This past weekend I attended my 3rd APBA event in the past 13 months.
It’s not always easy to make these things, but I’ve been trying to get to a couple of them each year just to get out there and roll some dice head-to-head.
This time around, organizer Doug Schuyler had a few nice wrinkles that were added from the last time.
For one, it seems we always get done really early so rather than just having a scheduled 5-game season followed by side games if you didn’t make the playoffs. So this time we went with 10 games.
So much better! Yes, if you fell behind early, it could be a drag to roll that last game or two. But from what I saw of the 22 teams who made it to the event, the divisions were all so tight that nearly everybody was still in the race up to the end. And, if not, you probably had a chance to play spoiler or at least be involved in a game that had playoff implications.
Secondly, Doug had a themed event, which I really appreciated. This time around he asked everybody to select a team from the 1970s or 1980s.
I was a bit of a Toronto Blue Jays fan from 1986 up until the strike of 1994. (The reasons for this are weird, but related to sport simulations. Maybe I’ll tell the tale some day.) Anyhow, I originally thought of the 1984 Chicago Cubs. Then I thought of the ’84 Tigers. And then I thought I’d have to take a Jays’ team from that era.
Ending up selecting the 1987 squad – a team that led the AL East for most of the season before losing seven straight games to close out the season, finishing in 2nd place.
My prior two picks at these events were the 1946 Boston Red Sox and 1990 Oakland Athletics, so if you’ve noticed that I have a tendency to not pick teams that have won it in the past, you’d be right. To me, it’s not so fun to take a team we already had as a winner in the past. I want to see if we can take them somewhere else. A past World Series winner has already proven their worth. There’s nowhere to go but down with that team, so let’s try and elevate somebody else.
I left beautiful Madison, Wisconsin about 30 minutes before sunrise. It’s one of my favorite times of day. I’m not necessarily a morning person, but I’m definitely not a night person, so watching the sun climb and the cloud cover break is always sort of a reinvigorating sight for me. I headed out in 30 degrees, sunny weather, picked up a large coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts (light on the cream and sugar) and headed down some back roads to make my way to Grayslake, Illinois.
In the spirit of these events, I even used dice to randomly select which CDs in the car would get played on the drive to/from:
- Madonna, “Rebel Heart” (2015) – Why did I hate this the first time I listened to it? For what it is (hyper-produced, voice-corrected dance-pop) it’s actually pretty solid.
- Foo Fighters, “Sonic Highways” (2014) – One of their worst albums, but has a few nice tunes and comes in at a tidy 42 minutes.
- Allison Moorer, “Down to Believing” (2015) – Her Southern drawl makes my ears happy. Best album she’s had in a while.
- King’s X, “XV” (2008) – Saw them live in 2008 with my wife, carrying our older daughter at about 7 months pregnancy. Good time.
- U2, “Songs of Innocence” (2014) – Again, not their finest hour, but still has a few nice tunes and was good accompaniment for the final dark hour driving home.
So how did the games go?
1979 Baltimore Orioles
’87 Blue Jays 5, ’79 Orioles 4
The O’s took the quick lead in game 1, but Cecil Fielder’s 3-run homer in the 4th gave me a 3-1 lead. A sac fly by pinch-hitter Jesse Barfield and RBI single by Tony Fernandez in the 7th opened up a 5-1 lead and Jimmy Key rolled along. That is, until the bottom of the 9th. After the first two batters went down, Lowenstein pinch-hit with a single, May hit a two-run homer and Roenicke made it back-to-back shots and we were now up one. Smith pinch-hit (another single) before Dempsey popped to catcher Ernie Whitt. Whitt, along with George Bell and Rick Leach each had three hits in the win.
WP: Key (1-0)
HR: Fielder (1st)
’87 Blue Jays 7, ’79 Orioles 2
Game 2 got ugly quickly as we batted around against “El Presidente” Dennis Martinez in a 6-run 1st. Fred McGriff led off the bottom of the inning with a homer, Rance Mulliniks had a 2-run tater, and Whitt had a 3-run shot. Game stabilized from there, but it was basically over in the 1st.
WP: Clancy (1-0)
HR: McGriff (1st), Mulliniks (1st), Whitt (1st), Bell (1st)
1981 New York Yankees (1-1)
’87 Blue Jays 10, ’81 Yankees 4
I enjoy playing this kid from Kentucky who has come up to the last two events. I seem to get some good breaks against him and this game was no exception. Once again, the Jays got a big inning – this time a 7-run 2nd inning in which 11 men were sent to the plate against “Big Daddy” Rick Reuschel. Three homers in that inning and 2 more in the 6th after the Yanks had cut it to a 7-4 lead. My guy Dave Stieb went 5 innings for the win before Mark Eichhorn and Jeff Musselman threw 1-hit ball for the final 4 shutout innings. A 3-0 start and 10 homers already! I had to be feeling good so far.
WP: Stieb (1-0)
HR: McGriff-2 (3rd), Mulliniks (2nd), Moseby (1st), Bell (2nd)
’81 Yankees 6, ’87 Blue Jays 5
Well you knew you couldn’t run the table at an event like this where every team is pretty great. We took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st, but Bobby Murcer hit a 3-run homer in the 3rd to give New York the lead and Graig Nettles’ 2-run shot in the 5th extended things. We trailed 6-2 before Fielder’s 3-run homer in the 7th made it a one-run game, but Frazier and Gossage retired 8 straight out of the ‘pen to shut the game down.
LP: Cerutti (0-1)
HR: Fielder (2nd)
1989 Oakland Athletics (3-1)
’87 Blue Jays 4, ’89 Athletics 2
Both the ’89 and ’87 A’s were in my division and having used the ’90 A’s at the last one of these events, I admit I was feeling a bit of Oakland fatigue. But at least we got to play “Pastor Rich” who is a fun guy to manage against. For 8 innings, Dave Stewart absolutely had my number, allowing just 3 hits and taking a 2-0 shutout into the 9th. When Pastor Rich went to Dennis Eckersley for the save, I said “You can’t take out Stew! He’s got the shutout going! He’s gonna’ be pissed!” Well Eck retired the first two batters quickly. And then… Lloyd Moseby walked and Fielder homered to tie it up. Leach singles and Whitt? Another 2-run homer. I stuck with Key for the 9th and he worked around a 2-out double by Jose Canseco to get the win. Don’t mess with a hot pitcher! :-)
WP: Key (2-0)
HR: Fielder (3rd), Whitt (2nd)
’89 Athletics 3, ’87 Blue Jays 1
Rance Mulliniks got a solo homer against Mike Moore in the 7th, but it was basically all A’s as I managed just 3 hits in the contest. Canseco had a pair of homers for the A’s in a split series that left both our teams at 4-2.
LP: Clancy (1-1)
HR: Mulliniks (3rd)
From here, my older brother Shawn and I headed over to Emil’s downtown for a bite to eat. I think we were the only guys who went here as all the other participants went to a different place to eat. It wasn’t for an effort to not socialize, but more that the other place was a burger joint and we were trying to find something a bit “lighter”. Not sure that I succeeded, but whatever… Grabbed a coffee to caffeinate myself and try to ease some respiratory issues I’ve been having for the last week since an over-extended bike ride around Madison lakes while sucking in cold air the weekend before. Local shop (“Something Brewing”) which I always prefer over chains, so that was nice. Not a bad cup of joe. Then back to close this out.
At this point, the ’87 Jays and ’89 Athletics were each 4-2, while the ’87 Athletics and ’86 Angels were 2-2, the ’81 Yankees 2-3 and ’79 Orioles 1-4. So we were in a good position, but there was plenty of baseball left to roll.
1987 Oakland Athletics (2-2)
’87 Athletics 9, ’87 Blue Jays 7
Generally speaking, 7 runs is enough to win a game. But not this time around. We had tied the game up twice earlier, making it 2-2 in the 2nd and 3-3 in the top of the 6th. But in the bottom of that inning, the wheels fell off as Stieb allowed a run and Eichhorn allowed 5 more. Reggie Jackson’s 3-run shot gave the A’s a 9-3 lead and, though we did make it interesting, we couldn’t catch up. With men on the corners and 1 out in the 9th, Moseby grounded into a game-ending 4-6-3 DP. Three more homers for the team, but a 2nd straight loss had us only 4-3 and things were starting to look bad.
LP: Stieb (1-1)
HR: Leach (1st), Moseby (2nd), Fielder (4th)
’87 Athletics 6, ’87 Blue Jays 0
Then things got even worse. Steve Ontiveros fired a 4-hit shutout, retiring the final 12 men in a row. Three straight losses and back to .500. It didn’t look really good at this point.
LP: Cerutti (0-2)
1986 California Angels (3-3)
’87 Blue Jays 10, ’86 Angels 3
Things got a little turned around here again. Against the ’87 A’s, who had played fewer games, I had to use my #3 and 4 starters against his #1 and 2. In this series, the situation was reversed – I had my #1 and 2 against his #3 and 4. Probably need to avoid this happening again, because it can really mess things up. I mean, in my situation it all kind of balanced out. But for other teams? Maybe not. Anyhow, the offense went ape-shit again, pounding out a merciless 17 hits against Kirk McCaskill and a quartet of relievers. Fernandez and Whitt had three hits a piece and Key went the distance again to improve to 3-0. One more game that we’d really need to win to have any shot.
WP: Key (3-0)
HR: Mulliniks (4th)
’87 Blue Jays 3, ’86 Angels 1
It was a tight one, but we got the much-needed season-ending win over John Candelaria. A 1-1 tie was snapped in the bottom of the 6th when Mulliniks doubled and then scored on an RBI single by Fielder. With two out, Whitt padded the lead with another RBI single. The A’s put a man on and in the 8th and 9th but couldn’t get anything going as closer Tom Henke picked up his one and only save on the day. In fact, he’s make just 2 appearances in my 12 games. Things just weren’t all that close, generally speaking.
WP: Clancy (2-1)
At this point, these were the standings.
'89 Athletics 5-3
'87 BLUE JAYS 6-4
'87 Athletics 4-4
'81 Yankees 4-4
With all this going on, there was nothing to do but “scoreboard watch” and hover over folks’ shoulders.
First the ’81 Yankees defeated the ’89 Athletics. Hooray!
'87 BLUE JAYS 6-4
'89 Athletics 5-4
'81 Yankees 5-4
'87 Athletics 4-4
Then the ’87 Athletics swept the ’79 Orioles. Boo…
'87 Athletics 6-4
'87 BLUE JAYS 6-4
'89 Athletics 5-4
'81 Yankees 5-4
Since the ’87 A’s swept me, that left me in a position where the best I could do was get 2nd place in the division – good enough to advance me to the playoffs.
If it was me and the ’81 Yankees in a tie, I won by virtue of having a better run differential in my games against them. If it was me and the ’89 Athletics, it would be a coin flip – we split our series and had the same run differential head-to-head.
Pastor Rich and his ’89 A’s ended up winning, which made the final standings go this way:
'87 Athletics 6-4
'87 BLUE JAYS 6-4
'89 Athletics 6-4
Now, again, the rules called for a coin flip, but that didn’t seem very fun. The two National League divisions were still pretty well behind, so we had some free time. We decided that it would be more fun to play a one-game playoff to decide the #2 seed out of our division.
We rolled to decide who would be home team – Rich won it.
Dave Stieb would be up against Bob Welch and that gave me a disadvantage but who the hell knows, right? Crazy things can happen!
And, sure enough, they did.
George Bell hit a solo homer to give me a 1-0 lead in the 1st. And in the 2nd, Ernie Whitt and Tony Fernandez each hit 2-run homers and I had an improbable 5-0 lead early on.
Meanwhile, Stieb somehow retired the first 7 men he faced and took a 6-1 lead into the bottom of the 6th before we turned it over to the bullpen.
Then insurance runs came in bunches. Lloyd Moseby – 2-run homer. Whitt – another 2-run homer. Bell – another homer, this time a 3-run shot in the 9th.
It was a brutal 14-1 win.
LP: Stieb (2-1)
HR: Bell-2 (4th), Whitt-2 (4th), Fernandez (1st), McGriff (4th), Moseby (3rd)
This would end up being the last win, as we went out very quietly in the playoffs, losing 1-0 to the 1972 Oakland Athletics as Catfish Hunter fired a masterful 1-hitter against us. (He tossed a no-hitter against my brother earlier in the day.)
All in all, though, it was a great day. It was incredibly fun to play with a team that meant something to me growing up, and all those homers were just insane to witness. Couldn’t believe it.
Here’s the stat recap.
In 12 games, we popped off 25 HR. 5 different players had 4 HR each.
McGriff: .196, 4 HR, 4 2B, 16 SO
Fernandez: .208, HR
Bell: .314, 4 HR, 4 2B, 11 RBI, .979 OPS
Mulliniks: .292, 4 HR, 4 2B, 10 RBI, .983 OPS
Moseby: .279, 3 HR, 8 2B, 9 BB, .415 OBP, .674 SLG, 1.090 OPS
Fielder: .211, 4 HR, 11 RBI
Leach: .390, HR, 5 2B, 444 OBP, 1.030 OPS
Whitt: .304, 4 HR, 10 RBI, .950 OPS
Liriano: .261, 4 SB
My bench, which I thought would be a strength, went just 3-for-25.
Key: 3-1, 2.57
Clancy: 2-1, 2.35
Stieb: 2-1, 5.28
Cerutti: 0-2, 7.59
The bullpen went 23 IP with a 2.74 ERA, though I used my closer (Henke) in only 2 game. He notched his only save in the 10th game of divisional play.