Chris and Steve played first, and Steve's Yips took Chris to 6 games, but that's as far as they would go. Steve really had an overachieving team, and Chris's T-Birds were (and still are) the most prolific scoring team in league history. Steve's mojo couldn't vex Chris.
Greg and I met online for our series then. I struggled most of the year and was outscored by my opponents, but my division was not strong and my 82-80 record got me into the playoffs as the 3rd seed. Sluggers like McGwire and Jaha kept me in the series, and when I win a game Cy Pedro started for the 2nd time (in extras in game 6), I thought I had a chance. Chris thought my chances were so good that he jokingly grabbed a bottle of champagne from the fridge. Steve snored the shingles off my roof as he snoozed on my couch, while I jumped out an early game 7 lead ("Corsica opened the game with a 2 run McGwire shot and a solo Jaha shot to lead 3-0 after one."), only to be unable to stop Greg, who nearly matched Chris's offensive prowess during the season ("the Water came back, scoring 4 in the 2nd and 3 in the 3rd to take a commanding 7-3 lead. The Water won going away, with four relievers taking it home to a 12-4 win"). It was a wide-open, high-scoring series, and despite the ineffectiveness of 26 game winner Pedro, the Water who outscored the Devils 48-27, were able to prevail.
Chris and Greg played a similar back-and-forth series. Chris went up 2-0, but Greg stormed back to win the next 3. Game 6 featured some kind of late-game, epic comeback by Chris against Pedro. According to Greg's write-up ( http://www.apba.net/sl/00/chilli_playoff.htm ), behind Pedro and a strong offense, "the Water manage to get a 7-4 lead after six, ... (but) the Birds score 4 in the 7th on the strength of McGriff's 2nd homer, a 3 run job, to take a 8-7 lead. Benitez and Wells take it home for the W, and a 3-3 series tie."
I'm quoting extensively from Greg at this point because I cannot recall specifics. Looking at the series scripts and reading Greg's accounts only help to jar a few memories. I do remember feeling that this was an impossibly exciting series, that no offense was going to be denied, that no lead was safe, and that my Corsica team wouldn't have made it past game 4. High scoring ... well managed ... very dramatic. I can remember Steve being awake at this point (and Bob having left the house), whispering strategic points to Chris, regarding relief usage or if a baserunner had a steal attempt left or whatnot. I'm sure it was nothing that Chris didn't have a grasp on, but Steve was ably acting the role of Bohunk bench coach.
They went to a game 7, Greg's 2nd of the night, and Greg's offense again proved dominant. "The Water lead 8-2 after 5, and 10-3 after 8." Chris scored two with two outs in the 9th on hits by Burks, Casey, Greg Vaughn, and Barry Larkin, which gave everyone a sense that another epic comeback was in store, but Craig Grebeck failed on a hit and run and Larkin was out stealing to end the drama.
Chris and Greg finished, I would guess, at about 2 am. Another high scoring series, with Greg outscoring Chris 42-32. I spent the next few hours looking at stats, emailing out the orgs, posting scripts, and disassembling then reassembling my PC and the myriad of wires it had. Didn't fall asleep until after 5, but the kids seemed to understand, and they slept about 6 hours later that they usually slept, waking up with me after noon.
I was really worried about playing Steve, even though I had owned him during the regular season. I felt that his team had overachieved, which sort of made him a "wild-card", in more ways than one. Well, in game 1, I had a late comeback to win, and that really brought my confidence level up. I knew at that point that my offense should be enough to get me through. We lost game 2, and won game 3. This made game 4 pretty critical in my point of view. A loss here and it was still anyone's series. A win here, and we were in good shape. Steve had Garcia on the mound, and I had dominated him all year. Garcia faced 7 batters, retiring one, and giving up a grand slam to Casey (I guess you could call it "Freddy's Nightmare"), and that pretty much did it for the series. Sure Steve won the next game to cut it to 3-2, but I felt that I had the upper hand, and put him away in game 6 for the pennant.
Greg and Keith were next. I did infamously (or famously?) grab the champagne from Keith's fridge when he took an early lead in Game 7. That must have angered the apba gods though, as it was all Greg after that. That meant me and Greg in the finals. A little history here? I ousted his top ranked team in 96, then won it all. He knocked me out in 97, then won it all. He upset my 100 win team in 98, then won it all. I swept him in the 99 Finals to win it all. So, yeah, I guess a little history.
It was a series of swings. I win games 1 and 2, Greg wins 3, 4 and 5. Things certainly looked bleak at that point, as I was facing elimination, and facing Pedro, the first pick in the draft, the Cy Young award winner, the best player in the league. Of course at this point Pedro was 0-3 in the post-season. Well, a late comeback got the win, but all of this had come at a cost. My bullpen was depleted, forcing me to need a strong start from Colon. It didn't happen, and in spite of my late efforts, I lost the game, and the series. But this would not be the end of me vs. Greg.
1996 was a transitional season. 144 games played. Our first full season replay. 7 teams, expanded from 6. Run production for the 7 team league was similar to what we are experiencing now with our 9 teams.
Playoffs: My recollection is that Greg and Chris were playing the Wild Card vs Best record series in the car parker office at the Club. After a period of time, Greg comes out of the office and someone asked him how the series went. Greg never responded. He just kept on taking the long walk down the hill and to his car. I envisioned high pressured steam flowing out of his ears. It was the first time Greg did not experience success during our official SL playoffs.
Chris came out of the office all smiles. Keith and I played. Then, Chris and Keith. I imagine that happened in the car parker office as well. Nothing stands out from the World Series.
Another funny note was that I played the final 18 or so games for Tommy vs Dan series to end the regular season. Dan almost caught me for the playoffs only losing 3 of those games.
Those guys aren't reading this are they?
1996 My first memory of the '96 season is Chris and I doing a celebratory dance under the awning at Twin Orchard when we drew for divisions, as were paired with the near-sighted rookie John Bryant in our unbalanced divisions. The season proved much tougher than either Chris or I had anticipated.
It was first a struggle to get games played, mostly because of disinterest and the nature of a FTF league amid changing priorities. Beyond that issue, Chris and I struggled with earning playoff spots against the rook. But we managed to make it to the SL's second season, played over Thanksgiving weekend, several months after the season had ended for most of us.
The Oz O's was my '96 team. They were partially built to hit and run, partially built for brute power, and partially built on solid starting pitching. Chris's Evanston Vedders were built differently, hitting for a higher average, with a better stealing percentage, and focusing more on the strength of his relief staff.
In all, he hit .255 to my .233, stole in 18 more bases (w/ 18 fewer caught), while he had 26 more save opportunities on the season. While his more efficient offense scored 14 more runs than mine, my pitching (and defense) was able to give up significantly less runs than his (102 less allowed).
Before he and I could meet in the final, he had to upset Greg, and I needed to beat Ken. Ken's team was based on strong offense (notably power) and an ultra-strong relief staff. But all the parts weren't there for Ken, and he also struggled to make the playoffs. The oddsmakers favored me to beat him, but I knew that Ken had a lot to prove to the league, and that the playoffs provided a great proving ground.
His offense wasn't consistent throughout the series from my recollection, and Randy Johnson beat him in game 5 to get me the series win. Chris upset Greg in his semifinal, bringing about the first Klein brother final. During the SL hiatus, while waiting for others to finish the season, Chris and I played what we called the Mock World Series. The Vedders jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but I staged a 2004 Red Sox-esque 4 game win streak to earn a Mock title. My catalyst in the series comeback was J-4 Dwayne Hosey, Kenny Lofton's backup CF who could hit for power and had a high stealing percentage -- at least he did so in the 20 or so MLB games that he played in '95, before drifting into baseball oblivion.
Details of the series are fuzzy. Beyond fuzzy. Chris had some kind of amazing success with his pen -- again not too clear on this, but if they pitched 25 innings in the 7 games, they maybe gave up just 2 or 3 runs, and beyond that, they might've given up only a dozen baserunners. The other sketchy details I can recall are that Johnson pitched game 3 and game 7 for me, and he lost both games, and I had a 3-2 lead on Chris through 5 games, but could not seal the win, as Chris's team staged it's own great comeback.
1996, thus begins the "modern era". From my franchise's perspective, we were going in with a lot of momentum. After not making the playoffs in 94 or 95A, we made it to a one game playoff in 95B. We followed that with a monster team in 95C. Seemed to be finally on the right track. As I recall, we made a lot of rule changes in that offseason, mostly for the better.
My team didn't play as well as I had hoped, and it took a strong finish to edge upstart John Bryant for the final playoff spot. This gave me the unenviable position of playing Greg in the first round. Greg had the league's best record, and did so for most of the season, as I recall. We had best of 5 in the first round that year. I think Greg won game 1, and then I won three straight to take the series. Greg did say later that there was no reason to play a 5 game series, and that was a valid point, but up 3-1, it seems likely that I would have won a best of 7 series as well. Ken and Keith also played, with Keith winning.
Me vs. Keith for the finals. Ironically sometime during the months and months we waited to finish the season, Keith and I played a mock World Series, just to see what would happen. I went up 3-0, before Keith came back to win the next four and take it all. Of course that was fake. The real one went a little differently. We aren't real sure, but I think Keith had a 3-1 or 3-2 series lead, with my coming back to win to series. My bullpen was unreal, with post-season numbers something like 31 IP, 2 ER, 12 H. I think Piazza was huge against Keith, and I think I stole a ton of bases. But I have nothing to back that up. It was fun, and it was my first Spit Cup, and that was all I needed to know.
I look at that draft and wonder who some of those guys were and why they were drafted.
(Keith) Crap, I remember next to nothing about this Spit Cup Final. I do remember we didn't call it the Spit Cup Final then. Greg's Hannibal Cannibals and my Jamaica Pipe Dreams played the first 6 of the series on the night of July 4th, which was a brutal day in terms of working at Twin Orchard, quite possibly the first time they held a July 4th Fireworks, and thus 400 people all left after the grand finale, which makes for an unbelievable mob, and was doubly brutal considering we didn't understand the impact of having a fireworks and a grand finale for scheduling workers. I do remember that afterwards, while we were all dead from running and were sitting beneath the awning unable to move, that Jim Frank was doing wheelies on the Twin wheelchair that had been left out in the chaos. But what does that all have to do with the SL? Not a lot, and still, it has everything to do with the SL.
The SL was a newborn in 1994, and it was entirely tied to Twin Orchard in its infancy. The draft happened at the club. When Chris could only work through round 1 of the first SL draft, it meant I drafted for him. When I took a day off midway through the season, I came back to find that I missed out on a lengthy series of trades Chris had made. All games were played at Twin in the carparker office on Ken's first Windows 3.1 PC, and unfortunately, we scheduled everyone's games on the same day in League Manager, meaning the majority of games were played when Chris was able to work on the weekend, and it also meant that if you had the day off, you were probably expected to show up to work anyway. The following year, it also meant that Chris was playing games by phone in the bathroom during his coffee breaks, and in the midst of 108 degree heat, it meant Greg drove for those phone games, in the 125 degrees of the breezeless carparker office. And finally, when I beat Ken earlier in the day on July 4th in a one-game playoff for the right to play Greg, it was a gray carparker shirt that he tore from collar to waist.
Our first World Series was played after unparking 200 cars in an hour, and Greg and I driving to the White Hen on Arlington Heights Road and 83 to pick up a few 6 packs of Michelob Golden Draft Light. And it was played after we returned and quickly agreed on the WS rules, such as player and relief usage. It took a lot more work to get the guy at the White Hen to believe I was 21 then it took for Greg and I to agree on rules. The biggest hangup surrounded when Greg could play his favorite J-4 Mark McGwire, and I think we agreed on something like him available only for Games 1, 4 and 7. But my memory is not clear on this. My memory wasn't clear the next morning, either, because Greg and I pounded those beers that night. I remember at one point Gretchen and Kristin stopped by to hang out, but for most of those 6 games, it was Greg and I played crucial games while getting drunk. I took a 3-2 lead, only to drop the last game of the night. After one of the longest days of our lives, we made the surprisingly sober mutual decision to wait until we worked again two days later to play our game 7.
Game 7 was as much of a blur as the first 6. In that day or so between games, the excitement definitely built. I had repeated phone calls from Chris, Ken and others, including Greg, asking me to retell the events of the night before. We sat down to play after parking the Tuesday morning rush from the ladies tournament. SL lore has my 16Z Mike Perez and my 17Z Jim Gott blowing leads that game, but I'm not sure if that's true or not. Gott was certainly mentioned alot in our artifacts as having blown games, so I would believe it. I faintly recollect getting a man on third with less than two outs, perhaps as late the top of the 9th, perhaps the top of the 10th if we did go into extra innings, but I couldn't score the run. Greg did get his runner home, pinch-runner Jimmy Key, on a John Valentin single in the 10th, perhaps that was off Gott, if we really did go into extra innings.
It was a great season inaugural season, and it was a really exciting game 7. The series will always be special to me, like a faint memory about that first high school crush, and more so to me than Greg, like an unrequited crush.
Throughout the series, with each big hit and every run scored or every stranded runner and lost scoring opportunity, I had visions of Ken hitting Chris in the back of the head with a rock while they walked me to school, or remembrances of calmer, yet just as never-say-die, brotherly contests like seeing who could go the longest in high school without bringing a schoolbook home. With each loss, there were the strained emotions of their girlfriends of the past having crushes on each of them at the same time, or recollections of violent wrestling matches in the family living room during the time Mom and Dad were going through their divorce. But with each loss came another win for the other, and echoes of carousing for a summer at Sylvan Lake, or taking refuge in each other's dorm room at Eastern or Twin, or most recently, at the Vernon Hills bachelor pad.
This was the last in the extreme scoring seasons of 2000, 2001 and 2002. I think these seasons produced some of our better playoffs, because for each team to advance, first to the playoffs and then through the semifinals, foremost they had to prove that their offense could score, and then any solid pitching performance usually clinched a win. The offense-first way that these post-seasons played out made for some spectacular comebacks, sometimes for great upsets, in some cases, it simply cemented that the best, most complete, team would be our league champ, and in the case of 2002, it brought about unmatched drama.
Of course, for the final of the high-scoring 2002 season, only 2 games were high-scoring, with 15 runs scored in both games 1 and 7. Jarrod Washburn threw a shutout in game 2, and Russ Ortiz followed with a game 3 shutout. Game 6 was 2-1 Ken late, after Chris's overmatched 11 and 12 relievers had subdued the heart of Ken's order, when lowly Rey Sanchez and Brad Ausmus had RBI hit and run singles to stretch the lead, adding to the spectacular nature of the series and setting the stage for game 7.
While game 7 was high-scoring, it also was a pitcher's duel. Ken stalled Chris's potent offense at 1st and 2nd in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Through 6 innings, the score was 0-0. In fact, Ken did not have a hit off Jamie Moyer until a Jose Cruz Jr. 8th inning triple. In the 6th, Chris got two runners on base, aided by Eric Chavez's first error of the season, and Ken was forced to remove top starter Russ Ortiz in favor of his closer Jose Mesa. But Mesa walked Brian Giles to lead off the 7th and Todd Helton followed with a home run. Jeff Nelson relieved Mesa, and in the 8th with the score still 2-0, he walked Jermaine Dye and gave up a hit and run double to Charles Johnson, but Dye was nailed at home. Jose Cabrera relieved Nelson with two outs, and he yielded a David Segui pinch single. Chris did not back down from this baserunning challenge, and he sent the slow-footed Johnson, who managed to score and give Chris the 3-0 lead. After Cabrera hit Giles with a pitch to put runners on first and second, Ken called on Todd Van Poppel to face Helton, and he retired the MVP runner-up.
Following Cruz's lead-off triple in the 8th, Moyer unraveled by allowing an RBI single to Chavez and a walk to Orlando Cabrera. Ken bunted with catcher Tom Prince, moving both of the tying runs into scoring position, but Mark McLemore popped to short. Alas, Mike Sweeney came through for Ken with two outs, singling to Giles in left. Two runners scored as Chris cut to second and got Sweeney out to end the inning. Chris got a runner on in the 9th, but both teams couldn't manage any kind of rally that inning, nor could they in the 10th, as Keith Shetter* and Steve Karsay relieved.
Helton homered again in the 11th to give Chris a lead, but Chris left a runner in scoring position, with 7th inning defensive replacement Placido Polanco stranding pinch-runner Stan Javier, who had just stole second. The thoughts of a championship were quickly dashed for Chris in the bottom of the 11th when pinch-hitter Terry Shumpert led off with a solo homer off Karsay to knot the score at 4. McLemore walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Ken tried to sacrifice McLemore to third, but Sweeney missed on two attempts, then popped up his bunt. Chris intentionally walked Larry Walker, who tied with Helton for 2nd in the MVP vote, and looked like a genius when Karsay induced Ryan Klesko into a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play.
Desi Relaford led off the 12th with a double. Chris sacrificed with Dye, but Shetter* threw wild to first, again giving Chris an extra inning lead and another excellent scoring chance, as Dye cruised into second. But Dye was erased on a pick-off and Chris took a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the 12th, handing the ball now to Buddy Groom. Groom retired the only batter he faced before giving way to Jeff Zimmerman. The first batter Zimmerman faced was Jose Cruz, who blasted the ball over the fence as Ken tied the game once again.
The score stayed at 5-5 into the 13th, when Helton walked and light-hitting Stan Javier, who had an SL career-high 3 home runs for Chris in the regular season, followed with a two-run home run. Shetter* was relieved by Mike Hampton and his regular season 8.39 ERA, and Ken's final available reliever ended the top of the 13th without further ado. Zimmerman again added to the drama, allowing a single to Brad Ausmus, who managed to only hit a mere .169 in the super-charged offensive season. McLemore slashed a hit-and-run single, moving Ausmus to third, and Ken again was threatening with no outs, before Charles Johnson caught McLemore stealing. At that point, Chris held a two-run lead with one out, seemingly with no reason to care about the runner at third, but the most-hated APBA play of having your secondbaseman throw late to home trying to get the meaningless run got Ken to within 7-6 and put Mike Sweeney at first with one out. Rey Sanchez ran for Sweeney and stole second, but Zimmerman got Walker to fly out to right, with tying run Sanchez holding at second. Zimmerman again failed to seal the Cup win, this time as Ryan Klesko delivered a two-out double, with Sanchez scoring to tie the score at 7.
In the 14th, Hampton set down Relaford and Dye, but Johnson singled and Cameron walked. Chris looked to be in good shape with Brian Giles at bat, but the threat ended with Ausmus picking Johnson off of second. Derek Lowe relieved Zimmerman with one out in the bottom of the 14th, and gave up back-to-back singles to Chavez and Cabrera. Chris went to Jeff Shaw and prayed for a double play with Ausmus coming to bat. Ausmus did not oblige, but he did not help Ken out, as he struck out and left it up to McLemore, who also fanned, this time against Ramiro Mendoza.
Hampton retired Giles and Helton in the 15th, only to give up a single to Stan Javier, before again eluding trouble by retiring the dangerous Rich Aurilia. Mendoza was not as fortunate in the bottom of the 15th, giving up a lead-off hit to Sanchez. Walker singled the runner to second, but Klesko's bunt forced Sanchez at 3rd, though Ken still had the championship run at second base in Walker with only one out. Ken's team again came through like a champion, this time getting another two-out hit from Jose Cruz, who followed Ray Lankford's pop out with a single to Dye in right. Ken sent Walker home, and he was in standing. Ken took game 7 by a score of 8-7 in 15 innings.
Nothing could really be said to further lift Ken afterwards, though Harrison graciously led the way in offering Ken congratulations, nor could anything be said to adequately console Chris. After going through the roller coaster of the series, and then through the best game 7 in sports history, Ken could not have been more elated, and Chris could not have felt lower. Just having been a spectactor through this series and this classic final contest, Greg and I were emotionally spent. It was a fantastic series, Ken taking a 1-0 lead, Chris answering in game 2, Ken answering back to go up 2-1, Chris coming back to win game 4, then Chris rallying from 4 down to win game 5 and take a 3-2 series lead, only to have Ken erase an early advantage in game 6 to send it to the seventh game. But as fantastic as a series as it was, the series in my mind will always be about the wrenching drama of game 7.
Chris took the 3-2 series lead. Then I got a great pitching performance from Freddy Garcia in game 6 to tie it all up. Game 7 was a matchup of Jamie Moyer vs Russ Ortiz - both received Cy Young votes. Jamie Moyer then proceeds to throw 7 innings of no hit ball. Jose Cruz led off the 8th with a triple, followed by a two base error on Rich Aurilia with Summer League's very own Eric Chavez hitting. A two out hit by Mike Sweeney drove in Orlando Cabrera as well as Chavez to tie the game. The game went extra innings. Chris kept scoring. I kept returning the favor. I eventually won in the bottom of the 15th on a two out single by Jose Cruz scoring Larry Walker.
A very memorable finish.