The playoffs got underway at Hodgetown, with the second half winning Amarillo Sod Poodles hosting the first half winning San Antonio Missions. Dylan Ray got the start for the Sod Poodles, despite only having made three previous appearances at the level, two of which did not go well.
This one didn't start out well, either. While he struck out two batters in the first inning, he also gave up a double, a home run, and a single, and had a pick-off to get out of the inning. Before even coming to bat, the Soddies trailed 2-0. And the bottom of the first inning started a trend for the Sod Poodles, who got a walk from Tim Tawa and a single from Caleb Roberts, but stranded both runners. Ray surrendered another home run in the second inning, this one to Homer Bush, Jr. In the bottom of the frame, Amarillo again stranded two runners, this time after singles from Deyvison De Los Santos and Jancarlos Cintron.
In the third inning, Ray made it 3-for-3 with innings and home runs, giving up a second two-run blast to Nathan Martorella. Tawa homered in the bottom of the frame to make it 5-1, but Cole Cummings hit a fourth home run off of Ray leading off the fourth inning to make it, once again, a 5 run deficit. Ray left after 3.2 innings, having struck out 4 and walked none, but also gave up 4 home runs. But, because this is Hodgetown, strange things can happen.
The Sod Poodles got two back in the bottom of the fourth, as Neyfy Castillo walked and Kristian Robinson homered to make it 6-3. Unfortunately, they also stranded two runners yet again, after singles from Cintron and Tawa. The fifth continued the LOB difficulties, as A.J. Vukovich walked but was erased on a double play, and De Los Santos tripled (with an assist by the outfielder who misplayed the ball) but was stranded at third.
Just in case the game hadn't been crazy enough so far, the sixth inning happened. Jake Rice was on the mound for the Sod Poodles, and he walked Homer Bush Jr. Juan Fernandez came to the plate and hit a hard ground ball up the middle, which was fielded by Camden Duzenack, diving to his left. While still diving, he flipped to Cintron at second, and Cintron completed the relay to first for a double play that would certainly have ended up on SportsCenter if it took place at the major league level. But don't just take my word for it, watch it here.
That ended the top of the sixth, and helped to keep the Sod Poodles within three. Cintron picked up his third hit of the game, a double, and scored on Tim Tawa's triple. CD Pelham came on to pitch for the Missions, and to give a platoon advantage with the lefty against Caleb Roberts. However, rather than struggling against the same-handed pitcher, Roberts (who slugs about 130 points lower against LHP than RHP) drove the first pitch that he saw over the left field wall. Tie game.
Taylor Rashi was able to strand the bases loaded in the seventh inning to preserve the tie, and give the Missions some runners left on base. Luke Bachar came on to pitch for the Missions and struck out De Los Santos and Castillo, but gave up a single to Kristian Robinson. Jancarlos Cintron picked up his fourth hit of the day. That was the good news. It was a weakly hit single to no-man's land in right-center. That was better news. Robinson ran hard from first to third.
And that's where the bad news came in. Shawn Roof, coaching third base, sent Robinson. But Robinson had hesitated when crossing the third base bag, and was thrown out attempting to score. Had he not hesitated, he almost certainly would have given the Sod Poodles the lead, as not only was the ball weakly hit, but right fielder Cole Cummings was not particularly energetic in getting to the ball. Instead, the seventh inning ended with the score still tied at 6.
Rashi allowed just one run during the regular season, for an ERA of 0.73 in 12.1 innings. And he looked set to continue that run in the eighth inning. After a ground out, Bush was hit by a pitch and stole second, but Rashi struck out Juan Fernandez. Connor Hollis hit a ground ball to De Los Santos at third, who fielded it cleanly and, it turned out, had too much time to throw. Because he wound up and threw the ball halfway to Wichita Falls, allowing Bush to score. Rashi struck out Marcos Castanon to end the inning, but the Sod Poodles now trailed 7-6.
The Sod Poodles picked the eighth inning to be set down in order for the first time all game, with Tawa retired for the first time and Duzenack and Roberts striking out. Raffi Vizcaino pitched a perfect ninth, striking out 2. And so it went to the bottom of the ninth with the Soddies needing one run to extend the game, and the Missions needing three outs to take a series lead home to San Antonio.
A.J. Vukovich struck out to lead off the inning. But Seth Beer drove one deep to center field and over the fence, tying the game. De Los Santos grounded out and Castillo struck out to end the inning, and it was on to extra innings.
Things started well for the Sod Poodles and Vizcaino in the tenth. Korry Howell struck out. Bush singled to score the zombie runner, but Juan Fernandez flied out to get the Sod Poodles close to getting out of the inning with just the one run scoring. And then the Missions went single, walk, home run, and Vizcaino was replaced by Christian Montes De Oca for the final out, with the score now 12-7.
But, once again, this is Hodgetown. And nothing is ever certain about Hodgetown. Robinson led off the bottom of the tenth by striking out. But the Missions once again found themselves unable to retire Jancarlos Cintron, who walked. Camden Duzenack followed with a single, his first hit of the game. That brought Tim Tawa to the plate, a home run short of the cycle and with two runners on. If he could get on base, Caleb Roberts would come to the plate as the tying run. And Tawa drove one deep to right-center. Unfortunately for Tawa and the Missions, Cummings had been replaced in right field by superior defender Korry Howell, who went back, to the track, and leapt in the air and...caught the ball. Castillo, the Soddies' zombie runner, scored from third, so it was now 12-8, but the Sod Poodles were down to their final out.
Once again Caleb Roberts came to the plate, once again facing a left handed pitcher (this time former major leaguer Daniel Camarena.) And, once again, he drove one deep to left field and over the fence. 12-11. And A.J. Vukovich came to the plate.
Unfortunately he flied out to Howell in right field, and a hard fought game was over.
In all, the game featured ten home runs, five by each team. It featured three errors, but only the error by De Los Santos proved costly. It featured an excellent defensive play. It featured multiple comebacks, the last of which came up just a hair short. It packed all the action of baseball into 3:27.
For his 3-for-6 performance featuring two home runs and five batted in (with both of the home runs coming with platoon disadvantage in high-pressure situations) I'll name Caleb Roberts the player of the game, with honorable mention going to Tim Tawa for his 3-for-4 performance and Jancarlos Cintron for his 4-for-4 performance. Neyfy Castillo was the lone Amarillo player not to get a hit.
The series resumes on Thursday in San Antonio. The Sod Poodles will need to win Thursday and Friday to advance to the championship series. With the off day, every pitcher should be available.