Sunday, July 15, 2018

Any Port in a Storm? Not in Humboldt

Posted By on Sun, Jul 15, 2018 at 10:37 AM

click to enlarge Crabs get out to an early lead. - MATT FILAR
  • Matt Filar
  • Crabs get out to an early lead.

Well, folks, it was a wild weekday series against the San Leandro Ports; but before I get started, I want to discuss something a bit more serious.

On Wednesday, someone stole two beers from the Crab Grass Band. I’m having some difficulty accurately describing how wrong this is without using a slough of profanities. At some point around the seventh inning, a friend of mine in the band approached me to tell me what had happened. Moments later, another band member stood up during a brief lull and loudly decried the thievery. The lack of scruples this theft requires is breathtaking. I simply cannot imagine being so amoral, so without any sense of ethics, that the thought even occurs in your mind. If the creature of the black lagoon responsible is reading this, I sincerely hope for your sake that there is no afterlife, lest you spend eternity being alternately burned and thrust into Cocytus, the frozen lake of hell. This is like stealing Santa Claus’ sleigh on Christmas Eve. These people volunteer a great deal of their time, and all of their considerable talent, to come to these games and brighten our days. Your
only hope of salvation is to call your parents and apologize, because this is not how they raised you, and then to appear in front of the band, atone for your crimes and hope that they show mercy.

After taking some deep breaths and a quick walk around the apartment complex, your faithful correspondent is ready to resume his duties.

I wrote in my previous column that the fans were showing signs of fatigue. Five strong, nearly uncontested, wins in a row can do that. Unlike in basketball, scoring in baseball has diminishing returns. The sixth run isn’t as satisfying as the fifth, and the 18th is a bit like stuffing that fourth cheeseburger down your gullet. It’s still delicious, but is it really necessary?



Crusty posing with young fans - MATT FILAR
  • Matt Filar
  • Crusty posing with young fans

Thankfully, the Ports came to town. They were brash, talented, and almost unanimously disliked by the fans. It was exactly what was needed to kick back into gear. This was some of the most entertaining baseball I’ve watched all season.

Tuesday’s game saw the Ports score early and hold on to the lead with a vise grip. The Ports starting pitcher, Armando Gomes, looked unhittable — going seven innings and only allowing two hits. Their infield
defense, too, was superb (their shortstop Sammy Esperanza doesn’t miss a grounder, or a chance to respond to a heckle).

Things began to look dire for the Crabs as they were still  scoreless going in to the eighth inning. Then, ambidextrous pitcher Alex Trautner took the mound. He made quick work of their leadoff man, gave up a single, and then pitched the third batter in to one of the strangest double-plays I’ve ever seen on a scoresheet. It went 6-8-2-6 (shortstop, center field, catcher, shortstop, for those that don’t know the numbers). The crowd and the Crabs had gained some steam, and things began to fall apart for the Ports.

click to enlarge Connor Larsen makes the tag in game 1 - MATT FILAR
  • Matt Filar
  • Connor Larsen makes the tag in game 1

Crabs third baseman Santiago Cantu reached on an error by the previously lauded Ports shortstop. Center fielder Kellen Strahm, sensing weakness, snapped a worm-burning grounder to the shortstop for a single. It was
the Crabs’ third hit of the game. Left fielder Bronson Grubbs laid down a beauty of a bunt and reached on an error, scoring Cantu. The Crabs were on the board and folks were testing the durability of the bleachers. Hometown hero and second baseman Koko Figueiredo singled on a bunt to load the bases, and right fielder Connor Blair sacrificed himself for the team and popped out to score Strahm and tie the game 2-2.

Top of the ninth. A Ports pinch hitter comes in and works a full count before grounding into the first out. Next batter singles, only to be caught stealing one pitch before the notable shortstop lines a double to center field. Trautner fanned the next batter to end the inning.

Crabs celebrate Tuesday's walk-off victory - MATT FILAR
  • Matt Filar
  • Crabs celebrate Tuesday's walk-off victory

Crabs first baseman Connor Larsen roped a double to left field to start the bottom of the ninth. Catcher Johnny Mendoza struck out looking, but Cantu walked on four straight pitches. Strahm also walked, but not before Larsen snuck over to third on a wild pitch. Bases loaded (full of Crabs), one out. Bronson Grubbs stepped in to the box and on the first pitch shot a grounder to the shortstop. For whatever reason, the Portsman opted to throw to second instead of home and sealed their fate.

And then, the best thing in baseball happened. The “Fight.” It’s a time-honored tradition for America’s pastime. Every so often, dudes need to get upset, and the benches must clear so that we can watch two dozen men push each other around and pretend like they’re going to fight. The game had been
decided, the Crabs won their 12th in a row, and both teams were missing out on valuable bar time. But fans love the kayfabe, and you’ve got to give the people what they want.

click to enlarge Benches clear into a scrum after the game - MATT FILAR
  • Matt Filar
  • Benches clear into a scrum after the game

It seems I miss all the best games. I don’t know if my presence ensures a procedural win, or if I’m just very unlucky. But I missed Tuesday, and had to cull all this from the score recap (thanks again Liam!) and first-hand accounts (thank you sources!).

After hearing about the squabble, I was resolved to make Wednesday’s game —instead of being a responsible adult, paying bills and cleaning my apartment — and boy was I glad I did. First, you can’t start a fight with my hometown team. I don’t care if they’re in the wrong, they’re always right (at least in the moment) and so I felt like the Ports needed to hear some dissent. Second, it’s clear this team is good, and it’s always a great time to watch the Crabs get challenged. It elevates their play, and as fun as a stone-cold rout is to watch, a tight game is infinitely better.

The stands were well packed, the Band was in attendance, and people (Crabs players and fans alike) were fired up. The stands were buzzing before the game began, and once it did, the hecklers didn’t let up. There’s an attitude among fans, I think, that every run, every hit is an affront. It’s unfair, totally illogical and I love it. We expect teams to come in and get brutalized. We expect that to be OK. San Leandro is not like that at all, and they let people know it. Their dugout was alight all evening. Talking smack, cheering teammates on, responding to hecklers (and the first rule is that you don’t respond to a heckler). It was tense and wonderful.

I’ve said before that the Crabs are not a merciful team. Let’s add to that that they, like the fans, take close games personally. They were not going to lose this game, and really they wanted to crush the Ports. Crabs starting pitcher Dylan Campbell put the Ports down in three batters, and then came out swinging in the bottom of the first.

Kellen Strahm walked on five pitches to start things off.  Jackson O’Boy and Koko Figueiredo both singled to load the bases with nobody out. McCarthy Tatum took an easy walk and Strahm sauntered home to put the Crabs on the board. Jackson Kritch singled to center field scoring O’Boy.

Figueiredo scored, too, on an erroneous throw from center before Ramon Enriquez grounded into a fielder’s choice. 3-0 Crabs.

The score would stay that way until the fourth inning, when the Ports responded with three of their own on back-to-back doubles and some clutch singles. Between these runs were stands of impenetrable defense and close plays. The Ports infield was very strong. Their first baseman is probably 6’3” with long legs and long arms, and an exceptional glove. He didn’t need a great throw, just put the ball in his vicinity and he’ll dig it up for the out. Cantu, the Crabs shortstop, made an amazing play on a ripping grounder to the gap between him and third. He made a long run, a dive, recovered and hucked the ball to first, just beating out the runner.

After a quick bottom fourth and top fifth, the Crabs took to the plate. Strahm and O’Boy (who always seem to hit better when they’re together, though Strahm leads the team with a .391 batting average) both singled to put runners in scoring position. Figueiredo took the plate and hit a screaming comebacker to the pitcher, who, amazingly (and thankfully, it was actually scary) caught the ball and threw it to first, catching O’Boy as he tried to tag-up. I’ve never been so relieved to watch a double play. Tatum restarted the momentum with an RBI single, and the Crabs took the lead 4-3. Fans elated, the Band played “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and the member playing the cowbell ran up and down the stands banging away, thrusting his pelvis like a young Elvis.  5-4 Ports.

But the Ports refused to roll over and re-took the lead the next chance they got with good hitting and some bad pitching. An easy bottom half of the inning and it looked like they had taken all momentum away from the Crabs. And then they put another run on the Crabs and extended the lead, 6-4.

Then in the bottom of the seventh, our boys hopped out of the boiling water and took their bats to San Leandro.  Walks, singles, sacrifice grounders and a fielder’s choice tied the game at 6. At this point, something became very clear to me: No one in the stands liked the Ports shortstop. He had become the epicenter of all our frustrations and ire, and was receiving a disproportionate level of heckling any time he was involved in the game. This would only get exasperated when he came up to bat in the top of the eighth and kept calling for time at the last possible second. Very cheeky, not at all spirited. After the second time, the whole first base section began screaming “WAIT” any time a Portsman took to the box. This would continue for the entire game, one heckler even led a rendition of The Isley Brothers song “Shout!” where instead we shouted “WAIT!”.

Both the Crabs and the Ports would put runners in scoring position in the eighth and ninth, and both teams would be unable to bring someone home. My voice was almost gone, and we were headed to extra innings.

The 10th was more of the same. Reliever Justin Barry, who struck out five in 1.2 innings, sat down two Portsmen (including the ire-inspiring shortstop) to start. One error and a walk later, the Crabs were in trouble. Thankfully, he coaxed the next batter into a simple grounder and the inning was over. The Crabs had a similarly ineffectual half, and so came the 11th.

New Crabs pitcher Kenton Carruthers put the side down one, two, three. Feet began pounding the bleachers, thundering cheers of “HERE WE GO CRABBIES, HERE WE GO” sounded into the night.

Otis Statum led off the inning and worked a walk. The Ports had opted to use a pitcher who relied on off-speed pitching, and it would be their undoing. The guy simply couldn’t find the plate. Strahm drew another walk. O’Boy hit into a fielder’s choice (the millionth of the series), pushing Strahm and Statum to second and third respectively. And up came Koko. He got pushed in to a 2-2 count before he crushed a single to the shortstop and Statum came screaming home, avoiding a tag to win the game.

Statum avoids the tag for the win - MATT FILAR
  • Matt Filar
  • Statum avoids the tag for the win

And so ended the most contentious series of the season, for more than one reason. Beer was stolen, three “fans” were permanently booted for unspeakably poor behavior that I won’t glorify with elaboration, two more were kicked out, and, for the first time in my life, I was asked (along with a whole group) to “keep it down.” Crabs have won 13 in a row and sit at 23-6.

Upcoming Games
The Pacific Union Capitalists are coming in to town, Friday through Sunday (12:30 p.m. first pitch). This is their first of two appearances at the ballpark this month, and they may well be the best team the Crabs play all season. Get off the couch and come watch, it’s gonna be a great series.

Cheers and Jeers
Cheers to the San Leandro Ports for giving us some great baseball and reinvigorating the fan base.

Jeers to the Ports for trying to fight the Crabs.

Cheers to the ballpark staff for doing a thankless job and being so forbearing through it all.

Jeers to the drunks on Friday who got kicked out. If you’re going to soil yourself, at least bring a diaper.

Heckle of the Series

My buddy (no nepotism) who started the “WAIT!” rendition of “Shout!” Way to strike gold, Jax.



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Thomas Oliver

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Thomas Oliver lives in McKinleyville.

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