Well the HarbourCats certainly left their A-game at home last night didn’t they. Bellingham sure showed us what a winner plays like. Fourty wins doesn’t mean much if you can’t win the ones that count. Maybe we should rename them the HarbourCanucks… I heard that and more walking through the stands during the late innings last night. To be fair, I heard a lot of positive comments too – a lot of people talking about what a great season it was, how fantastic the organization is, and how top-notch it is to have these young men represent our city, etc.
This isn’t an excuse piece – I’ll be the first to admit that Bellingham is a solid, proven, and well-constructed team with a couple of players who stood above the rest to help them win the series. There is however, as they say, extenuating circumstances that need to be aired.
Last night the seemingly impossible happened. Victoria sent Josh Mitchell, their 7-0 undefeated All-star starter to the mound in a must-win game. Bellingham would be lucky to get a runner to second base, let alone score a run. Or two runs, or say… 12. What could have possibly happened to change that expected path? As it turns out, this game was in trouble before the first pitch was thrown…
In pre-game warm-ups, the seemingly indestructible Mitchell suffered a badly strained oblique muscle. For a pitcher that relies on a whole body torque motion for power and location, that’s a problem. It became apparent that something was up as soon as he made it to the mound for his first inning warm-up. Instead of his usual 87-90mph fastball, the radar gun was struggling to get much over 80. Instead of untouchable heat, Mitch was tossing up batting practice. After striking out the lead off batter, the injury seemed to worsen, and Bellingham showed no mercy. To their credit, they recognized the situation as well, and hitters came up swinging. After giving up a solid single, SS Chase Strumpf sent one over the left field fence that even AJ Alcantara couldn’t bring back. Another couple of well-hit balls thankfully turned into outs and Mitchell stomped off the mound, going straight for the dugout.
Knowing what was happening, coach Graig Merritt was quickly off the bench signalling for a new pitcher to start the second inning. At this point in the season however, bullpen arms are limited and he had no choice but to rush forward game three starter Will McAffer – who was expecting to spend the night charting pitches and studying hitters for Thursday’s inevitable game. Now pressed into service, he needed to compress his six-hour game day warm-up into about 15 minutes. At an earlier point in the season, perhaps there would have been a couple long relief arms that could be jump-started into action, but not this far into August, not with a reduced bench.
Clearly the one option available didn’t work. McAffer had his own struggles early finding his zone and rhythm, and once again Strumpf took advantage, this time hitting a 3-run shot to make it 7-0 Bells. And once you get to that point, the game takes on a whole different feel. It was like the air was sucked out of RAP both on the field and off. The Bells continued to roll, and all the players, coaching staff, and fans could do was sit and watch. I heard one late-arriving fan who took his seat behind me say “What did I miss? It’s like someone died in here”. Yeah buddy, we all did just a little.
Of course baseball is a team sport, and it’s not about one guy. But this isn’t hockey where everyone is involved from the opening draw. In baseball, one guy – your pitcher – holds the ball 95% of the time. The simple object of the game is for him to not let anyone but the guy catching his throws to touch it. Take him out, and you open the door.
I could go on about other injuries too – like 2B Griffin Andreychuk, who was sitting on the bench in the bottom of the first inning with runners at second and third, watching Ryan Anderson at the plate. You know Griff was hoping that was him with the chance to tie the game with a clutch hit, but he never fully returned after his concussion scare down in Bend. There were other aches and pains too numerous to mention. The WCL is a long season that takes its toll both mentally and physically on these young men.
I said this wouldn’t be an excuse piece, and I don’t mean to suggest that Victoria was any more beaten up than Bellingham – or other teams we played near the end of the season. Just hoping to make people think a bit is all.
In the end, it was just a loss. A tough loss, but a loss just the same. The team will now turn in their jerseys for cleaning one last time, spend a couple days with their host families, and head home for a couple weeks of much needed rest before returning to the rigours of school. I’d say this was the most solid team Victoria has ever fielded – both in skill, and in personality. A classy group of individuals, this team did the city and the organization proud. These good ball players showed they were even better human beings this season, and it was a privilege to watch them succeed where no WCL teams have succeeded before. Many will be back I’m sure – rumor is up to 14 of this year’s squad may return (pending many, many factors of course, but it’s a starting point). This season will be tough to beat, but like every one so far – I’m confident next year’s HarbourCats season is going to be awesome!
Stay tuned over the next week – the blog will have some year-end interviews and recap, and will announce our player of the year! I know, you can’t wait can you 😉
Thanks for reading everyone; it’s been a fun year.