Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Astros Arizona Fall League Game 30 Eyewitness Report

As Wallee Wright witnesses, the Joe Sclafani show continues in the AFL, as "Super Joe" evolves from a Taxi Squad player to one of the stars of the league!

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For the fourth time in 30 games, and the second time versus the Peoria Javelinas, the Salt River Rafters played to an eleven-inning tie Tuesday afternoon … the 4-4 tie was not the only oddity today, however, as I’m still searching for the last instance of a right fielder falling over a bullpen fence – facilitating an inside-the-park home run for the Rafters’ shortstop batting in the nine-hole today.

Yesterday I said that Joe Sclafani was only average in the outfield … my bad. The games leadoff batter, Mark Appel’s personal nemesis, Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor, smoked a shot down the left field line for a sure-fire double … Sclafani fielded the ball and threw a perfect strike a second baseman Trevor Story who made an outstanding play of his own to nail Lindor sliding into the bag – Story allowed the ball to come to his glove at the bag rather than reaching out for it and then trying for a swipe tag on Lindor. A splendid job all around on the play … except, perhaps, on Lindor’s part.

First batter of the second inning Rio Ruiz, starting at third today, laid out to his glove side to flag down a shot from Tampa Bay’s Patrick Leonard then scrambled to his feet to throw the not overly speedy first baseman out at first … Rio demonstrating far more energy early than in his last outing. Ruiz continues to be in a horrid slump, going hitless again today … but in the fifth Rio smoked a fly ball all the way to the left center field warning track, the best hit ball from Ruiz’ bat in several days.

After two entertaining innings the Rafters made a pitching change that became a game changer as well … the Twinkies Taylor Rogers was replaced by Colorado’s Nelson Gonzalez who promptly sucked all the life out of the Salt River squad. For an inning and two-thirds that felt more like a millennium Gonzalez slowly, tediously, and deliberately delivered thirty-five pitches good for five hits and three runs … and nearly a thousand slumbering baseball fans. Clearly, at some point in his career a pitching coach told him to slow down his delivery … perhaps the intent was lost in the translation for the hard-throwing Dominican.

Finally the Rafter management had seen enough and went to the ‘pen for relief … Mitch Lambson came on and shut down the Javelinas on just 33 pitches over the next two and a third innings, striking out three, and resuscitating not only the Rafters but the slumbering fans as well.

For four and two-third innings the Rafters sleep walked through at bats against Cleveland’s Dylan Baker … Max Kepler finally broke up the no hitter with a solid single, followed by a Ryan Casteel walk and Rio Ruiz’ long fly to left center field to close the inning. Baker was sterling today, throwing 68 pitches over five innings, giving up just the one hit and two walks. In the bottom of the seventh the Rafters finally awakened from their slumber and pulled ahead, scoring four runs on a pair of doubles, a single and the inside-the-park homer from light-hitting Justin Bohn … only to have the Javs come back in the top of the eighth to tie on a double and single.

In the bottom of the eighth inning Joe Sclafani stroked a double, moved to third on an out and then was stranded there following a pitching change … but then in the bottom of the eleventh Joe led off the inning with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch, and following a strikeout went to third on a fly ball out to center. But once again Joe died at third as Ryan Casteel struck out to end the game … Sclafani is now slashing .357/.426/.524 with only 42 at bats, at least five fewer than would be required to be eligible for the batting crown but tops on the Salt River Rafters – including Eddie Rosario’s .348, which leads the league.

~ Wallee Wright ~

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