Phillips' Home Run Gives IL Dramatic Win
By David Borges
PAWTUCKET, R.I.--Two nights after an opening ceremony that ran hours late, at the site of the longest game in professional baseball history, it was highly fitting that the 17th annual Triple-A All-Star Game became the first ever to go into extra innings.
And it was just as ironic that a member of the Yankees farm system wound up being the hero at McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox and deep in the heart of Red Sox Nation.
Couple all that with the fact that the pro-Sox crowd was chanting for a player named "Bucky! Bucky!" in the late innings, and it was truly a surreal setting.
Columbus' Andy Phillips hit a two-out, walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the International League a dramatic, 4-3 victory over the Pacific Coast League before a crowd of 11,192. Phillips, a third baseman who was hitting .327-15-46 for the Clippers, drilled a 1-0 slider from Tacoma righthander Scott Atchison over the left-center field wall for the game-winner.
"It's unbelievable," Phillips said. "It's a situation you rehearse in your backyard when you're a kid. On a stage like this, where something had to be done or the game was over . . . I hit it pretty well. Knowing the elements of this park, the ball travels very well here. Not too many of my home runs are hit like that, where I feel like it's gone."
Phillips' homer not only ended the game in dramatic fashion but also prevented the game from ending in a tie for the first time in its history. League officials previously had ruled that the game would not go past 10 innings, no matter what the score.
"At least the game-winner kept us from getting booed on a tie," PCL manager Mike Brumley said.
But then, it was a night of firsts at McCoy.
"The big irony is that everybody was cheering for a Yankee circling the bases at the end of the game," IL skipper Buddy Bailey said. "I'm pretty sure that's the first time that's ever happened."
"No matter where you play, to be able to do that is pretty great, knowing the fans enjoyed it," said Phillips. "Even though there's a lot of Red Sox fans here, I'm sure they'll get back to normal tomorrow and they can get back to hating us again."
Phillips was named the game's MVP, an honor that for a while seemed destined for ex-Red Sox outfielder Midre Cummings. The 32-year-old veteran, now playing for Durham, robbed Salt Lake City's Erick Almonte of extra bases with a tremendous catch at the wall in the top of the eighth inning, then belted a go-ahead homer in the bottom of the frame that gave the IL a 3-2 lead.
But Cummings' heroics seemed to be for naught when Rochester reliever Jesse Crain loaded the bases in the ninth on two hits and a walk, and a passed ball by Louisville catcher Dane Sardinha allowed Omaha's Calvin Pickering to score the tying run.
Crain rebounded to strike out New Orleans' Royce Huffman, then Richmond's Matt Whiteside got out of the inning and also worked a perfect 10th, striking out three of the five batters he faced overall to earn the victory.
Lou Collier of Scranton-Wilkes-Barre and Norfolk's Craig Brazell each grounded out to start the last of the 10th before Phillips emerged as the hero.
"You play this game like it's the seventh game of the World Series," said Cummings, who was named the IL's "Star of Stars." "Everything worked out where we had the right group of guys come out and play. That's what all-stars do--come out and perform."
• While Phillips played the hero's role, the feel-good story of the night was Bucky Jacobsen, Tacoma's strapping first baseman. Jacobsen (.312-26-86) had put on a show in the Home Run Derby held two days before the game, beating Rochester's Justin Morneau in the final round and quickly becoming a fan favorite.
However, he didn't play in the actual game, and for good reason--earlier in the day, the 28-year-old minor league veteran received word that he was getting his first-ever promotion to the big leagues. Officials from Seattle had called Brumley earlier in the day and informed him that Jacobsen and lefthander George Sherrill were both being called up.
"It's a lot of years of waiting," said Jacobsen, a Hermiston, Ore. resident who grew up rooting for the Mariners. "It's going to be surreal, playing for my hometown team."
Brumley explained why he didn't put Jacobsen into the game, even with the chant of "Bucky! Bucky!" ringing through the crowd.
"I don't think you can take a chance of him fouling a ball off his foot or getting hit on the wrist," he said. "I think (Jacobsen's promotion) is great. You're seeing more stories in the big leagues of guys continuing to work and continuing to improve themselves. He made his statement (in the Home Run Derby)."
"I haven't seen him play a whole lot," added Bailey, "but I can appreciate the numbers he put up that put him in the position to get called up, plus the show he put up the other night. He's got major league power. I commend the Mariners for giving him a shot."
Jacobsen hit 11 homers in the first round of the derby, tops among PCL stars, and faced Morneau (who hit 12 homers in the opening round) for the title. Jacobsen easily won the final round, 8-3, blasting some titanic shots, one of which smashed the window of a local TV station's truck.
• Ex-Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee won the Celebrity Home Run Derby title and reminded everyone why he earned the nickname "Spaceman" in his playing days. Lee, who racked up 12 points in the first round then beat ex-PawSox Dave Koza in the finals, claimed he used a bat carved out of a 200-year-old maple tree from woods where Ted Williams used to go fishing.
"I'm the best hitter in the bunch," Lee said of a field that included ex-big league hitters like Sam Horn, Tim Naehring, Bill Almon and Dave Stapleton. "I always was. I hit .348 in the National League in my last year and then I got released."
In an event that dragged on for more than two hours, it was appropriate that Koza made the final round. It was Koza's hit that brought home Marty Barrett for the winning run in the longest game in baseball history, a 33-inning affair between Pawtucket and Rochester back in 1981. Other participants in the celebrity event included Doug Flutie, Jim Craig and filmmaker Bobby Farrelly.
Despite damp weather and a few logistical nightmares, the event was an overall success.
"It's been an outstanding three days," Red Sox senior advisor Jeremy Kapstein said. "(PawSox owner) Ben Mondor and (team president) Mike Tamburro have given Rhode Island a great gift that will truly last a lifetime."
Kapstein singled out a luncheon in Providence that featured Red Sox legends Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky in a roundtable discussion with Sox TV broadcaster Sean McDonough.
"That was not just memorable and extraordinary from a baseball experience, but it was a truly great American experience."
• Toledo's Joe Vitiello, a resident of nearby Stoneham, Mass., hit a two-run homer in the fourth to tie the score, 2-2. The PCL had scored twice in the first inning off IL starter Ben Hendrickson (Brewers).
• Memphis' Dan Haren (Cardinals), who started for the PCL and worked two hitless innings, was named the PCL's "Star of Stars."
David Borges covers the International League for The Pawtucket Times.
OTHER ALL-STAR ACTION
Southern 4, Northern 1
Altoona second baseman Jeff Keppinger (Pirates) went 3-for-4 with an RBI and was named the game's MVP in Bowie, Md. Akron left fielder Jason Cooper (Indians) hit the game's lone home run, a solo shot to right off New Britain righthander J.D. Durbin (Twins) to lead off the seventh.
East 10, West 6
Lookouts first baseman Jesse Gutierrez (Reds) was the hometown hero in a game played in Chattanooga, going 3-for-5 and coming a triple short of the cycle en route to being named the game's MVP. Tennessee right fielder Papo Bolivar (Cardinals) added a grand slam to cap an eight-run East second inning.
East 4, West 4
Thanks to a trio of El Paso teammates, the game played in Midland ended in a tie as the West rallied from a 4-0 deficit. Outfielder Marland Williams (Diamondbacks), who earlier hit an inside-the-park home run, went 2-for-3 and scored the game-tying run in the bottom of the eighth on a base hit by shortstop Sergio Santos (Diamondbacks). Outfielder Josh Kroeger (Diamondbacks) added a two-run homer in the third inning.
CALIFORNIA LEAGUE 5, CAROLINA LEAGUE 2
High Desert first baseman Travis Hinton (Brewers) was named the MVP for the host team in San Bernardino, Calif. Hinton went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored.
FLORIDA STATE LEAGUE
West 4, East 1
Clearwater center fielder Chris Roberson (Phillies) was named the star of the game at St. Lucie, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI.
Western 6, Eastern 3
Burlington third baseman Mitch Maier (Royals) went 2-for-3 with an RBI, run scored and a stolen base and was named the game's MVP at Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
SOUTH ATLANTIC LEAGUE
Southern 4, Northern 2
Augusta left fielder Brandon Moss (Red Sox) was named the MVP in Charleston, S.C. Moss doubled in the go-ahead run in the fifth and was the only player to have two hits in the game. Savannah righthander Clint Everts (Expos) threw a scoreless inning in the third, inducing three groundouts.