Minor League Odyssey – Day Sixteen – Rochester (Game Ten)
After a quiet day visiting one of the local state parks and catching a matinee I head out to Frontier Field again. This time it is a beautiful night for baseball and while I am sad that this is the last game of the trip I can’t think of a better way to go out. The parking lot is actually fairly full tonight, and walking up to the ticket windows I see six are in operation, with a line at each (yesterday there was one, with no waiting). Looking around the stadium during the game, it is a nice contrast with yesterday, and when they announce the attendance of 6,700 it seems about right. I get my promised “double pig” macaroni & cheese (with bacon and ham mixed in) and head to my seat. Today I’m back behind home plate (slightly to the third base side), three rows up. From here I can see the rest of the Rochester skyline that eluded me yesterday. This is obviously season-ticket territory; most of the patrons sitting around me are on a first-name basis with their neighbors. I am next to a family with two small kids, and I make a mental bet with myself that they won’t last through five innings. I am proven right when, in the middle of the fourth, the mother takes the two kids to a grass berm area to play while the father stays behind to watch the game.
As I get settled, the club president is presenting awards on the field for the largest groups of the year. After he is done and a couple of ceremonial pitches are thrown a local boy scout troop presents the colors and a trumpet duet does a nicely arranged version of the national anthem. It is probably the best anthem I’ve heard on this trip. The starting lineups are announced, and leading off the order for Rochester will be two players just optioned from the parent club, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Brian Dozier, playing second and short respectively. You can tell that Dozier has just gotten in, as they haven’t even had time to put his name on his uniform yet – he is wearing an unadorned #11. The preliminaries are finally done and it is time for the final game on this trip to start.
Rochester gets on the board first in the bottom half of the opening frame, with Nishioka hitting a solid single to right center and Parmelee walking. Then, with two out, Clete Thomas hits a double down the left field line into the corner and the Red Wings stake themselves to a 2-0 lead. After that, the game settles into a groove, with each side getting the occasional baserunner but not being able to seal the deal. It almost feels like two fighters probing, gradually feeling each other out looking for a weakness. On the Rochester side there is none, as Esmerling Vazquez pitches a beautiful seven innings and never lets Indianapolis string anything together. They manage four hits and two walks, but that is more than outweighed by Vazquez’s ten strikeouts (the last of which, to end the seventh, sends the crowd into a frenzy as it is the game’s “K-Man,” meaning everybody gets a free taco at Taco Bell).
Even though the game is tight, I never get the sense that the crowd is worried. The game notes in my program say that the Red Wings have the best record in the league since July 1st (26-16), and I get the impression that they are confident that a two-run lead can hold. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to, as Rochester breaks the game open in the bottom of the seventh. With a new Indianapolis pitcher, Wilkin Ramirez takes first after being hit by a pitch. Then Escobar, of Liriano trade fame, hits a beautiful sacrifice bunt down the third base line; the fielder has to hustle to make the play and ends up bouncing the ball to first and everybody is safe on the error. The stage is set for Evan Bigley, who wallops one over the left field fence, scoring three more and giving everybody the sense that the game is effectively over. The Red Wings add one more in the eighth as Ramirez doubles home Thomas. Deolis Guerra takes over from Vazquez to start the eighth and he promptly strikes out the side on nine pitches. In the ninth he starts to get hit hard, including giving up two on a long homer, but he has just enough to cross the finish line, and Rochester wins 6-2. It is the perfect end to a perfect night of baseball.
And so the road trip ends on a satisfying note, with a final record of 7-2-1. Tomorrow I head my car west for Minneapolis and home.
Best Stadium Setting: Elizabethton, TN, for the scenic beauty (Honorable Mention for Rochester, NY, for its urban setting and skyline)
Best Game Day Experience: New Britain Rock Cats
Most Exciting Home Runs: All of them, but special mentions to Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia, & Evan Bigley.
Best Performance by a Starting Pitcher: Esmerling Vazquez, Rochester Red Wings (Runner-up: Trevor May, Reading Phillies)
Best Hot Dog: Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers, FL
Links to previous entries