We’ve been at Arizona Fall League games when it was freezing. We’ve been when it was pouring with rain. But there were no such issue last night, despite some overcast conditions as we drove towards Salt River Fields to see the Salt River Rafters take on the Scottsdale Scorpions. It turned into an almost perfect evening, with no wind, and a game-time temperature officially recorded at 73 degrees, meaning Mrs. SnakePit was able to use her extra jersey for a seat cushion. The crowd was 1,171 which was more than we thought, but only about half of what was there for our last visit in 2016. Maybe having “real” October baseball dampened local enthusiasm for the AFL?
This was a low-scoring affair with the Rafters prevailing by a 3-2 margin, and was crisply played, taking only 2:33 to complete. The low score probably helped, but so did the pitch clock, which remains in effect for the AFL. It’ll be interesting to see if there are any moves to introduce it at the major-league level this winter: it seems likely. We wondered if the low-scoring nature of the game was a trend, especially as the two other AFL games yesterday combined for only 13 runs. However, the 2017 ERA in the league sits at 4.42, slightly about the 2016 figure of 4.28. That’s about in line with the change at the MLB level, where ERA increased to 4.35 from 4.18.
There weren’t any Arizona Diamondbacks prospects in the starting line-up for the Rafters tonight. However, catcher Michael Perez came in to replace the Marlins’ Rodrigo Vigil after the first inning, for undisclosed reasons, and subsequently went one for three with a pair of strikeouts. We did get to see two of our relievers on the mound. Colin Poche struggled initially, giving up a lead-off walk in the sixth, followed by an RBI triple off the outfield wall. But he then recovered to strand that runner on third. He ended up getting the W, as Salt River scored twice. Kirby Bellow worked a scoreless eighth, allowing a hit and a walk.
They were not the only D-backs connection to be seen, however, since both managers in this contest had links to the team. For Salt River, J.R. House was in charge, after handling our Double-A affiliate in Jackson. For Scottsdale, it was Jay Bell at the reins, and among the players on the Scorpions were his son, Brantley Bell, who is now part of the Reds minor-league system. D-backs’ fans may already be aware, it was Brantley’s suggestion that the team have a bobcat as a mascot, back when dad played for the team. We could have used this to heckle him mercilessly: “You invented D. Baxter!” But we were just too nice, I guess.
We’re also fairly sure we passed Ken Kendrick on the way to our seats. And Luis Gonzalez closed out the game for the Rafters, though I’ve got a feeling it was not that Luis Gonzalez. We did note a “Erceg” playing for the Scorpions too, and wondered if this was Mark Grace attempting a comeback under a near-anagram pseudonym - not least because, like Mark, Mr. Erceg was a left-handed hitter, wearing #16, who went to the plate without batting gloves. Despite the coincidences, probably not... We were, however, impressed with the Rafters’ starter James Needy, who had eight strikeouts through the first three innings, on his way to four scoreless frames.
The win keeps the Rafters’ AFL Championship hopes just about alive. With seven games left to play, they are 2.5 back of the East division leading Mesa Solar Sox. They play Mesa home and away this Friday and Saturday, in what are likely “must win” contests. But as far as we’re concerned, this is the end of our 2017 “live” baseballing, and it was a very entertaining night. Thanks to ish95 (happy birthday!) and Mrs ish95 for joining us at the ballpark, and sending off the 2017 season in such a pleasant fashion. When does spring training start?