(August 16, 2018 – Carrollton, TX) The winds were gusty and the air thin for pitchers Thursday night at the field formerly known as McInnish Park, Field #10. The Spirits (35+) squad paired off with the Thunderbirds on a hill that is about three times of what a normal pitcher’s mound would look like, but the trip to outer space didn’t appear to have any affect on Thunderbirds pitcher, Bodie Wilson as Wilson pitched a complete-game victory on his way to striking out 9 Dallas Spirits as the Thunderbirds outlasted the ghosts by a margin of, 8 to 7.
The game was nearly dead even after looking at the box score with each team compiling 14 hits, trading a pair of errors by the Spirits defense with one error by the Thunderbirds and each team stranding 8 and 9 runners on the base paths respectively. But the biggest dent in the game took place in the bottom half of the first after the Spirits managed a lone single in the top half of the inning. Brent Smerczynski led things off with a single and advanced to second after Brad Bode made it back-to-back singles. Wilson followed with a single of his own and just like that, the Thunderbirds were up, 1 to 0. Brian Synatzske singled to make it 4 straight hits and the Thunderbirds picked up their second run on error by the Spirits outfield. Fabian Mendive made it 5 hits straight to score Wilson and Nathaniel Larmon made it 6 in a row with another single to keep the bases busy. To capitalize on the difficult start for Spirits starting pitcher, Earl German, Jody Nicewonger took to the dish and hit a soft line drive to Kirk Sipila, fielding at second base. Sipila appeared to catch the ball, which froze the runners, but then proceeded to toss the ball to Eric McPherson at shortstop. McPherson tagged the lead runner, stepped on second and made a throw to first in what appeared might be a triple-play for the Spirits defense.
Enter pure chaos…with calm heads and many of them entering the conversation, the plate umpire and field umpire were left in an indecisive umpiring class that appeared to go nowhere. Each person on the field seemed to have an opinion on how the play should have been handled and when the conversation finished, somehow a runner was left on second, but the Spirits picked up two outs on the play.
“We’d already seen one call that was simply called incorrectly,” commented team skipper, Shawn Lee. “The plate umpire and I had a discussion after the top half of the first when Patrick (Bilgere) was called out for interference. It was a dropped third strike that bounced off the catcher and landed in the field of play as Pat took off for first. He was called out after the ball touched his foot and it was the wrong call. Still a judgment play, but the umpire agreed after the fact that it wasn’t on purpose and the play should have stood with him safe at first. Then this happened. First of all, one of the two of them has to make a point on whether that’s a catch or not and truly, we go from there. But as it went down, it was a triple-play, or if the runner beat out the throw to first, we have two outs with a runner on first. Somehow he got second, but it didn’t matter in the long run. The strike zone on the evening was so ridiculously inconsistent, this game became a grab bag for either team.”
Once the dust settled, Synatzske was able to cross the plate safely to make it 4 to 0, Thunderbirds before the Spirits were finally able to get out of the inning despite a base-on-balls given up to Brad Petty. The Spirits rallied for a run in the top half of the second after Brant Finchum reached on an error and Lee singled. David Tipton went down swinging and both runners advanced on a wild pitch. Finchum later scored on a single by German and Lee was left stranded at third after Jonathan Duran struck out and McPherson grounded out.
German settled in the bottom half of the second and was able to closeout the inning without damage despite two runners making it on base safely and the Spirits rallied to cut the score to, 4 to 2 after Sipila hit a two-out single and advanced when Travis Hitzeman singled. Bilgere made it 3 straight hits and scored Sipila with an RBI single and the Spirits appeared back in the game.
Both teams went in order during the next to halves and the Thunderbirds increased their lead after Petty singled off of Duran who had come in to replace German as pitcher. Felipe Luna drew a walk and Duran was able to get Jeff Whanger to fly out. Smerczynski singled to load the bases and a follow up single by Bode pushed the score to, 5 to 2.
The Spirits cut back into the lead after Duran singled to start the top half of the fifth. McPherson flew out but Chris Lewis kept the rally moving with a single to put two on with one out. Cliff Brade struck out swinging and Sipila followed up with another big two-out hit, slapping an RBI single to center field. Hitzeman eventually flew out to end the inning.
Down 5 to 3, it appeared things may be over after the Thunderbirds rallied for another pair of runs in the latter half of the fifth and all with two outs. Duran struggled a bit and gave up two straight walks to Larmon and Nicewonger. Petty singled to load the bases and a single by Luna scored two runners to provide the ‘Birds with some insurance. The Spirits had other ideas in their heads however, as the squad rallied in the top half of the sixth when Bilgere led things off with a double. Finchum singled to put runners at the corners, but Wilson calmed the rally by striking out Lee. Tipton followed with an RBI single as did German and the lead was cut to, 7 to 5. German stole second to put runners in scoring position and Duran was able to pick up an RBI after grounding out cutting the lead to, 7 to 6. With German on third, McPherson singled to tie things up, but Wilson rallied to strike out Lewis to keep the 7 to 7 tie in place.
With very little time left on the two hour time limit. The Spirits tried to get off the field, but Smerczynski remained hot at the plate and led the Thunderbirds sixth with a single. Bode was patient at the plate which took more time and was able to reach on a near double-play attempt by the Spirits that squeezed Smerczynski at second for the first out. Wilson followed with a single to push Bode to third and a sacrifice fly by Synatzske sealed the game after Bode scored to make it, 8 to 7.
“Tough loss for us tonight,” continued Lee. “Especially when you rally and feel like you have a chance. Fact is, 6 straight hits in the first killed us. Combine that with one or two errors like we did and it’s a recipe for a loss like this. Better tonight than playoff time, but we’ll need to take this team seriously heading into the postseason.”
At the time this article was being written, the team was scheduled to play aginast the Knights in regular season play that should have included another regular season game. Since that time, the NTABL Veterans League decided to end the season early, forcing teams to start their playoffs early. As a result, the Spirits will hold the number two seed and playoff match-ups and information will be posted on the website, so please check back for details.