Dogs Rally to Even Series
By Michael Barthelemy, Chicago Dogs
ROSEMONT, Ill. – It was a rollercoaster of emotions for the Chicago Dogs, who climbed back from a 5-0 deficit to overtake the Milwaukee Milkmen, 8-6, and force a decisive game three.
The Dogs were able to do just enough to pull away with a win in what served as the game of the year. Chicago quickly fell behind 5-0 in the first, capped off with a Hector Sanchez home run. The Dogs continued to fight back with continuously clutch hits and right fielder Anfernee Grier pushed Chicago ahead in the seventh with a go-ahead home run. The speedy outfielder finished 3-for-4 with the home run, double, three runs scored and two RBI. The bottom four hitters for Chicago combined for 10 hits and seven RBI in the continued hot stretch from the bottom of the order.
Starter Jordan Kipper was rocked from the jump, but recovered nicely to put his team in position to win. The second-year Dog pitched four innings and allowed six total runs, five in the first, off seven hits and he struck out seven. For Milwaukee, starter Ryan Zimmerman was hit hard for four runs in 1.2 innings.
Bryan Torres led off the game with a line drive to left field for a double. He was quickly driven in by a Logan Trowbridge single. Milwaukee would score another with two more singles and catcher Sanchez took a sinker ball deep over the right field wall to make the score 5-0 before Chicago even had a chance to hit.
It was an uncharacteristic start for Kipper. All five hits he allowed were hard line drives and the sinker, his bread-and-butter ground ball pitch, was getting driven for extra-bases.
The Dogs would not go quiet into the night. Kipper returned for the second and sat the Milkmen down in order. Stevie Wilkerson then led off the next half-inning with a single through the shift, Grier advanced him to third with a double down the first base line and Cody Bohanek unloaded on a fastball from Ryan Zimmerman for his first home run as a Dog. The three-run shot could not have come at a better time and instantly was a shot of adrenaline to Chicago.
Connor Kopach walked on the next at-bat, advanced to second on a passed ball and came home sliding head first from a Ryan Lidge RBI single to right field. In the blink of an eye, the Dogs went from dead to right back to carrying all the game momentum. Fearing a cataclysmic slide from Zimmerman, Milwaukee manager Anthony Barone ended his starter’s night and went to the reigning American Association pitcher of the year: Myles Smith.
The Milkmen tacked on a sixth run from a Keon Barnum solo shot to left field, but otherwise were put to bed from Kipper. Over the final three innings, the righty gave up one run on two hits and struck out three.
Now down two, Chicago carried their offensive steam to further terrorize Smith. Wilkerson again reached base, this time from a error by Miguel Gomez, and Grier followed it up with a single to put two on. Both advanced on a wild pitch by Smith and on a 3-2 count, it was Kopach who drove a ball down the third base line for a game-tying double. It marked a complete rebirth of a Chicago offense that had fell flat over the past six weeks and now returned with juice and timely hitting.
It also marked the third time Smith was rocked by Chicago. In 11.2 innings against the Dogs, the righty has given up 16 total runs and in this instance let the Dogs back in the driver’s seat.
Milwaukee had a promising chance to regain the lead in the fifth with a runner on first and a deep fly to the left field wall. With his back against the wall, left fielder Eric Rivera lept to come up with the ball. Immediately, he fired to the cut off man Kopach and Kopach in one motion turned 180 degrees and threw a perfect ball to K.C. Hobson at first base to double up the Milkmen and get out of the inning with no damage. With the stellar double play, it felt the Dogs had everything going their way and made highlight play after highlight play.
Each team’s bullpen traded punches until the seventh inning, when Grier again made magic happen. Wilkerson started the rally with a ground ball to Gomez at second base. Gomez cleanly played the ball and had Wilkerson by about four steps, but instead chose to hold on to the ball and not make what looked to be a routine play. An incredibly strange play gave a feeling of deja vu to the previous Chicago rallies.
Working against Peyton Gray, a man who boasts a 1.2o ERA for Milwaukee, Grier fought his way to a 3-2 count. Gray was coming off a shutout inning in game one that helped seal the nail-biting win for his squad, but he wouldn’t get so lucky this time around. Grier took a fastball over the plate deep to left field and out of the ballpark for a go-ahead home run and fully complete the comeback. It was the highlight to an already impressive playoffs for Grier, who has tallied three extra-base hits (one of each variety) and four runs scored.
Manager Butch Hobson played the matchup game the rest of the way and rode his deep bullpen to seal the deal and end with a 8-6 win. Lefty closer Kevin Marnon picked up the save in the ninth. The Dogs now go into tomorrow night in a do-or-die game three against the Milkmen for the chance to go to the Eastern Division Finals. Righty A.J. Kullman will take the bump for Chicago, and righty A.J. Jones will start for Milwaukee. Game time is at 6:30 at Impact Field.