Rhode Island Brewers 10, Worldwide Dirtbags 9

‘Bushnell and Silva Set the Pace’

By Patrick Lagreid, special to MSBL

Tempe Diablo Stadium, Sunday, October 26, 2014–While the offense was on display early and often during Sunday’s 25+ Chandler Bat Central Division championship, it was a breathtaking diving catch that saved the game for the Rhode Island Brewers and give them the opportunity to head to the airport with the trophy.

Both teams kept the Tempe Diablo Stadium scoreboard operator busy with a total of 12 runs through the first five innings, as Rafael Hernandez got the Brewers on the board with an RBI single in the first, then was driven in along with Darwin Hernandez on a two run single by Dave Bushnell to give the Rhode Island club a three-run inning. The Worldwide Dirtbags, who hail from Las Vegas, would scratch together single runs in bottom half of the first three innings, with Mike Villa tripling to the left field corner in the bottom of the first before being driven home on a ground out from Eric Ciarolla. The Dirtbags’ first crooked number came in the bottom of the fourth inning when they put up three runs thanks in part to a pair of Brewers errors, including one on an RBI single by Donny Curnutt that ended up plating an additional run.

The Brewers would get two of those back in the top of the fifth, as Bushnell’s third hit of the day drove home a run, followed by a sacrifice fly by Brian Baker. A runner’s interference call on a double steal ended the rally and brought the game to a 6-6 tie.

Dirtbags’ manager Kris Barber had a feeling his bullpen would be busy, as the title game would give Chris Bannister not only his first appearance of the tournament but his first start in three months. His hope was that the offense would be able to cover whatever the pitching staff gave up, knowing he had a number of arms to call on. Bannister lasted only four, while the first reliever, Shawn Lange, had to be removed after just three batters due to injury. Kris Hayes kept the Brewers off the board in the sixth before they touched up Matt Iglitz for three quick runs in the seventh, sparked by an RBI triple from Darwin Hernandez that plated Josh Ferriera. Bushnell’s fourth hit of the game also got him his fourth RBI as Hernandez scored easily. Justin Hackley, the Brewers’ manager, would tack on a sacrifice fly to put the Brewers up 9-6 at the stretch.

Hackley knew his pitchers would have to find a way to stymie the Dirtbags’ potent bats, as they had scored 83 runs in the seven games leading up to the final, including one game where they were shutout by the Arizona Smoke. While starter Kyle Fernandez avoided a big inning until the fourth, it was the performance of a pair of relievers that was key to keeping the game close. C.J. Silva, who had already pitched two complete games this week, was the first out of the pen and his relief appearance helped solidify his case for tournament MVP. “I had the adrenaline going, I knew it was the finals and I knew I had six months in Rhode Island to rest the arm,” Silva said after the game.

Silva yielded just one walk and one hit in his first two innings before nearly getting out of a jam in the seventh. After a leadoff walk by Donny Curnutt, Silva hit Jason Wiltshire and then issued a wild pitch to put runners at second and third with no outs. A flyout and popout got the first two outs, but Gator Quaney hit a two-run single to shallow center field to reignite the Dirtbags’ offense. With a hit by pitch putting Jim Stolbergat first, Justin Clift delivered an RBI single to knot the game at nine runs apiece and knock Silva from the game for Rafael Hernandez, who got Barber to groundout and end the inning.

Hernandez took control of the game in long relief, yielding just one hit and three walks in his 3 1/3 innings of relief, picking up the win as well. But Hernandez owes a big thank you to the defensive play behind him, as the Dirtbags appeared to have the game won in the bottom of the ninth with runners on first and second and only one out. Gator Quaney drove a ball to right field that would have scored Villa had it not been for a highlight reel diving catch by Tyler Martin to send the runners hurrying back to their bases, with Hernandez striking out the next batter to send the game to extra innings.

After earning a walk to start the inning, Keith Labelle stole second to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Fernandez, sent up as a pinch hitter, came through with a line drive single to score Labelle under a very near miss tag by the catcher and give the Brewers a 10-9 lead. A strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play ended the inning, and put the pressure on the Dirtbags to find at least one run to keep the game going and likely turn on the stadium lights. Hernandez quieted the Dirtbags’ bats, getting a pair of flyouts and a groundout for a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th and sealing the championship.

The game, which lasted 3 hours and 41 minutes, seemed to take nearly everything out of both teams,

“We knew we were going to have to go with a few arms today,” an exasperated Barber said after the game, still processing the diving catch in the ninth and thinking his catcher got the tag on Labelle in the 10th. “From pitch one it was unbelievable, we battled just like we did all tournament, and we pieced 10 innings together – we were just one knock away from the W,” he added. Hackley was happy to just exhale after the game, saying he’d been holding it since the seventh inning.