Two Worlds Collide
Jim McEneaney - The Long Islanders and South Starrucca Ainspans met for one final time. Born back in 1994 as something of a reaction to that year’s horrible MLB stoppage and postseason cancellation, YESTERDAY (and later GOLD) became a fixture in the lives of many TCBA managers for the last quarter of a century, and now draws to a conclusion as the “Iron Curtain” has finally come crashing down on that most noble experiment.
With Long Island having clinched the Hackbart title last week, there was none of the thrilling possibilities and expectations that the final SO-LI series has usually held over so many of the YEST/GOLD seasons, but that didn’t mean that for one final time we couldn't enjoy a really special “Fan Appreciation Day” on the final day of the season.
The first three games were played in pretty routine, solo fashion as Long Island basically hoped to get their pitching rotations in order for the postseason while trying to keep everyone healthy and rested (while still sharp). As usual, the games were close, well played contests…
But it was the season’s finale that all the fans had been most looking to. With a sellout crowd (that included VitaMen skipper Red Braun), the two old rivals squared off in YESTERDAY for one final time….and by squared off, they meant exactly that.
The teams had announced before series play that the starting pitchers for the season finale would feature the two player managers, Stick Fiehl and Jimmy Mac, as the game’s starting pitchers. Although Long Island’s three losses in the first three games had put home field advantage throughout the playoffs in jeopardy, the two teams agreed that they would go through with the announced starters as planned.
Before the first pitch, the three veteran Hackbart skippers spent an enjoyable time reminiscing about seasons gone by, and the world in general. But then it was time for the first pitch…Jimmy Mac looked in at the first batter and seemed to be wondering. “What the hell am I doing out here?”
George Case laced a single to CF....Ellis Clary walked…Jerry Priddy walked. And that brought Vince DiMaggio to the plate. Like that little boy in the Kenny Rogers song, Mac was undeterred…he looked in, took the sign, and fired.
Ooops. DiMaggio laced a single to RF, and Starrucca lead 1-0. That brought Danny Litwhiler to the plate. Uncle Ernie had the call….”LITWHILER facing J. Mac….Islanders playing for the double play ... the runners take their lead ... the delivery…checked swing ... he held up ... and he walks ... that forces in a run….and the bases are still loaded ... Mac kicks the rubber ... not happy with that pitch….three walks in the first inning!” Uh, yeah, Ernie. Not happy at all. But that brings up Nap Reyes, hitting a robust .213. He can dream of being the hero, but the Isles have other ideas.” Islanders playing for the double play ... the runners take their lead ... the pitch ... swung on….it's smashed deep to left center ... GALAN is racing over ... PRIDDY scores…DIMAGGIO is right behind him.” OK, it’s 4-0, there are none out. Maybe Jimmy Mac just doesn’t have it today (ed. Note—Yah think!). Islanders bring in Johnny Gorsica and move Jimmy Mac to first base. Maybe he can relieve himself later in the game (ed. note - Wait; What?)
Unbelievably, Gorsica retires the next three batters on short flies and a ground out and we move on with the visitors leading 4-0. In the top of the 2nd, Gorsica escapes trouble even after Jimmy Mac contributes an error to his seemingly lost cause.
In the home 2nd, Buddy Rosar reaches on a 1-out error when Ainspan catcher Dee Moore butchers a squibber in front of the plate…but you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Tony Ordenana (who?) steps to the plate… “Fiehl comes home with it ... popped high to the right side ... REYES's backing up ... backing up…he's under it ... and he trips! ... and it pops out of his glove ... ROSAR's heading for third…here's the throw ... and it's a wild throw ... ROSAR headed home ... he's coming down the line…and he scores! ... and ORDENANA will make second easily…and (REYES) will pick up a rare double error on that play.”
A sac fly later in the inning makes it 4-2. In the home 3rd, Jimmy Mac leads off with a bloop single, and then records that very rare hat trick of futility (pitching, fielding, base running)... having yielded 4 runs without recording an out, having committed an error in the field, Mac now takes off running. Uncle Ernie says in disbelief, “CRAMER facing S. Fiehl, B 3rd, No Outs, Runner on 1st, Behind 2-4 …He lets it go ... low and away ... and Mac is stealing ... where's he going? The throw ... the tag ... he's out of there ... and manager is banging his head on the dugout wall ... do you think he went on his own?” The “head banging” comment gets a laugh from the assembled crowd, and the game moves on.
Now pre=game trash talk had hinted that if they got the chance, both skippers might well try to swipe a base, and so it was not surprising in the 4th that this occurred…Whitey Wietleman led off with a single, and Stick Fiehl followed with his first double of the season. On the very next pitch, Wietelman broke for the plate…and was tagged out! Fiehl to 3rd on what would have been a stolen base were Wietelman safe. George Case grounded out with Fiehl holding 3rd, and then this…. “CLARY facing R. FISCHER, T 4th, 2 Outs, Runner on 3rd, Ahead 4-2 ...and Fiehl's stealing home! ... here's the pitch ... taken ... strike ... and he's…SAFE! the hand got in ... no, wait ... he missed the plate ... and ROSAR tags him out. Three away! ... and they just sold the insurance policy ... well, manager, it's his call…and that's the Ainspans 2nd time caught stealing.” (ed. note - Why wasn’t Fiehl banging his head?)
Danny Litwhiler adds an insurance run with a 5th inning double to make the score 5-2. Meanwhile Fiehl is pitching like an ace despite Reyes’ butcher job in the field. Fiehl has 2 out in the 5th with none on and is an out away from a grade advance when Frank Colman delivers a pinch single, bringing (you guessed it!) Jimmy Mac to the plate. A pinch hitter here would be wise, but “wise” has not exactly been the home team’s strong suit this series, so Mac steps to the plate….and legs out an infield single. (The imagery is frightening!) But when Doc Cramer follows with a single, that makes it 5-3 and the earned run has put a halt to the potential Fiehl grade advance. Maybe there is hope!
But wait! Who’s that taking the mound for LI in the top of the 6th? Why it’s none other than Jimmy Mac….out on the mound to in essence “relieve himself!” Now if he can only record an out…or two…or three. Well, once again, not a good start. Dee Moore gets things started with a leadoff single. Mac finally records an out on a ground ball, bringing none other than Stick Fiehl to the plate. This is the matchup fans had been anticipating all evening…. “Mac kicks and delivers…Fiehl lunges at it…strike three!" Two outs. Case flies out and we move to the home half of the 6th with Fiehl still on the mound. A single, a ground out, and another single put runners on the corners…Sherry Robertson comes out to pinch hit and laces a single to make it a 5-4 game. Fiehl fans the next batter, but when Colman draws a walk, it loads the bases with…can you believe it? Jimmy Mac due to step to the plate with the Isles trailing 5-4.
Now “the book,” whatever that is, says LI should pinch hit for Mac (despite the fact that he’s somehow hitting .450), and it also says that SO should lift Fiehl, but their closer was injured, and this was just too good a situation to let pass….Skipper Fiehl went with his gut, and let the two skippers face off. Uncle Ernie with the call, “The runners take their lead ... the pitch ... another wide one ... ball four…and Jimmy heads down to first ... Fiehl is upset with himself…his control has deserted him for the moment ... and that ties the game…and the bases are still loaded ... oh, those bases on balls. That was Mac's first walk of the season.” With the bases loaded, and the score now tied at 5, LI sent Babe Barna in to run at 3rd. Doc Cramer was at the plate. Fiehl gritted his teeth, looked in, and…. BARNA's stealing home! ... here's the pitch ... in high ... headfirst slide ... and BARNA's out! ... MOORE holds on to the ball ... that's the third out!” Like the earlier Starrucca steal attempt, was this decision based upon the fact that Mac would have been credited with a stolen base if the triple steal were successful? I guess we’ll never know. On to the 7th with the score tied at 5.
Both PM’s record a scoreless 7th and the game remains tied at 5. And then in the 8th, the Millers strike again with some either boneheaded baseball or just goofy script. With 2 out and a runner on first Stick Fiehl steps to the plate and almost plays hero…. “Firstbaseman WORKMAN holding the runner on ... he comes home ... ripped to right center ... base hit…CRAMER fields it ... MOORE's around second ... two outs...he holds ... no, wait…he's headed for third ... here's CRAMER's throw ... and MOORE's ... OUT! On a close play. Go to town, Islanders! ... they knock out the go-ahead run at third! He was on his own on that play ... the coach was trying to hold him up. He ran right through the red light ... he was watching the ball, but that was just dumb baserunning.” Yep, that is dumb baserunning…watching the ball in right field as he rounds second, which I suppose will cause him to be basically running backwards toward 3rd. Suspect that might slow him down just a tad. Oh well…on to the home 8th, still tied.
Rosar leads off with a single and takes second on a sac bunt. Cute, lovable Olmo steps to the plate as a pinch hitter and smacks a double off the wall, giving LI their first lead of the game, and that’s it for Fiehl. Si Johnson comes on and retires Danny Murtaugh on a fly to right, and then walks Colman intentionally to bring…Jimmy Mac to the plate! With two big insurance runs out there……Mac pops out to third and on we go to the 9th.
Mac is still on the mound….LI leads by a single run. Case grounds to short, one out. Mac fans Clary, two out! One out away from their 107th win which would tie Mimosa for best record on the season and insure home field throughout the postseason…Mac looks in to Priddy and delivers….
Priddy laces a single to RF, and the Isles finally decide to go with a real pitcher. Claude Passeau comes on to pitch…Mac moves to 1B. Vince DiMaggio steps up, and does his best Carlos Beltran impersonation, taking a called 3rd strike as LI wins their final regular season YESTERDAY game by a 6-5 final. Jimmy Mac is credited with the win, his league best 41st career win. Odd question…maybe the Millers did get it right? Mac was the starter but didn’t go 5 innings (heck—he didn’t record an out as a starter), but did pitch 3.2 after relieving himself (again, sorry for that imagery), so technically he's the pitcher of record. Anyway, a real fun way to end the season and close-down that Iron Curtain. Thanks to all the skippers who’ve made this whole Retro thing such a wonderful ride. See you again when we go Back to the Future or Back to our Origins,” or wherever the heck we travel. Hopefully a good time was had by all.