Oct 16, 2010

Miracle Narrowly Edge Clippers

By Steve Beard

Despite outscoring their opponent by only 2 runs (20-18) on the series, the Montreal Miracle managed to scratch out a 4-1 series victory against the powerhouse Yankee Clippers. Three of Montreal's victories came by the margin of just 1 run, including a 1-0 tilt in Game 4.

Game 1: Miracle 3, Clippers 2

Miracle Jered Weaver (15-1,3.56, 203 K's) vs Clipper Ricky Nolasco (15-6, 4.76, 209 K's) in a matchup with interesting subtext. In late December 2009, the Miracle had made an offer to the Clippers for the services of Nolasco, but were shot down, noting that unless Jered Weaver were involved in the conversation, nothing would happen. 10 short months later, the two pitchers met in a playoff showdown. While neither excelled, they both posted quality starts (Nolasco 6ip / 3 earned runs, Weaver 6.2ip / 2 earned runs). Strong work by the Miracle bullpen, including a scoreless 9th by sometime-closer Jason Frasor was able to preserve the one-run margin, and put Montreal up 1-0 in the series.

Game 2: Clippers 11, Miracle 5

MIR's Cole Hamels (7-4, 2.80 after being acquired from Northern Lehigh) vs NYC's Andy Pettitte (17-6, 4.07). The potent Clippers offense came out gunning in Game 2, tallying 5 runs in the bottom of the 1st. Scott Rolen and Yunel Escobar stroked RBI singles, but the big blow came off the bat of Ronnie Belliard, whose bases-loaded double emptied the bags. Montreal responded in the top of the 2nd with an uncharacteristic flurry. A 2-run double by Nick Johnson and a 2-run double by Matt Diaz tied the score at 5, where it remained knotted until the bottom of the 8th. That's when Yankee unleashed an unstoppable barrage of base hits. AJ Pierzynski, Brett Gardner, Sam Fuld, Jason Bay, and Scott Rolen all drove in runs in the 6-run inning. Montreal failed to answer in the 9th, and Yankee won big. Series tied at 1-1.

Game 3: Miracle 8, Clippers 3

The scene shifted up the east coast to Montreal, where it was NYC's Carlos Zambrano (12-6, 3.34) against MIR's Josh Outman (5-3, 2.59). Before the game, Miracle coach Stephen Beard said, "Our goal today is to get Big Z to take out the Gatorade cooler." While the Miracle offense may have not caused said cooler's demise, errors by the normally sure-handed Scott Rolen and Yunel Escobar, leading to 2 unearned runs, may well have played a role. In the end, Montreal rolled up 8 runs in support of Outman, and one-time Montreal hero Pedro Martinez (0-2, 6.20 after being re-acquired from Kalamazoo) managed 2/3 of a scoreless inning to finish up the Miracle win. MIR leads the series 2-1.

Game 4: Miracle 1, Clippers 0

New York's AJ Burnett (15-9, 4.60) vs Jered Weaver. The best pitcher's duel of the series. Montreal scratches out a run in the bottom of the first off a Luis Castillo single, a Nick Johnson walk, then a double-steal. With runners at 2nd and 3rd, Burnett ran one in under the ribs of Miracle cleanup hitter, rookie Matt Laporta. With the bases loaded, a Matt Diaz sacrifice fly brought home Castillo in what turned out to be the only run of the day. After the 1st, Burnett was masterful, throwing 8 scoreless, allowing just 4 more baserunners while striking out 9. But Montreal's Weaver and Dallas Braden were able to get the game to Frasor, who pitched 2 scoreless innings for his 2nd save of the series. Miracle leads the series 3 games to 1.

Game 5: Miracle 3, Clippers 2

With a chance to close it out at home, Montreal sends Erik Bedard (6-4, 2.96) up against Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco is even stronger than he was in Game 1. But again, the Clippers defense lets them down. An error by Brett Gardner leads to two unearned runs in the bottom of the 1st, all the masterful Nolasco will allow. Meanwhile, Bedard is throwing a masterpiece of his own. A Sam Fuld walk, followed by a groundout and a Scott Rolen single get the Clippers on the board in the top of the 1st. But after that, NYC is unable to break through against Bedard until the top of the 9th inning.

Although Bedard had held the Clippers to just one hit, the manager pulls the southpaw when he walks the leadoff hitter in the 9th. Jason Frasor once again takes the hill, hoping to earn his 3rd save of the post-season. But the suspense is short-lived, as pinch-hitter Akinori Iwamura drives Frasor's first offering into the gap for a double, plating Matt Holliday and tying the game at 2. Frasor is able to escape the inning with some help from a Torii Hunter assist that turns a Scott Rolen flyout into a double-play.

In the bottom of the 9th, Jacoby Ellsbury leads off with a single against veteran Clipper stopper Trevor Hoffman. Ellsbury, 2nd in regular season steals with 76, swipes 2nd to put the winning run in scoring position. A Trevor Hoffman error on an Alexi Casilla grounder puts runners at 1st and 3rd. Casilla steals 2nd when Clipper catcher AJ Pierzynski cannily holds the ball on a potential double-steal, forcing Ellsbury back to the 3rd base bag. An intentional walk to hot-hitting Daric Barton (7 for 10 with 4 doubles on the series) sets up the force at any base with the Miracle's most patient hitter, Nick Johnson at the plate. Unfortunately, Johnson patiently watches strike 3 go by for the first out. With the infield and the outfield in, Montreal's regular-season RBI leader Torii Hunter (118) stepped to the plate, and lined a game-winning single up the middle. Montreal wins the game and the series 4-1.

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