|© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.|
Resurgent Travs face RoughRiders for title09/08/2008 1:29 PM ET
By Benjamin Hill / Special to MLB.com
This past Thursday, Sean Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Angels made headlines when he struck out on a 4-2 pitch. This seemingly impossible event occurred after umpire Tim Welke (and, apparently, everyone on the field and in the dugouts) lost track of the count.
To most baseball fans, this was no more than an amusing diversion. But for followers of the North Division champion Arkansas Travelers, Rodriguez's bizarre strikeout resulted in an unwanted bit of deja vu.
The best-of-5 Texas League championship begins Tuesday, when the Travelers face off against the Frisco RoughRiders. The last time Arkansas appeared in the Finals was 2005, when they lost to the Midland RockHounds in four games. And, believe it or not, that series ended after a strikeout on a 4-2 count.
In that fateful Game 4, the RockHounds were clinging to a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning when Jason Aspito came to the plate with two outs and nobody on base. Aspito worked the count full, and then reliever Alex Santos delivered ball four. Or did he? Umpire Steve Fritzoni apparently lost track of the count and ordered Aspito back into the batter's box. Given another chance, Santos struck out Aspito to end the game -- and the Travelers' season.
At the time, Travelers play-by-play announcer Phil Elson was understandably livid.
"Midland wins the championship after they walk Jason Aspito. You have got to be kidding me. ... That is ridiculous!" he bellowed incredulously. "How do you forget what the count is?"
But now that some time has passed, Elson admits he is proud to have been a part of one of the most amusing -- and bizarrely memorable -- moments in recent Texas League history.
"When that first happened, I was so upset that it was hard to get any perspective on it," Elson told MiLB.com this past offseason. "But now, with some perspective, I'm kind of glad that it went down that way. I mean, I can say that I was there, and I called that moment. It's just so amazing that something like that actually occurred."
On Tuesday, the Travelers and RoughRiders will begin work on a new chapter of Texas League Championship series history. Another strikeout on a 4-2 count seems highly improbable, but that's the great thing about postseason baseball -- you just never know.
Arkansas Travelers (62-78) vs. Frisco RoughRiders (84-56)
The Travelers, who stumbled badly in the second half after winning the division in the first, swept the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in the North Division series. The RoughRiders have been on cruise control since April, winning the South Division in the first and second halves before sweeping San Antonio in the division series.
Arkansas is making its first playoff appearance since 2005, but the club has won six championships since joining the Texas League in 1966. Frisco won its lone title in 2004, which was just the second season of the franchise's existence.
Frisco won eight of the 12 games played between the two clubs this season. The teams haven't met since July 7-9, when the RoughRiders took two of three at Frisco's Dr Pepper Ballpark.
Arkansas RF Chris Pettit drove in eight runs in just five games against Frisco, hitting .294 and slugging .529 over 17 at-bats. 3B Corey Smith appeared in a team-high 11 games and hit .302 with nine RBIs and six runs scored. RHP Robert Mosebach went 2-1 with a 6.56 ERA in four starts, and his 23 1/3 innings against Frisco were more than twice as many as any other Travs pitcher. Right-handed reliever Rafael Rodriguez made two appearances and struck out six batters in 3 2/3 innings. ... SS Elvis Andrus was a constant headache for the Travelers during the regular season, as the 20-year-old hit .356 with seven RBIs, seven runs scored and seven stolen bases in 11 games against them. RHP Steven Murphy drove in a team-high 12 runs over 12 games, hitting .310 and slugging .571. Trey Hodges and Michael Schlact each picked up a pair of victories in three starts against Arkansas. RHP Brennan Garr made a team-high four appearances and went 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA over 4 2/3 innings.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Arkansas: 1B Mark Trumbo has collected four hits in 13 postseason at-bats, and his three-run homer in Game 2 of the divisional series led to Arkansas' 6-4 win. DH Hank Conger drove in four runs in the decisive Game 3, including a fourth-inning dinger and a two-run single in the 11th. C/OF Ben Johnson has reached base at a .500 clip in the postseason. ... Travelers starting pitchers were brilliant against Northwest Arkansas. LHP Daniel Davidson allowed one run over seven innings in Game 1, as did RHP Dan Denham in Game 2. RHP David Austen allowed three runs over nine innings in Game 3, which the Travelers eventually won in 11 frames.
Frisco: Murphy completed the cycle during the RoughRiders' first-round win over San Antonio, going 4-for-12 with a home run, triple, double and four RBIs. 3B John Whittleman, who didn't make his RoughRiders debut until late August, has driven in a team-high six runs in the playoffs. ... Like Arkansas, the RoughRiders were the beneficiaries of stellar starting pitching in the first round of the playoffs. LHP Derek Holland allowed just two hits over 7 1/3 shutout innings in Game 1. RHP Neftali Feliz was even better the next night, striking out 11 in seven shutout frames. Finally, in Game 3, Schlact yielded a run on six hits over six innings as the RoughRiders advanced to the finals.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.