In last Tuesday’s blog, before the Pioneer League pennant series began, I warned, “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.”
The Pioneer League’s three-game championship format has a knack for creating upsets, and that’s what happened in 2008 as the 52-23 Orem Owlz lost to the 39-37 Great Falls Voyagers, two games to one.
There are many reasons why the Owlz fell, the best-of-three format being one of them.
Here are some other reasons, from my perspective.
- For openers, the Owlz’ offense was largely silent. Orem hit 76 homers during the season (#2 in the league); three of the top five home run hitters in the league wore Owlz jerseys. But they hit only one homer in the playoffs, a solo shot by Beau Brooks in the 7th inning of Game #1 None of the leading home run hitters delivered.
- I saw Games #2 and #3 at Orem, so I can personally comment on those games. Time and again, the Owlz had opportunities to capitalize but failed. They won Game #2 3-2 in 13 innings, but left 16 runners on base and committed four errors. In Game #3, the left on nine runners. They had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the 2nd in Game #3, but the next two batters struck out.
- I won’t name names, but there were some truly boneheaded decisions by certain players. In the aforementioned bases-loaded situation with two outs, the batter on his own squared and tried to bunt, fouling off the pitch. No squeeze was on, so far as I could tell. He just decided to try it on his own. On another play, a Great Falls batter hit a pop fly that could have been easily handled by one infielder, but another infielder called him off — and missed the ball.
- Both sides griped about the umpiring, which isn’t unusual at any level, but the home plate umpire in Game #2 jumped the gun and tossed Luis Jimenez, the league’s home run leader. Jimenez tried to take home on a squeeze play (that really was called), but the bunt was missed and he was easily tagged out. “Lucho” hit the catcher hard, but it was a clean hit. He turned back to the plate and was immediately tossed by the umpire, who apparently thought Lucho was charging the catcher. The Owlz won that game in 13 innings, but it meant running the bullpen instead of saving some guys for Game #3.
- By no means is this intended as a slight against interim manager Brent Del Chiaro, but I think Tom Kotchman’s absence due to his wife’s illness cost the team a certain degree of intensity. Losing Kotch before the playoffs would have been like the U.S. hockey team losing Herb Brooks just before the 1980 Winter Olympics. The team is geared emotionally to respond to Kotchman; you could have resurrected Billy Martin but it wouldn’t have been the same.
I hope that one day the Pioneer League expands the title series to best-of-five. Until then, expect more mediocre teams to fly a pennant flag, diminishing the integrity of their championships.
BeesGal of The Sporkball Journals has her own perspective on the Angels minor league seasons that just ended. Click Here to read her latest blog entry.