Well, let's back up a minute. Sure, Day 2 saw two great games with the feisty All-Stars, but the Knights were wondering during Day 1 if they were going to even be challenged before, as expected, meeting the Black Sox in the final. Day 1 was reminicent of the Day 1 rampage during the 2002 Midwest tournament That day, the Knights played two games, scored 57 runs, and no-hit their first opponent. Day 2 didn't get that much harder, as the they put another 24 runs up on a third enemy.
But this Day 1 could have been different. Due to bad weather and last-minute scheduling, the Knights were required to play three games on Day 1. This year, the Knights recruited some players from rival L.I. Cardinals. They would have 11 players in all to play these three games- not great, but better than last year when a player was recruited from the stands one game just to fill the lineup. And because the playoffs had shrunk from 6 to 4 opponents, they wouldn't have a waste game to rest their players.
In the three games the Knights went 3-0, scoring 53 runs on 56 hits. And while the Knights hitters were teeing off, their pitchers held the opposition to just 9 runs, and only 1 run each in Games 2 & 3.
Game 1 was against the Nassau Mets, a familiar foe. The last team to play their first game, the Knights were playing a team who themselves had only 9 available players left, and no one who ordinarily pitched.
The Knights sent Cardinal player George Rhein to the mound. Rhein pitched an effective six innings to pick up the win. The Knights went off early, piling on most of their 19 hits before the Mets could even go once through their lineup. The Knights coasted, winning 19-7 despite some shoddy defense.
In addition to pitching 6 effective innings, Rhein went 2-for-4 with 2 walks and 2 RBIs. Bobby Gruttadauria, who was injured early in last year's tournament, went 3-for-6 with 5 RBIs. Cardinal-loaned Rich Ferigi, in his first game with the Knights, had 3 hits, as did John Bosch and Tommy Reilly. Paxton Provitera pitched 3 efficient innings to pick up a save.
Game 2 featured the Finest. As in New York's Finest, a team assembled from New York City police officers. The game was at Beaver Valley, the Field Of Dreams-esque field built on the edge of vast farmland, where the Knights were undefeated. Because the Finest had a reputation of good hitting, the Knights sent ace Joe Lankford to the mound. Knights bats, sleepy enough in Game 1 to not hit any home runs, turned off the alarm clock as Bosch smacked a 3-run home run in the first inning and Ferigi had a 3-run job in the second. At the end of three innings, the Knights were up comfortably, 11-0.
So there was a decision to make. Should the Knights remove Lankford and save him for a possible playoff start? Joe said he would be able to recover enough to pitch later on, so the Knights pulled him. In went Jay Harmon, making his 2003 debut on a baseball field. The Knights cruised, 22-1, including six homers (two by Ferigi) and the first of the year for catcher Rich Cave. Every batter in the Knights' lineup scored at least two runs in the balanced attack. Cave and Ferigi (6 RBIs) each had 4 hits. Bosch and Gruttadauria had 3 hits apiece, both going yard (or corn field, as it were.) Cardinal Jay Coyne also had three hits. Collectively, the Knights pounded out 24 hits.
So the Knights piled into their cars and had to zip to Doubleday for the next game, scheduled to begin in 15 minutes. Harmon, who kept his pitch count low in his six innings of work, told manager Provitera that he had a few innings left so the Knights could save some pitching. In fact, because the Knights would be the home team, there wouldn't even be enough time to get sore.
Game 3 at Doubleday featured the largest crowd to watch the Knights during the weekend. The Knights were familiar with their opponent, the East End Cardinals. After swinging at what must have looked like beach balls all day, the Knights had to adjust to the Cardinal pitcher and his heat. The Knights, while making good contact, had a tenuous 3-0 lead after three innings.
In the fourth, things got a bit ugly. Harmon, now pitching his tenth inning, threw a hanging slider that the Cardinal batter crushed straight back up the middle. Harmon, losing the ball in the shadows, was hit square in the lower chest, sending him to the ground. Sensing that his day was probably over, Harmon got up, groggily retrieved the ball, and fired to first to throw out the runner. It took a few minutes to get his breath back, but to his surprise felt good enough to continue, and struck out the next batter to end the inning.
As the game entered the bottom of the fifth, the Knights were leading 4-1. They promptly loaded the bases, bringing up Reilly. Reilly (3-for-4) sent a fastball over the fence in right-center to give the Knights a comfortable lead. They ultimately won 13-1 by stringing together a lot of hits. Two hits each for Bosch and Coyne, and Lankford and Provitera at the bottom of the order. Harmon picked up the victory and a hell of a bruise.
Things were looking pretty good. A playoff spot was just about wrapped up, and the Knights were hitting everything. And then came Day 2.
Game 4 meant a 10 AM start at sleepy Doubleday Park versus the New York All-Stars. The Knights had seen the All-Stars play in the 2002 Cooperstown tournament, hoping they would lose their fourth game then so that the Knights could get the final playoff seed. However, the All-Stars won, combining youth, speed, power, and good defense, and the Knights were thus the top seed to not make the playoffs.
The Knights, leery of their opponent, sent veteran Billy Vogt to the mound. Vogt, with his ability to change speeds, was the ideal pitcher to face the young, free-swinging All-Stars. And the strategy appeared to work, as the Knights led comfortably 7-2 going into the later frames, thanks in part to an early two-out, two-run double by Lankford.
But the All-Stars chipped their way back. In what turned out to be the last inning (despite no 3-hour time limit warning from the umpires) the All-Stars started chipping away as Vogt tired. With the score 7-4 and the bases loaded, Vogt was done. Two batters later, after a shot over the fence in left-center, the All-Stars were up 9-7.
The Knights had one last chance to tie the game. With two outs and nobody on, the Knights, aided by some poor All-Stars defense, began to rally. Four batters later, the Knights had one run in and men on second and third. But the All-Stars worked a groundout to end the contest at 9-8.
Amazingly, despite dominating three opponents the day before, the Knights, initially, were not certain of a playoff spot. An hour later came the news that the Knights had qualified, but the seeding would be determined by the outcome of the next game at Doubleday. In all likelihood, the Knights would have the 4 seed and face the Black Sox in the first round. But the team that ultimately got the 4 seed tanked their game in order to get another Doubleday game, meaning the Knights would be off to the corn field to play the All-Stars once again.
Now, towards the end of the first contest between those two, things got a little bit testy. Spirit of competition stuff, some salvos being shot back and forth, but nothing major. But the seeds had been planted for confrontation #2 of the day, and things got interesting pretty quickly.
Game 5 featured Joe Lankford's return to the mound. Despite having pitched three innings 24 hours before, Lankford looked good, keeping down the All-Stars while the Knights put up 7 runs of their own (which included a 2-run homer by Ferigi and a two-run single by Lankford.)
Unfortunately, Game 5 also featured some lousy umpiring. And the tension, as the smack talk was going back and forth between the two teams and their fans, was palpable.
It was 7-2 in the fourth before the All-Stars finally removed their tired, stocky pitcher. In his place came a soft-tossing lefthander, the kind of pitcher the Knights have had trouble with in recent years. The Knights indeed struggled against the lefty, finally starting to rally in the eighth inning. The bases were loaded for Bosch with two outs. He hit a grounder that the All-Stars struggled to field. The throw to first was on time but the man covering had his foot way off the bag. But it was one bad call after another, and Bosch was called out to end the inning and the two-out rally.
Meanwhile, the All-Stars were chipping away. Some defensive miscues allowed the All-Stars to cut the lead to one run. The sun was slowly disappearing as the Lankford tried to shut down the All-Stars in the bottom of the ninth.
He got the first two outs, but consecutive hits put runners at first and second. The next batter hit a line shot to left. Provitera, who had a split second to decide whether to dive to catch the ball before it hit the ground or catch it on one hop, stayed on his feet, fielding the ball cleanly. The third-base coach was sending the runner. Provitera fired to Bosch, who turned and threw a strike to Cave.
Now, good readers, it is worth mentioning that by now Rich had caught well over 40 innings in the tournament. It was starting to get dark, and now there was a runner barrelling down the line towards him. So it would be perfectly understandable if he were not able to make the play.
He did. Knights win, 7-6, and advanced to the championship game.
Up to this point, I haven't mentioned any specifics about the weather. Well, it rained. A lot. Several games were canceled the first day of the tournament. The Knights caught a break and got their five games in with little interference from Momma Nature. But when everyone woke up for the championship game, they were greeted by a cold, light rain, and it had clearly rained hard through the night.
So Game 6, the big one versus the infamous L.I. Black Sox, was played in less than ideal conditions. A slippery outfield and muddy mound caused plenty of difficulty. And so did, for that matter, a home plate ump with some weird vendetta against the Knights.
The Knights were getting hits, but they couldn't put a bunch together to force runs across the plate. Meanwhile, Reilly, who doesn't exactly live on the corners, was getting squeezed by the ump, getting virtually no strike calls despite having good location. Needless to say, when you are forced to put the ball over the middle, they're going to hit you, and the Black Sox steadily built a lead as the rain became harder.
Despite 11 hits (including three each from Cave and Ferigi) the Knights could not score through seven innings. But the Sox had put nine of their own across. The Knights began to rally in the top of the eighth, but the umps called the game after a 10-second conference and walked off the premises. The Sox won the shortened game, and the title, beating the Knights 9-0.
* Rich Cave (.375 average, caught all 50+ innings of baseball) and Rich Ferigi (team-leading 1.120 SLG, 12 RBI) were named co-Knights MVPs of the tournament. Please, Knights, for gosh sake, steal this Ferigi from the Cardinals, huh?
* Cumulatively, the Knights batted .396, scored 69 runs, banged out 88 hits, and walked 43 times. They hit nine home runs during the weekend, six of which went into the corn during the 22-1 mauling of the Finest.
* For the second time in three years, the Knights had an unusual hitting phenomenon. With one exception, every Knight had a different number of total hits on the weekend. Lankford and Vogt hit 6 hits apiece, but the rest of the Knights had 14, 13, 12, 10, 9, 8, 5, 3, and 2 hits.
* Stolen base leader? Fleet-footed John Bosch, of course, with 2. He also batted .500 (12-for-24) and drove in 8 runs.
* Paxton Provitera, the Knights MVP in last year's tournament, batted .300, and he obviously continues to intimidate pitchers because he walked yet another 3 times.
* Tommy Reilly led the Knights with a .633 OBP, reaching base a tournament-high 19 times.
* Jay Harmon, who returned from stickball, pitched 12 innings (including 11 straight during Day 1), and went 2-0, allowing just two unearned runs.
* Jay Coyne batted 10-for-22 (.455) and played some, shall we say, preternatural outfield defense in Game 1.
* Billy Vogt reached base 11 times and scored 8 runs.
* George Rhein, the Game 1 winner, batted .313 in his first action since breaking his ankle earlier in the summer.
* Bobby Gruttadauria may have had 'only' 8 hits, but he drove in 6 runs and had some hard hit balls find leather.
* Finally, Jose McKnight continued his cold streak as the Knights have not won a tournament since the summer 2002 Stan Musial playoffs. If you want to know one of the major culprits, look no further than the swollen, ethanol-saturated chief umpire at Doubleday, to whom the Knights send a hearty "AFLAC you." (Your author has just realized something; this umpire looks a lot like the mustachioed bullet that Bob Hoskins discharged from the toon gun in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit.")