NLA Baseball - Flyers win an epic Championship
There's nothing better than October baseball. This is where champions are crowned and heroes are born. For the 4th straight year, the Therwil Flyers and Zürich Barracudas faced off for the championship. Of their previous matchups, the Flyers had won two, while the Barracudas had captured one trophy. Accordingly, there was a lot at stake this time, with the Barracudas trying to even up the head-to-head matchup, while the Flyers set their sights on back-to-back championships which would give them a third title in four years. It promised to be a tough, hard fought series. It didn't disappoint. All advanced metrics are provided by Swiss-Statscast. A special thank you also goes to Philippe Kleiber for his game-ball sponsoring.
The 1st game of the series featured a matchup between Flyers' lefty Hide Oshima and Barracudas' righty Andi Rüesch. After a quick inning for Oshima, the Flyers bats went to work and jumped out to a lead right away. Singles by Taka Oshima and Rafi "Bautista" Eigenmann, along with a double by David Castillo gave the home team a quick 2-0 lead. Oshima kept the Barracudas scoreless through the 5th inning, helped out by Eigenmann throwing out a runner stealing to end a rally. In the home half of the 5th, the Flyers managed to add a run on a double by Sven Leemann and an error. Then in the 6th, the Barracudas finally got on the board thanks to a two-run homer by Nderim Coma. With the Flyers bats being silenced by Rüesch, Oshima had to dig deep to hold the lead and lead his team to victory. He did just that, working around base runners in each of the three final innings to finish up his complete game victory.
With a 1-0 game lead in their pocket, the Flyers travelled to Zürich hoping to take a commanding lead in the series. However they would be facing a tough opposing pitcher in lefty Evan Brisentine, the only pitcher to beat the Flyers during the regular season. The game stayed scoreless for the first five innings, both teams having the occasional base runner, but neither managing to get any clutch hits or score. That changed in the 6th, when the Barracudas jumped out to a 2-0 lead on two doubles and a single. The Flyers then tried to answer back, loading the bases in the 7th, but once again came up empty. Finally, in the 7th, the Flyers offense got on the board. A leadoff walk to Hide Oshima got the inning started, and singles by Eigenmann, Castillo and Taka Oshima combined to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead. The lead didn't hold up for long, as the Barracudas tied it right back up in the bottom of the inning on a hit by pitch, a single and a sacrifice fly. With the go-ahead run on 2nd base, the Flyers then turned to Stefan Koller to get them out of the inning. He did just that, giving his team a chance to take back the lead in the 9th. The Barracudas also made a pitching change, and kept the Flyers off the board in the top of the 9th, giving themselves the opportunity to win it in the bottom of the inning. Fighting to stay alive in the series, they banged out some hits and soon they were celebrating a huge 4-3 walk-off win to tie the series at 1 apiece.
Tied at one game apiece, the series shifted back to Therwil. This time it was Stefan Koller on the mound for the Flyers, facing off once again with Andi Rüesch. The Barracudas scored a quick run in the 1st on an error by the Flyers defense, but the home team got it right back in the 2nd. An RBI single by Leemann scored Koller to tie the game at one. While Rüesch once again kept the Flyers off balance and off the board, the Barracudas took advantage of some uncharacteristic sloppy play by the Flyers defense with a few timely hits to take a 7-1 lead into the 7th inning. Then, in the 7th, the momentum of the game and of the series took a huge turn. Javier Rodriguez led off the inning with a single, and while running to first implored the home crowd to make some noise and lead the comeback. He was followed by singles by Koller and Leemann to load the bases. A walk to Hide Oshima then forced in a run and was quickly followed by a two-run double by Adrian Kaufmann to cut the lead to 7-4. This prompted the Barracudas to call on their bullpen. In came lefty Elliot Berger. The Flyers offense was on fire, greeting Berger with back to back doubles by Taka Oshima and Tyler Krobetzky to tie the game. Following another call to the bullpen, Roger Savoldelli took the mound, trying to finally stop the damage. A hit by pitch and doubles by Eigenmann and Rodriguez quickly followed to give the Flyers a 10-7 lead before the inning mercifully ended. In their game-changing 9-run inning, the Flyers had sent 10 people to the plate without making an out, and had banged out 8 hits. The Barracudas however would not go quietly. They quickly loaded the bases with one out in the 8th, prompting the Flyers to turn to their closer, Taka Oshima. He was not rattled by the moment, took the ball and got out of the inning without giving up a run. He then continued to dominate in the 9th, closing out this incredible Flyers victory with a 1-2-3 inning.
Holding a 2-1 lead, the Flyers once again travelled to Zürich, this time looking to close out the series and claim the title. Standing in their way again was Brisentine, looking to send the series back to Therwil for a winner-take-all game. The less said about this game from the Flyers perspective the better. The Barracudas fought like a team with their backs against the wall, with Brisentine delivering another gem on the mound. The Flyers, on the other hand, looked to be sleepwalking, not managing anything on offense and making way too many physical and mental errors on defense. All this added up to a disappointing 12-3 loss. The Flyers drove back home with the series tied at 2, hoping another week of practice would get them back on track for the deciding game of the year.
There's nothing more fun in sports than a winner-takes-all game for the championship. As Adrian Kaufmann put it before the game: "If you can't get excited for this, then you shouldn't be here". (Editor's note: This was the meaning behind his words, the actual quote cannot be printed here due to the fact that multiple bad words were used). Everyone was excited and ready to go with the large crowd providing an electric atmosphere rarely seen before in Swiss Baseball. Hide Oshima toed the rubber for the Flyers, fired a strike at the knees and got the game rolling. It was the visitors from Zürich who struck first, getting a run on three singles in the 1st. Once again, Oshima and Rüesch were brilliant for their respective teams, mowing down hitters and throwing up zeroes on the scoreboard. Both teams backed up their pitchers with a stellar defensive effort, turning multiple double plays. One spectacular play that stood out however was an amazing catch by Koller. He raced back to the fence and leaped high to rob a home run by Josh Crouse, and to keep the Flyers deficit at one. Then in the 8th, the Barracudas managed to tack on two runs on three straight doubles. Six outs away from defeat and facing a 3-0 deficit, the Flyers decided that enough was enough, this was not how their season was going to end. The large home crowd had been largely silenced by now with the Flyers trailing. They would not be silent for much longer though. Kaufmann reached base, and then David Castillo crushed a ball over the fence in dead center to get the Flyers to within 3-2. It flew an estimated 390 feet, and breathed life back into the home team and their fans. Heading into the 9th, with the score still 3-2, the Barracudas once again turned to Roger Savoldelli to close out the game and the series. Leading off the 9th, was Sven Leemann. With the crowd chanting his name, Leemann drove a 2-1 slider to deep right field. The right fielder raced back, and then could only turn and watch. 415 feet away from home plate, the ball disappeared over the fence, tying the game and causing the Flyers’ bench and the crowd to collectively lose their shit. "I don't think my feet touched the ground while I was running the bases", Leemann said after the game, "that was the most amazing feeling in the world". With the score tied, the game then moved into extra innings, a fitting way to crown a champion. In the top of the 10th, Taka Oshima took over on the mound. Two hit by pitches and two walks quickly gave the visitors a 4-3 lead before the inning ended. With tensions high due to the close game and the promise of a championship, the inning included a bench clearing. After a hard slide into 2nd base, tempers flared, causing both teams to charge the field. No punches were exchanged, but both Castillo and Rüesch were ejected once order was restored by the umpires. So once again, the Flyers were down a run, facing defeat and the end of their season three outs away. Defeat was quickly one out away, as Savoldelli made quick work of the first two Flyers hitters. With the Flyers down to their last out, here is an oral history of the magic that followed:
The situation: two outs, no one on base, Taka Oshima at the plate.
- Taka Oshima: "I know the crowd was loud, but I couldn't hear them. I knew I could hit their pitcher, there was no way he was getting me out".
- Rafi Eigenmann: "I was standing on deck hoping Taka would get on base and give me a chance to tie the game. The crowd was going wild, it was awesome".
Oshima hit a groundball down the 3rd base line, it got into the outfield and Oshima slid into 2nd with a double.
- Adrian Kaufmann: "Oh man, that was crazy. Huge hit. When he slid into 2nd base I was just going nuts, screaming my head off ".
Up to the plate strode Rafi Eigenmann, with the tying run at 2nd base.
- Eigenmann: "Man it was loud, people chanting my name. I just knew I was going to get a hit".
- Lukas Croton: "I was coaching 3rd base, trying to not get too caught up in everything, making sure my runner at 2nd got a good lead and was ready to score on a hit".
Eigenmann got hold of an off-speed pitch, driving it to the fence in center for a ground-rule double. It tied the game. The crowd went wild.
- Stefan Koller: "Right off the bat I knew he had tied the game. So I was watching Rafi when he flipped his bat. That was almost more impressive than his hit".
- Kaufmann: "Oh my god that bat flip. He was halfway to first and then he just threw it up in the air. I've never seen anything like it".
- Oshima: "The bat flip was legit. I've seen a lot of them in my day and have done my fair share, but this one was on another level. Remember Jose Bautista's from a couple years ago? Yeah, he's got nothing on Rafi".
- Emmanuel Raouzeos: "Wow, that was amazing. I was coaching first base and his bat almost hit me on the way down. It took it's sweet time coming down too, I mean, it went almost as high as one of those legendary Chris Blackbee pop-ups from a few years back".
With Eigenmann the potential championship run on 2nd base, Javier Rodriguez stepped to the plate for the Flyers with a chance to become a hero.
- Eigenmann: "I was working on getting a good secondary lead. I'm fast, but I wanted to be sure I could score on any hit".
- Rodriguez: "There was a huge hole in the right side of the infield, I knew if I could punch it through there, Rafi would score. So I tried to hit it that way."
Rodriguez got a first pitch fastball and hit a groundball through the right side. Eigenmann rounded 3rd and headed for home. The crowd was on their feet, screaming and going crazy. The throw from right field was off line. Eigenmann scored standing up. Ballgame over. Season over. The Flyers were CHAMPIONS!