Friday, July 31, 2015

The Next Step – 7/29 vs. The Performance Enhancers

Post game! L-R: Nicole, Kristina, Cameron, Matt, Emily H, Bryce, Steven, Emily K, Triffid, Gustav, Mark (missing: Lauren, who had family duty, & yours truly, who was taking the photo!)

A hot summer evening with an almost full (& almost blue) moon rising in a sky gradually shifting from daylight to twilight—great setting for a softball game, & for a softball playoff game at that.

In fact, the game lived up to the great setting. Typically slow-pitch softball is a lot like some amateur jam sessions: much more fun & engaging to be a participant than a spectator. But I think the Underhanded Compliments & the Performance Enhancers put on a pretty fair show on Wednesday, at least in the eyes of the various friends, spouses, moms & grandpas who congregated to watch the game. We knew going in it wasn’t going to be an easy game, & the Performance Enhancers certainly lived up to that expectation.

Following a scoreless top of the first for the Enhancers, we were able to get on the board in the bottom of the inning. With two out, Matt & Bryce hit back-to-back doubles, & that staked us to a 1-0 lead.

Another great day for Matt: 2 for 3 including a double, & a great catch to end the game!
The top of the second began with Nicole making a nice back pedaling catch into short right center to record an out. A runner reached first, but one batter later Nicole recorded an unassisted force at second for out number two. The next batter singled however, & that was followed by an rbi double to tie the game. The following batter hit a drive to right center that was sinking fast, looking like the Performance Enhancers were going to go up by two, but Bryce made a great sliding catch to record the out & end the rally.
Emily H had a big 2-run single during our second inning rally!
The bottom of the second was big for us. With one out (& two strikes on her) Nicole hit a line drive single, & yours truly followed with an opposite field liner for a base hit. Triffid then singled to load the bases for Steven who responded in a big way with a 2-run double. Emily H. followed with a clutch 2-run single, then Cameron & Kristina each singled to load the bases for Gustav, who came through with a 2-run double. We’d scored 6 & now led 7-1—not a comfortable lead in slow-pitch, but a bit of breathing room at least.
Steven had a huge game: 3 for 3, including 2 doubles, plus 4 rbis!
Both teams were retired without scoring in the third, & the Performance Enhancers also went quietly in the top of the fourth. In the bottom half yours truly led off with another opposite field single. Triffid doubled, & then Steven singled to score Mark, who was running for me.

The top of the fifth started in fairly spectacular fashion. The outfielders were playing deep with one of their stronger hitters at the plate—& he appeared to cross up the defense by hitting a fly ball that would land uncaught in medium right-center. Nicole, however, back-pedaled into the outfield & leaped to make a great catch, recording the first out! A good thing, too, because this was the inning when the Performance Enhancers would make their run, & every out was critical. The next batter doubled & went to third on a grounder to Nicole who got the batter at first. Two outs, no problem, right? Unfortunately, the next batter singled the runner home, & the following batter hit a deep home run to cut the lead to 8-4. The very next batter hit the ball right on the nose, but Emily K was able to snag the liner, & we were out of the inning with a 4-run lead.

Bryce went 3 for 3: 2 doubles, a single & 2 rbis!
We were able to answer at least partially in our half of the fifth. With one out, Lauren lined a single, & Matt followed with a single of his own. Bryce then smashed a liner up the middle—somehow the shortstop was able to get a glove on it, & what likely would have been an extra base hit fell for a single—but Lauren was able to score. The Performance Enhancers played solid defense all game long; their shortstop & pitcher in particular seemed to catch everything headed in their direction.
Lauren at the plate! Big hit & run scored in the fifth inning
The Performance Enhancers came through with a 2-out rally in the top of the sixth. After the first two batters had been retired, they hit a single & then a run-scoring double. Emily K ended the rally, making a fine play on a slowly hit ground ball, tagging out the runner, who’d made an ill-advised dash toward third. Even with Emily K’s great arm, it’s questionable if she could have thrown out the batter, so it was a heads up play on her part.
Emily K made a couple of critical plays at third base!
Our first two batters in the bottom of the sixth made outs, so yours truly found himself at the plate with two outs & no one on. The pitcher had gotten wise to my trick of hitting to right field, so he motioned the right fielder in where she would have a chance to snag a short line drive. This gave me the notion that it might not be such a bad idea to try to hit something up the middle, & I was able to line one hard enough that the pitcher could only deflect it, & fortunately I managed to beat out the throw from short. Triffid then followed with a single, & Steven again came through in the clutch with an rbi double to increase the lead to 10-5—again, far from safe in slow-pitch, but a big step in the right direction.
Kristina came through with a single in our 6-run second inning!
In fact, we were able to retire the Performance Enhancers 3-up, 3-down in the top of the seventh—a grounder to Mark that he took unassisted to the bag; a grounder to Triffid; & then their final hitter blasted one to deep left, headed for the trees. Matt made a great running catch to record the final out, & we all could exhale!
Let's not forget Nicole (here with Kristina) - Player of the Game, great game at second base plus a crucial base hit to start the second inning rally!
We still have one more leg on the road to the summer league championship—a re-match of last summer’s title game with the Therminators, Monday August 3rd at 6:00 p.m. Can’t wait!

Next Week: The Championship Game!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Playoffs Begin! – 7/20 vs. CLEAR

Matt on second base following a "mere double" - what a game! Hit for the cycle with 2 homers, including two grand slams

Monday saw the opening of the Summer League playoffs, & the Underhanded Compliments entered the tourney as the number one seed. As such, we drew a match up with CLEAR, the team we’d defeated 16-4 in the first week, & also a team that failed to win all season, ending 0-6.

Once again, we had a smaller line-up, with only 11 players at the game. Following a top of the first in which CLEAR was unable to score a runner from third with one out, we started off the bottom of the first with a bang. Gustav legged out a double & Lauren singled to drive him in. Matt (who had a huge game—more on that later), followed with a single, then Mark hit a 3-run homer to put us up 4-0. Following two outs, Triffid singled, & Steven sent her home with a triple; Emily H then hit an infield single, & Cameron followed with a base hit to score Steven, & we were up 6-0 after 1 inning.

Another great game by Lauren, who seems locked in: 4 for 5 with 4 runs scored!
In the second inning CLEAR went down one-two-three, & we came up in the bottom of the second back to the top of the order. Gustav led off with a double, & with one out Matt hit a booming triple to drive Gustav in; Mark followed with a run-scoring double, Nicole hit an rbi groundout, & yours truly hit an rbi single. Triffid also singled, & Steven followed with a 3-run home run—seven runs, & we had a 13-0 lead.
Steven also hit for the cycle! 5 for 5 with 7 rbis, & a solid game at shortstop
Although CLEAR came up with a one out triple, they failed to score in the top of the third, & we were back in business. Lauren led off with a single, Matt doubled, & Mark came through with a 2-run single. After two outs were recorded, Triffid homered—a great blast to center—to put up two more runs. Steven hit a double, which was significant in that this left him a single short of the cycle, but was left stranded at second.
Nicole also had 2 hits & was probably robbed of a third by a questionable call.
CLEAR did score a handful of runs in the fourth to make the score 17-4, but we were able to answer. Cameron singled to lead off the bottom of the fourth, then with one out Gustav & Lauren singled. Matt came up with the bases loaded & needing a home run for the cycle. Right on cue, Matt hit a towering home run to left. Mark received a walk, then Nicole & yours truly followed with singles, the latter driving in a run. After the second out, Steven hit a two-run single to also complete his cycle, & we were up 24-4.
Cameron went 5 for 5 & kept the batting order moving!
CLEAR did rally for three more runs in the top of the fifth, but we came up with our biggest inning in the bottom of the inning. Cameron again led off with a single, & with one out Gustav & Lauren again singled. Having already hit for the cycle, Matt must have figured there was only one thing to do: hit a 3-run homer, which in fact he did. Mark doubled, Nicole singled, & yours truly came up with an rbi base hit. Triffid smacked a two-un double, Steven doubled to send Triffid home, & with two outs, Cameron singled to score the ninth run of the inning—the maximum allowed in Underdog leagues.
Mark also continued his great season, going 4 for 4 plus a walk: homer, 2 doubles, single & 6 rbis
By now it was nearing 9:00 p.m. & the light was fading. We had a 33-7 lead, & the game was called for light, time, & lopsided score. Triffid was named player of the game for both her hitting & pitching, & Matt was awarded player of the day for his unreal performance.
Emily H chipped in with two hits despite playing with an injury - a real gamer!
Next Wednesday we’ll face some stiffer competition: the Performance Enhancers, who played us as close as any team in the Summer League, & who destroyed PC Load Letters in the early Monday game by a score of 36-13.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Regular Season Finale – 7/6 vs. The Therminators

Huge game for Mark: 4 for 5, including a double & two home runs, 3 runs scored & 9 rbis!
The evening of July 6th brought some milder temperatures after a prolonged heat wave—it truly was lovely, & perfect for a softball game; & indeed, the Underhanded Compliments had a game, & a game I’d been looking at since the schedule first appeared: our match-up against the Therminators.

The Therminators came into the game with a respectable 3-2 record, but that didn’t account for the anticipation. As those who played last summer will recall, the Therminators were responsible for the one blemish on an undefeated record, as they played us to a 16-all tie. We exacted some satisfying payback for that, however, as we defeated them 20-4 in the championship game.

Triffid had her usual solid game at the plate, pitching & fielding. 2 hits (including a double) & 2 walks in 5 plate appearances
Still, I knew they had good players, & despite a modest record this year, I realized they had the potential to play as well as any opponent we’d faced so far in the summer. In addition, we were playing with a bare minimum of 10 players, so I’ll admit to some concerns entering the game.
Matt had a great game: 5 for 6, with 2 singles, 2 doubles & a triple; 5 runs scored & 5 driven in
We were playing as the visiting team, so after our first two batters made outs to the infield, it was looking like we’d get off to a quiet start. But Matt followed with a 2-out double, & then in succession, Bryce, Emily K, yours truly & Nicole all drew walks—their pitcher was nowhere near the strike zone, throwing balls well into the lefthanded batters box or bouncing them before they reached the plate. My walk & Nicole’s walk each drove in runs, then Mark—who had a huge day!—followed with a 3-run double, & just like that we were up 5-0.
Really bad photo, but great game for Nicole, who went 3 for 4 plus a walk at the plate, including 4 runs scored & an rbi!
The Therminators went quietly in the first—which included a nice double play turned by Matt & Nicole—& we got back to it in the top of the second, ultimately sending 12 batters to the plate. Kristina led off with a single, then with one out, Lauren & Matt followed singles, the latter scoring Gustav, who’d reached on a fielder’s choice. Bryce smashed a 2-run double, then after another out, yours truly hit an opposite field rbi single. Nicole also got a base hit, & then Mark hit a 3-run homer to finish the scoring. We were up 12-0.
Bryce came through in a big way: 4 for 4 plus a walk, with 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 4 runs scored & 8 rbis!
The Therminators added a run in the bottom of the inning, but we batted around again in the top of the third. Lauren singled; Matt smashed a triple to centerfield, burning their best outfielder (who’d robbed Matt of sure extra bases in a crucial spot during last year’s tie game). Bryce followed with a 2-run bomb, then with one out, yours truly, Nicole, Mark & Triffid all singled, with Mark driving in a run. Kristina followed with an rbi fielder’s choice, then Gustav & Lauren came through with singles, with Gustav’s also driving in a run. Matt hit a 2-run double, & Bryce did the same, & with only 2 outs we’d scored the maximum 10-runs.
Kristina was named player of the game! 3 for 5 with a couple of rbis, & so key in getting the line-up turned over
The Therminators never got off the ground offensively—they scored only 3 runs in the game. We didn’t score in the 4th, but in the 5th, we were at it again. Triffid led off with a double, then with one out, Gustav also doubled to put runners on second & third. Lauren came through with an rbi grounder, Matt hit an rbi single, & Bryce followed with his second home run & 2 more rbis. We also added 2 runs in the sixth as Nicole led off with a single & Mark hit his second home run of the game.
Including the times he pinch ran for me, Gustav scored 6 runs!
When the dust had settled, we’d won 28-3, clinching first place & the number one playoff seed with a 6-0 record. We also outscored our opponents 120-46 in the six regular season games—but of course, now we turn to the playoffs, where it’s one & done, so we need to be on our game!
Final Regular Season Standings in the Irving Park Summer Weeknight League
Next Week: Quarterfinals versus CLEAR!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Everything that Rises Must Converge – 6/29 vs. Energy 350

Matt in center, Steven at short, Emily K at third - all played a great game on defense
 The Underhanded Compliments went into last week’s game in a virtual tie for first with Energy 350. Both teams had four wins & no losses; the only thing separating us was the fact we’d surrendered one run less, as runs allowed is a tiebreaker in Underdog softball leagues.

Given that there are some weak teams in the league this summer, it was hard to say what exactly to expect from Energy 350. But in case any of us had any doubts about their ability to score, they put up 5 runs against us in the top of the first, based on both good hitting & some shaky defense on our part. However, a good defensive play cut the inning short, as Matt caught a fly in center & fired a throw into Cameron, who then tagged out a runner who had ventured too far off first base.

Gustav: 3 for 3 plus a walk & 4 runs scored - getting things started from the lead-off spot
The bottom of the first began auspiciously for us: Gustav led off with a double, & Lauren followed with another double to score him. Matt then hit a 2-run home run, & with no one out, we already had answered back with 3 runs. Unfortunately, the next three batters were retired in order, & we went into the second trailing 5-3.
Matt was 3 for 4 with a home run, two doubles, & 3 rbis
With one out, Energy 350 put two runners on base with a walk & a base hit, but the next batter hit a grounder to short, & Steven, who was filling in at shortstop, made a nice play to cut down the lead runner at third on a throw to Emily K. The next Energy 350 batter hit a towering pop fly toward the backstop, & Rob, who was playing catcher, made a nice catch to record the third out.
Rob made a fine play on a tricky foul pop up & went 2 for 4 with 2 rbi base hits
With one out in the bottom of the inning, Mark singled, & Steven also followed with a base hit. A ground ball advanced both runners, but there were two outs with Cameron at the plate. Cameron came through with a clutch single driving in both Mark & Steven. We went into the third with the score tied at five.

Cameron was getting into a groove pitching, & our fielders were back to their usual sure handed play. The top of the third went quickly with only one single by the opposition.

Great game for Lauren: 3 for 4, including a double & 3 rbis
In the bottom of the third, Gustav led off with a walk & Lauren followed with a single. But it looked as though the runners might be stranded as two outs followed. Rob however came through with a clutch 2-out single to send Gustav home, & we took a 6-5 lead.

Once again our defense came to the fore in the top of the fourth. After a lead-off single, the next three batters all flied out to Matt in center. Although two of these were routine plays, the other was a difficult play, as Matt made a fine running catch.

The bottom of the fourth turned out to be our inning. Nicole led things off with a gritty at bat, working the count to 3 & 2 before getting a walk. With one out, Steven doubled, & then Emily H drove Mark in from third with an rbi grounder. Mark, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, showed off some fine running to score on the play.

Emily K had a big 2-out, 2-run double in our 7-run fourth inning
Still, there were already two outs. But as it turned out, our next seven batters all came through with hits. Cameron singled to drive in Steven, Gustav doubled to put runners on second & third, & then Lauren singled to drive in both Cameron & Gustav. Matt followed with a double, then Emily K drove in Lauren & Matt with a double of her own. Rob followed with a single to score Emily K, & we’d put 7 runs on the board, 6 of them coming with two outs. We went into the fifth inning with a 13-5 lead.
Nicole had a great at bat to work a walk leading off the fourth & played a solid game at second
Energy 350 put the lead-off runner on with a single in the top of the fifth, but this runner was cut down at second on a good play by Nicole & Steven. Then the next batter singled to center, & the runner who’d reached on a fielder’s choice decided to try for third—not, as it turned out a wise choice, as Matt made a quick throw to Emily K who made a nice catch & tag to put the runner out just before he could reach the base. The next two batters reached on a walk & single, so our good defensive plays were looming large! The next batter hit a grounder to shortstop & Steven made a nice play to cut down the runner at third.
Cameron not only pitched a solid game, but had a big day at the plate, with two clutch 2-out rbi hits & a big fly
The bottom of the fifth put the exclamation point on our game. Mark led off with a sizzling line drive to right center that got past the fielder & so Mark shifted into high gear & scored on an inside the park homer without a play. Steven then followed with a line shot up on the left field hill for back-to-back home runs. With one out, Cameron then hit a blast that almost reached the top of the left field hill for the third home run in four batters! Gustav followed with a single, & with two outs, Matt hit an rbi double to score Gustav. We were up 17-6.

Energy 350 went down quickly in the top of the sixth. There was a notable play, however, as Steven dived to field a grounder in the hole & then made a perfect throw to Nicole covering second. Steven was named Player of the week for his performance in this game, & it was well deserved. Not only did he play a flawless shortstop, including some difficult plays, but he also went 3 for 3 with two doubles & a homer. Cameron was named player of the game for his own hitting—including clutch two-out rbi hits & the big home run, as well as his solid pitching.

Emily H: big rbi in the fourth inning & a solid game as always in the outfield
We went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the sixth, the only inning in which we didn’t score, & Energy 350 did manage to rally for two runs in the top of the seventh. Steven made a great play on a ground ball to record the first out, & fittingly, the final out was also a ground ball to short.

We ended the game alone in first place, but there’s still one more regular season game against the Therminators—a tough opponent!

Next Week: final regular season game!