Walks kill Travelers

This column won third place in the 2011 Associated Press Managing Editor Association of Arkansas contest for a sports column. It ran in the Courier on Sept. 26, 2011.

The Arkansas Travelers were swept in the Texas League Championship series by the San Antonio Missions, but the Travs definitely had their chances. The Missions won games one and two by 5-4 scores in San Antonio and came from behind to defeat the Travs 10-6 in North Little Rock on Sept. 16. Walks were a factor in every Travs’ loss.

Texas League Pitcher of the Year and Travs’ starter, right-hander Matt Shoemaker pitched an almost flawless outing in Game 1 of the TLCS. Shoemaker gave up one run and four hits in eight innings, striking out 10 and walking one.

Shoemaker ended up with no-decisions in both of his starts, but he had a 1.20 ERA in the playoffs, giving up six hits and three walks in 15 innings while striking out 17.

After throwing 95 pitches, Shoemaker was relieved by closer David Carpenter with a three-run lead, and the Missions scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to steal one from the Travs.

During the regular season, Carpenter saved five games for the Travs and didn’t give up a run in 18 2/3 innings. Game 1 was another story as he hit the first batter he faced in the ninth on an 0-2 count. After having the next batter down 0-2, Jaff Decker hit Carpenter’s 3-2 pitch to right field for a two-run homer to cut the Travs’ lead 4-3.

Carpenter walked Jedd Gyorko and was relieved by left-hander Robert Fish. Gyorko moved to second base on a ground out and scored on Sawyer Carroll’s single to left field to tie the game 4-4.

Steven Geltz relieved Fish and walked the next two batters to load the bases. Geltz then walked catcher Jason Hagerty, who was 0 for 9 in the playoffs to that point and the eighth-place batter, on four pitches to give San Antonio a 5-4 win and a 1-0 lead in the series.

The Travs were on the wrong end of history when they lost to the Missions 5-4 in Game 2. The Travs lost in 20 innings and lost the longest Texas League playoff game by time and innings.

The game lasted 6:03, 1-hour, 4-minutes longer than the previous longest game played at 4:59 by the Corpus Christi Hooks and Wichita Wranglers in 2006. The previous high in innings was 19 set by the Shreveport Sports and a Rogers Hornsby-coached Fort Worth Cats in 1942.

Travs’ left fielder Roberto Lopez hit a home run to put the Travs up 4-3 to lead off the top of the 14th inning, but walks came back to haunt Arkansas again as reliever Matt Oye walked last-place batter Dean Anna to start the bottom of the 14th. Anna ended up scoring on Gyorko’s single, but the Travs did save the game at the time when center fielder Matt Long threw out Blake Tekotte at home plate with catcher Orlando Mercado holding on to the ball after a collision.

The Missions would score on a Carroll single to score Gyorko in the bottom of the 20th to put the Travs in an 0-2 hole in the TLCS.

The Travs were up 3-2 going into the top of the sixth inning, but the lead didn’t hold as the Missions scored seven runs in the inning to go up 9-3 and held on for the 10-6 win.

Travs’ reliever Mike Piazza, a cousin of the former major-league catcher Mike Piazza, relieved for starter Orangel Arenas in the top of the sixth. With a man on and one out, Piazza allowed two singles to tie the game at 3-3, walked Hagerty to load the bases, and hit Anna – he was still the last-place batter – with a pitch to score a run and give San Antonio a 4-3 lead.

The Missions would score five more in the inning to seal the Travs’ fate, but what was up with all the walks? I grew up hearing “walks will kill you” from my dad and he actually sent me an e-mail the day after (or should I say the day of after the 20-inning affair) the Travs’ Game 2 loss that said word-for-word, “Walks will kill ya!” It’s so true.