Motor City Firebirds 20, Tulsa Liners 4
The Motor City Firebirds, made up of ballplayers from Michigan and Arizona, had the approach to the 2021 World Series that everyone on the Team was there to play and every player to a man contributed. The Tournament for the Firebirds had a rough start when the scheduled game one starting pitcher had his flight delayed and then canceled the day before the game. Unfortunately, plan B didn’t pan out as hoped, with the game resulting in a 14-8 loss. Luckily game two followed later that same day resulting in a 13-2 Win with Bob Bell getting the win on the bump and the game one loss was quickly put in the rear-view mirror.
The Firebirds managed to run the table for the remaining four games of pool play resulting in a 5-1 record and a fourth seed bye for the first round of the playoffs. Outstanding performances included complete-game pitching performances by Garey Simmonds in game three and Jim Hopson in game five. Other strong pitching performances by Ron Elswick in game four and Bob Hoffman in game six paced the team. Offensive performances by Jim Rathbun, Doug Harmon, Dean Christie, Bob Hoffman, Bob Bell, Joe Bottorff, Ricky Schmidt, Ron Elswick, Miguel Esteves, Rich Cleve, Kyle Rabideaux, and Jim Hopson helped pace the team for the five pool play victories.
The Quarter-Final game found the Firebirds playing the Seattle Blues with Rich Cleve on the mound. Cleve, who pitched eight innings, allowed one earned run and with the score tied 2-2, handed the ball over to Bob Bell to start the ninth. The Firebirds had tied the game in the bottom of the eighth after a single by Mike Blasky, a fielder’s choice by Joe Bottorff, followed by a single from Miguel Esteves and an RBI single from Jim Rathbun.
Both the teams went scoreless in the ninth, and the game went into extra innings. In the 10th Dean Christie led off the inning off with a double to deep left field, followed by a sacrifice bunt by Jim Hopson, which moved Christie to third. The Blues then proceeded to walk Esteves and Blasky loading the bases, in an attempt to set up a force play at any base with one out. Joe Bottorff then stepped up and delivered a clutch walk-off RBI single to left to advance the Firebirds to the Semi-Final game on Saturday.
The Semi-Final game pitted the Firebirds vs. the Quad City Blasters with Garey Simmonds toeing the rubber for the Firebirds. The Blasters jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the top of the third. Dean Christie lead off with a double In the Firebirds half of the third followed by a 2-out RBI single by Joe Bottorff. Doug Harmon followed with a 2-run single after a walk by Esteves and a single by Rathbun providing the Firebirds with a 3-2 lead. The Firebirds proceeded to score seven unanswered runs throughout the remaining six innings, led by RBI hits by Esteves, Christie, Bell, and Rathbun. Simmonds went the distance getting the 10-2 win sending the Firebirds to the Championship Game at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
The 55+ Cactus Championship game found the Firebirds taking on the Tulsa Liners. The Firebirds jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first with two walks, an error, and a clutch 2-out, 2-RBI double to deep left by Bob Hoffman. The Firebirds followed with one run in the second, fourth, and fifth innings and put up a crooked number (3) in the sixth, and completely broke the game wide open with an 11-run eighth. Bob Bell went seven innings giving up only one unearned run while chalking up eight K’s, 0 walks, and giving up only three hits to earn the Championship Win 20-4.
First-year Manager/Pitcher/3B/OF Rich Cleve and Assistant Manager/OF/C Joe Bottorff chose Jim Rathbun as the Firebirds Tournament MVP, who batted an amazing .689 with 14 RBI, 10 Runs scored, including six doubles in addition to playing stellar defense at shortstop and left field and chipping in with four innings pitched across two games of the tournament.