Several times during the baseball season, I encourage Cardinals fans to listen to one of the minor league radio broadcasts. While these are usually on an off day with the big club, this current road trip as given us another opportunity to do just that since Memphis is on a long western journey of their own, three time zones apart. As soon as the Cardinals game ends, you can flip over to catch the start of the next generation of Cardinals do their thing.
If you had been doing so already, you would have known that
- Lance Lynn is really as good as his recent relief appearances suggest
- Adron Chambers will be the next Cardinals center fielder
- Fernando Salas is as dependable as a Breitling watch
- Andrew Brown is the next Allen Craig,but with a cannon for an arm
- Ryan Jackson gives us hope that the shortstop problem will be over soon
- Matt Adams is an absolute beast at the plate
- Shelby Miller is every bit as good as the all the hype suggests
- Tyler Greene in Memphis isn’t the same Tyler Greene in St. Louis
And there are other great stories as well. But a recent one stands out, and I am hoping that it will be good enough to convince at least one more person to give the minor leagues some attention.
When the Memphis Redbirds traveled to Reno to face the Aces in a 4 game series, they were still hanging on to a slim playoff hope. Sitting at just over .500 for the season, they are in second place in the American North Divsion of the Pacific Coast League, trailing the Omaha Stormchasers (Kansas City Royals) by five games, with a month left to go.
The situation for the Aces was quite the opposite. The Arizona Diamondback’s AAA affiliate has played good baseball all year long and have a commanding lead in their division. It would take an epic meltdown on the order of the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies for them not to make the playoffs. Or, perhaps a roster upheaval at the waiver deadline of their major league parent, which is exactly what happened. In the last two weeks, their clubhouse has seemed more like a bus station than a baseball roster, with multiple new faces showing up almost daily. It has taken a while for these new players to catch on, as well as the existing players to adapt to them.
It couldn’t be a better time for the Redbirds road trip.
August 4. 2011 – Memphis 11, Reno 0
This is the second game of the series between the Aces and Redbirds. In the opener, the two teams played long into the night, for 13 innings. The four hour and 17 minute affair was the longest game in Reno franchise history, tying another 4:17 marathon in …… well, of course, Memphis. It was a terribly exciting game with Memphis taking the lead in the 13th, only to give it up in bottom of the inning on a rare bullpen failure by Victor Marte, who has just been brilliant since coming over from the Stormchases earlier in the year.
That set the stage for game two, with Mikael Cleto on the mound for the Cardinals and St. Louisan Tom Layne for the Aces.
The first inning went by rather quickly, the only base runner was a leadoff single by Shane Robinson, who has just been on fire since returning from an injury sustained when running into Andrew Brown earlier in the year. Robinson would be stranded at first base, but we will hear a lot more of him before this game is done.
The Redbirds took an early lead in their half of the second inning. With one out, Layne hits Matt Carpenter with a pitch. Pete Kozma follows that with a walk, which is something we are noticing the young infielder do more often. Nick Derba drives home the first Cardinals run with a sharp single, scoring Carpenter.
That brings Mikael Cleto to the plate with a chance to help his cause. Unfortunately, Pete Kozma gets picked off second base when he takes too great of a lead – and it’s the bad kind, where the catcher picks him off. Cleto grounds out and the once promising rally comes to an end.
Things settle down with both teams exchanging an occasional single or walk, but not being able to put anything together in a meaningful way.
Until the bottom of the fourth. Ryan Langerhans, the hero from the last game, gets a one out single. Andy Tracy hits a swinging bunt that Mikael Cleto makes a nifty play, just getting Tracy at first base. Langerhans was able to take third on the slowly developing play. Cole Gillespie walks, setting up an interesting offensive opportunity. When he steals second base, the Redbirds play it safely and don’t make the throw through, expecting Langerhans to come home on the double steal. It’s a gamble though because it puts the go-ahead run in scoring position. It turns out to be the right decision when Lucas May flies out to Allen Craig in left field. A dangerously deep fly ball to Allen Craig. Uncomfortably deep.
That brings us to the fifth inning, and not even the Reno scoreboard can tell the whole story, as you will soon find out.
Shane Robinson starts the inning off with a single, his second hit of the night. Tyler Greene follows that by watching a close pitch that is called strike three. Fortunately, Robinson was running on the pitch and safely slides into second base with a steal, his fifth of the season. With Allen Craig at the plate, Robinson again decides to test the Aces catcher and breaks for third, beating the throw easily for his sixth steal of the season.
That stolen base was the turning point in the inning, and eventually the game because it put team speed and aggressive base running in the heads of the Aces defenders, who were just about to come unglued.
Allen Craig draws a walk to put runners at the corners with one out. All of this aggressive base running will be for naught if Nick Stavinoha pulls an Albert Pujols and grounds into an inning ending double play. And he does, but Aces third baseman, Mark Hallberg rushes his throw (speed will do that) and it sails high over the second baseman’s head, into right field. Robinson scores on the play. 2-0.
Mark Hamilton follows that with a sharp single to right field, loading the bases.
Matt Carpenter singles, scoring Craig and leaving the bases loaded. Pete Kozma threads the needle with a hit up the middle, and everybody moves up a base again.
The wheels totally come off for Reno when Nick Derba hits a single to left field. For the first time in the inning, two runners are able to score on the play. A wild throw by the Aces left fielder allows Kozma to take third base, and Derba to move up to second. Instead of a 1-0 deficit, the Aces now trail 6-0. And it will get worse, much worse.
In a play eerily reminiscent of the 2006 World Series, Mikael Cleto grounds out slowly to the right side of the infield. Instead of taking the sure out at first, Tony Abreu fires home, hoping to throw out Pete Kozma. The runner and ball arrive at home plate at the same time, and the catcher misses both of them.7-0.
That’s all for Tom Layne. The Aces make a double switch, bringing in the right hander, Brian Stokes. Stokes fares no better than Layne, perhaps worse.
Shane Robinson greets Stokes rudely with a sharp single, scoring Derba. That would be Robinson’s second hit of the inning, third on the night. The score is now 8-0. Stokes then throws a pitch that gets by the Aces catcher, ruled a passed ball, and both runners move up a base, Cleto taking third and Robinson second. Tyler Greene atones for his earlier strikeout, the only out of the inning so far, by pulling a double into left field scoring both Cleto and Robinson. 10-0.
Allen Craig makes the second out in the inning, but it is a productive one. His ground out allows Greene to proceed to third base. Nick Stavinoha would then single in Greene for the 10th run off the inning, giving Memphis a commanding 11-0 lead. When Mark Hamilton grounds out to finally end the inning, the large Reno crowd gives their team a huge mock ovation.
The only remaining question is – what will this long inning do to Mikael Cleto. It was a long time to sit, although he was involved in the offensive side of the inning, unintentionally.
With one out, Cleto gives a free pass to Angel Berroa. That might have given us some reason for concern, but Cleto quickly did away with that. He would strike out the next two Reno batters. Looking. Both on mesmerizing curveballs. Not quite Adam Wainwright caliber, but good enough to make those of us watching make those cartoon eyes.
That’s basically the end to the game. Cleto would pitch one more strong inning, leaving after 106 pitches, 62 for strikes. He would allow 4 hits, walk 3 and strike out 4. Bryan Augenstein would follow with two scoreless innings of his own, but some of the control issues are still present. Ron Mahay would finish things off with an impressive 1-2-3 inning featuring a strikeout and two infield ground outs.
Shane Robinson, playing some of the best baseball of his minor league career, was the offensive star of the night. He would go 3-5, with an RBI and a run scored. But it was those two stolen bases early in the fifth inning that started the Cardinals rally, or Reno defensive meltdown. Or both.
A day after tying the franchise record for their longest game, Reno sets another franchise record, although one of dubious distinction – most runs allowed in an inning (10). In fact, the Reno scoreboard is not able to display innings where 10 or more runs are scored. At the end of the game, it told a rather strange version of the game.
Memphis 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 11 13 1 Reno 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 3
The third game in the series was another exciting one, with Memphis pulling out to an early lead. Unfortunately, Brandon Dickson faced one too many batters and Reno was able to pull ahead, and make the lead hold up.
With the Cardinals playing another early game in Florida, you might want to check in on the Baby Birds as they complete their series in Reno tonight. Start time in 9pm CDT. I encourage you to give the WHBQ free audio stream a listen – broadcaster Steve Selby is one of the best. Fortunately, the Reno broadcasters are very good as well, a bit chatty and staccato in their delivery, but a very pleasant way to follow a baseball game.