Scenes from Spring Training: Phun with the Phillie Phanatics Part 1

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Bright House.jpgAfter  a stormy Thursday night and Friday, I woke up to a bright, clear and crisp Saturday morning. It would be my last day of baseball on this trip, and the fates smiled upon me, not only with the weather, but with a good game at a great spring training park. Phillies vs. Twins at Bright House Field in Clearwater.

Bright House may be the most organized and easiest to navigate park in the Grapefruit League, at least from the media’s perspective.  The parking is ample. The administrative offices are open and welcoming. I walked into the facility, which is really an office building connected to the stadium, and was greeted by pleasant smiles and efficient workers. I gave my name and a press pass appeared almost instantly. Newbies like me usually have to figure out the lay of the land at the ballpark, but the young woman at the front desk immediately pointed out the clubhouse entrance (to the left) the media room (to the right) and the press box (the elevator behind you, third floor, follow the walkway up the third base line). It wouldn’t have shocked me if someone appeared from out of nowhere to take my bag and offer me some ice water with lemon in it.

I gave the media room a miss, and headed straight to the press box. On the way there I passed several Philly employees, ranging from front office types to grounds crew. Everyone was wearing shirts that denoted the team’s recent success. Several “2008 World Series Champion” patches. Many more “2009 National League Champion” logos.  Like all the ballparks I saw last week, the walls at Bright House had several framed pictures, plaques and displays depicting team history, but there were also photo collages of team employees, promotion days and the like. Who knows what it’s really like to be, say, an intern there, but the place gave the impression that it was a friendly place to work.

I got up to the box and set up my laptop.  Lots of room and — what’s this? — Coke in the fridge.  I know there are more important things in the universe than cola wars, but I’m a Coke guy, and I’ve been mildly bummed all week that every park had Pepsi in it.  It’s not going to make me root for Philly to lose any less once the season starts, but if you’ve learned anything about me from these spring training dispatches, you’ve learned that little stuff makes a big impression on me.

Squared away in the press box I headed down to the clubhouse and the field.

Brewers hold off the Dodgers to force Game 7 of the NLCS

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Down 3-2 in the NLCS, the Brewers faced a must-win situation during Game 6 on Friday. Any residual uncertainty they might have felt about their chances of extending the series was all but resolved in the first inning, however, when Jesús Aguilar, Mike Moustakas, and Erik Kratz combined for a four-run spread to take an early lead. Powered by those early-game RBI, as well as masterful performances from Wade Miley, Corey Knebel, and Corbin Burnes, the club surged to a 7-2 win to pull even with the Dodgers and force a Game 7 tiebreaker.

Left-hander Wade Miley trounced the Dodgers in 4 1/3 innings of two-run, four-strikeout ball. He was bested by David Freese in the very first at-bat of the night, which culminated with a 402-footer to right field to put Los Angeles on the board, 1-0. After a few scoreless innings from the Dodgers, Freese returned to torment Miley in the top of the fifth, this time with an RBI double that narrowed the Brewers’ advantage from four runs to three.

Things didn’t go nearly as smoothly for opposing lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. In the bottom of the first inning, Ryu allowed a leadoff single to Lorenzo Cain, followed by a four-pitch walk to Ryan Braun. Jesús Aguilar came up to bat with two out and two on, then smacked a two-RBI line drive double to right field. Moustakas and Kratz went back-to-back-to-back with Aguilar, putting up another three runs on an RBI double and single, respectively.

The Brewers kept rolling in the second inning. Christian Yelich and Braun each collected a double off of Ryu, bringing Milwaukee’s lead to 5-1 over Los Angeles. Braun advanced to third on a Travis Shaw groundout, but with Aguilar up to bat, Ryu wasn’t going to chance a repeat of the Dodgers’ first-inning debacle. He intentionally walked Aguilar, then whiffed Moustakas on three straight fastballs to cap the inning.

By the time both Miley and Ryu were forced from the mound, the Brewers stood 5-2 above their opponents. Right-hander Corey Knebel worked a scoreless 1 2/3 innings, striking out Manny Machado to eliminate another potential rally from the Dodgers in the fifth inning and retiring all four batters in the sixth (save for Joc Pederson, who reached base after taking a 96.3-MPH fastball to the wrist). The righty received another significant opportunity to do some damage against the Dodgers in the bottom of the fifth, when he came up to bat for the first time in his professional career with the bases loaded and two outs… but saw just four pitches before swinging at a 1-2 pitch to end the inning.

After Ryu’s unexpected departure in the third, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts cycled through five pitchers — Julio Urías, Alex Wood, Dylan Floro, Caleb Ferguson, and Kenta Maeda — in an attempt to squelch the Brewers’ comeback. The bullpen combined for four consecutive scoreless frames, but was ultimately foiled in the seventh, when, with runners on second and third and two outs, a wild pitch from Maeda ricocheted off the front of home plate and allowed Aguilar to plate yet another insurance run. Still not content with a two-hit, two-RBI performance, Aguilar came back in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single — only moments after a failed double play that would have ended the inning — to bring the Brewers to a cushy 7-2 advantage as they entered the ninth.

No similar last-minute rallies awaited the Dodgers there. Rookie right-hander Corbin Burnes orchestrated another flawless 1-2-3 inning in the ninth, retiring Pederson and Puig with consecutive strikeouts and inducing a game-inning, series-extending pop-up from Matt Kemp to wrap the win.

Game 7 is set for 8:09 PM EDT on Saturday. The starters for both clubs have yet to be announced.