(May 15, 2019 – Grapevine, TX) The Spirits (40+) were happy to be on the field Wednesday night as they and other teams rejoiced at the idea of playing baseball under sunny skies and 80 plus degree weather for once during 2019 in DFW ABA play. After cold weather and rains made the 2019 season a virtual armpit of a corpse, the team found itself facing off against one of the top teams in the league via the Astros (8-2).
John Holmquist took the start for the Spirits, and despite giving up 13 hits to the hard-hitting squad he held his own behind some solid defense most of the way. Unfortunately for the Spirits, the one mistake they did end up making defensively late in the game would cost them.
Rewind back to the game’s first inning. The Spirits continue to feast off the hitting of Eric McPherson as team manager, Kirk Sipila gave him the lead-off role and McPherson promptly started the game with a solid line drive single to left field. McPherson, nursing a should injury that has essentially ended his fielding career has remained poised and has found a way to continue hitting and the team couldn’t be happier to maintain his presence. Sipila followed with a line shot that was scorched to center field, but Astros center fielder Dan Zier was in the right place at the right time and only needed a couple of steps to snare the hard-hit ball to stave off a sure run. The Astros were then able to get Patrick Bilgere through a 6-4-3 double-play and the quick start for the Spirits was smoldered.
Holmquist appeared to follow up the bottom half of the inning with 6 straight strikes and a theme that would continue for both teams throughout the game, however Marcos Vidal was awarded a base-on-balls by the plate umpire to lead the Astros half of the inning off. Zier then laced a line drive to center that David Tipton was able to catch and with one out, Aaron Lowe followed with a single to give the Astros two on with one out. Daron Wilkinson then followed with another line drive to center, but Tipton was able to secure that ball as well and made an easy throw to second to double-up Vidal who had left on contact.
With the game scoreless, Shawn Lee dug in and fouled off three straight before taking a ball high and inside. Astros starter, Nathan Phillips followed up with the payoff pitch and Lee took it 330 feet down the left field line for a solo home run to put the Spirits on the board. Brian Hackney followed with a line drive single and the Spirits offense seemed ready for business. John Hefner flew out to record the inning’s first out, but a single by Brant Finchum gave the Spirits a pair of base runners. Jack Nash went down on swings and it appeared the Astros might get out of the inning with a bruise, but Tipton followed with a single to center to score Hackney and the Spirits were up, 2 to 0.
A wild pitch advanced both runners, but McPherson drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases. Sipila then promptly followed with a line drive single to left to score both Finchum and Tipton and the Spirits had a 4 to 0 lead before Bilgere was called out on strikes on a pitch low and out of the zone.
Joseph Crites quickly made the score 4 to 1 with a solo blast of his own to left field in the top half of the second. Scott Rodgers and Justin VanSlyke each picked up a single between fly outs and a follow up single by Chris Roach cut the Spirits lead to, 4 to 2 before Holmquist was able to get Stephen Smith to fly out.
The Spirits went in order during the top half of the third and the Astros capitalized with some big hits in the bottom half of the inning to take the lead. Vidal drew another lead off walk and a pair of triples by Zier and Lowe tied the game at 4. James Bolton followed with an RBI single to give the Astros a 5 to 4 lead before Holmquist and company were able to get out of the inning after a fly out by Randall Land.
A lead off single by Finchum started the Spirits fourth, but Finchum was later squeezed at second after Nash reached on a fielder’s choice. Nash made up for the sacrificial base runner by swiping second and the move proved worthy as he was able to score on a double by Tipton. Tipton crushed a line drive over the right fielder’s head and immediately took off for third base. Head down, hands cutting the wind, Tipton failed to realize that Lowe quickly recovered and relayed to third and Tipton slid into third to a ball awaiting him for the easy out.
With the game tied at five, the Spirits found the go ahead run in the fifth inning after Bilgere drew a lead off walk from Land, who entered as the Astros reliever. Lee flew out to left, but Hackney wore the next pitch delivered from Land and the Spirits had two on with one out. Hefner drew a walk to load the bases, but Land was able to strike out Finchum to keep it interesting. Nash returned to the plate and after evening out the count at 2-2, he remained poised and also drew a walk to give the Spirits the go ahead run before Tipton was retired on a ground out.
With time running out due to the league’s two hour time limit, the Astros came to the plate for the shortened game’s final at-bat. Low and Wilkinson started off with back-to-back singles so Sipila turned to himself to close things out in relief of Holmquist. Sipila was able to make Crites look silly on strikes, but Bolton singled just over the head of Sipila and into the no-man’s land area behind the mound on a stick-the-bat-out swing and just like that, the bases were loaded for the Astros with one out. Scott Rodgers followed with a slow roller down to third and Nash made a great play charging the ball and recorded the put-out at home to stave off the tie game. Enter the game’s MVU. Land took to the dish and with a 2-2 count, he watched the next pitch delivered from Sipila go right down the middle. Ball. The entire Spirits team, including Sipila and the catcher had made the first step toward the dugout and the only person on the field that didn’t think the pitch was a strike was the plate umpire.
“I’m pretty sure I saw a handful of fans taking their first step to their cars,” smarted Lee after the game. “It was a strike. The batter knew it, our entire team knew it, the deer in the woods down the street knew it. Ridiculous. It’s not even worth complaining about anymore. We just have to accept that we have to put up 4 or 5 extra runs to account for this crap each game. That’s a fact.”
Sipila recoiled and delivered another pitch that Land popped square into the infield air. The Astros runners, leaving on contact with two outs, took off with the proverbial ‘we just lost’ jog around as Nash awaited the ball at third. The wind decided to add a little movement and pushed the ball deeper than Nash had expected and Finchum, playing at short didn’t see the ball well in the twilight sky and things took an unfortunate turn for the Spirits. Nash toed the line of concrete to grass on the half turf, half grass field and the combination of sky and wind proved disheartening as the ball bounced out of his glove and the Astros had the walk-off victory.
“The loss is unfortunate,” commented Sipila after the game. “I’m looking at the positive, however. Tonight we were able to hang with on of the league’s top teams and for all intents and purposes, we had them beat. We know we can play. We know we can hang. We’ll keep our nose to the grindstone and keep working at it. That’s all we can do.”
Finchum, McPherson and Tipton each finished the game with a pair of hits, including a double for Tipton and the long ball from Lee and a pair of RBIs from Sipila rounded off the Spirits box score. Lowe helped carry the Astros with 3 hits including a triple and an RBI, while Bolton, Rodgers and VanSlyke each added a pair of hits.
The loss drops the team’s record to 3-5 in DFW ABA play with 8 games remaining on the regular season schedule. The team is slated to visit the Rangers next Wednesday night at the Texas Star Complex, Legends Field. First pitch is 8:45PM and you can click here for schedule details and driving directions.
DMIS Managed IT Services Players of the Game