The greatest (Simulation) game ever playedby Sean Smith
December 12, 2007
It was just over a year ago as I write this. The New York Cobra had pushed their World Series match with the Miami Stars to a Game 7. Game 6 was a classic in itself, a 7-6 New York win in 14 innings. Ace starter Pedro Lewis (14-6, 2.37 ERA) came out of the bullpen on two days' rest and pitched the last four innings for the win. It would soon be forgotten after the events of Game 7.
This was the 27th World Series in league history. The league had started with two boys creating a baseball game using dungeons and dragons dice to generate game outcomes, and assorted action figures to mark the players as they took their spots in the field and on the bases. Later, the league moved from tabletop to the computer through MicroLeague Baseball, and in 1997 it was shifted to APBA Baseball for Windows, where the games are still played today. While many of the players in the league today have generic human names, the game’s origins are evident in the remaining players who are not from earth, such as Transformers, Tatooinians, and also a housepet here and there.
Before I get to the game I’d like to introduce a few of the players, to give you some feel of who they were and how they got to this point.
Sunsurf is a transformer and a cousin of Soundwave. He is so old that he transforms into an 8-track tape-player. As a pitcher, he is one of the greatest, reaching 300 wins earlier in the season and striking out a league-record 4,411 batters. He pitched earlier in the season for the Phoenix Autobots and was traded to Miami as they attempted to shore up their pitching at the trade deadline. Yes, Sunsurf is a Decepticon who was pitching for the Autobots. What of it? That’s free agency for you, and not any more weird than Johnny Damon playing for the Yankees. Sunsurf will not start Game 7, but is available if needed from the bullpen.
David Lefevre is a left-handed jawa pitcher. He’s 36 and a potential Hall of Famer as well. He won the 2006 Cy Young award and finished the season with a 202-119 career record. Over his entire career he has pitched poorly in the postseason, but he is scheduled to start Game 7.
Miami’s offensive strength lies in the outfield. Geoff Favre is in right (.302/.397/.487), a human who looks exactly like the Brewer outfielder and Packer QB. Jawa Damon Nkik plays left (.305/.375/.501), and feline Brian Downing Kaat (.301/.347/.398, 40 steals) plays center.
If Miami can keep it close late, they will turn it over to the flame-throwing closer Robert (K-Bob) Belardi, who set a team record with 51 saves. He pitched two innings in Game 5 and one in Game 6, so his availability may be restricted.
For New York:
The young stars on New York are center fielder Chad White, shortstop Brett Solo, and right fielder Keith Lee. White hit .322 with 28 homers and 31 steals while winning a gold glove. Lee, the big free agent signing of 2006, hit .362 with 24 homers, 108 RBI, and a .445 on-base percentage after signing an eight-year, $160 million contract. Brett Solo, a jawa, is the son of Lewis Solo Jr., a retired outfielder who played his Hall of Fame career in Miami. Solo hit .266 with 30 home runs while winning a Gold Glove.
Roger Chillingworth will start Game 7. What happens when you are forced to read Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter for high school English class while Roger Clemens strikes out 20 Seattle Mariners? The result is the greatest pitcher the league has ever known. Chillingworth ended the 2006 season with a 396-176 career record, 2.59 ERA, 4,065 strikeouts, and six Cy Young awards. He pitched his best years for the Portland Decepticons, then pitched for New York as they won the 2002 World Series. New York suffered a World Series drought from 2003 to 2005 and thought Roger may have been a missing ingredient, so they brought him back after a year in Texas. At age 41 he was not what he once was, but still a good pitcher with a 12-10 record and 3.66 ERA.
Unlike Roger, Joe Thomas was not expected to attain greatness when his stats were created. He was a 22-year-old switch-hitting shortstop with marginal defensive ability. He was expected to move to another position, which he did: second base. He was a .250 hitter with average power (13 homers), average speed, and not many walks. He was drafted in the fourth round of a five-round draft by the Springfield Isotopes and not expected to be much more than a utility infielder. Joe had other plans. He hit .274 with 23 homers and 71 RBIs and won the starting second base job on the 1993 Isotopes, who went on to play and lose to the Miami Stars in the 1993 World Series. Joe continued to play just a little better than his projected stats said he should, and in doing so increased his ability year by year until he was one of the best players in baseball. In 1997 he was traded to the New York Cobra, and played for them for a decade. He became a league icon, his stats were great but unlike many of the other superstars, Joe did it through hard work, not because of game-designer-given ability. He won the Major League MVP award in 2000, hitting .318 with 35 homers and 149 RBIs.
He became a league icon, his stats were great but unlike many of the other superstars, Joe did it through hard work, not because of game-designer-given ability. To this league Joe was a combination of greats. He had the name, the New York team, and the quiet dignity of Joe DiMaggio. He had the cleanup batter stats of Jeff Kent, and to top it all off, Joe had the streak of Cal Ripken, never missing a game. Through the end of the 2006 season, Joe had played in 1,986 consecutive games, a league record and more than any major leaguer except Ripken and Lou Gehrig. He also had a weakness, while he was an acceptable defender in his prime and even won three Gold Glove awards, Joe was 36 years old and had developed the range of Derek Jeter. Like with Jeter this weakness was rarely talked about in his hometown, and if the subject was brought up it was quickly shouted down by his loyal fans.
There were many signs that 2006 would be Joe’s last season. He had dropped from his customary third spot in the order to bat sixth. This was partially to accommodate the team’s young stars, but Joe’s production slipped badly as well. Joe hit only .259/.320/.411 during the regular season, though he still had plenty of opportunities to drive in 97 runs. The team’s top prospect was a second baseman, and Joe’s career numbers (2,758 hits, 431 homers, 1,609 RBIs) were plenty enough for a second baseman to reach the Hall of Fame.
The retirement was all but final in Game 2, however. Joe was accustomed to playing every inning of every game, but he left that game as part of a double switch. From the game accounts:
“then New York manager Eddie Bird went to his bullpen for ace Troy Everett. At that point, Bird wanted to avoid having Everett bat in the bottom of the inning, so he made a double switch. The only problem was that the best candidate to leave the game for the double switch was second baseman Joe Thomas. This had never happened before. Joe is accustomed to playing the whole game. In fact, he had played in 1,986 consecutive games, a league record and more than anyone outside of Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken. At first Joe looked confused. The game wasn’t over. Reporters would find out later that Joe had never watched a game from off the field in his life. After a few confused moments, Joe approached a tearful Eddie Bird, and said two words: “I understand”. Joe left the field to a standing ovation. Even the jawas in the Miami dugout participated.”
So without further ado, here’s what happened in Game 7:
Miami started fast against Chillingworth. Brian Kaat led off with a bunt single. He moved to second on a groundout, then #3 hitter Matt McCoy drew a walk. McCoy was the Miami DH, but without the DH rule in this game Miami chose to bat him in the first inning, listed at second base, and remove him in the bottom of the inning. Normal second baseman Brian Kelly pinch runs. Damon Nkik follows with a single to right, just past a diving Joe Thomas to give Miami a 1-0 lead. Ryan Kashiwada follows with a two-run double to center, and Miami leads 3-0.
David Lefevre pitches well early, shutting down the Cobra offense. In the top of the third, Miami adds two more runs. In the bottom of the inning, New York pinch hits for Chillingworth, down 5-0, but fails to score. Miami scores two more against the New York bullpen in the top of the fourth, and they can begin to taste the champagne.
Bottom of the fourth:
Lefevre first starts to crack. After loading the bases with one out he strikes out catcher Todd Allen, bring up Bob Zygyk, batting for the pitcher. Zygyk, 40, is now a part-time player, but in the past he had started for six world championship teams. Zygyk hits a two-run single to get New York on the board. After the next batter makes an out to end the inning, Zygyk remains in the game on the double switch.
Miami does nothing in the top of the fifth. In the bottom of the inning, Brett Solo’s double gives New York their third run, and Chad White follows with a two-run single. After 4 1/3 innings, the Stars take Lefevre out and go to Sunsurf. White steals second and scores on a single before Miami gets out of it, their lead cut to one.
Miami stretches the lead to 9-6 with a two-out, bases-loaded single by catcher Bobby Hoffman.
Bottom of the seventh:
Sunsurf still pitching after a strong sixth. Brett Solo leads off with a single. Chad White is then hit by a pitch, injured and forced to leave the game. New York has few options left on the bench, having pinch hit a few times early, so they pinch run with Peter Cooney, a 35-year-old pinch hitting specialist and first baseman who last played significant time in the outfield about a decade ago. Miami goes to the bullpen for setup man Don Thompson, who had a 1.99 ERA in 72 innings on the season. Another hit, and the bases are loaded. Thompson gets the next hitter to pop up, but then forces in a run on a walk to Bob Zygyk. That brings up the pitcher’s spot.
With Cooney already in the game as a base runner (and needed for outfield defense) New York’s only pinch hitting option is the utility infielder Tommy Keatley. Keatley faces Thompson, and clears the bases with a double. One out later, Joe Thomas bats, looking for an insurance run, but strikes out with the runner on third. It’s a tough game so far for the old guy.
Top of the eighth, New York leads 10-9
With Fernando Benitez on the mound, a hard-throwing setup man, Damon Nkik leads off with a double. After a walk, first baseman Bubba Lewis ties the game with a single and moves to second on the throw. Shortstop Everett Jimenez hits a fly ball to medium left, where emergency outfielder Cooney is playing. Both runners tag, and New York allows the go ahead run to score, cuts the ball off, and throws out Lewis at third.
Bottom of the eighth, Miami leads 11-10
Mike Brady, who pitched out of trouble in the seventh, pitches a scoreless eighth. New York does threaten, but Brett Solo’s double play grounder ends it.
Top of the ninth:
New York brings in closer Troy Everett. Jim Fanning leads off with a double. Brian Kaat follows with a bunt, and both runners are safe as New York tried for the play at third. Favre is hit by a pitch to load the bases. The umpires come out to issue warnings to both teams, though it’s hard to see it being intentional given the situation. Pinch hitter Tim Carey hits a sac fly to center and make it a 12-10 game. The runners move up on the throw, and New York intentionally walks Damon Nkik to reload the bases. Ryan Kashiwada is due up. Miami has a chance to really bust this one open and win its first World Series since 1993.
On the other team, Joe Thomas has played like a complete has been. Like 40+-year-old Willie Mays falling down in the outfield, like Roger Clemens pulling a hammy in an elimination game. The game has passed him by. He’s missed a few grounders in the field that a second baseman should get to; he’s struck out four times. Retirement will be merciful. Joe realizes this is it, his last inning as a ballplayer. If he’s got any bullets left in the gun, he better shoot now.
With the infield in, Kashiwada hits a bullet towards second. Thomas grabs it and in a flash of lightning throws to the plate for a forceout. Back to first, double play. New York has one chance left.
Bottom of the ninth, Miami leads 12-10
Miami brings in closer “K-Bob” Belardi. The first batter, Jerrod Smith, lines out to left. Catcher Fernandez singles. Bob Zygyk then is hit by a pitch, and the umpire ejects Bob Belardi. Miami manager RJ Duke goes nuts. A warning had been issued earlier, but how can anyone see this as intentional, when you are two outs away from a championship? The argument is to no avail, and Miami is forced to go to the bullpen for Joel Shapiro, their fourth reliever of the day. He’s not a closer, but still a decent pitcher, 10-4, 3.20 ERA on the year.
A consolation for Miami was that the next batter was New York’s closer, Troy Everett. They had no pinch hitter left, and Everett had three hits in 44 career at-bats. New York didn’t know whether to swing or bunt with him. In APBA it is not uncommon for unskilled batters to bunt into double plays. They choose to let him swing, hoping for the strikeout, and not a season-ending ground ball.
Miami got the ground ball, but not the one they wanted. Somehow Everett hit it through third and short, and the bases were loaded with one out, plus they had a real hitter up in first baseman Manfred Mueller. Shapiro was able to strike out Mueller, and bring his team within out of a championship.
That brings up the last New York batter, Joltin’ Joe Thomas. My brother and I paused a bit, to savor the moment, as did all of Joe’s 48,000 imaginary fans. The storybook ending is of course the grand slam to win the game. The big slugger going down swinging is a pretty good story too. The walkoff hit for a retiring hall of famer would be a storybook ending.
Of course, we know there’s no such thing as momentum. The fact that Joe had struck out four times in this game meant nothing in regards to this particular outcome. And as for clutch hitting, most people think that’s a myth too. Even if there’s anything to clutch hitting, its because ballplayers are real human beings, not some randomly determined outcomes at a given probability level, that respond differently to higher pressure situations. That didn’t apply to Joe, as he really was a bit of computer code with a set of related probabilities. Those probabilities say he hits a homer about 3-4% of his plate appearances. Maybe a bit more now since Shapiro is a flyball pitcher. So we savored the moment. It had been a great game, and that would be an exciting ending, but odds are it just ain’t going to happen like that.
So how did it end? Here’s Ernie Harwell’s call:
* J. Thomas facing J. Shapiro, bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, behind 10-12
“The runners take their lead ... the pitch ... Thomas swings hard ... and lifts a fly ball to right the runners on the move ... Favre backpedals ... still drifting back ... he might run out of room he times his leap ... gone! ... it's all over! ... it sailed over the wall for a grand slammer! whoa, baby, that ball just kept on carrying ... Favre hangs his head he just missed making a spectacular catch ... Thomas will circle the bases and he's sure taking his time ... Shapiro is giving himself a lecture and Shapiro is a lonely man out there”
Greatest simulation game ever played, even though I am the owner of the Miami Stars.
Sean Smith is a lifelong Angels fan despite never visiting the west coast until April 2006. His work can also be found at baseballprojection.com and Anaheim Angels All the Way and he can be contacted by email.