The Longhorns weren’t quite the gimpy pushovers Daly City expected, taking over game 1 by jumping on Esguerra for 5 runs (though only 3 earned, the rest coming off of third baseman Salgu Wissmath’s fielding error). Going into the bottom of the 8th, Daly City was down 2-4 when they began mounting a comeback, with a 2-out solo homer by DH Skyler Reid in the 8th inning, and a 9th inning rally that saw both RF Francis Chen and the tying run, Derek Lew, reach base, only to have Chen picked off the bag right before catcher Tina Quach hit a bases-clearing (and potentially game-tying) triple. Alas, with only 1 run in, and a subsequent groundout by Wissmath, the game ended in a stunning 4-5 loss for the Montis, their first playoff loss since last year’s league championship round against the Longhorns.
The success would be short-lived for Microsoft, however, as Daly City proceeded to pounce on the notably feeble Longhorns starting pitching, who gave up 23 earned run on 41 hits and walks in just 14 innings over the next four games (a horrific 14.79 ERA and 2.93 WHIP). The entire team had 213 plate appearances, notching an absurd .369-.404-.591 line over the 5-game series. Of the 9 starters (min. 14 plate appearances), 7 had OPS greater than .900 (5 over 1.000). Notably, Kuo, Wissmath, Lew, and Quach had huge series. Kuo slapped in 12 hits on 25 at-bats and was 4-for-4 stealing bases (though without any walks and just one extra base hit, for a .480-.480-.520 line); Wissmath accumulated a few less hits and a few more walks from the #2 slot behind Kuo to post a .381-.480-.524 line; Lew was the primary slugger, driving in a triple, homerun, and FIVE doubles in the short series to post a .391-.375-.826 line and tie for the lead with 9 RBIs; Quach was limited in her platoon duties with Paz but made the most of her chances, posting the best rate stats – .500-.571-.833 – in just 14 plate appearances.
While the UL series settled itself predictably, fans got the wild shootout they hoped for in the SWL, where the Pentax Shake Reducers’ mighty one-man offense duked it out with the overwhelming and deep Paris pitching staff.
The first two games went the Shake Reducer’s way, though they were close. Game 1 started off with a slugfest, with the Forfeiters scoring all four runs off homeruns by 2B Christian Lee (solo homer in the 2nd) and SS Lamont Sanchez (3-run homer in the 6th). As so many teams have learned over the course of the season, however, it’s hard to win a slugfest against the Pentax Shake-Reducing Machine, who piled on all six of their runs off of FOUR homers to win the game.
Game 2 shifted the stage dramatically, with a looming pitcher’s duel between staff aces Kyle Katarn and Augusto Figueroa. Katarn pitched well, holding Pentax slugger Skywalker to no homeruns and no RBIs for the first time this postseason, but his Shake Reducer counterpart Augusto Figueroa stole the show, holding the Forfeiters to just 2 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 10 en route to a brilliant complete game shutout.
Luck began to turn to the Parisian side in Game 3, where the slow and steady Forfeiters’ offense scored in all but two innings in the first six frames to race to build up a 5-0 lead, enough to withstand a 4-run 7th by the big-play Pentax offense (built mostly on a bases-loaded-clearing double by leadoff hitter Alberto Munoz). Now for the second straight game, Skywalker was without either a homerun or an RBI, an uneasy sign for a Pentax team that had come to rely on his offensive production.
The Shake Reducers seemed to come to life after that loss however, with Skywalker and shortstop Noe Pessoa answering the call with a pair of homeruns each (five RBIs between them), to just edge out the Forfeiters 6-5 (though it was a game of blown opportunities for Paris, who got on-base 18 times compared to the Shake Reducers’ 6).
Faced with a comfortable 3-1 series lead, and needing to win just once in the next 3 games, things were looking swell for the Shake Reducers and Skywalker to return to the championship game. But it would all come crashing down in the very next game, a rematch of the Game 2 pitcher’s duel between Kyle Katarn and Augusto Figueroa. This time the Forfeiters hitters were ready, and pounced on Figueroa for 11 hits and 3 walks over 7+2/3 innings. Katarn, meanwhile, dominated the Paris offense in allowing just 4 hits, 2 walks, and 1 run in his 3rd complete-game victory of the playoffs, even shutting out Gates Skywalker (0-for-4) for the first time.
Game 6 featured another pitcher’s duel, this time between Rex White (1 run over 7+1/3 innings) and Warren Hobson, who after his embarrassing 7+2/3 inning, 13 on-base, 7-run loss in game 3, seemed to have figured out the Paris lineup, pitching 8+2/3 innings and allowing just a single run.
Down to the top of the 9th, with 2 outs and just the Paris leftfielder James Talmage left to close out the inning in a 1-1 tie game, Hobson finally ran out of gas, having thrown an extraordinary 143 pitches. Yielding way to Pentax bullpen, the Frenchman Gary Manseau promptly gave up a single to put Talmage on base, prompting the call for closer Alva Bilbao. Down to their last out, RF Willis Hoffman blasted a double to drive in Talmage and stake the Reducers to a 2-1 lead, which Forfeiters’ aging closer Garfield Yocum was able to close out for the save.
Finally, it all came down to the deciding Game 7. Facing the inconsistent Parisian Kenneth Price, who after his dominant 8-inning, 1-run opening victory against Tokyo had been bombed for at least 5 runs in his last two starts (losing both Games 1 and 4 in the series), Pentax jumped to a modest 5-3 lead after 6 innings, on the strength of another 2-run shot by Gates Skywalker at the bottom of the 6th to take the lead. After giving up another hit (leadoff double by Noe Pessoa) to get into more trouble in the bottom of the 7th, Paris pulled the shaky Price for young sophomore reliever Bobby Kantor, who finished out the bottom of the 7th and 8th innings perfectly.
After using up all of Reinaldo Valdeluji for 7 innings and 127 pitches, Pentax finally brought the bullpen at the top of the 8th, starting the shaky Alexander Larson (5.36 career ERA), who promptly got himself into trouble with a walk and then a single to allow Willis Hoffman and Lamont Sanchez on-base. With the go-ahead run now at the plate, the Shake Reducers brought out their second bullpen option, the similarly shaky Gary Manseau (5.17 career ERA). The results weren’t any better – Manseau gave up 3 more hits before he could close out the inning, staking the Parisians to a slim 1-run lead, and the Shake Reducers would not battle back after that.
Thus ended the latest run by Gates Skywalker, who tried to muscle his team into the World Series (he went .458-.490-.1.354, with 13 HR and 20 RBI in just 12 postseason games). But even his awe-inspiring output couldn’t stake the Shake Reducers to a lead they couldn’t blow – in total the Shake Reducer bullpen threw 5 innings in the series, with a 7.20 ERA, and 2.80 WHIP.
The theater of action now moves to the Universal Championship, with the potential to feature several epic pitching matchups between Daly City ace Yan, who has pitched two complete-game shutouts so far and has thrown 37 K’s in 18 innings while only allowing 4 walks, against the SWL’s best pitcher Kyle Katarn, who’s 3-1 in 4 starts with a 1.29 ERA and 0.69 WHIP in 35 innings (and has also gone 4 for 4 in complete games, one of them an 8-inning loss).