immediately on a soft line-drive single, a well-executed sacrifice bunt by Kyle Hudson – the best technical bunter I’ve ever seen – and a single up the middle that trickled through the infield. The game may have turned on a fielding position decision in the top of the tenth. With the bases loaded, one out, and catcher-playing-designated hitter Paul Phillips batting, Norfolk chose to play the infield in halfway. Phillips hit a ground ball up the middle. With the infield at normal depth, the ball would have been turned into an inning-ending double play; but instead the shortstop couldn’t make the play and the ball was a run-scoring hit. Cord Phelps followed with a bases-loaded double, and Columbus won 5-1.
Brian Matusz, on a rehabilitation assignment, was the Tides’ starter in Game 2. Matusz had been promoted directly from AA to the major leagues, and his start Friday night was the first time that he had ever pitched in Norfolk. Even though Matusz wasn’t as sharp or as overpowering as some would have thought, he still struck out seven batters in five scoreless innings. Meanwhile, Kyle Hudson beat out a bunt for a single in the third inning. The next batter, Matt Angle, sacrificed. Hudson kept running toward a temporarily-undefended third base and scored when the throw to third was wild. In the sixth, Matusz gave up two quick singles and was replaced by Pat Egan, who was greeted with a game-tying single. In the seventh inning, Hudson tried to make a diving catch of a line drive hit down the left-field line and failed; the hit was a triple. Columbus put the game out of reach later that inning on Cord Phelps’ two-run double. The final score was 5-2.
The outstanding pitching continued in Game 3. Columbus got a run in the top of the first inning off Mitch Atkins on a two-out double followed by a two-out single. After that, Atkins pitched into the seventh inning without giving up a run. Columbus’ starter Jeanmar Gomez retired the first twelve Norfolk batters and didn’t give up a run until the sixth inning. Columbus put several runners on base, but the Tides turned three double plays to help keep the Clippers from scoring. The Columbus bullpen prevented Norfolk from any threats until the bottom of the 13th inning, when the Tides won the game on a Matt Angle single, a sacrifice, an intentional walk, and a bloop single by Josh Bell.
Neither starting pitcher was effective in Game 4. Tides’ starter Jason Berken, a struggling Orioles relief pitcher on a low pitch count, couldn’t find the strike zone consistently and walked four batters in 2 2/3 innings. He was relieved by Chris George, a swingman who was victimized by the hot Cord Phelps and some shaky defense. Clippers’ starter David Huff couldn’t miss Tides’ bats consistently; he gave up five runs on ten hits in four innings and was helped when the Tides’ third-base coach inexplicably sent Brandon Snyder home when the relay man was already holding the ball. After the starters left, once again the bullpens continued to shut their opponents down until the tenth, when the amazing Mr. Phelps (who drove in nine of the Clippers’ 17 runs in the series) ripped a two-out single to give the Clippers a 6-5 lead (and ultimately a 6-5 win.)