Meanwhile, the Grand Championship League post-season tournament has entered the Finals, as the OTBA Royal Squirrels of Sweden square off against the Heartland Kernels.
Here’s what happened in the first four games of the Finals:
The Squirrels’s first two batters in the top of the second inning went down swinging on full-count pitches, but the next two batters ran the count full too and drew walks. The Gilberto Hernandez decided enough with the full counts already and drove the first pitch he saw down the third base line for a run-scoring double. The next batter did the same for a single.
The Kernels got a run back in the bottom of the frame, but OTBA starter Mike McDonald (5-1, 2.67 ERA in the tournament) held them scoreless until he was lifted for Angel Ortiz (6 holds, 0.67 ERA in the tournament) in the bottom of the seventh. McDonald had a runner on second with one out at the time, but Ortiz shut the door on the Kernels and held on through the bottom of the ninth, when Freddy Sweeney (4.41 ERA in the tournament) was summoned to end the game with runners on second and third and two out. He coaxed a ground out and OTBA took a 1-0 series lead.
OTBA again struck first, this time with a pair of solo home runs by the third and fourth batters in the game, but Heartland took the lead, 4-2, in the bottom the second with three singles and a three-run home run. The Squirrels scored two runs with two outs on two singles and a double in the top of the third, knotting the score at four, but Rex Robertson broke the tie for Heartland in the bottom the seventh with a two-out solo home run.
OTBA again tied the score on three singles in the top of the eighth and had the bases loaded with one out, thanks to a hit batter, but Heartland’s Roberto Perez fanned the last two hitters to snuff the rally. In the bottom of the frame, another three-run home run, this time from the Kernels’ Jim Holmes, put the home team up for good and the series was tied.
The series shifted to OTBA’s home stadium, Minute Maid Park, and the Squirrels delighted their fans by jumping out to a 5-0 lead after three innings. The Kernels got back two of those runs in the fourth, but OTBA put up another pair in the bottom of that inning to put the game away as they cruised to a 12-3 win on 14 hits. Jose Nunez (3-4, 2.73 ERA in the tournament), who had some excellent outings during the regular season and the tournament, lasted just 3 1/3 innings and took the loss.
The Kernels finally got on the board first in this series on a solo home run in the top of the first inning, but OTBA took a 2-1 lead on two singles and two wild pitches in the bottom of the second and never looked back. A first-pitch, two-out two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth gave them all the insurance they needed as they rode to another blow-out win, 8-2, and a 3-1 series lead.
Game 5 is tonight, March 28.