After having our league written up for fantastic finishes 3 out of the last 5 years, the GDML has had the most bizarre finish in its history. Most of the time our league is fairly close, but this year we had one team that dominated the league, holding the lead every day from May 22 forward, only to lose on the last day of the season because of a game that should have never been played. From 5:22:00 to 5:22:30 PM Central time the GDML was turned on its head. Despite the race getting tight the last week, at no time did the eventual winner take the lead until 5:22:30 Central time on Sunday afternoon. The team that led the league since May 22 and had not trailed for as much as a second subsequent to that was a victim the most heinous 30 seconds in GDML history, costing him a nearly wire-to-wire victory. To really appreciate how far out of left field this came, you need a little background.
The Mudhens, owned by “trader” Rick Harwell have always been one of the better teams in the league, finishing in the money several times, but being cursed enough to not win a championship since 1993. Rick writes an article to rate all the teams after the draft and one of his favorite whipping boys is the Full Count owned by Mitch Green (not the boxer) who had the audacity to win the championship in his first year and finish in the money 4 of the 5 years he has been in the league. This has earned his team the moniker “The Hated Full Count”. After a another preseason prediction of failure for the Full Count, Rick commented in his mid-season tome that Mitch’s success this year could only be attributed to his worship of the black arts, dancing naked shuffling through baseball cards, calling out to Jobu. Mitch enjoyed his diatribe and was ready to sacrifice a live chicken if that was necessary.
The Mudhens dominated virtually the entire year. To give you an idea of how good his team was, he got the following guys for $1 in our 10 team 5X5 league – Jon Papelbon, Akinori Otsuka, Alex Rios ($2 but who’s counting), Kevin Youkillis, Michael Cuddyer, Mark DeRosa and Gerald Laird. Needless to say, when you add in his paid players like Papi, ARod, Tejada and Ichiro, there should be a championship trophy on the mantle. Throughout the year his low innings approach served him well in starting pitching while blowing away the field in everything else. One other team (the Hated Full Count) was close to him, but at times the lead was double digits.
Late in the season, the Full Count made some moves, including trading all of his starters (Halladay, Millwood, Rogers, Padilla and more) to a team trailing the Mudhens in Wins and got back 3 closers and some offense. Going into the last 2 weeks, the Mudhens still led by 5 points. Going into the last week, it narrowed to 3 points as he lost a point in RBI’s (to me) and Runs the prior week. Those points could just as easily be won back the following week. The tight wins race convinced the Mudhens to make a few moves to get some Wins because his ratios looked to be solidly locked in. Wins were going to be critical to several teams fighting for position, so the last week’s 2 start starters were in demand. He didn’t get his first choice of Joe Saunders who was selected by a team with a higher priority, but he inexplicably listed Hayden Penn as his backup pick. Penn has probably been the worst starting pitcher in the AL in September. He is a highly prized prospect whose callup this year was delayed by an emergency appendectomy and he had not pitched very well since that surgery. However, the pickings were slim for 2 start pitchers in our starter crazed league. In a fit of desperation to get a win, on the final transaction Monday, the Mudhens dropped Ron Mahay and added Penn to his roster, passing on Shawn Marcum and a few other less explosive available 2 start pitchers. As the knight in third Indiana Jones movie once said, “He chose poorly”.
The Full Count had some upside entering the last week but without some declination in Rick’s numbers would need the stars to align to get an outright win. He was behind me in saves by only one. I had a 7 save lead over him a week before but lost a net 6 saves the week before. I had a rouge’s gallery of closers – Joe Nelson, Seth McClung and Mike Timlin while Mitch’s deadline trades netted him Rivera, Farnsworth, Putz and Street; so it looked like there was no doubt he would pass me as well. The Full Count also had some upside in SB’s, trailing one team by 2 SB’s and another by 3 going into the last week.
During the early part of the last week, the Mudhens pitching was alternately horrible and great. Jon Garland gave up 12 runs (8 earned) on Monday night and coupled with another bad outing, the Mudhens ERA dropped a full point to the last place team. At this point, his lead is still 1.5 points and it looked like the Hated Full Count had a decent chance to finish in first.
Later in the week, the Mudhens get two shutouts from Daniel Cabrera (one unearned run) and Jon Garland on successive nights, gaining back the ERA point, with no starts left (or so we thought) and the last place team trailing so far that a shutout for his remaining starter would not gain back the point. The Mudhens also have a two and three win lead on two other teams and they have only one and three starts left, respectively with three days to go. The lead is 2.5 points with the top two teams still tied in runs scored. Just a few days after having a glimmer of hope, the loss of the ERA point seems to put any chance of an outright championship to rest, with Mitch thinking that a tie would be the best case.
In the latter part of the week, the Full Count gets a save from Wes Littleton, who is now the Rangers closer with Otsuka on the shelf with migraines, to gain a half point and gets a stolen base to tie another team. Joe Nathan gets a win to pull the last place team within one win of the Mudhens with both teams each having one start left. The Full Count score 2 more runs than the Mudhens, cutting the lead to 1.5 points going into the final day. If the Mudhens get 3 more runs on the last day, he will win going away. Anything better than a tie looks almost impossible unless the Full Count gets 5 SB’s from his slow footed team.
On Sunday the Full Count scores 5 early runs to salt away that category early. Cliff Lee pitches a dominating complete game to gain a win for the last place team which cost the Mudhens a half point, making it a one point lead. His ratios improve but not enough to get below the Mudhens. Jorge Posada steals a base, gaining the Full Count another half point. Despite closing the gap, the season is ending. Its 5:00 Central time and the lead is now only one half point as the later games progress. The Baltimore – Boston game has been delayed by rain for over three hours and we assume that it won’t be played.
At this point The Mudhens appear to be able to do no worse than a tie, but there is a pretty good likelihood of a tie because any of Street, Putz or Littleton could still get a save while I only have Timlin left, and that game is probably rained out. Mitch goes out for some errands with the wife, thinking it was a great try, but he came up just short.
That’s when we realize that the Baltimore – Boston game was actually going to be played. After a 3 1/2 hour rain delay with a meaningless game, I figured the players were already home. Hayden Penn will start despite having a gimpy back earlier in the week. A Win by Penn would cement a Mudhens championship by getting him a half point. With bad weather, Penn’s start was all the more questionable. As the game started, Penn gives up a 3 run home run to Mike Lowell in the first inning. This brings the ERA margin between the Mudhens and last place team into striking distance, but the Mudhens still have a decent lead. In the second inning Penn gets out of a jam without any runs scoring. At this point, something catastrophic would have to happen to change the points in ERA. An inning later, it did.
Fifteen Minutes later it starts to get weird. I am watching the Ranger game on TV while “watching” the other game on my PC using gametracker. In Seattle, the Mariners take a 1 run lead into the 9th and bring in J.J. Putz in a save situation. The Red Sox have a rally going against Penn in the third with no runs in, two on and two out. Putz starts mowing down the Rangers. He strikes out the first batter. Penn walks Eric Hinske to load the bases. Putz strikes out the second hitter. Penn walks Carols Pena, forcing in a run, still no blood on the ERA point. Putz strikes out the side to record the save. By getting the save, the Full Count gained a half point, and the GDML is now in a dead heat. Less than 30 seconds later – Gabe Kapler doubles home 3 runs off Penn. The Mudhens lose the ERA point and all of a sudden, trail the Full Count 73.5 to 72.5. Within 30 seconds the GDML has been turned upside down. Penn is yanked, so he can’t get anyone out to end the inning and improve the ratio. All of the other Mudhen and Dunk pitchers are done, so the point is not going back. At this point the only question was would the game go five innings or not. Sure enough, the game was called after 5 innings, ending the AL season and with it, the GDML season.
In the end, the season was determined by Carlos Pena, Gabe Kapler (Craig, I put this picture up just for you) and Hayden Penn. The fact that the game was actually a no hitter did not dawn on me until the following morning. Hayden Penn, a name that will live in infamy as long as people remember the GDML.