One Night in AAA Ball

The Las Vegas chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, of which I am a member, decided to round up at Cashman Field Saturday night to watch the Las Vegas 51s (AAA farm of the Mets) host the Omaha Storm Chasers (AAA farm of the Royals), both of the Pacific Coast League. The seats were in the club restaurant, up against the glass at the front over the stands.

As it turned out, only four of us including yours truly turned up for the game. The 51s showed up, too. And may have wished they hadn't, after their bullpen imploded in the top of the eighth to spoil what began as a taut pitchers' duel and a 1-0 51s lead, the Chasers going on to win, 7-3.

(Fair disclosure: In my Air Force years, stationed at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha, I spent many a night at old Rosenblatt Stadium watching the College World Series and the then-Omaha Royals, before the old American Association folded and its clubs were dispersed to either the Pacific Coast League or the International League. The last American Association champions, the Buffalo Bisons, still have their championship trophy from 1997, the league's final season.)

Josh Smoker, the Mets left-hander down on the farm to work a little harder on his off-speed and breaking pitches, kept the Storm Chasers in check 1-0 until he was removed on a 60-pitch limit. He threw a ducal share of his off-speed repertoire, scattering two hits, striking out three, and keeping the Chasers just off balance enough to count.

"I thought he did a really good job mixing his pitches," 51s manager Pedro Lopez told the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Betsy Helfand, whom we SABR sabers had the pleasure of meeting before the game. She is a fine writer with good humor and an attentive eye, to say nothing of delightful curiosity when handed a tidbit or three about baseball history.

"He worked ahead, and he did what he was supposed to do," Lopez said of Smoker.

"I wasn't really letting it go that much," Smoker told Helfand. "I was trying to work more on command and getting a little bit better feel for my slider and changeup, and I think I accomplished that."

Was it peculiar for him to start a game after having been considering a key link-in-waiting for the Mets' too-overworked bullpen? "It was definitely different from what I was used to," Smoker said, "just because it had been so long since I started, but I was really happy with it, and it was also nice just to kind of mix it up a little bit with what role I have."

The Chasers' starter, Jake Junis, had only one blemish against him, when Desmond Jennings hit one over the high left field fence — the entire outfield fence in Cashman Field is high enough without quite achieving Green Monster heights — to lead off the bottom of the second.

You hate to see a fine pitchers' duel reduced to rubble, but that's what happened to the 51s. They probably ended the five-run Chasers' eighth wishing they might have asked reliever Ben Rowen for one more than the spotless inning and a third — including the top of the sixth, when he ended a Chasers' threat smoothly — he gave them.

A tall right-hander, Rowen's trademark is his submarine style delivery, reminiscent most of Chad Bradford in the first Aughts decade: Rowen bends almost into a right handle as he begins his windup-less delivery and brings his hand across the mound so low it looks at first as though the hand might pass under the mound briefly before delivering a rising fastball or a kind of sinkerball that lifts up just so, teasing the strike zone, before diving down.

The Chasers' hitters couldn't make contact with it if you'd handed them snow shovels. They tried bunting twice against Rowen and learned that bunting against a submariner is two things: difficult and nearly impossible. They had to wait until Rowen yielded to Kevin McGowan, who walked two to begin the top of the eighth.

Uh-oh. Out went McGowan, in went Dave Roseboom, and boom — a tying single up the pipe. A safety squeeze by Omaha's Ryan O'Hearn. Bubba Starling's RBI single and Dean Anna's two-run double banging high off the wall. And Roseboom was stuck having to finish the game, Lopez probably trying not to waste what bullpen he had left, but he surrendered two more runs in the top of the ninth.

Both teams got a fright in the Las Vegas ninth when Gavin Cecchini whacked a grounder to his brother, Chasers' third baseman Garon Cecchini, and the 51s' Evans running to third upended the Omaha Cecchini trying to avoid colliding with him. Evans was called out for interference and, after appearing at first to be barely harmed, the third baseman was taken out of the game in favor of moving Corey Toups in to play third and sending Billy Burns to left field.

Amed Rosario, the Mets' top middle infield prospect, had himself an evening of slick fielding enough to justify the hype surrounding him at times. Don't be shocked if the Mets call him up soon enough, perhaps sometime around the All-Star Break or just afterward.

My SABR companions left the game one after the other after the seventh inning. One needed to be up early Sunday morning to travel. Before they left, one received a text message from his brother: "The Brewers just dropped an eight run inning on the Mets. You guys got any pitchers down there you can spare?"

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