Before my escape into the academic bubble, or ivory towers as college campuses are sometimes called, I was a sportswriter. My dream job? Covering Double A baseball wall-to-wall, spring training to postseason. Double A cites are the best, and that level of baseball is so good, yet untainted by the spoils of the major leagues.
Anyhoo, this summer, on really a lark, I returned to sportswriting as something of a summertime hobby, to again become one of the “boys of summer.” Had a blast. Covering the Single A Rome Braves, I’ve got two games to go, including the season finale on Labor Day.
Here below is the last game I covered, Sunday’s bizarre 12-inning win over Charleston under storm clouds at State Mutual Stadium here in Rome:
ROME, Ga. — The Rome Braves and Charleston RiverDogs conspired this weekend to re-write the definition of one of baseball’s more unsavory statistics: the wild pitch.
A day after losing on three consecutive errant throws in the 11th inning, the Braves wrapped up a winning homestand by cashing in on a pair of wild pitches uncorked by Charleston’s Evan Rutckyj to win 5-4 Sunday afternoon in 12 frames.
“A wild pitch was the only way a game like this was going to end,” said Rome manager Jonathan Schuerholz, after seeing six pitches avoid catchers in two days. “That was crazy.”
Second baseman Reed Harper scampered home with the necessary fifth run on a ball in the dirt that squirted just far enough from the plate to ruin catcher Jackson Valera’s attempts to corral it. The opportunism made a winner out of reliever Andy Otero (4-4), who pitched two and two-thirds innings of no-hit ball, and it pushed Rome’s record during the homestand to 4-2.
The Braves (53-80) return Friday for the season’s last four games, all against Savannah.
Lost in Sunday’s madness, witnessed by about 2,100, was one of starter Steve Janas’s strongest outings of the season. In hurling seven innings of one-run, four-hit baseball, the Marietta native sat down 13 straight RiverDog hitters, six on routine groundball outs. He needed only five pitches in the sixth and but nine to buzz through the seventh.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander kept hitters behind in the count, his fastball low in the zone, and his defense actively involved in the action in front of them.
“I’m going to bribe the team with food to keep them playing good defense like this,” said Janas’s mother, Nancy Janas, who attended the game with a large group of friends and family. “The defense did a great job behind him today.”
Janas looked to be in good shape to pick up his third win, and first since June 2, but reliever Caleb Dirks couldn’t close out the ninth for his fourth save. In a nightmarish one-third of an inning, the lefthander served up three singles, unleashed a wild pitch of his own to allow Yeicok Calderon to score, then mishandled a slow dribbler to the mound to allow Valera to knot the score at three.
After Dirk’s fielding miscue, the Braves managed to catch trailing runner Claudio Custodio in no-man’s land between third and home. But the throw to catcher Carlos Sanchez, who was running toward Custodio, glanced off his shoulder. Charleston was in the driver’s seat, 4-3.
“That’s the one play that really bothered me,” Schuerholz said. “We pride ourselves on fundamentals, we practice that play, and we just screwed it up.”
But the Braves struck back.
In the bottom of the ninth, shortstop Codey McElroy led off with seemingly routine single to third, but after bare-handing the ball, RiverDog third baseman Kale Sumner airmailed his throw to first for a two-base error. McElroy trotted home a pitch later on Alejandro Pilato’s sacrifice fly to right, again evening the score, this time at four.
To set the table for the dramatic finish, Harper led off the bottom of the 12th by singling into shallow left field. Rutckyj’s 2-0 wild pitch to Connor Oliver allowed Harper to advance to second. He moved another 60 feet on Connor Lien’s hard grounder to short. From there it was a short dash to the plate when yet another errant throw pinballed off of Valera’s glove to end a nearly four-hour game threatened by storm clouds for much of the time. .
But the day belonged to Janas, who is “living his dream” pitching in Rome close to home, his Mom said. A sixth-round draft pick by the Braves, Janas is but one season removed from his junior year with Kennesaw State, a campaign in which he sparkled with a 1.14 ERA.
“Steve looked really good today,” Schuerholz said. “He worked ahead early, kept hitters off balance and worked quickly.”
In beating the RiverDogs, Rome won its second straight three-game series before heading to Kannapolis for a three-game set starting Tuesday.
In a pair of roster moves, right-handed reliever Daniel Cordero was sent to Danville, making room for lefthander Carlos Perez, who saw his first action Sunday after arriving from Rome. The right-handed reliever pitched the eighth, giving up no hits or runs and striking out one.
If you enjoyed that writeup, here’s the one previous, a win over Savannah’s Sand Gnats. Look for the ‘pesty’ metaphor.