After being by far and away the best side this season, the Heat found themselves up against an adversary to be feared in the Melbourne Aces. With one of the best offences in the ABL, Melbourne’s poor season record was somewhat confusing, especially when they possessed a pitching roster that could shut down any side on its day. Maybe the Heat’s 4-game series sweep of the Aces back in November is a good analogy as any: for four straight games the Aces were in it right until the last out, and for four straight games the Heat somehow came out on top.
While the ABLCS went by the script for the Aces Season (close, but no cigar), it was never going to go by the script for the Heat. The previous 49 games played this season allowed the Heat time and space to assert themselves as a championship team. While I can’t speak for the players and coaches, a three game series did not give me the same comfort. As the three games whittled down to one game, and as that single game whittled down to a single inning, a single out and pitch, it was becoming scarily apparent that this season was on a knife edge. We were no longer the dominant force of the league and were evenly matched against a worthy opponent. It was going to come down to who could out last the other, a game of inches, a lottery.
In the end, the Heat did not take the championship by knockout but by outlasting the Aces in a 13 round thriller. With the heroic Bubbie Buzachero on the mound for his 12th inning of relief in 2 days, it was only a matter of time until he became mortal again, just clipping Jamie McOwen on the toe with a breaking ball in the dirt. With the leadoff runner on in the Heat’s 10th inning of opportunity for a walkoff in two days, the Heat moved the runner around on a sacrifice and a groundout. With the Claxton Sheild only 90 feet away, the Heat were unable to come up with a walkoff hit – instead Andrew Russel got a wild pitch past catcher Kevin David and after an initial stutter Jamie McOwen, possibly the fastest runner in the ABL, tore to home plate. He was not alone in the quest for home as a baseball, the entire Perth Heat dugout and legion of photographers joined Jamie in the race. Fortunately for Jamie, the pitch invaders, and my heart, (which was reaching a crescendo of somewhere near 160bpm) McOwen just beat the tag. McOwen slams his helmet down and I scream a “YES!” which I fear may have been audible on TV as I was sitting in the press box only 5m from Warren Smith’s microphone broadcasting into Australia, Asia and the States. After releasing our PA announcer from a possibly too loving embrace, he was able to announce to all and sundry that “The Alcohol Think Again Perth Heat are your 2011, 2012 Australian Baseball League Champions”.
What a game and what a series! The type that is loved by neutrals and underdogs and hated by those with everything on the line. It was becoming all too much as I longed to be able to tear myself away from everything just to relax – however my gameday duties did not allow myself any such luxuries and I was left to watch, clockwork orange style, as I feared for my workmates and the players I loved that everything they put in for the last 5 months could turn to nothing.
From the moment McOwen crossed home plate a wild party ensued, the buildup of tension form the last 3 days certainly took some time and questionable dance moves to relieve itself. Honourable mentions must go to Aaron Bonomi and Graham Lloyd. Bonomi is some crazy cat, and as for Lloyd, let’s just say it’s obvious that guy learnt some serious partying skills from his days with the Yankees. What a legend.
From here I will try to take a step back from being prophetic and give into some discussion of the game itself. The Heat did not just win this game on a wild pitch, it took some Herculean efforts from a group of champions, some of whom I will acknowledge below:
After being unbeatable all season, Geoff Brown did not have his stuff today, giving up 6 runs in 2.2 innings. The low-point of the day was Brown fluffing and easy play to 1st to finish off the 3rd. This error was very un-Geoff Brown like, and fearing Brown’s capitulation might catch on The Dark Knight had no choice but to bring him out of the game.
Jacob Clem had no such problems with the Aces, who, apart from a single run in the 3rd, kept the Aces bats quiet for 6.1 innings. Clem starved the Aces of any momentum, who would fail to score for the remaining 10 innings of the game.
I applaud Frawley and his ability to keep his cool in the tensest scenarios. Without a game winning hit, I think the walkoff victory can be attributed to Frawley’s mastery from the pen more than any other Heat player. As each opportunity for a walkoff came and went I was almost convinced that this inning would be the inning the Aces would make us pay. Fortunately Jack Frawley is made of stuff stronger than I, and he did not even allow the Aces a chance, allowing only 1 hit and no walks in 4 innings while striking out 4. He could have gone all night if need be.
The beauty of the Heat’s offence is that at least one player will step up and carry the team if needed. Game Two’s offensive monster was Mitch Graham going 4-6. Givens would go one better in the decider going 4 for 5 and a Hit By Pitch.
Nobody would have wanted a win today more than James McOwen. Having stated his love of the ABL stems from playing with local players with a desire to win for their team, as opposed to getting good numbers and being signed, McOwen would have been lapping up the passion of the loacal Heat boys to get through this series. Going 2 for 4 and scoring the winning run, McOwen was yet again front and centre, as he always has been since arriving in Australia two years ago.
TK had a quiet day going 1 for 6, however he makes the heroes list thanks to a piece of defensive brilliance. With the Heat 3-0 down and Biddle on 3rd base, Josh Hendricks absolutely hammered a line drive over 3rd base. This ball was heading fair to score Biddle and put the Aces up 4-0. Instead TK made a gigantic leap and snowconed the ball in his glove to save the day.
A three run deficit to end the 1st and some momentum is significantly different to trailing 4-0 with a man on 2nd and your starting pitcher struggling to finish the inning. Not only did he save a run and create momentum, TK robbed the Aces of a chance to inflict any further damage on Brown and the Heat. And set the scene for what would happen next…
Allan de San Miguel
If anyone was confused by the play by play announcer sounding a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2nd inning, let me shed some light. A tradition at Heat games is having a young fan announce the players in the 2nd inning. With a 3-0 deficit in the 1st we were introduced to our latest youngling stating his name was “The Governator of Western Australia”. After he protested when we told him we would need his real name we said, “look, if we score 3 runs in this inning we’ll call you whatever you want”. We weren’t expecting a fightback so soon and we didn’t know he would actually follow through with the accent on live TV, but we eventually got him to stop.
As we were doubting the Heat in the press box, D-San was having other ideas. With a loud toot and rumbling sound in the distance, a key sign that the freight train would soon be passing by centre field, the PA announcer says to me “We’ll do the Rally Train after this pitch”. D-San must have heard as he dispatched the ball to left for a two run homer to tie the game and send everybody into delirium. This blast gave the Heat belief that they could fight back from anything, and trailing 6-3 later in the game, they did exactly that to win the Championship.
The term “honourable mention” does not do the Aces justice, as they fought and played just as hard as the Heat did all series. Buzachero, Russel and Reece were amazing out of the bullpen, taking the brunt of the 8 extra innings played this weekend. Although Buzachero and Russel had a part to play in the final run scoring, it should not detract from their outstanding efforts this weekend.
Brad Harman also deserves a lot of credit, playing part in two massive plays that helped the Aces win Game 2. With one of the best groups of local players in the league, all it will take is for the Aces to recruit well for next season and to keep the imports in Australia for the postseason, to be serious title contenders yet again.
I used to find the Aussie Baseball season the antidote to my MLB withdrawals, but with spring training only 2 weeks away my feelings of which baseball season is the “offseason” may have reversed. Thanks to Boris and MJ for having me as I have really enjoyed writing for the Buzz this season. Thanks to all for reading and thanks to baseball for being awesome. Here’s to the Twins taking Game 7 of the World Series 1-0 thanks to 8 scoreless innings from Hendricks, a solo HR from Hughes and Wise coming in for the save…we can always dream can’t we?