Closing out our long series in the heat of Yuma, Ariz., this past week, we knew that the remainder of our regular-season schedule would be a challenge.
Having won the first half of the season in the Golden Baseball League’s South Division, we already secured ourselves a postseason spot. But that does not mean our club lost its drive to win in the second half, which was evident in the effort we put forth in sweeping our series-ending double dip with Yuma.
But the challenge awaiting us upon our return to Maui was daunting. The powers that be in the GBL obviously did not foresee that we would end up facing the Orange County Flyers in the first round of the league playoffs. If they had, they surely would not have scheduled us to play them seven times in as many days before beginning the divisional playoff series the very next day.
In other words, we are slated to play the Flyers nine times in nine days. Pitching would obviously be at a premium. The innings would be even more of a challenge to fill after we lost our closer Jamie Vermilyea near the end of the Yuma series.
But this loss was one we were more than willing to absorb. After posting a league-leading 20 saves — one short of the record — Jamie was acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays, who sent him directly to their Triple-A affiliate, the Las Vegas 51s. In five days with them, Jamie has already appeared in three games, posting a 3.18 ERA and a save in just less than six innings of work.
Needless to say, we were well aware that having to fill so many innings just to finish the season without our top bullpen arm would not be easy and would take a lot of creativity, especially since we were beginning the playoffs the day after the season ended. There would be no off days to shuffle our playoff pitching rotation into place.
So most of our travel day back home from Arizona was spent plotting our pitching rotation for the next nine days. Part of the solution was to piggyback our starters with relievers for a couple of days, to ensure our scheduled Game 1 and 2 starters would be fresh and rested before their playoff appearances while also filling some much-needed innings for us.
We went into last night’s game, the third of the series, needing six innings out of all-star righty Wes Etheredge and Kaimi Mead, as we planned to pitch the final three innings of the game by ear.
Thankfully, Wes was highly effective, inducing one groundball out after another as he has all year. Using his three-pitch repertoire, Wes retired the Flyers rather quickly, surrendering just two runs as he marched through four innings while staying below his planned 60-pitch count and staking us to a 3-2 lead.
Kaimi followed and gave us 2 2/3 innings of outstanding shutout relief against one of the top offensive clubs in our league, before Kent Tsujimoto made quick work of the lone batter he faced, striking out Orange County’s catcher in three pitches with two outs and two runners on.
We stretched our lead to 9-2 in the bottom of the frame, and veteran Jerry Spradlin entered the next inning and put up two scoreless innings of relief to seal the victory.
The win was special to us, as it ran Etheredge’s record to 10-0 to go along with his league-leading 1.76 ERA.
More importantly, the win put us within one victory of assuring ourselves the best overall record this season, and the best mark in league history as well.
With another piggyback outing planned for tonight and a doubleheader tomorrow, we are still a ways from getting through it.
Our series against the Flyers has already exhibited a playoff atmosphere, as both teams have put their best foot forward with hopes of gaining the upper hand heading into the playoffs. To make it even more interesting, we lead the Flyers by mere percentage points in the South Division’s second-half pennant race.
I hope the series continues to go according to plan, so we can put forth our best effort in the playoff opener, with our pitching staff rested and strong. That is, after all, what makes the rest of the season worthwhile.