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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Any time a pitcher from a past generation is around, the topic of pitch counts invariably comes up. More often than not, he's not in favor of them.
So it wasn't surprising that Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, in town to present the first Most Spectacular Pitcher Award to the 2006 Minor League ERA leader, had a few comments about how pitchers are coddled in today's era.
"When I played, there were no such things as pitch counts," Fingers said. "Now, with all the money involved, the magic number has become 100. Once you hit 100 pitches, you're usually gone. Teams don't want to take the chance you'll get hurt.
"I don't care for it. Guys get stronger from pitching. I played with guys like Catfish Hunter, who never got hurt."
It was hard to miss the irony that Fingers relayed those sentiments while giving out the award to Indians prospect Scott Lewis, who wasn't allowed to throw more than 70 pitches in any start.
Of course, Lewis had a legitimate reason for being asked to take it slow while he spent the year in Kinston. He had Tommy John surgery in 2003 while at Ohio State, and since being drafted in the third round by the Indians in 2004, he'd thrown just 21 innings heading into this season.
While Lewis understood the reasoning behind the tight pitch count, there were occasions that he sided with Fingers and wished he could go a little deeper into games.
"There were times when I wanted to throw a little more," said Lewis, who only pitched into the sixth inning four times in 27 outings. "But it was good for me. Next year, I don't know what the plan is, but I'm hoping to get to 150-160 innings."
Lewis finished the year with 115 2/3 innings during the regular season, and added six shutout frames in the playoffs as Kinston won the Carolina League title. The lefty finished with a 1.48 ERA, allowing just 84 hits (for a .203 batting average against) and striking out 123. West Virginia's Will Inman finished second in the ERA race with a 1.71 mark.
Considering Lewis's medical history and how limited he knew he'd be this season, winning the first MSP award is a wonderful ending to an eventful year.
"This is amazing," Lewis said. "I haven't been healthy. To win something like this, it's beyond my expectations for the year. The season, with us winning the championship, was awesome, I couldn't ask for much more."
Lewis did ask for just enough down the stretch. He knew his ERA was among the lowest in the Minor Leagues. But because of the tight pitch count -- something that limited him to a 3-3 record -- he wasn't sure he would qualify for the award.
"With the pitch count, I knew it'd be close," Lewis said. "The last three or four starts, I went in knowing I need to get at least five innings in to get there."
THE GUY CAN'T LOSE: It's become about as bankable as anything in baseball: Send Micah Owings to the mound and his team wins.
Or at least, he doesn't get the loss.
Counting his five-inning stint at the Bricktown Showdown, Owings has gone 22 straight appearances without a loss. His last defeat came on May 17, when he was with Double-A Tennessee. He went 12-0 the rest of the regular season.
"I remember [May 17] very well," Owings said. "I learned a lot from that game. I looked too far ahead. I wanted to join this Tucson club."
He kept up the strong pitching in the postseason. While he didn't notch a victory during the Pacific Coast League playoffs, he gave up two earned runs in two starts. Tucson won both of his outings. Add in the Bricktown Showdown, where he scuffled a little but managed to give up one earned run in five innings, and his postseason numbers read: 1-0, 18 1/3 innings, 15 hits, six walks (four in the Showdown), 19 strikeouts and a 1.47 ERA. The Sidewinders have gone 16-2 in his 18 starts, including the playoffs.
"Obviously, it feels nice," Owings said. "I wouldn't have been in this position if my teammates didn't give me so much run support. I also have to tip my cap to the bulllpen. I came out [after five] tonight."
While Owings was being modest, his manager, Chip Hale, felt no need to hold back. Owings may not be one of the Sidewinders heading to the big leagues for the remainder of the season -- Showdown MVP Scott Hairston and catcher Robby Hammock are the only two who were added to the Arizona roster -- but Hale has a feeling it won't be long before his No. 1 pitcher lands with the parent club.
"You have to remember this is his first full season," Hale said. "It's pretty impressive to do what he's done. I think he'll be the first to tell you he didn't have his good stuff tonight, but he found a way to get outs when he needed. Next year, maybe we see Micah Owings make the big league team out of Spring Training."
PARRISH STILL SKEPTICAL: Toledo manager Larry Parrish continued to be less than enthusiastic about participating in the Bricktown Showdown.
"It's like the World Baseball Classic," Parrish said after the game. "It's a good idea, but when is the right time to play it?
"Tonight we were flat. Jonesy [pitching coach Jeff Jones] looked at me in the dugout in the first inning and said he didn't have any butterflies. He said he expected to have them, but there was nothing there.
"This game doesn't take anything away from our season," he added. "We feel like we did what we had to do Saturday night."
GOING DEEP: The game matched the PCL's most effective team in keeping the ball in the park against the International League's best at hitting them out. During the regular season, Tucson yielded a league-low 90 homers, while Toledo hit 152 to pace the IL. Tucson kept Toledo off the longball board -- the Mud Hens had homered in eight straight games heading into Tuesday night's contest -- and the Sidewinders managed to hit one of their own, courtesy of Juan Brito.
HERE COMES THE PRES: It would be difficult to find anyone in Bricktown Ballpark happier than International League President Randy Mobley.
Ever since the Triple-A World Series died in Las Vegas (what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, evidently), Mobley and his Pacific Coast League counterpart, Branch Rickey, have discussed bringing back some kind of championship between the two leagues.
That, of course, was easier said than done. While there may have been agreement that some sort of event should take place, coming to a consensus about what the event should be proved a herculean task. But on Tuesday night, Mobley was able to look back at all of that with a smile.
"It's been actually a few years in the making," Mobley said. "A ton of people have worked to get it to this point. We got a great break with the weather, fans are coming out in great numbers. The two teams are excited after having a chance to celebrate winning their respective league championships."
That they are here for this one-game "championship" was in doubt at points during the genesis of this concept. Baseball, traditionally, is all about series, so neither side really liked this format initially.
"It took a while for us to be on the same page," Mobley admitted. "The one-game concept, at first, we dismissed it out of hand. The more we thought about it, the more we thought we could develop it into something special. With the response we've had here in Oklahoma City, we think it was the right choice to come here."
The response was impressive, with an announced attendance of 12,572. Considering this is the first stab at the Bricktown Showdown -- the Ballpark will host this event for two more years -- there's reason to believe that there's room for growth.
"We're excited for tonight, but we're just as excited about where we think we can take this or what it can become as a pinnacle not just for the Triple-A season, but for the Minor League Baseball season," Mobley said. "It's a Triple-A event, but it's also a Minor League Baseball event. It's the sendoff as everyone heads to winter."
NOW INTRODUCING ... HIMSELF: The Oklahoma RedHawks presented the first Jason Hart Award prior to the Showdown. Named for Hart, who has made a courageous comeback from a brain tumor, it will be awarded each year to a player who is active in the community, an inspiration to his teammates and all of baseball.
The RedHawks didn't have to look far for the first recipient of the award: Jason Hart.
It's rare for the namesake of an award to actually get the award, but Hart obviously fit the mold perfectly. There also was little chance of forgetting the winner's name this year.
A HELPING HAND: Toledo closer Lee Gardner recorded 30 saves during the regular season and added two more during the playoffs. He didn't give up a run in six Governors' Cup appearances, proving yet again that he is one of the more reliable relievers in the Minor Leagues. He has 130 career saves, yet he found himself in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night, instead of Detroit, helping the parent club in its quest to reach the postseason.
Mud Hens pitching coach Jeff Jones spent time earlier this week talking about how he helps a player of Gardner's experience cope with not getting the call from the big league team. Gardner appeared in a combined 17 games with Tampa Bay in 2002 and 2005.
"It hasn't been difficult with Lee because we've talked about it a number of times," Jones said. "He's had some very good years in Triple-A. He's a great professional about it and if anything ever bothers him he comes out and talks about it. I'm sure it's frustrating for him with the good year he's had because he hasn't gotten the opportunity.
"But he has the stuff to pitch in the big leagues. He's asked me a few times if he needs to make changes and I've said no. All he has to do is keep putting up the numbers and someone's going to give him a chance as long as he stays healthy. And Lee has remained extremely professional about it. He just keeps working hard."
THE WHITE STUFF: Yes, that was a snow bank behind the right-field wall above the visiting bullpen at AT&T Bricktown Ballpark. The Oklahoma City RedHawks, the current residents of the building, were using a snow-making machine to promote one of their offseason programs. Fans were allowed to snow tube during Tuesday's game as a prelude to what they would be able to experience later this winter.
From November to January, the club has set up giant slides from the upper deck, which run along the baselines and through the infield, covering them with snow. Fans can ride sleds and tube for the day in what is one of the Minors' more unique promotions.
THIS AND THAT: The warm-up jerseys provided to the teams were certainly sharp, but they were generic, with no names or numbers. Toledo right-hander John Ennis solved that problem by using masking tape to put a big 49 on his back. He also led a spirited game of hacky sack with five teammates on the outfield grass just beyond third base before batting practice began. ... The hats worn by the players each bore a Triple-A championship patch on the side.