Well, as I said, the 19-year plan for world domination worked perfectly, and the lowly Louisiana Blaze became champions of the (NPBL) world this last season.
“How did you do it?” everyone wants to know. Well, I won’t go into all the details of that long and ultimately vindifying season. (Take note, brand new word there.) But there are a couple of stories that are worth telling.
First, as you all know, the Blaze finished third in their division in 2069, 11 and a half games out. This was good enough to get us into the playoffs as the wild card, and we opened the playoffs against the Wisconsin Lumberjacks.
This brings us to the number 1 reason for our championship. Blaze first baseman Thornton Swackhammer just rocked the playoffs.
The Blaze edged Wisconsin in the opening series, 4 games to 3, and Mr. Swackhammer was the series MVP, hitting .379, with 2 HR, 6 rbi, and 5 runs scored.
The Blaze then tipped Kansas in 7 games, and Mr. Swackhammer was the series MVP, hitting .414, with 7 HR, 13 rbi, and 10 runs scored.
In the GEL Championship series, the Blaze rocked the New Mexico Dukes, taking the series 4 games to 1, and Mr. Swackhammer was again the MVP, hitting .313, with 4 HR, 8 rbi, and 5 runs scored.
Finally, in the National Cup series, the Blaze beat the Illinois Jethawks, 4 games to 3, and Mr. Swackhammer was NOT the series MVP. In the final series Thornton only hit .222, with 1 HR, 2 rbi, and 5 runs scored. Left fielder Jimmy Bangs was the Blaze hitting star in the Cup series, hitting .407 with 5 rbi and 3 runs scored. (He wasn’t the series MVP either.) Swackhammer was perhaps tired from all the running around the bases he’d been doing in the previous three series. Overall, Swackhammer hit .337 in the post season, with 14 HR in 26 games, 29 rbis, and an OPS of 1.295. He set new post season marks for runs (25), total bases (85), and home runs (14). Doesn’t get any better than that. Thank you Thornton Swackhammer!
The other big story of the playoffs is the Blaze closer, Babe Glumak. Babe was 35 years old when the season opened, and has been with the Blaze since we drafted him in round one in 2054, a lefty with great potential. Babe came up to the big league in 2055 for a cup of coffee, and joined the club for good in 56, going 12-12 as a starter with a 3.87 ERA. He won the Rookie of the Year title that year. He should have been on his way, but somehow he wasn’t. Something didn’t click. He had all the tools to be a top flight starter, but it never came together. He went 12-9 with a 2.88 ERA in ’57, but then 2-12 with a 7.65 ERA in ’58. 2059, 10-15. 2060, 0-3, and he was out most of the season with a sore shoulder. Sweet Mother of Mercy: was this the end of Babe Glumak? So it seemed. In 2061 he went 7-9 with a 3.66 ERA. He only started 15 games, pitched mostly in low leverage relief. In 2062 he went 9-5, only started 5 games, made 60 relief appearances and had a 4.00 ERA. In 2063 he’s 29 years old, and he only gets into 48 ball games. No starts. A 1 and 2 record. But something else happened. His knuckle-curve suddenly started to drop through the floor. His ERA dropped to 2.20.
In 2064 he’s 30 years old. His knuckle-curve becomes even more vicious, practically illegal, and his sinker bounces off opponent bats as though filled with sand. He goes 12-3, takes over the closer role, racks up 14 saves with a 1.94 ERA, while the Blaze go 71 – 91, and finish in 6th place, 28 games back. Glumak is named reliever of the year.
2065 through 2068, Glumak rules:
2065: 6-4, 45 saves, 1. 49 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, GEL Relief Pitcher of the Year
2066: 6-3, 36 saves, 1.32 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, finishes 2nd in Relief Pitcher of the Year
2067: 8-3, 40 saves, 1.29 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, GEL Relief Pitcher of the Year
2068: 6-3, 34 saves, 1.64 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, finishes 2nd in Relief Pitcher of the Year
This brings us to 2069. The Blaze have a better than expected year. Each month finds them doing a little better than the previous month, and though they finish in 3rd place, they make the playoffs easily as a wild-card, and our starting three pitchers, Boone, Lopez, and Danich, give us reason for optimism. Our hitting has been consistently good throughout the year, our defense is above average, and our bullpen is strong.
While the Blaze are improving month after month, Babe Glumak is 35 years old and not the same Babe Glumak as in the recent past. His ball doesn’t have the same zip. His control is off. But he’s a wily vet, he knows what he’s doing out there, and he finishes the season with a 4-6 mark and 44 saves, despite a 4.37 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP.
At the end of the season Glumak has a couple of terrible outings, and it’s obvious that he’s in trouble out there. Probably I should use somebody else as closer. I’ve got two or three guys that could do the job. Xavier Cerda was my AAA closer, earned 31 saves during the season. James Hummer, coming back from an injury, throws 100 mph. Shangoya maybe. Or Smith, who had a great year, with a 1.81 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
And yet, how can you take Glumak out? He’s been THE GUY for five years. Rock solid. And now, with the playoffs here, you’re going to use someone else as closer? In what will probably be his last shot at the big deal?
Couldn’t do it. Glumak deserved his shot.
Well, Glumak hung on through the playoffs, on guts and moxie. He lost one game in the first round, I believe, but after that he… he managed. And of course it all came down to the championship, the National Cup, the seventh game, and the ninth inning.
Glumak comes in to start the inning, relieving Tim Littlewolf. The Blaze are ahead 3-1, scored an insurance run in the top of the ninth. Three outs away from the championship champagne. And old Babe Glumak is on the mound.
First guy up, An-yi Pei, right fielder, right-handed batter. He works a full count, then grounds out, an easier grounder to Kawakami at third. One down.
Pinch hitter Juan Gomez comes up, batting for the pitcher. Switch-hitter. He takes a ball, then rolls a grounder past Glumak, right to Dino Pinch at second. Easy toss to first. Two down. One out away from the title. Glumak looks deadly serious out there. The Illinois crowd is on its feet.
Centerfielder Bennett McIntyre is up, lead off batter, lefty, hit .317 on the year and he’s 2 for 4 today. He reaches down for a sinker on the first pitch and loops it just over shortstop Ernie Seppi’s outstretched glove. A single. The crowd roars. There is hope.
Second baseman Jake Young steps up to the plate. He’s a righty. Hit .363 during the season, and he’s hit .380 in the playoffs. McIntyre’s taking his lead, he’s got good speed, 13 stolen bases this year. Glumak pitches to Young. Gets a called strike, then tosses one wide, then gets another called strike, nobody like the call, the crowd roars, it looked low. Glumak throws another one wide to even the count, 2-2. Then a low one, and it’s a full count. And then another low one, ball four, runners on first and second.
Two outs, bottom of the ninth, third baseman Diego Santana is up. Another righty. Hit .276 for the year with a dozen HR. The crowd is roaring. Ball one. Ball two. A called strike, inside corner, tough pitch. Ball three, way outside. Another one comes inside, Santana swings, pops it up behind the plate, into the crowd. Full count. Glumak steps off the mound a bit, rubs the new baseball down. Climbs back up to the rubber. Takes the call from Buck behind the plate. Throws. Wide. Ball four.
Bases loaded. Ben Buck gets up from behind the plate to talk things over with Glumak.
Stepping up to the plate is the clean-up hitter, a lefty, Josh Hoffman. Hit .267 on the year, with 24 HR and 96 RBI. Hitting .297 in the post-season. Buck crouches again behind the plate, and Glumak checks the runners, then peers in for the sign. First pitch, inside, Hoffman rips at it, and it shoots back to the backstop, foul ball, strike one.
Crowd on its feet. Deafening. Glumak checks the runners and gets the sign. Hoffman steps out of the box. Glumak takes the sign again. Pitches. A sinker, low and away, and Hoffman can’t lay off. He stretches for it, the ball scoots off his bat, and past Glumak’s glove. Dino Pinch glides over, scoops it up oh so carefully, and then gracefully touches second. Fielder’s choice. Three outs. Game over. The Blaze are champions, and Glumak picks up probably the last save of his career.
Glumak went 0-1 in the playoffs, with 8 saves, a 2.63 ERA, and a 1.83 WHIP.
This spring, 36 years old, he went 0-1, with 2 saves and a 5.87 ERA, and a 2.22 WHIP. He’s pitching down in AAA Baton Rouge to start the year, to see if he can work things out. So far he’s got 1 save in 6 games, 4 innings pitched, 4 earned runs, a couple of HR. I’ve got Xavier Cerda working now as my closer. Picked him up as an undrafted free agent in 2063. He keeps on surprising and improving. I’ve also got young Jon Church in Baton Rouge. Drafted him in 2065, round two. He picked up 41 saves in AA Shreveport last year, with a 2.02 ERA. I’m hoping he might learn a few things from Babe Glumak.