Picture it - you’re fresh out of high school and you’ve been drafted by the Oakland Athletics. You’re stoked, ready to do battle with the big guys and prove you have good stuff. You’re sent to Vancouver, where you sleep in an old woman’s basement by night, and train, train, train and play by day. You’re paid about $300 a week in wages, for about 110 hours of work. But you don’t mind, because you’re doing okay. You’re getting along. You’ve managed a few hits and you’re feeling good about yourself…And then you get off a bus in Everett, Washington, and you’re told who the starting pitcher for tonight will be… Seattle Mariners reliever Rafael Soriano. Gulp.Soriano, rehabbing after Tommy John surgery last August, wasn’t exactly the level of pitcher expected by the Vancouver Canadians when they showed up tonight, but when the unexpected happens, a smart manager will adapt in a hurry. And that’s exactly what Juan Navarette did when he wrote up his line-up for tonight’s game. Tietje, Martinez, Long, Tritle - it’s no coincidence that the first four hitters in the line-up were players who have been in the system for a year or more.Team leader Chalon “Freedom Fries” Tietje may not have faced a whole lot of major league pitching in his time, but he’s been facing good pitching for long enough to be able to play the mind game with a big leaguer expecting fear and respect.So when Tietje lined up for the first pitch of the ballgame, he wasn’t about to chase. Rather, he watched the pitcher without moving a muscle as the ball hit a corner for a strike, continuing the stare-down as the catcher sent the ball back. Tietje wasn’t afraid. Tietje wasn’t worried. Tietje was in charge.Soriano should know enough to laugh that kind of attitude off, but the 25-year-old big leaguer surely wasn’t expecting to have his next pitch sent back over his head into left field. Tietje on first, no outs, and the game within the game had just begun.As Soriano bore down on the #2 hitter, Frank “Stringbean” Martinez, Tietje inched off first. Then he inched a little more. Then he started shifting his feet. Soriano, distracted by the runner, sent a weak toss to first so he could bring Tietje back. But as the big right-hander readied himself again, Tietje was once more at it, inching, inching, shuffling, dancing, and this time Soriano put some oomph in the attempted pick-off, to no avail.Tietje’s thinking had two purposes. First, he wanted Soriano worried he was going to be stolen on. But second, he knew the Major Leaguer was on a limited pitch count, and as long as he was tossing to first and not to the batter, his value for the Flipper-Kids would be rapidly declining. Keep him tossing to first, and he’ll be out of the game sooner than he would if he were tossing to home plate.Martinez’s mental game wasn’t quite at that standard as he chased outside pitches and a couple of wicked curveballs, eventually finding his way back to the dugout with a K next to his name, but the next hitter, Wes “Long Gone” Long, has exactly the kind of fire you need to give a guy like Soriano trouble.With the nuggety third baseman growling a frown at the man on the mound, and Tietje giving the big guy the heebie jeebies over at first, Soriano set himself to pitch, then better of it, then decided to go through with it, then thought about it again… BALK!If we’d had the satellites of NASA turned towards Dust Devil Stadium this night, they surely would have picked up Chalon Tietje’s big-toothed grin as he trotted slowly to second, cockahoop that he’d psyched out a big leaguer. At the plate, Wes Long was paying plenty of attention, and when Soriano sent a very hittable 90mph fastball in, Long leaned on it, sent it into short left field, and suddenly the two fastest baserunners in the Vancouver lineup were on base as Soriano kicked the dirt in frustration.If these stories were written by Hollywood movie executives, Chris Tritle would have walked up and hit a deep three-run shot over the fence so hard that the lights around the stadium would have exploded in showers of sparks. But these stories aren’t written by Hollywood movie executives, they’re written by fate, and thus Tritle could only watch as Soriano regathered his composure and hit the corner three times for a solid strikeout. A pop to second from “Hanging” Chad Boyd ended the inning, and with it Soriano’s involvement in the game, but for the C’s it was a proud time. They had faced a big league pro and they had worried him. They had bothered him. They had beaten him on a personal level. Even if Tietje and Long are sent home tomorrow and told to go work in the Tire Barn for the rest of their lives, they’ll be able to tell the story of the day they rattled a millionaire Mariner.Meanwhile, there was a game to win, and with Joe “Total” Newby on the mound for the C’s, the pitching end of the Vancouver equation looked in solid hands. Newby throws strong stuff and has a really fiery attitude, much in the same vein as Dallas Braden, who played here last season and has ridden his nasty screwball all the way up to the AA level in the year since. Replacing Soriano was Robert Rohrbaugh, and he had to have been concerned that he was walking into a dragon’s lair.If not, he should have been.First baseman Steve “Squeaky” Kleen has a reputation for competence, having been drafted by Oakland in the 11th round and managing to rack up a .313 average coming in to this game. As Rohrbaugh sent in an 86mph fastball, Kleen didn’t crank it at the fences, and nor did he slap at it - he just located the pitch, drove from the torso and dispatched the ball cleanly into left field for a perfectly placed single. Kleen reportedly rates Barry Bonds as his favorite player and calls himself a lifelong Giants fan, which means he better keep hitting those perfect singles if he doesn’t want his batting helmet to get keyed.An 18th round pick-up at catcher, Anthony “Pipes” Recker isn’t expected to push aside the Kurt Suzuki’s of the organization, but when he struck out with a man on first, you could hear the faint sound of an Alvernia College coach rolling across the Washington hillsides, yelling, “Lay off the junk, Recker!”Isaac Omura’s college coach, on the other hand, must sleep well at night, because Omura is, as they say in the parlance of the times, “the shit.” Omura plays like a man half a foot taller, half a bicep stronger, and several years more experienced than what he actually is. He oozes confidence and athleticism, so as a worried Rohrbaugh sent in another mid-80’s hanger, Omura did exactly as he’d been taught to do and grounded it hard through the hole at short for a single.Justin “Time Share” Sellers (oh come on, haven’t you ever been harassed by a time share seller? Well geez, why don’t YOU come up with a good nickname then?) was hitting pitching in the California high school system six months ago, but with Rohrbaugh sweating, you’d have thought Sellers was 32 years old and hitting in the six slot for the Athletics as he punched the next fastball into right field, scoring Squeaky from second.Manager Juan Navarrete is not your usual Oakland system manager. He’s not a ‘draw the walk and wait for the homerun’ kind of bossman, and when he announced pre-season that the C’s would be a running team, most of us had no idea what he was really saying. Here we are in the second inning, with men on first and third, and only one out, and what does Navarrete signal for? The sac fly? Nope.The hit’n'run. Well, you sure as heck can’t say Navarrete is predictable. You also can’t say he gets it right every time, especially as Tietje missed with his swing and Sellers was easily thrown out at second, turning a sac fly situation into a two-out hit’n'hope.Thankfully, passed balls happen. Thankfully, they happen to Everett. Thankfully, “Windjammer” Omura is pretty darn quick when they happen to Everett. As Tietje struck out swinging, Vancouver went in to the bottom of the second leading 2-0.C’s pitcher Newby, meanwhile, was smoking through the Aquasox. In fact, going into the bottom the fourth, ‘Total’ had yet to concede a hit against the mini-Mariners, but a walk and two subsequent singles sent a Sox runner home to bring the Vancouver lead back to one. Newby got out of the inning okay, but he would get the hook an inning later, making way for Jason “Death” Ray, who would strike out the side in the 6th in a display of “don’t even think about it” aggression the likes of which we haven’t seen since Judge Judy played for the Brooklyn Legal Eagles in the New York Metropolitan Sunday Softball League. In 1910.On the other end of the pitching story, Marwin “Vincent” Vega (pictured left) had come in to replace the shaky Rohrbaugh, but his contribution to the game would be a whole lot of balls pitched for not a lot of strikes. Recker was hit by one pitch, Omura drew then a walk, Sellers did likewise, and the table was well and truly set for something big with bases loaded and no outs.But give credit to Vega - he was not about to serve up a Royale with Cheese without a fight. He struck out Freedom Fries swinging, then conjured up a double play from Stringbean Martinez to get himself out of a horrific jam with pure baseball talent.It was a nice display of steel will and hard work, but it wouldn’t continue through the 8th inning, as “Long Gone” Long led off with a single to left, a wild pitch then got him to second, and a big double over the center fielder’s head from “Hanging” Chad Boyd scored the runner. AquaSox coach Gideon stuck with his guy as long as he could, but another wild pitch and a walk drawn by Squeaky Kleen saw Vega given the hook for the classicly named Rollie Gibson, who promptly served up another two wild pitches, scoring another runner before finding his feet and ending the inning with the Canadians leading 4-1.The bottom of the 8th saw Brad “Killer” Kilby (pictured right) enter the fray and serve up a dinger to Everett’s Jeff Flaig, but all that did was make the 3200 Everett fans already headed towards the exits, stop, turn around, and mutter “what’d I miss” to the person next to them, before continuing their journey to the parking lot. Which is good, because they avoided the pain of watching new AquaSox pitcher Edgar Guaramato give up a double to Sellers, who was then sac’ed home by Stringbean Martinez to make the final score 5-2 to the Canadians.You know, when you come to the park with high school players and the other team has a major leaguer on the mound, and the rain is coming down, and you’re away from home, you really do expect to get creamed. That these C’s saw the big leaguer off and then showed superior offense, defense and pitching throughout all nine innings is a testimony to the talent that they so clearly have at their disposal, and the drafting skills of the Oakland organization.To be sure, the Vancouver Canadians are still a long way from proving that their hitters are major league material, but any questions that could have asked about their pitching are rapidly being shoved aside by clinical starting, solid middle relief, and just plain nasty closing from just about everyone on staff.GAME NOTES:* Wes Long had an absolute blinder out there today, hitting 4 from 5 with 2 doubles and a run scored to bring his average up to .316. This was, without doubt, his best game of both this season and the last season, and though he has some work to do to secure the third base spot for himself, especially in this infield-heavy roster at present, if he can draw on the confidence he’ll get from tonight’s outing, he may turn out to be the surprise packet of the season.* “Squeaky” Kleen and “Storm” Sellers both racked up 2 from 3 at the plate tonight, adding a healthy boost to both their batting averages (.368 and .300 respectively). Both also managed to draw a walk, which will help the On Base Percentage some, and will continue to put pressure on their platooning infield teammates to keep up, or be shipped off to ‘Zona.* On the AquaSox side of the gig, only first baseman Jeff Flaig really broke a sweat on the scoresheet, hitting 1 from 2 (a home run) and drawing two walks for two runs scored. Flaig looked a different class out there tonight, but you need more than one guy to win a ballgame. Aside from Flaig, the entire Everett team only managed three hits all night. Ouch!* On the mound, Joe Newby gets to brag that he took the win in a start against a Major League pitcher, and his stats from the night don’t look too foul either. 5 inning pitched, 4 hits, 1 earned run, 2 walks and 4 K’s give him an ERA of 6.43, which looks atrocious, but if you take away his first outing of the season (in which he got rocked for 8 earned runs over 3 innings), his ERA drops to a seriously fantastic 1.63.* 8th round draft pick, Jason ‘Death’ Ray (pictured left) was clinical in relief, coming in for two innings, walking two batters and striking out four. Not a bad outing for your professional debut.* Mike Mitchell registered his second save of the season, and in 6.1 innings of ball this year, he’s yet to concede a run. Opponents have manged just 3 hits, 1 walk, and have been fanned 4 times. Mitchell has been in the organization since 2003, so he’ll want to keep this going for as long as he can in an effort to earn a bullpen slot in Kane County.The Canadians take on the Flipper-Kids again tomorrow at 7Pm, aiming to continue their streak to four games in a row. You can hear the call right here, and I have to say, it’s worth tuning in to the call. Long time Nat Bailey beer-guy, Rob McGowan, is giving the color commentary gig a shot this season, and in my own personal opinion, the guy is a comedy genius.Me? Not so much. Leave a comment below and tell us how you’re enjoying the blog. It’s a lot of work to put together, but so far the reaction has been beyond our wildest expectations.
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