The Thunder sure have a knack for messing us reporters up on deadline. Nothing like being ready to put together your gamer with over an hour to spare before deadline, then having to scrap it and piece together a running gamer that you have to frantically finish when the game finally ends.
Normally, we have as many as four or five reporters in the locker room after a home game. Tonight, there were only two, because the others had already passed their final deadlines.
For the second straight night, the Thunder trailed in the bottom of the ninth against Harrisburg. This time, it was especially daunting - two outs, nobody on, and down 4-1.
Of course, the Thunder rallied, getting four hits and a walk to force extra innings, then winning it in the 12th when they loaded the bases with one out, Cody Ehlers hit a grounder to third, and Harrisburg third baseman Juan Melo inexplicably threw to first instead of going home for the forceout. But that was just the last play of a bizarre final few innings.
After the Thunder rallied, Harrisburg got the go-ahead run into scoring position in each of the final three innings. Each time, the Senators couldn't get that run home. In the 10th, Tony Blanco was nailed on the same rule that Ramiro Pena was caught on in the 9th inning last Thursday - stepping out of the batter's box without getting timeout from the umpire. Under rule 6.02b (put into effect before last season but very rarely enforced until now), the umpire can call a strike if the batter violates that rule. Like Pena, Blanco had two strikes, and hence was called out, ending the inning.
A few thoughts:
*While consistency with enforcing (or not enforcing) a rule is much appreciated, I hate to see players being nailed on technicalities at critical moments of the game, which has been the case both times the Thunder have been involved in it. When I'm watching a basketball game, and the game is coming down to the final possession, I don't want to see a ticky-tack foul called that could decide the game. Ditto for a ticky-tack penalty in the final minute of a tied or one-goal hockey game. If it's a blatant violation of a major rule, that's one thing. But ending an inning, and possibly a game-turning rally, on a rule designed to do nothing more than speed the game up a little is unfortunate.
*The bullpen was stellar again - six shutout innings after Jason Jones left trailing 4-1 (though the last two runs were unearned, courtesy of a pair of Cody Ehlers errors). Kevin Whelan, Paul Thorp, and Edwar Ramirez combined to allow only four hits in that span. While Ramirez was a bit wild, he got the outs when he had to.
*Juan Francia made his first start of the season and was great - 3 for 4 with the tying RBI in the 9th and scoring the winning run in the 12th.
*If it's any consolation to the Senators (and I'm sure it isn't right now), they need only look at last year's Thunder to see that hope is not lost. That team started 0-10 and 1-13 and, like this year's Senators, lost a lot of close games in pretty much every way possible. They ended up winning 80 games and the Northern Division regular season title.
Chase Wright goes again tomorrow. Will he be able to match what he did last Thursday in the season opener?