Pennant fever has infected Hammons Field and from all indications, it is only going to rise. The Springfield Cardinals won the first half season championship and are battling hard to win the second half. In the Texas League, the season is divided into two half-seasons. The first half winner in each division (North and South) plays the second half winner for the privilege of meeting the winner of the opposing division for the Texas League Championship. Should the first half and second half winners be the same team, then the first half winner would meet the team with the best win/loss record.
Hammons Field is guaranteed to host the first two Cardinals' playoff games on Wednesday, September, 5 and Thursday, September 6. Should Springfield win the Second Half North Division Title, game five would also be played at Hammons Field, if necessary. The winner of the North Division Playoff Series will host the winner of the South Division Playoff Series for games three, four and five (if necessary) on Friday, September 14, through Sunday, September 16, meaning the Cardinals could host as many as six playoff games at Hammons Field.
Obviously, the fans are excited about the first possible league championship coming to Springfield. It's apparent by the abundant attendance that Hammons Field racks up every night. Hammons Field has seen an average of 7,099 worshipping fans at every home game, with a total attendance (as of August 21) of 390,421, second in the Texas League, behind the Frisco RoughRiders who have brought in 485,771 fans with an average of 8,233 per game.
Compare that with the Wichita Wranglers' average of 1,798 fans per home game. And don't think that fan attendance doesn't matter. Springfield is number one in attendance in the Northern Division and Corpus Christi and San Antonio, the number one and number two leaders in attendance in the Southern League, are tied for first place in that league. Springfield fans could easily be called the tenth man on the roster.
But, what about others who attend every home game and some away games that aren't just fans, but make their livelihood at the ballpark? The seldom-seen face of Kevin Howard, the stadium announcer at Hammons Field, lit up like Friday Night Fireworks when the very word playoff was mentioned. "It is awesome," Howard exploded. "I think the house is going to really rock. It is going to be totally electric. Personally, I can't wait to see all the red, white and blue banners on the field. That will be a beautiful sight."
And what do the players think? "I think it's the greatest," said Cardinals' pitcher Adam Daniels. "This is what we play for, right? The team is really pumped and I think we have the team this year that can win it all."
Perhaps the person with the most realistic viewpoint of anyone in the stadium is the official scorekeeper for the Cardinals, Tim Tourville. When asked his opinion of the upcoming playoffs, Tourville replied—"It's just another game."
Prices for all six potential playoff games will be: Diamond Box—$20; infield field box--$12; dugout box--$14; outfield box--$9; Redbird Roost--$24.50—and general admission--$5.
And it has been a great week for baseball in Baby Bird Country. Another big leaguer joined Springfield this week. St. Louis Cardinals' pitcher Todd Wellemeyer joined the team on Wednesday as a part of a Major League rehab assignment.
And this is how my favorite baseball announcer, Mike Lindskog, called the games this week:
Friday, August 17 – Game One
The Springfield Cardinals and San Antonio Missions split a double-header on Friday night in San Antonio, as Springfield took the first game 2-1, then got blanked 1-0 in game two. P.J. Walters tossed five scoreless innings of two-hit baseball in game one, as he won for the second time in five Double-A starts. Walters (2-3), who didn't allow a hit until Will Venable singled to open the fourth, struck out three and walked just one man.
He didn't get a ton of run support, but Colby Rasmus did give him the lead just one batter into the game. Rasmus homered to right field to lead off the game, tying Aaron Herr's single-season record of 21 home runs to give the Cards a 1-0 lead.
Rasmus scored his second run of the game in the sixth inning, helping the Cards get out to a 2-0 lead. With Rasmus at second base and Cody Haerther at first base, Amaury Marti grounded a pitch from Missions' starter Mike Ekstrom up the middle. Second baseman Matt Antonelli knocked it down but his throw to second was a second too late to get Haerther. On the play Rasmus scored all the way from second, as Marti was credited with an RBI-single.
Kyle McClellan struggled in the sixth, as after walking a pair of hitters, San Antonio got on the board with a two-out RBI single by Chad Huffman, making it 2-1. Jason Motte came on in the seventh and pitched around a one-out walk. Motte earned his eighth save of the year, striking out Venable to end the game. Rasmus finished game one with three hits and a triple away from the cycle.
Friday, August 17 – Game Two
In game two, San Antonio starter Wade Leblanc worked five shut-out innings for the Missions in a 1-0 win. Leblanc (4-3) allowed just four hits over five innings to record the win. Game two's only run came in the second inning against Cards' starter Eric Haberer.
Chad Huffman and Brett Dowdy walked consecutively to open the inning. After a groundout by Tim Brown moved the runners to second and third, Haberer intentionally walked Luis Cruz to get to pitcher Wade Leblanc. The San Antonio pitcher ended up driving in the only run of the game, as his slow chopper up the middle only produced one out, as Jose Martinez couldn't field it in time to turn the inning-ending double play. On the play, Huffman scored to give the Missions a 1-0 lead.
Haberer (11-7) allowed one run on just two hits, a season-low for the Cards' pitching staff. His six innings of work gives him his first complete game of the year as well. The left-hander struggled with his command, walking five and hitting a batter, in taking his third straight defeat. Paul Abraham and Edwin Moreno combined to work the final two innings, with Moreno working a 1-2-3 seventh to record his fifth save of the year.
The split left Springfield (27-25) and Arkansas (27-25) tied atop the Second Half North Division Standings.
Saturday, August 18
The Corpus Christi Hooks outlasted the Springfield Cardinals on Saturday night, getting a bases-loaded walk in the 13th inning to beat the Cards 3-2 at Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi.
Cards' reliever Nick Webber (1-3) got himself in a bases-loaded jam and couldn't get out of it, issuing a four-pitch walk to Tommy Manzella to force in the game-winning run. Lou Santangelo got the rally started with a two-out double to left field. After an intentional walk, Nick Webber uncorked a wild pitch to put runners at second and third. Another intentional walk followed to get to Manzella, who drove in the game-tying run in the seventh with an RBI single. Webber went 2-0 to Manzella, before missing on a pitch that looked like a clear-cut strike. After Webber missed high for ball four with his next pitch, Manager Pop Warner came out to argue with home plate umpire Jason Millsap, who was headed for the locker room.
The Cards got good starting pitching from Cory Rauschenberger, who worked 6 1/3 innings on Saturday night. Rauschenberger allowed just two runs on six hits on the night. Springfield couldn't get a lot done offensively, putting up only eight hits in 13 innings. Colby Rasmus and Mark Hamilton each had a pair of hits for Springfield. Cody Haerther put the Cards on the board in the third against Corpus Christi starter Josh Muecke, driving in Rauschenberger with a two-out RBI single, making it 1-0.
Corpus Christi tied it with a run in the bottom of the inning, on an RBI groundout by Ray Sadler, tying the game at 1-1. Amaury Marti's solo homer to left-center put the Cards up 2-1 in the sixth. Manzella tied it with a two-out single to left off Matt Scherer in the seventh. Corpus Christi reliever Tim Lavigne (1-1) earned the win by tossing a scoreless 13th inning.
Springfield (27-26) dropped their second straight and fell one game back of Arkansas in the Second Half North Division race.
Sunday, August 19
The Springfield Cardinals broke out of an offensive slump in a big way on Sunday night, matching a franchise record by scoring 17 runs in a 17-10 victory over the Corpus Christi Hooks at Whataburger Field.
Sunday was an exciting night that saw a handful of offensive records set or tied. Colby Rasmus established a new single-season record with his 22nd home run, surpassing Aaron Herr's 2005 record of 21 home runs. Jose Martinez also tied a franchise record, recording a five-hit game. That record was set earlier this year, when Juan Lucena had five hits against the Tulsa Drillers on May 17th.
Springfield pounded out 20 base hits on the night, also tying their season high. The Cards jumped on Corpus Christi starter Brad James, getting a pair of runs in the first on a Rico Washington two-run single, taking a 2-0 lead. The Hooks countered with two of their own in the bottom of the first, as Lou Santangelo and Edwin Maysonet both drove home runs with RBI hits, tying the game at 2-2.
Springfield took the lead for good in the third, scoring five times against James (0-3) to take a 7-2 lead. Martinez, Reid Gorecki and Bryan Anderson each had an RBI single before Casey Rowlett capped the frame with a two-run single. Corpus Christi got two back in the third against Cards' starter Adam Daniels, who walked four men in the inning and left only one out into the third. Leading 7-4 in the fourth, Springfield put three on the board against Hooks reliever Ryan McKeller to take a 10-4 lead. Cody Haerther highlighted the inning with a two-run single. Gorecki also chipped in with a bloop-single down the right-field line to knock in a run. Springfield added another in the fifth, as Martinez singled home Mark Hamilton, who opened the inning with a walk, making it 11-4.
The Hooks got a pair of runs against Cards' reliever and eventual winner Zack Zuercher (3-0) in the bottom of the fifth. Francisco Caraballo's 11th homer of the year, a solo shot to left field made it 11-5. Josh Flores followed with a triple and scored on an RBI groundout to make it 11-6. Michael Johnson took Cards' reliever Matt Scherer deep in the sixth, a two-run shot to tighten things up at 11-8.
The Cards put the game away in the seventh though, scoring four times to take a 15-8 lead. Rico Washington's two-run single highlighted the inning. Rasmus capped the Springfield scoring with his fourth hit of the night, a two-run shot to center field, making it 17-8. The homer also gives Rasmus the Texas League lead with 22. Corpus Christi got a two-run homer from pinch-hitter Jimmy Goethals in the ninth against Kyle McClellan, rounding out the scoring at 17-10.
With the win, Springfield (28-26) moved back into a first place tie with Arkansas (28-26) in the Second Half North Division Standings.
Monday, August 20
Corpus Christi scored seven runs in the seventh inning on Monday night, coming from behind to beat the Springfield Cardinals by a score of 8-4 at Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi. The loss means Springfield finishes the road trip at 2-4 and 1-2 at Corpus Christi.
Cards' starter Mitchell Boggs was on cruise control until the seventh, as the Cards took a 4-1 advantage to the bottom of the inning. Boggs was removed in favor of Mike Sillman, after allowing the first two hitters to reach safely with hits. Sillman (1-1) got pinch-hitter Neil Sellers to ground out, bringing home a run to make it 4-2. Drew Sutton followed with a double into the left field corner, scoring another run to make it 4-3. After Sillman got another groundout, he walked two consecutive men to load the bases for Ray Sadler, who came through by ripping a grand slam to left field. Sadler's 22nd homer of the year, which put Corpus Christi ahead to stay at 7-4, also ties him with Colby Rasmus for the league lead. Corpus Christi added another run to make it 8-4, when Lou Santangelo scored on a wild pitch from Cards' reliever Chris Russ.
Springfield managed only one hit over the final two innings, as Mike Lavigne and Kyle Middleton earned the final six outs. Boggs was fantastic over the first six innings, getting around a second-inning solo homer from Michael Johnson. Trailing 1-0 in the third, Springfield scored a pair of runs to take the lead at 2-1. Jose Martinez knocked in Colby Rasmus with an RBI single to tie the game at 1-1. Martinez later scored on an error to give the Cards a 2-1 advantage.
Boggs helped himself out at the plate, lining a two-out double into the right field corner in the fourth, scoring Casey Rowlett to make it 3-1. The Cards got their final run in the seventh against eventual winner Sammy Gervacio (2-2). Rico Washington picked up his second hit of the night, an RBI double to score Boggs to make it a 4-1 game. In earning the no-decision, Boggs allowed three earned runs on only five hits over six innings. He struck out four and walked three. Hooks' starter Felipe Paulino gave up three runs (two earned) on seven hits over six innings, also taking a no-decision.
Tuesday, August 21
Rick Guarno's two-run homer with two outs in the ninth gave the Tulsa Drillers a come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Springfield Cardinals on Tuesday night at Hammons Field. The Cards (28-28) found themselves 1 ½ games back of idle Arkansas in the North Division.
Leading 3-1 in the ninth, Cards' closer Jason Motte came on to try and get the final three outs. Motte walked lead-off hitter Aaron Rifkin, but followed with a strikeout of Matt Miller for the first out of the inning. Motte then got Chris Frey to bounce a ball to second baseman Casey Rowlett. In trying to start the game-ending double play, Rowlett's feet got tangled up and was able to only get the out at second base, prolonging the inning. Jordan Czarniecki doubled over the head of right fielder Reid Gorecki on the very next pitch, bringing home Frey to make it 3-2. Motte took Guarno to 3-2, before the Tulsa catcher crushed the payoff-pitch into the left field bullpen for his sixth homer of the year and a 4-3 lead.
Tulsa closer Steven Register earned his 35th save of the year by working a scoreless ninth. Gorecki picked up a two-out single, but was stranded when Mark Hamilton grounded out to end the game.
Wednesday, August 22
After enduring a rough two-game stretch, the Springfield Cardinals' bullpen held tough in a 4-3 victory over the Tulsa Drillers on Wednesday night at Hammons Field.
Eric Haberer pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball after Todd Wellemeyer made the start as part of a big-league rehab assignment. Matt Scherer and Mike Sillman combined to work the final 2 1/3 innings, as Springfield stopped a two-game losing streak.
Wellemeyer worked a scoreless inning in the first, but left after loading the bases with no outs in the second. Wellemeyer, who hasn't pitched since July 8th, has been on the Disabled List with a sprained right elbow. Since being claimed off waivers from Kansas City on May 15th earlier this season, the right-hander has made eight starts and 12 appearances for St. Louis, going 3-1 with a 4.19 ERA.
Matt Miller opened the inning by reaching on an error. Chris Frey then bunted his way aboard before Jeff Dragicevich followed with a single to load the bases. That marked the end of the evening for Wellemeyer, as Haberer came out of the pen and went on to record his team-leading 12th win of the year. Haberer allowed an RBI single to Tommy Duenas as the Drillers got on the board at 2-1. Tulsa pitcher Jon Asahina then grounded into a double play, bringing home a run to tie the game at 2-2.
The game stayed tied at 2-2 until Colby Rasmus untied it with his league-leading 24th homer of the year, a solo shot to make it 3-2. Mark Hamilton doubled with two outs and scored on Reid Gorecki's single, giving the Cards a two-run advantage at 4-2.
Haberer allowed just one run on the night, a solo home run to Tommy Duenas in the sixth, as Tulsa made it a one-run game at 4-3. The Drillers couldn't push across any runs in the seventh, as Haberer was finally chased with two on and two away, in favor of Matt Scherer. Dragicevich struck out to end the seventh, killing the Tulsa threat.
After a scoreless eighth, Scherer gave way to Mike Sillman, who worked a scoreless ninth for his first save in a Springfield uniform. Amaury Marti's fourth homer of the year, a two-run first-inning blast, gave Springfield the early lead against Tulsa starter Jon Asahina. Asahina (2-4) took the loss, allowing four runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings.
Thursday, August 23
The Springfield Cardinals hit three home runs and Cory Rauschenberger got back over the .500 mark, as the Redbirds defeated Tulsa by a score of 8-2 on Thursday night at Hammons Field. Jose Martinez, Mark Hamilton and Cody Haerther all went deep, as Springfield (30-28) won their second straight and moved into a first place tie with Arkansas (30-28), who split a double-header on Thursday.
Cards' starter Cory Rauschenberger (9-8) lowered his ERA under 5.00 for the first time all year, turning in six innings of one-run baseball. Rauschenberger, who lowered his ERA to 4.90, allowed just one run on three hits, tying a season-best with seven punch-outs.
Jose Martinez put the Cards on the board against Tulsa starter Samuel Deduno in the third, launching a two-run homer to right field to put Springfield up 2-0. In the fourth, Rauschenberger picked up a two-out RBI single, plating Amaury Marti for a 3-0 lead. Tulsa got their one and only run against Rauschenberger in the sixth, making it a 3-1 game. Matt Miller's sacrifice fly scored Jonathan Herrera from third base, after Herrera was issued one of three Rauschenberger walks.
Deduno (5-8) left after six innings, allowing three runs on three hits. He
gave way to Matt Daley in the seventh, who was rocked for five runs. Mark
Hamilton ripped his fourth homer of the year to open the inning, making it 4-1.
After a Martinez sac fly scored Casey Rowlett, Cody Haerther homered to left
field, his third of the year, making it a 7-1 game. Rico Washington followed
with a double, then scored as Amaury Marti singled him home, giving Springfield
an 8-1 lead. Tulsa capped the scoring with an unearned run off of Chris
Russ in the eighth, as Miller produced an RBI groundout to score Herrera, making
the final score 8-2.