Baseball history is littered with teams who posted league-best records during the regular season only to fail to win the big prize. This second season of the Grand Championship League (GCL) has added to that list as Play at the Plate (PATP) topped all other clubs with 101 wins and defeated ASBA in seven games to win the first round of the playoffs, only to fall in six to USBL in the GCL Finals.
USBL also needed seven games to get past their first-round opponent, defending champions PEBA, so, while one could argue that PATP entered the Finals with a tired team, so did USBL. In the end, it was USBL’s just-good-enough approach that enabled their pitching staff to shut down PATP’s offense. In addition, their defense made no errors in the series.
When it came to handling the ball, PATP made just two errors, but both of them cost the team runs. PATP’s pitchers also made a bizarre habit of hitting USBL’s batters, particularly at the worst moments. USBL hitters were struck by pitches 13 times in the series, compared to none by PATP’s batters.
Further down the page, you’ll find summaries of the six games, along with links on the headlines to the Twitch.tv broadcasts that featured play-by-play by Eddy Vegas and color commentary by Jordan Windy and Brad Cook.
“The pitching staff and defense came through, and that along with the luck required for all playoff success, is the reason why the USBL are GCL champs,” said USBL GM Steve Crandell. “In 13 playoff games, the USBL scored less than 50 runs, never more five in a single game. And that was plenty, since our opponents scored less than 40. The bullpen overachieved all year, and then somehow outdid themselves in the postseason: 6 runs allowed in 45 relief innings. Two runs allowed in 42 innings for all relievers not named Jerry Stevens. Daggum, my relief staff played over their heads throughout the playoffs.”
He added: “No surprise, then, that a reliever was the USBL playoff MVP. It’s hard to make an MVP case from only 12.2 innings of work, but Brandon Reynolds can do it: 1 win, 2 saves, 4 hits allowed, 2 walks, and no runs. Reynolds’ case gets even stronger when you consider his teammates. His win was enough to tie him with 7 others for the team lead. Jim Hoffman was the only other pitcher with 10+ innings and an ERA less than 2. Hoffman-Reynolds is an easy comparison, since they shared the same inning count. Hoffman allowed two more hits, two more walks, and two more runs.
“The best position player was Nelson Snyder, even though he only batted in the .250s. His .769 OPS was second-best on the team, and he anchored a defense that committed only 1 error through the 13 games.”
He summed it up: “Even with Reynolds, the USBL didn’t have any individual standouts. And no dominating team performance in the playoffs. Just enough to win, the same model the USBL followed all year.”
Chuck “Wildcat” Wilson took the mound for USBL against PATP’s Tyler Michael and both starters pitched well, each going eight innings and allowing just one run between them. Wilson was more dominant than Michael, though, shutting out PATP on just one hit and a pair of walks, and his team carried a slim 1-0 lead into the ninth inning.
PATP summoned their closer, Jeff “Nitro” Robison, to keep their team in the game in the top of the ninth, but he hit the leadoff batter, Gary McCord, and then walked the next one, Travis Stokes. Pinch-hitter Jesus Ruiz came up next and grounded into a third-to-first double play, but center fielder Steffan Carver drove in Stokes with his first hit of the game and then stole second.
Alex Schultz drove in Carver with a double, giving USBL a two-run cushion heading into the bottom of the inning. USBL summoned closer Juan Pagan, who lost the shutout on pinch hitter Ben West’s solo home run but still closed the door on PATP for a 1-0 series lead.
USBL lost a shutout in the ninth inning of Game 1 but five pitchers combined to hang nine goose eggs on PATP in Game 2 as they took a 2-0 series lead with a 3-0 win. Both teams had nine hits, but USBL made theirs count with a solo home run and a pair of doubles by DH John Irwin, whereas PATP could summon only one double and eight singles.
After five shutout innings in Game 3, PATP had scored just one run in the first 23 frames of this series, but their bats finally came alive in the top of the sixth as they took a 3-2 lead on a walk, a double, and a pair of singles. That chased USBL starter Nathaniel Shelton and PATP carried a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning.
PATP summoned Robison to shut the door after starter Elliott “Bluto” Wells had pitched eight strong innings, and Nitro disposed of the first two batters. Then the situation fell apart as Robison struck Nelson Snyder with a pitch — part of an ongoing storyline in the series for PATP’s pitchers — and surrendered a two-run home run to Guillermo Padilla.
The reinvigorated home crowd erupted as Padilla circled the bases and then settled in for five scoreless innings before PATP finally broke through with an RBI single by De-shi Tseng in the top of the 15th. Runner Wayne Barry slid in just under the tag at home plate. That was enough for a 6-4 victory.
Tseng was the other part of the PATP storyline: That RBI was the only one for him in the series, and it came while he was batting in the ninth slot after being demoted from the lead-off position he had occupied in the first two games. He hit just .185 for the series and a mere .190 in the playoffs overall after batting .265 in the regular season.
Speaking after the game, PATP GM Kyle Stever remarked: “The only draft pick I regret (and, really, regretted the second I made it) was Tseng. I got enamored with his stats from the season before and figured he may have even developed some over the offseason to boost them even more, but I’m usually so anti-speed guys — especially low OBP ones — that it was very out of character for me. And, needless to say, his crappy playoffs were the cherry on top of a disappointing regular season for him!”
USBL proved in Game 4 that Game 3 was a fluke as they used two batters hit by pitches (including one with the bases loaded), three singles, a walk, and two fielders choice plays that plated runners to take a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. PATP managed to scratch out two runs on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly in the seventh and eighth innings, but that was it for a team whose offense flew high after the mid-season acquisition of shortstop Ed “Outlaw” Young, who tried to will his team to the championship by hitting over .400 for the playoffs.
The game was typical of USBL’s wins in the series: They scored four runs on just five hits and one walk, and they took advantage of all opportunities handed to them as they left just three batters on base. In contrast, PATP had seven hits (all of them singles) and walked five times, but they stranded nine men.
USBL also showed in the game why a reliever was chosen by GM Crandell as their team MVP as they used five pitchers to secure the victory. Three relievers faced just one batter each as USBL created favorable match-ups to neutralize PATP’s offense, and Pagan set up the save for Reynolds. Pagan saved 28 games during the regular season, but Reynolds had 14 saves of his own, so USBL wasn’t afraid to use a bullpen-by-committee approach when necessary.
PATP managed to flip the script in Game 5 and cut USBL’s lead to 3-2 as they cruised to a 4-1 victory. They left six runners on base while USBL stranded 10, and they finally showed off the power they were capable of all year as they socked three home runs and a double.
Any hope PATP had for a miracle comeback ended with a whimper in Game 6 as USBL used a pair of doubles, a triple, and eight walks to score three runs. PATP managed just a run on six hits, all of them singles.
USBL pulled out all the stops on the pitching side, using an amazing eight hurlers to ensure a championship victory, while PATP’s ace Elliott Wells, who was 23-8 with a 2.48 ERA during the regular season, was merely ordinary: 6.1 innings pitched and three hits, two runs, and five walks allowed, with four strikeouts.
Looking back at the pre-season draft, Crandell remarked: “USBL drafted one slot ahead of PATP. I had Wells as the 4th best pitcher, right after the guys who went 1,2,3. But I liked Snyder a lot as a shortstop and picked him instead. Probably made a mistake with that one. It was interesting to me how many good teams picked late in the draft order.”
Stever added: “As for the draft, I remember my league basically writing us off after seeing where we were drafting. The league’s talent seemed top heavy when the file first got released, so the fact that two late drafters both made the Finals is pretty ironic. I never imagined Wells slipping through, though, to be honest — a lot of missed picks ahead of him, in my opinion.”
In the end, Crandell summed it up: “I still believe OOTP playoffs are just like real-life baseball: 50-50 prospects that go to whoever gets the most lucky breaks.”