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StarBulletin.com

Leroy the rally skunk earns his stripe


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POSTED: Sunday, August 23, 2009

It always seems to happen this way.

We were all just trudging along, fighting the good fight to remain in the hunt for the Frontier League West Division title with three weeks to go in our season. Having just returned from a six-game road trip through Avon, Ohio, and Ypsilanti, Mich., we knew that this six-game homestand would tell a lot about our postseason chances.

Chasing the league's second and final wild-card spot by a game and the division lead by two games for what seems to have been three months now, we knew that every game matters for us right now.

So far this season we've done what most teams do, try to play consistent baseball and catch a couple of hot streaks somewhere during the season. At least that was the plan. As evidenced by our record just a handful of games over the .500 mark, the hot streaks have not found us just yet.

Until a skunk came along, and a phenomenon was born.

Returning home to open our homestand, we felt pretty good about our chances against the Lake Erie Crushers. We knew that they were a quality ballclub that played sound fundamental baseball. But having just played them on the road three days before, we also knew that we competed well with the league's top team in the league's wild-card standings.

With our ace Ryan Bird going in the opener after a 12-day layoff to allow him to recover from shoulder tenderness, we knew we had a good opportunity to get the series off to a good start.

And we did, as Birdie took us into the seventh inning with a lead and we won 5-1.

The next night, we got another strong starting pitching performance from Brett Scarpetta, but needed a little help to finish off the Crushers. We staked Scarp to a 4-1 lead going into the seventh, but a defensive miscue led to three unearned runs to tie the game.

We called upon lefty specialist Adam Revelette for the eighth inning and he responded with a scoreless frame. We sent Adam back out for the first batter of the ninth, before turning to our closer Mike Damchuk.

But before Chuk could throw his first official pitch of the night, we had an unexpected visitor from center field. Just as Mike readied to deliver a pitch, the sight of our two veteran outfielders Jereme Milons and Joey Metropolous vacating their spots brought the game to a screeching halt.

Soon, we all found out why. A furry little critter had snuck himself under the fence in center and made his way into our outfield. The thing was, this critter was black with a thick white stripe on his back, yes—it was a skunk.

As Jereme and Joey jogged their way toward the infield, the umpires called time out, as the skunk made his way to the right-field line. As he passed by our bullpen in right center, it was pretty funny to watch all of our relievers and our backup catcher Chris Crescenzi, high-stepping away toward the back of the bullpen.

The strategy was just to let the skunk run his course, and hope he made his way back to his little hole under the fence in center field. As the episode unfolded, the fans began to cheer and scream. The audio-visual guys put the live footage on our stadium's 20-by-15-foot video screen, and it was a blast.

Once the skunk made his way back out of center field—to a standing ovation from the more than 3,500 fans in attendance—Chuk got back to work and got the final two outs of the top of the ninth on eight pitches. In the bottom of the frame, we put together an unlikely rally against Lake Erie's hard-throwing closer Jonell Jacinto, who has humming his fastball to the plate at 92 to 94 mph.

But third baseman Landon Camp smoked a double down the left-field line to start the inning, and advanced to third on a wild pitch. William Block followed and drove a deep fly to left for the game-winning sacrifice fly.

The next night, we went into extra innings with the Crushers tied 3-3. As we moved to the bottom of the 10th, the AV guys threw on the video of the skunk from the previous night, with the text “;RALLY SKUNK”; shouting across the video board. The fans went nuts as we won on a walk-off single to left by Milons, and a legend was born.

We found ourselves in another tight contest Friday night, deadlocked 3-3 with the Midwest Sliders from the fifth through ninth innings. But this time, we would need more than a single run to come back and win it, as we surrendered a single run in the top of the ninth to fall behind, 4-3.

This, we thought, would be a true test for the “;Rally Skunk.”;

After catcher Andrew Sweet led off the inning with a single to right against Midwest reliever Jeff Fischer, the Sliders turned to their talented closer Arshwin Asjes. Five days ago, Arshwin shut the door on us in Michigan for the win. On this night, we had the help of our furry little friend. Two perfectly placed bunt singles by Block and Milons gave us the bases loaded with no outs.

Asjes spiked a slider on the second pitch of the next at-bat, allowing the tying run to sneak home as the catcher failed to seal the ball in the dirt. Asjes struck out our next hitter for the first out, and issued an intentional walk to our three-hole hitter Steven Holdren to load the bases and set up a possible inning-ending double play.

Metropolous followed and promptly lifted a sky-high pop-up to shortstop for the second out. Our all-star first baseman, Brad Miller, followed and battled before smoking an Asjes fastball to deep right-center for the game-winning hit for our third straight walk-off win.

The skunk had struck again. Apparently, the boys in our clubhouse have named him Leroy, and there is a video on YouTube of him. If you search Rally Skunk, you will find it.

He's sure been a lucky find for us.

 

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