Hop Ten from ’14, #5: “Thanks, Don’t Mind if We Do,” part 2

Date posted: March 18, 2015
Date of game: July 20, P.K. Park in Eugene
Hops vs. Eugene Emeralds

George Roberts (Craig Mitchelldyer / Hillsboro Hops)

George Roberts (Craig Mitchelldyer / Hillsboro Hops)

The very next night (see #6), with the pennant hanging in the balance, Hillsboro trailed 2-0 and had just one hit through five innings. They clawed for a run in the sixth on an RBI ground-out by Steve Nyisztor, and a game-tying run in the seventh on a double by George Roberts.

Roberts would come to the plate in the top of the ninth, with the game still tied. This time, it was Eugene manager Robbie Wine who seemed to be in a giving mood. Again, the Hops were happy to accept.

Here is the short version, including a brief highlight from the top and bottom of the ninth:

And here is the long version — the entire ninth inning, top and bottom:

Twenty-seven minutes after the final out, Boise lost at home to Salem-Keizer, and the Hops were the first-half champions. The playoffs wouldn’t begin for 44 days… but Hillsboro knew they were in.

Hop Ten from ’14, #6: “Thanks, Don’t Mind if We Do,” part 1

Date posted: February 18, 2015
Date of game: July 19, 2014, P.K. Park in Eugene
Hops vs. Eugene Emeralds

Steve Nyisztor (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Steve Nyisztor (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Like #8, this one needs a little context.

In the second half of the 2013 season, Hillsboro was in the pennant chase, in a first-place tie with six games left in the second half, and preparing to face struggling Eugene in the final three home games  of the regular season.

And then — right cross, left uppercut — the Hops dropped two of the three, both by one run, to the lowly Emeralds. Though the Hops would win their final three games, in Boise, they missed the playoffs by two wins.

Fast-forward to 2014. Cue the Yogi Berra line about deja vu.

Hillsboro had held the outright lead in the South Division for 30 consecutive days. Then, with five days left in the first half pennant chase, they lost three of five at home — the final two by one run — to a pathetic Tri-City team which, entering the series, had lost four straight and was 11-19. A loss in the finale of that series dropped Hillsboro into a first-place tie with Boise with three games left — the first time in a month the Hops hadn’t been in sole possession of the lead.

The Hops held the tiebreaker over Boise, but Boise was red-hot and didn’t figure to lose at home to struggling Salem-Keizer. So common wisdom suggested Hillsboro needed to sweep the three-game series in Eugene, which began July 19.

That night, Eugene’s scatter-arm shortstop, Franchy Cordero, was in a giving mood. And the Hops and Steve Nyisztor were happy to accept.

You again have two options: just a few highlights… or, if you really want to go back, you can hear most of the top of the seventh and the bottom of the ninth (a little less than 15 minutes).

Here are the quick highlights:

 

And here is the extended version:

 

Boise won, so the Hops remained in a first-place tie with two games remaining.

 

Hop 10 from ’14, #7: “No! No no-no!”

Date posted: February 3, 2015
Date of game: August 13, 2014, Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro
Hops vs. Boise Hawks

Hillsboro Hops vs Everett AquaSox

Zac Curtis (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Okay, I’m just gettin’ greedy. I realize that. Many professional baseball broadcasters have long careers without ever getting to call a no-hitter. I’ve called four (including two perfect games). And yet, the night of August 13, 2014 still bothers me.

I thought I had a fifth.

In fact, Hops pitchers did combine to throw nine no-hit innings against Boise that night. Problem was, Hillsboro had just one hit, a fifth-inning single by DH Jake Mayers — yep, in NINE INNINGS, BOTH TEAMS COMBINED FOR ONE HIT — and the score was 0-0 through nine.

Boise’s David Bote doubled with one out in the top of the 10th — Hops right fielder Zach Esquerra made a headlong diving effort, the ball within reach (he later said he thought he should have caught it) — but was stranded at third base. It would turn out to be Boise’s only hit of the game

In the bottom of the 10th, Hillsboro notched their second and final hit — a leadoff single to center by Kevin Cron. And how they won the game was fitting for an odd night.

I highly recommend the extended highlights. But, if you don’t have much time, you have the short version too. Here’s the shorty:

And here’s the extended version:

Hop 10 from ’14, #8: “Putting the Ghosts to Rest”

Date posted: January 27, 2015
Date of game: July 6, 2014, Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer
Hops vs. Salem-Keizer Volcanoes

Pedro Ruiz (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Pedro Ruiz (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

We’ll continue with the theme of the unlikely.

In 2013, division-rival Salem-Keizer had dominated Hillsboro, taking nine of the 12 games en route to winning both halves in the South. (Salem-Keizer had trailed Hillsboro by one game with seven to play in the second half of the 2013 season, but came back to win that flag as well.)

Well, as the first half of the 2014 season came down the home stretch, ardent Hops fans were surely thinking, here we go again.

The Volcanoes had beaten Hillsboro in back-to-back games the previous two nights (July 4-5), including a gut-wrenching loss on a game-ending single by Travious Relaford the night before. Salem-Keizer had vaulted into a tie for second, three games behind the Hops with 13 left to play in the first half.

Hillsboro was on the verge of being swept. And in the series finale in Keizer, the Hops let 3-0 and 8-5 leads get away, and trailed 9-8 entering the top of the ninth.

Yet, after this one, Salem-Keizer wouldn’t be a factor the remainder of the half, and as it turned out would miss the playoffs entirely in 2014.

Here’s how the top of the ninth unfolded — again, two versions, a shorter one and a longer one. The short version first:

And here is the longer version, which is most of the top of the 9th inning:

Hillsboro went on to win, 11-9, as Zac Curtis struck out the side in order in the bottom of the ninth.

Hop 10 from ’14, #9: “Deep Into the Night”

Date posted: January 20, 2015
Date of game: August 17, 2014, P.K. Park in Eugene

Hops vs. Eugene Emeralds

Taylor Ratliff

Taylor Ratliff

My last post featured a stunning way for a game to end. This winning play, while not a game-ender, happened plenty late (how does the top of the 17th sound?), and was nearly as stunning.

Incidentally, the Hops have now played the two longest games in the Northwest League over the past two seasons—a 19-inning win at home vs. Vancouver in July 2013, and this 17-inning win in Eugene in August 2014. (Both games, interestingly, lasted five hours and 28 minutes.)

And, again, it’s how the winning play happened that was the surprise. (Or, more accurately in this case, who.)

You can hear just the key highlight, or, if you have more time, the entire top of the 17th. Here’s the highlight, from August 17, 2014, the Hops at Eugene:

And here is the entire half inning:

Mike Cetta pitched around two singles and a walk in the bottom of the 17th. The Emeralds left the bases loaded when Cetta struck out Felipe Blanco on a 2-2 curveball to end the game. Hops win, 9-7 in 17 innings.

Hop Ten from ’14, #10: “Did that just happen?”

July 2nd, 2014, Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro
Hops vs. Everett Aquasox

Hops shortstop Justin Gonzalez was involved in a remarkable way to end a game. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Hops shortstop Justin Gonzalez was involved in a remarkable way to end a game. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Whew. What a season 2014 was, eh?

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be counting down the top moments of the season.

But first, here’s what’s not included — games that, in other years, might have made this list: J.R. House’s first career managerial win (June 14 at Everett); game-ending hits by Elvin Soto, Tyler Baker, Jordan Parr, Zach Esquerra and Pedro Ruiz (in Ruiz’s case, a home run); a grand slam by Esquerra on August 11 at Salem-Keizer, the first slam in Hops history, in the franchise’s 132nd game; and other moments, both significant and entertaining.

We’ll the countdown of the top 10 moments from Hillsboro’s 2014 Northwest League championship season with a play that had to be original… certainly this had never happened in the many years since Abner Doubleday didn’t invent the game, right?

On the night of July 2, the Hops had reached the midway point of the first half with a 12-7 record and a four-game lead in the South Division. Closer Zac Curtis was coming off a bad outing two nights before (as it would turn out, his only bad outing in 28 appearances all season). He had walked one, allowed three hits, suffered his only blown save, and taken the loss against Everett on June 30 at Ron Tonkin Field.

Like any short reliever, Curtis fed off confidence, so it was important to him, and to the Hops, that he re-establish his success. And as a first-year pro who was closing regularly for the first time in his life, a scoreless outing seemed even more important.

Curtis would run into problems… and how he got out of them left Hops fans delirious and Everett players stunned.

As will usually be the case with our Hop 10 from ’14, you can listen to a quick highlight… or, if time allows, you have the option of truly reliving the past season, and listening to an extended version.

Here is the quick highlight:

And here is the entire top of the ninth inning:

This Year’s Christmas Tree

Last year, we in the Burk household had a Hillsboro Hops-themed Christmas tree.

The Hops went on to win the league championship.

Coincidence? We think not.

So, this year, we’ve created a tree for our other sports passion.

Enjoy:

20141130_202137

20141130_204102

20141130_174136

20141130_174342

20141130_174312

20141130_174212

20141130_202536

 

The Victorino Arch

I don’t know why I feel compelled to write about this today. But here goes.

There is a MAX light-rail bridge here in Hillsboro which has an archway above it. Here is a photo:

220px-Hillsboro_MAX_bridge

Last October, when Shane Victorino doubled home three to give Boston a 3-0 lead over St. Louis in the final game of the World Series, my son and I were passing underneath this arch.

I nearly drove off the road as we pumped our fists and high-fived each other while listening to Joe Castiglione’s call on Red Sox radio.

Two hours later, the Sox were crowned world champions.

And in my family, the above structure will always be known as the Victorino Arch.

What if MLB had no Wild Card?

Count me as one who loves the current MLB structure. Enough teams get into the postseason to keep it interesting, but not so many as to render the regular season pointless. And with the addition of the wild card game prior to last year, a premium is now placed on winning the division. (I just wish they would change the semantics and make the wild card matchup Game #163 of the regular season. I don’t think a wild card team should be considered “in the playoffs” unless they win the wild card game. But that’s a different discussion.)

I have friends who are vehemently against the current MLB structure, saying it’s too watered down, that too many teams make the playoffs.  They say we’ve lost true pennant races.

Have we?

So, FYI, I’ve restructured the standings to what they would be if we still had the four-division setup that was in place in 1993, with these exceptions:  Tampa Bay has since been added the AL East and Arizona to the NL West, and I’ve left Milwaukee in the NL and Houston in the AL.

As you can see, there would be no drama in the American League, and very little in the National:

American League East 
               W  L  PCT    GB 
Baltimore     92 60 .605    --
Detroit       84 68 .553   8.0
Cleveland     78 73 .517  13.5
Toronto       77 74 .510  14.5
NY Yankees    77 74 .510  14.5
Tampa Bay     74 79 .484  18.5
Boston        66 86 .434  26.0

American League West 
               W  L  PCT    GB   
LA Angels     95 57 .625    --
Oakland       83 68 .550  11.5
Kansas City   83 68 .550  11.5
Seattle       81 70 .536  13.5
Chi White Sox 69 83 .454  26.5
Houston       67 85 .441  28.0
Minnesota     65 87 .428  30.0
Texas         59 92 .391  35.5

National League East 
               W  L  PCT    GB   
Washington    87 64 .576    --
St. Louis     84 68 .553   3.5
Pittsburgh    81 70 .536   6.0
Milwaukee     79 73 .520   8.5
Miami         74 77 .490  13.0
NY Mets       73 80 .477  15.0
Philadelphia  70 82 .461  17.5
Chi Cubs      68 84 .447  19.5

National League West 
               W  L  PCT    GB 
LA Dodgers    86 66 .566    --
San Francisco 84 68 .553   2.0
Atlanta       76 76 .500  10.0
Cincinnati    71 82 .464  15.5
San Diego     70 81 .464  15.5
Arizona       62 90 .408  24.0
Colorado      61 91 .401  25.0

Yes, I realize teams’ schedules would be different under this structure. Whatever the case, though, such a system would not work. Too many years there would be too little drama at the end of the season. Too many teams would be out of the picture too soon.

I do, however, lament one thing about the current system: it’s hard for things to become memorable.

When there were just three playoff series per year — two LCSs and the World Series — the images were burned into my memory. Back then, I could tell you the playoff matchups for every year.

Now? If pressed, I’m not sure I could name all the teams who made the playoffs last year,  let alone five years ago.

Arizona Diamondbacks best MLB organization in 2014 MiLB postseason

The first thing I want to make clear is this: yes, I understand.

I understand that some major-league organizations don’t place a high value on winning at the minor-league level. Others do… as they should (more on that in a moment).

And I understand that playoff baseball in general, with its small sample size — and minor-league playoff baseball in particular, with its player movement, protectiveness of young arms and shorter series — is a relative crapshoot.

Furthermore, I understand that postseason minor-league success is not necessarily a strong measure of the health of an organization. It may be… or it may not be (though, certainly, it can’t hurt). It would take many hours of research to go back 20 years and compare minor-league playoff appearances and championships with future major-league wins and impact players developed. (Maybe one of you wants to geek out, do that research and clue us all in?)

That said, the Arizona Diamondbacks — the parent club of the Hillsboro Hops — are, by several measures, the most successful postseason minor-league organization in 2014. To wit:

– Arizona is the only MLB team whose top five affiliates (including the Hops) all made the playoffs. In fact, the Diamondbacks are the only organization to have all four long-season clubs (Triple-A Reno, Double-A Mobile, Advanced-A Visalia and Regular-A South Bend) advance to the postseason. Boston, Cleveland, the Angels, the Mets, and Washington all had three of their four long-season affiliates go to the playoffs. Baltimore, the White Sox, the Yankees, Philadelphia and Seattle had none of their long-season affiliates advance to the postseason.

The Diamondbacks join Boston, the Angels and Texas as the only four clubs to have five affiliates (long-season and short-season combined) advance to the playoffs. (Each major-league club had at least one minor-league affiliate advance to the playoffs, though Baltimore, the White Sox, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Seattle had just one. Philadelphia’s one club was their affiliate in the Venezuelan Summer League… the VSL has just five teams and is at rock bottom of the affiliated-ball food chain. The Yankees had two, both of them in the Dominican Summer League — one eliminated the other).

Two MLB clubs have won a pair of minor-league championships in 2014: the Boston Red Sox (Triple-A Pawtucket in the International League, and the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Red Sox) and the St. Louis Cardinals (Short-A State College of the New York-Penn League, and Rookie-level Johnson City of the Appalachian League). Arizona has won onethe Hops in the Short-A Northwest Leaguewith one pending. Tonight Visalia, a D-backs affiliate, faces Lancaster (an Astros’ affiliate) in the fifth and deciding game of the California League finals. (The Cal League final and the Triple-A championship game are the only two minor-league games left to be played.)

Arizona has the most playoff games won in 2014 of any major-league organization—17 (with, again, tonight’s Cal League final pending). Boston has 15 (with Pawtucket’s Triple-A championship game against the Royals’ Omaha affiliate taking place tomorrow night). The Cubs, Colorado and Texas collected 10 wins each. The White Sox and Pittsburgh each had no playoff games won, while Baltimore, Philadelphia and Seattle had just one win each.

The Diamondbacks obviously placed a high value on winning at the minor-league level in 2014. And it makes sense — as Craig Shipley, a member of the Arizona front-office, told me, you can’t expect players to only be concerned about themselves for four years, and then when they get to the big-leagues, flip a switch and suddenly place the team’s goals ahead of their own. Part of their development should clearly be learning what it takes to score more runs than the opposing team as often as possible.

Let’s hope this concern for winning down here translates into postseason success up there quite soon.

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