All-star break refreshing for reeling Miners


POSTED: Sunday, July 19, 2009

Heading into our final week of play before our league's all-star break, we were hoping for a strong finish to give us a little momentum to start the second half.

With six games to play, we were 25-17, and just a couple of games out of first place in the Frontier League West Division.

But it seemed that the fatigue of playing 12 of our last 15 games before the break on the road, and 33 games in 34 days, was too much for our guys.

We hit the wall.

We played really well in our first six-game road swing, going 4-2 against the two other teams in the thick of the pennant race, taking two of three from the River City (Mo.) Rascals and the Windy City (Ill.) Thunderbolts.

Our final homestand of the first half also went well, as we took two of three again, this time from the Evansville (Ill.) Otters. So heading into our trip to the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati areas, we were feeling pretty good about our chances of finishing strong at the break.

But a funny thing happened on the way to our four day all-star break—the hits stopped falling in for us. We were in every game until late, but could not convert on RBI opportunities. The end result, a 1-5 road trip and a whole lot of frustration.

In a lot of ways, the break could not have come at a better time. While four of our guys were selected to play in the all-star game in Rockford, Ill., the rest of us had an opportunity to clear our heads and catch our breath. We had played 48 games in 51 days this half, and two of those days off were actually bus trip days—an 11-hour drive to Traverse City, Mich., and a 10-hour ride up to Washington, Pa.

So in effect, we had only one real day off, and had played 48 games.

Plans varied greatly for the players and coaches with the Southern Illinois Miners. For some, the break meant a short trip home. For others, it meant a lot of golf or fishing at the local lakes and ponds. For me, the break meant seeing my fiancee for the first time since late April, as she arrived in Marion, Ill., on the first day of the break.

Over the break, we were able to see a few movies, have some nice dinners together, and even a little informal batting practice at our stadium one evening. It was great to have a big piece of home here with me, after being away for so long.

Entering the first game of our second half last night, we were all hoping to get off on the right foot. With our young right-hander Brett Scarpetta starting for us on the mound, we knew we had a good chance to be in the ballgame into the late innings.

With nearly 7,000 fans rocking our stadium Friday night, Brett proceeded to have his best outing of the season, holding the Florence (Ky.) Freedom hitless into the fifth inning before allowing a bloop single over our first baseman, Brad Miller.

With the no-hit bid gone, Scarp settled back in and finished the night by pitching into the eighth with a 2-0 lead, scattering three hits on the way to setting the tone for us and earning the very important win.

But even then, the win was far from easy. After allowing a single run in the top of the eighth, our boys rallied for three more runs to take a 5-1 advantage into the final frame. With our all-star closer, Chris Wiman, in, we had the ideal situation for a win, and hopefully, an uneventful ninth inning.

Apparently, someone forgot to hand a copy of that script to the Freedom. Wiman has been absolutely reliable for us this season in the closer's role, but that night he hit a little speed bump. A leadoff homer followed by a bloop single started a last-gasp rally by the Freedom that climaxed with a two-out, bases-loaded showdown between Florence's slugging catcher Justin Pickett and our gutsy Canadian fireman Mike Damchuk.

With 12 homers in the first half of the year, Pickett was very capable of changing our fortunes with one swing of the bat. But Damchuk, as he has been all season, was up to the challenge, mixing his 90-mph fastball and a tight slider to get Pickett to squirt a soft roller to Miller at first to end the threat and the game.

This may be one of those years in which nothing comes easy. If nothing else, our guys will be battle tested by the time the playoff race comes to a head. I can live with it, as long as we get there.


Brendan Sagara, who played baseball for Leilehua and UH-Hilo, is pitching coach for the Southern Illinois Miners.