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2016 – NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES #1

ColumbusExplorers09092016National League Division Series #1 Preview – Clovis Wheat Kings (100-62, 2nd place NL West) vs. Columbus Explorers (126-36, 1st NL Central).

It’s the big show and a big showdown between the Wheat Kings and Explorers. Clovis bumped off the “evil emipire” Tempe Tempers in the Wild Card round and now they aim to wipe out another NL Central team – this time the Cinderella Explorers from Columbus who have danced their way to the top record in the NL. And they did it with a patch work group of pitchers – many of which don’t even qualify to start in the post season!

Columbus took the season series, but only by a 7-5 margin. Columbus is a scrappy team with only 138 HRs compared to Clovis who was 2nd in the NL with 220 (behind Tempe’s 224). But Columbus outscored the Wheat Kings by a 766-687 margin. And the Explorers 203 stolen bases was 49 more than the closest team and 150 more than Clovis. But Clovis has a good throwing catching corps in Martin and Castro who cut down about 50% of the runners.

Pitching – The Explorers ranked 2nd (2.59 era and 481 runs) and the Wheat Kings 3rd (2.74 era and 502 runs) so there might not be too much offense – unless those Wheat Kings hitters get some bombs going over the wall.

Columbus fans are excited to be in the post season – Wheat Kings fans are hoping for a final farewell to the MWBL that will be capped with a big title. The two owner, Schindel and Cooper, have met in previous post seasons in MWWL where Cooper’s team was the big underdog and they managed to win 4 straight after dropping the opener – so don’t expect paper to mean a thing in this one.

Game #1: Garrett Richards (14-12 3.63) vs. Tommy Milone (10-5 3.13)
Again the big guns for Columbus (Tomlin and Severino) did not get enough starts to qualify, so they find themselves sitting in the bullpen – but who cares, it’s the playoffs. In fact, Schindel gets nervous when Davis opens the game with a double off the wall and Tomlin quickly enters the game. Good move, he gets the next three without giving up anything. But that quickly changed in the 2nd when Byrd hits a 1 out homer (1) to break the goose eggs and give Garrett the 1-0 lead.

The score stayed that way until Arenado doubles off McCullers in the 6th and Belt follows with an rbi single to give the Wheat Kings a 2-0 lead. In the bottom half, Columbus finally figures out Garrett – at least to the tune of 1 run as Gordon beats out an infield single. He steals 2nd and then scores on a Blackmon rbi single. 2-1 after 6.

In the 8th, Belt doubles with 1 out, but Phillips follows, facing O’Day, and he lines into a DP. In the bottom half with Grilli on the mound Gordon gets his 2nd hit of the game. Revere then executes a beautiful hit and run rbi double to tie the game! But with no outs and Revere on 2nd Watson comes in gets Blackmon to ground out, Revere to 3rd. Carpenter up, and it’s a whiff. Choo then smashes one down the line, but Belt dives for it, stops it, gets up and beats Choo to the bag to stop the threat. 2-2-after 8.

9th inning, O’Day gets Granderson, Pena singles, Robertson in to pitch. Bloomquist in to run, he goes on a pitch to Ynoa, but Ynoa flies out to Revere. Marte up and Bloomquist is gunned down trying to steal 2nd. 3 outs. Bottom of the 9th and Osich is brought in to start the inning. Holt leads off and doubles – his 3rd hit of the game. Nunez up and Holt takes off for 3rd – safe. Runner on 3rd, no outs. Osich the pitch, Nunez hits one straightaway to CF – out, Holt tags, and score, game over, Columbus wins 3-2.
WP Robertson (1-0), LP Osich (0-1), BS Grilli (1)
Final Score:  Columbus 3 – Clovis 2

Game #2: Matt Harvey (15-8 2.16) vs. Ervin Santana (11-5 2.57)
Harvey16Matt Harvey vs. Ervin Santana (how long will he last?). There’s a buzz in Columbus as Explorer fans begin to dream big things. And the dream gets bigger in the 2nd when Santana is able to quell a threat after Clovis gets 2 on with 1 out. And then in the bottom half Choo leads off with a double and after Holt grounds 1-3, Choo goes to 3rd. Nunez ground to short scoring Choo to put Columbus on the board and in the lead 1-0. When Santana gives up a lead-off single to Cruz in the 3rd, Santana exits and Severino comes on. He does very well except for a lead-off HR (1) to Crawford in the 4th – and the game is tied.

Bottom of the 7th, Harvey still hurling and Holt leads off with a double. Nunez follows with a shot to gap for an rbi double (his 2nd rbi of the game) and the Explorers regain the lead 2-1.
Top of the 8th, Robertson on the mound and Cruz leads off with a double – Chafin comes in to face Arenado. He gets him to ground out with Cruz moving to 3rd. Belt pops up for the 2nd out. 4 outs to go and Columbus calls on FRod – Francisco Rodriguez, there go-to guy. He needs 1 out in the 8th and 3 in the 9th. Phillips to the plate, big swing, dying quail, tie game, BS!. Ynoa up, Phillips steals 2nd. Then Ynoa draws a walk. Pena to PH for Byrd and he walks. Schindel going up and down the dugout, the gray hair gets worse, but FRod stays in their. Granderson up and it’s a GRANDerson Salami as he connects for a BIG HR (1) and 4 runs score. It’s now 6-2 Clovis as the long ball begins it’s appearance. Needless to say, Cruz smashes a 2 run shot (1) in the 9th (his 3rd hit of the game) and when the final out was recorded by Romo it was a resounding 8-2 Clovis win as they did something rarely done this season, they dismantled the Explorer bullpen.
WP Harvey (1-0), LP Rodriguez (0-1) & BS (1)
Final Score:  Clovis 8 – Columbus 2

Game #3: Lance McCullers (9-2 2.21) vs. Francisco Liriano (16-7 1.79)
Series now shifts to Clovis with the momentum clearly shifting as well as Clovis looks to do some serious home-field damage, maybe even close it out. The bats are alive with the sound of dingers (or so the Clovis crowd is singing).
Lance McCullers starts for Columbus against Francisco Liriano. Momentum shift or not, Explorers start fast as Gordon triples and with 1 out, Liriano uncorks a WP for a 1-0 Columbus lead. The lead lasts a couple of innings until the bottom of the 3rd. Liriano leads off and singles. Davis then walks. Belt blasts the first of 2 doubles in the game and drives in 2 runs – he’s out trying to stretch it to a triple.

But the Explorers get that run back quickly in the 4th when Choo hits a 2 out double and Holt singles him home. Columbus looking to go up in the series then puts the go ahead run on the board in the 7th when Enrigue Hernandez homers (1) off Romo. But in the 8th, Crawford leads off and reaches 2nd on a 2 base error by Carpenter (one of 3 Explorer errors in the game). He’s grounded to 3rd and then scores the tying run on a SF by Byrd. We go to the 9th all tied up, 3-3.

Choo leads off with a single, Holt sacrifices him to 2nd. Watson leaves, Grilli enters. E.Hernandez leaves for Nunez and he whiffs, 2 outs. Flowers then grounds out. In the bottom half, O’Day is in and he gives up pinch double to Marte. Fuld goes in to run. Davis follows with a single to LF and Revere, try as he might, can not get his throw to catch up to Marte and the game is over and Clovis takes a 2 games to 1 lead.
WP Grilli (1-0), LP O’Day (0-1), BS GilMartin (1)
Final Score:  Clovis 4 – Columbus 3

Game #4: J.A. Happ (17-5 2.15) vs. Taylor Jungmann (10-8 3.75)
J.A. Happ makes his first start of the series against Taylor Jungman. Columbus gets going early (and often). Nunez singles with 2 out in the 2nd, steals second, scores a moment later on Flowers base hit. 3rd inning, Revere walks, steals, Carpenter walks, 2 outs, Choo rips double down line to plate both then Holt singles in Choo; Columbus up 4-0. Clovis cuts into the lead in the 5th when GrilliHapp throws a wild pitch and Crawford scores from 3rd. 4-1 after 5, and after 6 and after 7!

Then the 8th inning, more precisely, the bottom of the 8th inning happened. Tomlin comes in to work on closing out the game. He gets Castro and Granderson (PH) to 2 outs. Then Davis bunts one down 3rd and Holt commits an error. Cruz follows with a single, Davis holds at 2nd. Arenado then doubles home Davis, Cruz sticks at 3rd, 4-2 Columbus (all after the Holt error). Then Belt comes to bat:  Brandon. Belt facing Josh Tomlin, B 8th, 2 Outs, 2nd and 3rd, Behind 2-4 Tomlin brings it home … there’s a little blooper … right field … Choo coming on still coming … Zimmerman’s running back … Gordon’s racing over … Zimmerman leaps oh!…they all collide … it falls heavily attended … Cruz will score Arenado will move to third … Choo gets the ball in … and Belt’s aboard with a single
the umpire is calling time … Gordon’s down … Choo’s down … Zimmerman’s up … but he’s hurt he’s moving very slowly … and he’ll be helped off the playing field…he’s probably gone for the series … Choo’s up … and his legs go out…he got banged up a bit on that play … it looks like he’ll leave the game … Gordon’s hurt…he’s still on the ground … they’re bringing out the stretcher … they’ll all leave the game.  The report from the clubhouse… … Shin-Soo Choo, the Explorers right fielder injured for 1 day … second baseman Gordon … injured for 4 days … first baseman Zimmerman i injured for 10 days.  3 Down and out, 1 run in, but the inning is still alive. Then Phillips singles to tie the game.

But the Explorers finally get that 3rd out. 4-4 after 8, after 9, after 10, after 11 – that’s right, the game goes on, and on. Until the bottom of the 12th when Robertson gives up a PH lead-off triple to Fuld Davis then singles through the drawn in infield and it’s all over – Clovis takes game 4 and a commanding 3-1 lead and Columbus is hurting. Medical bills are rising.
WP Grilli (2-0), LP Robertson (1-1) 12 innings (Costly Holt error)
Final Score:  Clovis 5 – Columbus 4 (12 Innings)

Carpenter16Game #5: Tommy Milone (10-5 3.13) vs. Garrett Richards (14-12 3.63)
Tommy Milone again steps on the hill for Columbus (he faced 1 guy in game 1). Explorers are starting Romine and Cuddyer to fill in for Gordon and Choo. Garrett Richards gets the nod for the Wheat Kings. Home town fans are looking for a sweep in Clovis and a trip to the NL LCS! And they start things off in the 1st when Cruz hits a solo homer (2).

However, the Explorers aren’t going to die easy. In the 3rd Revere singles, Carpenter doubles him to third, Blackmon infield single scores one….Cuddyer in for the injured Choo blasts one deep into the right field seats for a three run homer (1) giving the Explorers a commanding 4-1 lead. In the 4th the Explorers areback at it as Carpenter doubles and Blackmon singles him home, 5-1 Columbus. Cuddyer goes down swinging this time but Holt rips a double of the wall (one of 4 hits) that sends Blackmon home for a 6-1 Explorer lead.

Milone got to face more than one batter in this game. In fact, he goes the whole way tossing a 3 hitter. In the 8th Pena doubles for Clovis, Davis singles and on the throw back to the infield, Nunez kicks it away and Pena comes in to score. So a 2nd Clovis run (unearned) but that was it. One other thing of note on the negative side for Columbus – in the 2nd Romine is injured on a pick-off attempt and will miss 25 games (or all the rest of the post-season).
WP Milone (1-0), LP Richards (0-1)
So, Columbus gets the series to go back – the ambulances are waiting at the airport, what will they look like for game 6? But at least there will be a game 6.
Final Score:  Columbus 6 – Clovis 2

Game #6: Matt Harvey (15-8 2.16) vs. Ervin Santana (11-5 2.57)
Matt Harvey (1-0) vs. Ervin Santana. It’s do or die for the home team, it’s close out attempt #2 with ace Harvey on the mound. Nothing until the bottom of the 3rd then Enrique Hernandez leads off and walks. Flowers squares to bunt and Harvey nails him in the ribs – yeah another runner, but will it be another injury? He’s hurting, but he’s not leaving. Santana is though, DeAza (called up as injury replacement – along with Reimold as Zimmerman and Romine hit the DL) PHs but lines out. Revere then grounds to Harvey, he fires to 2nd, out, but the throw to 1st was not in time. Holt up, riips one to right center scoring one and sending Revere to 3rd. That’s it. 1-0 Columbus after 3.

But then Clovis strikes back. Their first run was a one out Phillips homer (1) off Tomlin in the 5th. Then in the 8th, and Tomlin still pitching Phillips draws a walk. Tomlin leaves, Chafin comes in. Pena sacrifices him to 2nd, he steals 3rd and then Granderson singles to RF to score Phillips and give Clovis the 2-1 lead in the 8th. In the bottom half, Koji Uehara is called on. He manages to work 2 fly outs and K to quell any 8th inning Columbus chances.

Bottom of the 9th, still 2-1 Clovis. Koji still pitching. Carpenter leads off and draws a walk. Blackmon then steps in and hits one DEEP to left, Cruz goes after it, and finally catches up to it on the track, 1 down (2 outs to go). Choo up, he swings and takes one to RF, Davis gets it easily. 2 down, 1 out to go. Nunez to the plate, their holding Carpenter. The pitch fly ball left center, not too deep, Cruz coming on, reaches out and he can’t get it, it bounds away from him and they are sending Carpenter – it’s do or die – and Nunez keeps running as well. The play at the plate – SAFE, tie game. They then walk Enrigue and Watson is brought on and he walks Avila to load them up. Desmond comes in to try to win it but he fans.

Rodriguez16FRod will pitch the innings of Free Baseball – it’s now or never still for Columbus. Watson will stay in for Clovis. 10th innings no one reaches for either team. In the 11th Marte draws a 2 out walk and Fuld comes in to PR – we’ve seen him run before. First pitch to Davis, Fuld takes off and he’s nailed by a strong Avila throw. Osich comes in for the 11th and Blackmon smashes one to Ynoa at SS, he stops it, but bobbles it and they give Blackmon the single. Choo up, Blackmon steals 2nd. Choo then takes the next Osisch pitche and hits it like a shot past Phillips, Blackmon streaks around 3rd and he’s in standing for the winning run as Columbus ties up the series at 3 games apiece. Nothing like standing tall when your back’s against the wall.
The six Columbus pitchers held Clovis to 2 hits in 11 innings!
WP Rodriguez (1-1), LP Osish (0-2)
Final Score:  Columbus 3 – Clovis 2 (12 Innings)

Game #7:  Francisco Liriano (16-7 1.79) vs. J.A. Happ (17-5 2.15)
All comes down to this one. Crowd is in a frenzy. Francisco Liriano vs. J.A. Happ – who’s got it in them to pull it off?
1st inning Davis works hard on Happ and drives a double to start the game. Cruz then walks and the crowd is quieting down. The Wheat Kings are going for the throne! But Happ then fans the next three hitters showing the stuff he’s had all season. No action until the bottom of the 3rd. Enrigue Hernandez leads off with a double, Flowers grounds him to 3rd. Happ fans but Revere slaps one past Phillips for an rbi single and a 1-0 lead.
Belt leads off the 4th with a long fly ball into the seats, but it was just foul, then he ground outs. Phillips flies out. Crawford then singles, Byrd then grounds to Nunez who throws to Carpenter at 1st – safe as it pops out of his mitt. Martin then grounds out to Nunez and he throws to Hernandez and that’s the end of the threat. In the bottom half, Blackmon gets a 1 out single and steals 2nd. Nunez up and he’s drilled in the head – and he leaves the game and will be out for at least 10 days – I hope the Explorers medical insurance is paid for. Desmond in for him. Enrique Hernandez then rips single scoring Blackmon and a 2-0 Columbus lead.

The 5th saw no runs, but in the 6th Arenado smacks a big solo homer (1) to cut the lead to 2-1. It stayed that way after 7 and Robertson pitched a perfect 8th. Columbus then calls on FRod for the 9th – stay with the one who brought you.
Phillips, grounds out. Crawford, fans going for the fences. Byrd – FRod gets another whiff to close out the game and the series. Columbus does the amazing, coming back from 3-1.
WP Happ (1-0), S Rodriguez (1), LP Liriano (0-1)
Final Score:  Columbus 2 – Clovis 1

The Columbus Explorers take the series 4-3 and move on to the National League Championship Series to face either the Bethesda Bandicoots or the Sacramento Capitals.

After all was said and done, the Explorers bullpen came through. Perhaps it was all the injuries that pulled them together, whatever it was, it was hard to believe. The old adage of 1 game at a time came through as today’s game became the only important thing.
Hats off to Rick Cooper and his attempt to go out in style – the Wheat Kings are a TOUGH, TOUGH team.
Series MVP goes to Brock Holt – 12 for 30 with 3 doubles, triple, and timely hitting. Although the team trainer almost got the award.
Columbus enters the NL LCS with Zimmerman, Romine and now Nunez on the DL. Gordon will be back.

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