Motor City Firebirds 5, 3 n 2 Rangers 4
The Motor City Firebirds, made up of ballplayers from Michigan, Arizona, and California teamed up to take home their second Championship in three years in the 2023 World Series, 55’s Cactus Division. The Tournament for the Firebirds had its ups and downs throughout the Pool Play Games.
Game 1 resulted in a 12-7 loss to the Lehigh Valley Hurricanes, as the Firebirds started slow out of the blocks and ultimately lost Mike Sever for the remainder of the Tournament with a knee injury. The few bright spots were Matt Sherock going 3 for 4 with an RBI and Tim Bush with a hit and an RBI. Luckily, the Firebirds bounced back in Game 2 with a 13-10 Victory over the 3 n 2 Rangers. These two teams would ultimately have a rematch in the Championship Game. Garey Simmonds got the nod to start the game, going 5-1/3 innings, giving way to Rich Cleve with Firebirds trailing 8-5.
Cleve held the Rangers to two additional runs over 3-2/3 innings, picking up the win, thanks to the Firebirds bats getting hot in the seventh (3 Runs) and eighth (5 Runs). Leading the way was Tom Juelch and Shawn Keefer with three hits apiece and five RBI. Jim Rathbun and Matt Sherock chipped in with two hits each.
Game 3 was played shortly after that, under the lights at Tempe Diablo Stadium versus the REBL Phillies. Steve Barman was given the ball and went four innings, Randy Hughes went three innings, and Rich Cleve one, resulting in the 16-8 Victory with Hughes picking up the win. The Firebird bats managed to stay hot from the earlier game with Dean Christie, Jim Rathbun, and Matt Sherock leading the way with three hits apiece. Sherock batted in four runs, including a double and triple, with Rathbun, Juelch & Keefer knocking in two runs apiece.
Game 4 found the Firebirds facing the OC Angels at Legacy Park for the first of two games that day. Dean Christie was on the bump and pitched a great game, going all nine innings and picking up the 12-5 Win. Leading the way at the plate were Joe Bottorff, Tim Craiger, and Matt Sherock with three hits apiece, followed by Steve Barman, Mike Blasky, Jim Rathbun, and Shawn Keefer with two hits each and Kevin Saunderson with one hit. Kyle Rabideaux, Blasky, Cleve, and Sherock knocked in two runs each for the game.
Unfortunately, the bats went silent in Game 5 with the Firebirds falling short to the Cincinnati Tigers, 4-1. Rich Cleve went 7-2/3 innings giving up two earned runs in the loss. Miguel Esteves had two hits and a walk in the game. The hitting woes continued in the final Game 6 of Pool Play with the Utah Bees handing a 6-0 loss to the Firebirds, where they only managed to muster three hits in the game. The only bright spot was Eloy Olmoso going the distance, eating some innings, and saving some arms ahead of the playoffs.
The Wildcard Playoff game pitted the Firebirds against the Red Deer Legends at the Goodyear complex. Thankfully, the bats came back to life early with five, one, and nine runs scored in the first three innings to stake the Firebirds to a 15-1 lead. Randy Hughes went five innings, giving up three earned runs, and left the game with an 18-6 lead.
While trying to rest a few of the Firebird players, the Red Deer Legends decided to make a game of it and brought the score back to 18-15 after a rough sixth inning. Rich Cleve came in to pitch the last three innings giving up one hit to save the 24-15 win for Hughes. The Firebirds hitting onslaught was led by Jim Rathbun (5 hits), Mike Blasky, Tom Juelch, Tim Craiger, and Matt Sherock (3 hits each), and Shawn Keefer, Charlie O’Hare, Miguel Esteves, Dean Christie (2 Hits each). This game took almost four hours to complete, and the Firebirds had to quickly dash off to another field in the complex to play the Quarterfinal game.
The Quarterfinal Game had the Firebirds playing the always-tough Tri Valley A’s squad. Bob Bell was on the hill to face the A’s and the Firebirds jumped out to a 1-0 lead, with Sean Keefer knocking in Joe Bottorff. The A’s bounced back with one in their half of the first. The Firebirds put up three runs in the third with four straight 2-out hits by Matt Sherock, Dean Christie, Tim Craiger, and Rich Cleve to take a 4-1 lead.
That remained until the seventh when the A’s scored two unearned runs to shrink the lead to one run, and one run in the eighth to tie the game. The Firebirds bounced back with four runs in the top of the ninth, fueled with hits by Cleve, Kyle Rabideaux, Jim Rathbun, and Matt Sherock, and RBI’s by Bottorff, Esteves, and Sherock. Bell ended up going 7-2/3 innings while Rathbun went 1-1/3 to pick up the 8-4 win.
The Semifinal Game started early the next morning with the Firebirds taking on the Rochester Red Wings at the Salt River Complex. Pitcher Garey Simmonds was given the start and went the distance for the 6-2 victory. The visiting Firebirds jumped out with a run in the second inning, after a 2-out double by Matt Sherock and an RBI single by Dean Christie. The Red Wings came back with two runs in the third to take the lead 2-1.
The Firebirds quickly bounced back with four runs in the top of the fourth, led by hits from Kyle Rabideaux, Jim Rathbun, Shawn Keefer, Matt Sherock, and Rich Cleve with RBI’s from Keefer, Sherock (2), and Cleve. The Firebirds tacked on one run in the top of the ninth after a single by Dean Christie, a sacrifice from Tim Craiger, and an RBI single by Cleve, to close out the 6-2 win, sending the Firebirds to the Championship Game.
The Championship Game found a Game 2 rematch between the 3 n 2 Rangers and the Firebirds. The Rangers jumped out to a 3-run lead in the top of the first. The Firebirds, not to be deterred, bounced back with three runs in their half of the inning, led with walks by Joe Bottorff and Kyle Rabideaux, a single by Jim Rathbun, and followed by an RBI single by Tom Juelch, a fielder’s choice RBI by Sean Keefer and an RBI single by Dean Christie to tie the game.
The Firebirds added one run in the second after a single by Randy Hughes and an RBI single by Charlie O’Hare to take a 4-3 lead. They then added what turned out to be a big run in the bottom half of the fifth inning, after singles by Doug Harmon and Tom Juelch, and an RBI single by Matt Sherock. The Rangers scored one run in the top of the sixth to tighten the score to 5-4, but the Firebirds put out the fire with a huge 4-6-3 double play with the bases loaded.
Jim Rathbun came in with one out in the first and was a workhorse going the remaining 8-2/3 innings giving up one unearned run to pick up the win. Stellar defensive efforts throughout the tournament were made by the Firebirds infield and outfield, in particular Tim Bush, Charlie O’Hare, and Shawn Keefer.
Manager Rich Cleve and Assistant Managers Joe Bottorff and Mike Blasky selected Matt Sherock as the Motor City Firebirds Tournament MVP, as he batted .535, scored seven runs, and had 12 runs batted in.