And the Knights display of offense went on, also as scheduled, in Cooperstown, New York. 52 runs scored in 4 games sounds like a good start to any baseball tournament. Scoring, for a long time a Knights benchmark, came rather easy at times. Unfortunately, down to a skeleton staff of only 9 players the Knights could not successfully defend their Stan Musial Cooperstown championship from last year, finishing 5th out of 11 teams, largely because of the 35 runs their opponents scattered throughout the weekend.
On a rainy Thursday late afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Paxton and Rebecca Provitera picked up situational relief pitcher Jay Harmon from his Manhattan apartment. Before Jay's bags were even loaded into the car the details were out in the open, most notably the fact that the Knights would only be fielding a team of 9 players for the next day's game. Further bad news was that in addition to the regularly scheduled 10 AM Friday game, the Knights would have to play again just six hours later with the same 9 players, and only on Saturday was there a chance of getting additional team members. And in all likelihood, the Knights would have only two members of their regular pitching staff during the entire weekend, and just one of them was a starter (Billy Vogt). Oh, and there was that whole "rain forecast for the entire weekend" thing, to boot.
So these three folks made the 4 hour trip through steady rain, finding out that the Thursday game had been, predictably, rained out, which was not a good omen. Then, it was learned that all eleven teams were playing in one big jumble of a schedule that would see only 4 teams move on to the playoffs. Not good, since only a 4-0 record would guarantee moving on, something hard to do with just 9 guys. And one fiscal note: Harmon had to personally fork over megabucks for a hotel room; he had expected to split the cost with one of seven (!) Knights players who inexplicably cancelled in a five-day period before the weekend.
Here were your 9 Knights:
Sean McGuire: great to have at the top of your order
Billy Vogt: our only healthy starting pitcher and utility player
Tommy Reilly: having a career (Knights) year
John Bosch: our home run leader throughout the year
Bobby Gruttadauria: the league's best 5 hitter
(here's where it gets dicey)
Hector Rolon: an elite catcher and hitter, but an ear infection impaired his balance
Bill Nestor: a teammate on Vogt's other team, playing with us the first time, who turns out to be a very good player (and will play with us going forward)
Paxton Provitera: who limited his playing time this year to concentrate on managing and only caught a handful of games this year
Jay Harmon: historically, a bad hitter, even for the bottom of the order, and also had no experience anywhere but the mound - and he had bronchitis, to boot.
Luckily, a perusal of the schedule saw a bracket full of weaker teams, many of which turned out to be beset by similar understaffing problems. This was encouraging.
Oh, and by virute of winning last year's tournament, the Knights got to enjoy their Friday games at famous Doubleday Field, just two blocks from the Hall.
Paxton figured that the first game would be the most difficult, and taking no chances, he had Vogt face the New Hyde Park Tigers, who played the Knights into extra innings at last year's tournament.
The game started well enough, with Knights sluggers Bosch and Gruttadauria both going deep, giving the Knights an early lead. Unfortunately, the good times ended the moment that Bobby collided awkwardly with the Tigers' second baseman on a ground ball play and hurt his wrist. He was convinced that it was broken, but knowing the Knights would have to forfeit if they had only eight players he continued to play, one of the bravest gestures in the Knights' four year history.
Despite Bobby's heroics (the crafty Tigers walked Bosch intentionally twice to get to Bobby, who could only swing one-handed yet still drove in a run) the Knights lost a late lead, and the game, 8-5.
Vogt took the complete game loss, scattering 10 hits and striking out 8. Bosch and Tommy each had three hits.
After the game Bobby went to the hospital where the x-rays revealed 2 breaks in his wrist. With the Knights scheduled to play in 3 hours, the Island Yankees were taking the field and inquired about borrowing a player as they too only had 8 players. Tommy Reilly agreed with Paxton throwing in one condition, that one of the Yankees had to play with us at 4pm. Tommy proceeded to go 3 for 3 with 2 homeruns and a double off the wall with 5 RBIs (the Yankees scored 6 total). Read on to see who played with the Knights...
The next opponent was perennial whipping boy the Stonybrook Cardinals. The Knights had rolled over this squad several times during their MABL days years ago. But this squad was much more offense-minded than in years past.
The Knights threw occasional hurler Bosch, who didn't have his usual stuff and was roughed up early. Their offense tried to counteract the Cardinal onslaught, but they couldn't overcome the deficit. Harmon relieved Bosch in the third inning and did his best to avert further damage, but the Cardinals continued to hit the lefthander over the remainder of the game. The Knights fell, 15-8.
McGuire went 4-for-5 with 2 runs, 2 RBIs, and 2 steals. Vogt had a bases-loaded triple, and Reilly drove in 2 with 3 hits. Harmon had a career-high 3 hits.
And it was before this game that the Knights, with Bobby off to the hospital, made their historic desperation move, plucking a spectator from the crowd to play right field. His name was Bill Dresser (great, a third player named 'Bill' in the lineup), whose recent ballplaying was limited to slow-pitch softball. Nonetheless, he was provided cleats and a uniform, and performed rather well, given the circumstances. He managed one hit, and he was involved in a play which saw a Cardinals player thrown out at the plate. We thank him for his efforts, and he will forever be included in the Knights' All-Tme Stats page, an elite fraternity of baseball players.
So the Knights were held winless their first day, and they thought that their playoff possibility was eliminated; however, they decided to come out swinging on Saturday.
They were joined by ultility man Schabhuttl, who drove up to Cooperstown late Friday night, arriving at 3 AM, and waking up for the 9:30 AM game.
Making his first start as a Knight pitcher, McGuire took the mound versus the Island Yankees. He pitched two innings, and when he found the plate he was pretty good, not allowing a hit. Nestor followed up his effort with a good one of his own, limiting the Yanks to three hits the rest of the way.
Nestor was also an offensive star, going 3-for-5 with 3 RBIs, and even his two fly ball outs were crushed. Vogt and Harmon had three hits, and Bosch and McGuire drove in three runs apiece.
And Paxton, who caught his third consecutive complete game, went a career best 4-for-4 with a double, and scored three runs in the 15-6 victory.
Paxton and Jay tried to figure out scenarios by which the Knights could somehow qualify for the playoffs. Paxton was receiving results of the other games as they ended, and very few teams were standing out. The hope was that no more than 3 teams went 3-1 or better, and that the Knights could win their last game without allowing many runs (since runs-against was a crucial tiebreaker amongst the 2-2 teams.) The bottom line was that the Knights were still alive, albeit barely.
Their next opponent, the Mets, had nine players and zero pitchers. Then again, the Knights also had nine players and no pitchers. Luckily, when Harmon woke up that morning, he was feeling unusually good despite having pitched 7 innings just 18 hours ago. So the plan was to give him the ball until he couldn't take it anymore, and Paxton would finish up.
The Knights, batting first, struck for 11 runs in the first (almost batting around twice!), making it only a matter of limiting the Mets in their scoring. And they limited the Mets to 6 runs, winning 24-6. Ah, 24-6. That was a balm for a difficult weekend.
McGuire was undoubted the hitting star, setting a new Knights hits record with six by going 6-for-7 with 3 RBIs and 5 runs scored. Among those hits was a no-doubt-about-it home run after which he flipped the bat in just the way he had practiced the night before.
Tommy went 4-for-5 with 7 RBIs. Two late walks with men on prevented him from challenging the all-time one game record for RBIs set in their inaugural year (10, Kevin Huber, someone who probably thought his name would never again by mentioned in one of these columns.)
Bosch had his second HR of the weekend and 3 RBIs to go with his 4 hits, Nestor had three hits.
Paxton went 3-for-6 with 2 RBIs and 4 walks. His weekend: 9-for-17 (.529 average) in the 8-spot with two doubles and two steals, and caught three games spectacularly, preventing several runs by blocking pitches in the dirt and making 3 plays at home.
And Harmon somehow managed to finish what he started, pitching a complete game and striking out 6. (For those keeping track, that's 16 IP in two days!) He also drove in 3 runs (his only career RBI prior to this season came last year on the same field in the same tournament!)
The waiting game began after convincing several players to stay in town that night. (Sean was one such player, and by now he had come down with something.) A.J. had to go, so if they were lucky enough to advance, they'd have to borrow a player from someplace.
Whether they moved on depended on several circumstances (about six or seven) but none of them were improbable.
First, the Astros would have to lose the Black Sox and allow 15 runs. They did.
Second, the Phillies would have to lose to the Brewers. They did.
The Black Sox and Tigers would have to win their games against weaker opponents. They both did.
Suddenly, there was one game left that would decide everything. The Brewers had to best the All-Stars, and both teams had to score at least 10 runs. The remaining Knights waited in the stands, watching this game to see their fate. They alternated between rooting for the two teams, wanting offenses to explode. Unfortunately for them, only one offense did, that of the All-Stars, who won, 19-6. The Knights would not repeat.
The All-Star squad, a collection of players from a Central Park wood bat league, went on to win the tournament on Monday. Bobby, still there with a splint on his left hand, presented the champions their trophy with his right.
* The Knights batted .402 during the four games.
* McGuire went 12-for-19 (.632), 9 RBIs, 4 steals, and a team-high 11 runs scored.
* Bosch was the only Knights to homer twice and stole 4 bases. He finished 10-for-19.
* Paxton and Tommy (who had a team-high 11 RBIs) had a .619 OBP, tied for second behind Sean (.667)
* Nestor finished with 6 hits and a pitching victory in his Knights debut.
* Harmon went 9-for-20 on the weekend with 6 runs, a walk, a steal, and 8 Motrins consumed. He was also horrified at the lack of Anaheim Angels wear in the Cooperstown village shops.
* The Fall Season Begins Friday, bring $200 to cover the full cost of the season!
Linescore: (Game 4)
WP - Jay Harmon (1-0)|
SB: Sean McGuire (4);
2B: Billy Vogt 2 (3); John Bosch 2 (2); AJ Schabhuttl (1); Paxton Provitera (2);
HR: Sean McGuire (1); John Bosch (2);
RBI: Sean McGuire 3 (9); Billy Vogt (6); Tom Reilly 7 (11); John Bosch 3 (7); AJ Schabhuttl (1); Paxton Provitera 2 (2); Jay Harmon 3 (3);
WP - Billy Nester (1-0)|
SB: Billy Vogt (1); John Bosch (4); Jay Harmon (1);
2B: Billy Vogt (1); Paxton Provitera (1);
3B: Sean McGuire (1);
RBI: Sean McGuire 3 (6); Billy Vogt 2 (5); Tom Reilly (4); John Bosch 3 (4); Bill Nester 3 (3);
|Stony Brook Cardinals||3||4||0||2||0||1||0||5||0||15||19||2|
WP - Fuczacki|
LP - John Bosch (0-1)
SB: Sean McGuire 2 (3); John Bosch 2 (3); Paxton Provitera 2 (2);
3B: Billy Vogt (1);
HR: Tom Reilly (1);
RBI: Sean McGuire 2 (3); Billy Vogt 3 (3); Tom Reilly 2 (3);
WP - Anthony Penna|
LP - Billy Vogt (0-1)
SB: Sean McGuire (1); Tom Reilly (1); John Bosch (1);
2B: Tom Reilly (1);
HR: John Bosch (1); Bobby Gruttadauria (1);
RBI: Sean McGuire (1); Tom Reilly (1); John Bosch (1); Bobby Gruttadauria 2 (2);