(March 10, 2021 – Euless, TX) The prevailing Texas winds were set up Wednesday night to let players know that there likely wouldn’t be anyone going deep. A heavy gust of wind blowing straight in from center field acted as a wall that shortened the field and made routine plays anything but routine. There were a few players that challenged the wind and most of them turned out to be hitters from the Spirits (40+) squad. The Spirits faced hard-throwing Manuel Rodriguez, III and with the wind at his back, Rodriguez had a little something extra to bring against Spirits hitters as he eventually would finish the night with 13 strikeouts. As it would turn out however, the Spirits made their hits count and the times that they did put the ball into play it seemed to matter most.
This story features plenty of drama for the reader and the first instance of that drama began in the form of the Spirits defense. For the second straight game, the Spirits struggled to field the ball; an issue that plagued the team’s season in 2020 and has a fresh start in the 2021 season. After handing over their first game of the season with 7 errors in the field, the squad followed with 5 more errors to dig themselves a hole early against the Fighting Chihuahuas.
After Spirits starting pitcher, Stacy Scott was able to set down Brandon Mitchell on swings, he lost his control a bit and ended up giving Chris Mays a walk to first. Rodriguez singled to move Mays to second base and after Scott rebounded to strike out Steve Trocchio, it seemed the Spirits may get out of the inning with a decent start. Charles Carr had other things in mind as he followed with an RBI single to score Mays and it was 1 to 0, Chihuahuas. Rodriguez made his way to third and Carr advanced to second on the throw and the dogs were in business with two runners in scoring position with two outs. Juan Norat followed with a single up the middle that center fielder, David Tipton mishandled and it allowed both runners to score rather than just one. Rene Villalobos followed with an easy pop-up to the infield and the Spirits misjudged the ball due to the wind and that allowed Villalobos to reach safely and to load the bases for the Chihuahuas. Norat, who had moved to second on the play was then able to take third on a wild pitch. One pitch later, Michael Scott singled to give the dogs a 4 to 0 lead before Alex Benitez grounded out to end the inning.
Some of that frustration from the poor start disappeared not long after that poor start as the Spirits rallied for 2 runs in the bottom half of the inning after Eric McPherson reached on a one-out single. McPherson was squeezed at second after Kirk Sipila reached on a fielder’s choice, but Travis Hitzeman kept the inning alive with a shot to left field that fell for a double. Lee was able keep the inning alive as well after he reached on a throwing error by the Chihuahua’s shortstop allowing both Sipila and Hitzeman to score. Shawn Lee was able to reach second on the play and several pitches later, Tipton drew a walk to keep the inning alive. Both runners were able to advance on a wild pitch, but Rodriguez was able to strike out Scott to end the Spirits inning with the lead cut to, 4 to 2.
The game remained in check for a couple of innings before the Spirits were able to tie the game in the bottom half of the third. Eric Goetz led the inning off with a double and advanced to third on an throwing error by the Chihuahuas left fielder. McPherson followed with an RBI single to score Goetz and then advanced to third on a double by Sipila that was knocked hard down the left field line. Hitzeman followed by reaching on an error that allowed McPherson to score and the game was tied, 4 to 4. Lee went down on swings but both runners were able to advance on the dropped third strike, but the Spirits failed to capitalize as Tipton flew out and Scott went down on strikes to end the inning.
Fast forward to the top half of the fifth inning and the Chihuahuas get a great start to the inning after James Nichols singles to lead things off. Sipila then turned to pitcher, Jonathan Duran to slow down the Chihuahuas lineup as the team was coming up for the third time and Isreal Kerim greeted him with a single to put two on with nobody out. Mercedes Mendos reached on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Nichols at third. Kerim then swiped third base to put a runner in scoring position and the move hurt the Spirits as Mitchell followed with an RBI single to give the Chihuahuas a 5 to 4 lead before Mays and Rodriguez both flew out to end the inning.
Hoping to counter the lead change, the Spirits ran into a bit of a buzz saw as Rodriguez seemed to get better as the game continued. Rodriguez struck out McPherson to start the inning, but Sipila followed with his second hit on the night to give the Spirits a base runner. Hitzeman followed with a single to put runners on first and second, but Lee squeezed Sipila at third after reaching on a fielder’s choice. Rodriguez made Tipton his ninth strikeout victim to end the inning and the rally for the Spirits.
Heading into the seventh and final inning, Duran was able to get Benitez to fly out to start things off, but Nichols was able to reach on a double after striking a ball into the left-center field gap that just got passed the glove of Lee. Kerim then followed by reaching on an error that allowed Nichols to score and the deficit was now 2 runs for the Spirits. Mendoza singled to keep the inning alive for the dogs, but Mitchell flew out to the infield four out number two before Mays singled to load the bases up and to threaten the Spirits with a game-ending dagger. Duran was able to get Rodriguez to ground out and the Spirits dodged a bullet to get out of the inning with half a frame left in the game.
Rodriguez started the Spirits seventh with a strikeout to Duran and the mountain only seemed to get higher for the ghosts. The good news in the story is that the first out of the inning brought with it the top half of the Spirits batting order. Goetz picked up his second hit on the night with a one-out single and McPherson picked up his third hit on the night with another single to move Goetz to second. Sipila was able to reach on an error that loaded the bases for the Spirits and the game grew tense quickly as Hitzeman approached the plate. Hitzeman, the Spirits dual batting title winner for 2020 is known throughout the league for his ability to hit the ball hard and out of the park as well. Rodriguez dug in as did Hitzeman and the battle began with Hitzeman fouling off three straight pitches. The Spirits dugout was eager for Hitzeman to play hero and equally on the opposite side of the field and in the opposing dugout, the Chihuahuas cheered on their pitcher in hopes of an out. Hitzeman held off of the slow change, a pitch most players can’t resist and went on to foul off another pitch before Rodriguez finally won the battle, striking out Hitzeman to the cheer of his teammates and dugout.
This setup the cliche, two out, bottom of the seventh scenario for Lee, who struggled a bit with Rodriguez’s curveball most of the game. With the Chihuahuas seemingly celebrating a victory early, Lee dug in and looked silly against two curveballs from Rodriguez. As Rodriguez and his catcher settled in for the payoff pitch and the Chihuahuas getting noticeably louder in anticipation of a victory, Rodriguez decided to follow with a fastball straight down the middle. Lee made solid contact with the fastball, crushing it towards left field and as the collective gasp was heard from each of the players of defense, the Spirits runners hit the base paths. As Lee made his way around first, the Spirits dugout simultaneously erupted with cheers as the ball cleared the Chihuahuas left fielder and rolled to the wall. The entire Spirits squad yelled for the base runners to run and as Lee guided safely into second base with a double, each of the Spirits base runners including Goetz, McPherson, and Sipila all made their way home safely before the relay and the game was over. Lee’s 3-run double cleared the bases and was good for a 7 to 6, walk-off win for the Spirits.
“Honestly, I was kind of in shock,” Lee commented after his team completed its on-field celebration. “When I first made contact, I wasn’t sure if I hit a regular fly ball that was going to be held up by the wind. I’m not really sure why he threw me a fastball, but that’s what I was sitting on. I figured he (Rodriguez) would want to finish with an exclamation point and I was right. I saw it immediately and just turned on it. I was fortunate enough to get the meat of the bat on it and it just took off. I just ran man, and as I did I yelled, ‘RUN SIP, RUN,’ as loud as I could. The big man found a gear he hasn’t used in a while and he didn’t look back. I thought he was the true hero, scoring from first base. I’m just happy I got to be part of that. I joked that the Sun shines on a dog’s you know what afterward and the Chihuahua’s first baseman responded by saying, ‘yeah, but it’s nice to be that dog sometimes.’ He was right and boy that felt good. I told my guys this before, it’s tough to see them come through all the time. Seriously. McPherson, Sipila, Hitzeman…they’re always giving us opportunities to win and I feel more often than not, I let them down but not following through so it felt good to get this role for once. I’m glad I was able to contribute.”
The win evens the Spirits record at, 1-1 in DFW-ABA League play and the ghosts will rest and get ready for the league’s best team, the Redbirds next Wednesday night. The defending champions will host the Spirits starting at 6:30PM at Texas Star Complex on Legends Field. Click here for schedule details or to download the iScore Central app to listen to the game live, online.