L.A. Athletics 10, USA Volkers 2

‘Athletics Sweep Volkers for Title’

By Jason Skoda, special to MSBL

Tempe Diablo Stadium, October 31, 2014–Rich Wheeler and Dave Howard were like-minded on Friday in the 65 Wood American MSBL World Series finale as the battery for the L.A. Athletics led their team to a title. But they had no idea how deep and similar the state of mind actually were in help the Athletics in a 10-2 win over the USA Volkers at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Both players were playing with heavy hearts after dedicating the tournament to someone who recently died while leading the Athletics to a 7-0 record for the week. “We had our own reasons to be out here,” Wheeler, 66, said. “It was meant to be.” Wheeler threw a complete-game seven hitter with four strikeouts in the win to go 2-0 in the tournament. The Athletics were short in pitching in part because his Michigan counterpart Mike Samp, who was supposed to play with the Athletics, died of a rare disorder – Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis – just two weeks ago. They had pitched together six weeks ago in an all-star game and shortly thereafter Samp was hospitalized.

“Every pitch was for him,” said Wheeler, who won his first World Series ring in his fifth attempt. “He should have been on that mound. Mike was a much better pitcher than me. This is a little something I can take home to his wife.”

Howard, 64, won his first ring and he will cherish it like no other after his father, Dan Howard, died four months ago. The younger Howard won some rings during his playing days at University Oklahoma but no longer had any of them. “He loved the game, and I am still playing for him,” said Howard, who was named MVP of the Athletics after catching 61 of a possible 63 innings. “You have no idea how much this means to me.”

The Athletics scored four runs in the first inning that was keyed by a three-run double by Fernando Gonzalez and continued to pile on with crooked numbers in the fifth and sixth innings to make sure they won the championship game handily. “Getting those first innings runs is always important,” Athletics manager Bob Sherwin said. “We’ve gotten behind in the first inning before and it is so hard because you feel like you are always chasing.” That wasn’t the case this time around as the Athletics, who had comeback wins in the first and second round of tournament play, as the offense was led by Al Alt, who had two hits including a two-run triple in the sixth.

The Volkers, who won the 65 American last season, couldn’t answer as the offense sputtered for the second game in a row. “We scored two runs in the semifinals to win and scored only two runs again today,” manager Bill Jacobs said. “Our bats went cold. We got down early and never recovered.”

The Volkers went 5-2 overall with both defeats coming against the Athletics. The first loss was an odd one as Volkers had a 4-2 lead late before the Athletics scored 14 runs in one inning after the defense had all nine guys commit an error in the frame. “It had to be the worst inning in the history of MSBL baseball,” Jacobs said. “We came back and played well after that but I’d never seen anything like it.”

It led to the rematch against the Athletics but the battery had too much to play for to be dealt a loss. “I didn’t know (about Wheeler playing for his fallen buddy),” Howard said. “We had a little talk in the dugout (between innings). I told him we are here because we deserve it. Just throw the ball. We have all these guys here to help you.”