The Deep in the Hole inbox nearly exploded on Saturday morning with worried readers checking in to see if tragedy had befallen the Defensive Specialist and that was the reason for his absence at Friday night’s game. Well tragedy isn’t necessarily the best way to describe it so lets just say the Defensive Specialist was in a Christmas party induced state of distress. The upside to it all is that the Defensive Specialist has sworn off alcohol for the 128th time in his life, which means that the intensity and focus for Saturday night’s game was at an all time high. With two games on the slate, we should probably get on with it.
There has been a lot of discussion around the league amongst coaches about the spotlight the Defensive Specialist has been shining on their fungo hitting. It has long been an unsung part of the role and many coaches have let the art slip because they’ve perceived it to be a devalued facet of the game. With the Defensive Specialist turning up the intensity we’ve seen numerous coaches wilt under the heat of the torch. Brisbane coach Andrew Utting was the first coach to attempt the catcher pop up on Saturday and the Defensive Specialist knew instantly that things weren’t heading in the right direction when Utting walked out on to the infield grass and began his swing halfway between the plate and the mound. You’ve heard of golfers playing to their slice? Utting was basically telling everyone in attendance that he could not hit the ball cleanly and had to allow for a heavy backhand slice. This was all made abundantly clear when he began his first attempt, which looked like he was clubbing a baby seal. It was potentially the worst dime piece swing the Defensive Specialist has ever seen – however as an optimist, the one positive came on his last swing when he managed to land a ball on first base!
Blue Sox coach Jason Popsicle is cursed by the fact that the Defensive Specialist gets to see his efforts more than any other coach in the league. On Saturday there was a certain crispness to his early fungo hitting which had the crowd whispering about the medical treatment he’d received during the week to rectify the performance issues that had been plaguing him earlier in the season. The new nasal delivery system returned his firmness and staying power, which had him excited for the crescendo. Popsicle’s toss and stroke looked good on the first attempt, which he skied with good height and managed to land just outside the cut-out. Buoyed by his performance and the positive feedback he received from his partner, he tossed and stroked again and sent an even better effort skyward, landing the second ball just to the back of the cut-out. Popsicle was so energised by his return to form that he sent a shout out to the fans in the stands – big boy, lets see you land one on the plate before we anoint you the king of dime pieces!
As many loyal readers will know, the Defensive Specialist is somewhat of a doyen when it comes to baseball fashion so you can easily imagine your old pal choking on his ice water when the managers came out to exchange line-ups before game 1 and Bandits manager David Nilsson appeared to be wearing a tent over his uniform (an oversized black fleece with the sleeves cut off).
Anyway, with the line-ups exchanged it was time for game 1 of the double dip. David Welch took the ball for Sydney with the goal to turn around his form and provide the Sox with a solid outing. The Blue Sox announcing crew took the emasculation of opposing hitters to a new level by playing Celine Dion as Bandits lead-off hitter Wade Dutton approached the dish and the strategy paid dividends as Welch powered through 6 innings yielding zero runs, allowing only 5 hits and striking out 8.
His counterpart Ryan Searle cruised through 2 innings before running into trouble in the third. Trent Schmutter singled solidly to rightfield as did Trent D’Antonio, which put runners on first and third for Techno Tim Auty. Guest DJ Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim) cued a fat base line and then unleashed 18000 beats per minute as Auty strutted to the dish. With electronica still causing issues with his cochlear, Searle allowed a stolen base to D’Antonio and then baulked to score Schmutter and advanced D’Antonio to third. Manager Nilsson rumbled out of the dugout in his poncho to protest the call to no avail. Techno Tim then grounded to second to plate the second run of the inning.
During the game it was announced that the General Managing Partner of the world champion San Francisco Giants – Bill Neukom was in attendance. And why wouldn’t a multi millionaire businessman on holiday in Australia stop in at a local baseball game all the way out in Blacktown? Anyway, he’s a pretty interesting dude according to his Wikipedia page.
Searle got the Bandits through 5 and was relieved in the 6th by John Veitch who punched out the first 2 hitters he faced but then gave up a double to the Bossman who had to use airbrakes to pull up into second base. David Kandilas was sent in as a pinch runner and he scored on a close play at the plate on a line drive to left by Michael Lysaught. Lysaught advanced to second on the throw and then committed a base running gaffe by breaking too early on the next pitch. The throw to third easily beat him but Brad Dutton inexplicably missed the tag - safe! Mark Holland’s abysmal season at the plate continued as he popped out to short to end the inning.
Dae Sung Koo was summoned from the pen to lock down his 5th save of the season and despite a less than smooth inning (yielding 1 run) he pulled through to preserve the Sydney victory. The whole game seemed to fly by in approximately 57 minutes thanks to both pitchers (Welch and Searle) limiting the free passes and working quickly. Welch was the clear cut “Defensive Specialist Player of the Game” in picking up his first win and manager Glenn Williams will surely hope this is the return to form that Welch has been seeking.
The Defensive Specialist broke out the homemade sandwiches and recalibrated the stopwatch and radar in preparation for the nightstand. Chris Oxspring was slated to go up against Hiroki Yamada in what had the makings of a pitcher’s duel. In between games, Bandits manager Dave Nilsson put his entire roster in a bag, shook it up and randomly drew names to determine positions and batting order. The only players from game 1 who remained in the same fielding position were left fielder Akira Nakamura and Josh Roberts. The reconstituted line up looked to be paying off as they had the unflappable Oxspring suddenly flappable. Oxspring has had an unbelievable first month of the season and is a clear front-runner for the “Deep in the Hole Dude of the Month” award so it was interesting to see him a little rusty in the early stages. In the second inning he walked Mitch Nilsson, gave up a single to David Sutherland and was saved on an outstanding play by Andy Graham at the plate when Andrew Campbell singled to centre and Nilsson was waved home. Trent Schmutter’s throw drifted up the line so Graham had to pick it then dive to the plate in order to tag a sliding Nilsson. For that performance, Graham earns the “Deep in the Hole Play of the Game”.
Yamada ran into trouble in the bottom of the second when he issued a lead off walk to the Bossman and then a duck fart single down the right field line to Graham that barely landed fair. The Bossman lumbered to third on the single and scored on a double play ball by Michael Lysaught. Yamada displayed a clear dislike of the strike in the 3rd inning as he gave up a single to David Kandilas, and walked Trent D’Antonio. Techno Tim punched out trying to bunt with 2 strikes
But Schmutter kept the momentum going with a walk of his own. Mystery Man Alex Johnson then hit the shallowest sac fly in baseball history to second base allowing Kandilas to hustle home and score the second run. The free passes hurt Yamada again in the 5th as he committed the cardinal sin of walking the 9 hole guy (Kandilas) and allowed a single to D’Antonio. Kandilas went first to third on that play and scored on a Techno Tim double play ball to give the Blue Sox a 3 run lead.
Oxspring had cruised after his rough early innings but the 6th inning proved to be his undoing. Shuhei Fukuda singled to rightfield crisply. Brad Dutton then grounded to Lysaught at short, who flipped to Holland at second. The ball hit Holland in the glove and clearly bounced out without him taking any form of control over it. The umpire did not agree and ruled Fukuda out on the play. Manager Nilsson chugged it out to second base in his muumuu to dispute the call to no avail. Nakamura then grounded to the Bossman at first who fumbled the ball allowing runners on first and second with one out. A hard hit ground ball by Josh Roberts skipped past the ole’ing Lysaught to load the bases. A sac fly by Nilsson to left scored Dutton and then Sutherland drove a ball to deep left centre that scored Nakamura easily and saw Roberts charging for home. The ball and runner arrived at the same time as Roberts barrelled into Graham to score the 3rd run of the inning. Game tied.
Yamada gave way to Chris Mowday who was stellar in relief while Oxspring lasted 7 before being replaced by Matt Williams. Neither team could dent the scoreboard in regulation and the crowd found itself in extra innings. It looked like we’d be settling in for the long haul until the top of the 11th when the boys from Brisbane decided to loosen their belt buckles and drop a steaming 9 spot on the Blue Sox. Wade Dutton started things off with a double to right while Fukuda picked up 5th knock of the game with a single to centre. Mitch Dening had a severe brain cramp and airmailed the throw to 3rd allowing Fukuda to move up to second, Brad Dutton was intentionally walked and Nakamura followed with a sac fly to centre scoring Wade Dutton. After a Roberts fly out to short, Nilsson punched out on a ball in the dirt. Stone Hands Maat who was in the game as catcher fumbled the ball allowing Nilsson on at first. Sutherland then grounded to Lysaught who was eaten alive by it allowing Fukuda to score. Rory Rhodes got a sawn off and despite breaking his bat dunked a ball into centre that plated 2 and moved Sutherland up to second. Campbell then doubled to centrefield bringing two runners in before Glenn Williams mercifully lifted Williams for Matthew Rae who promptly gave up an RBI single to Wade Dutton, and then yielded Fukuda’s 6th knock of the game. Brad Dutton doubled to right field to score yet another 2 before the carnage was quelled with a Nakamura pop out to the Bossman.
Simon Morriss relieved the fantastic Mowday and powered through the Blue Sox middle order to conclude the contest. 12-3.
Although Fukuda notched an unbelievable 6 hits, Chris Mowday walks away with the “Defensive Specialist Player of the Game Award” for his 4.2 innings of no hit relief work that kept the Bandits in the game despite going up against arguably the best pitcher in the league. Dave Nilsson and his tarpaulin will be extremely pleased with his ballclub’s resolve to stay in the game and attack when the time presented as well as its stellar errorless defence. They’ll be going for the jugular in game 4 in the hope that they can steal a series on the road against one of the better teams in the competition.