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Carolina Pirates 3, Atlanta Braves 1
'Flach Throws Two Complete Games to Help Secure Title'
By Chris Errington, special to MSBL
November 11, 2017, Clearwater, FL – It took an incredible
performance from an incredible pitcher to cap an incredible trifecta. In the
end no one was surprised.
Jason Flach pitched his second complete game in as many days
to cap a 42.1-inning week to lead the Carolina Pirates to their first Fall
Classic championship, 3-1 over the Atlanta Braves.
"I wanted the ball and told [Carolina manager Don Pustulka]last night that I wanted it,” Flach said following his brilliant six-hit
effort. "There was some debate about it, and ultimately it wasn’t my call, but
I still got it.” The decision may have been the best and easiest Pustulka
made all week.
Despite having been beaten 5-4 by this same Braves team in
the finals of the Atlanta Memorial Day tournament and 3-0 during round-robin play,
Flach was confident that a change in plans would pay dividends in this title
"They know I have a curve ball and slider, so I wanted to go
with more fastballs this time,” the righty said. "They seemed to sit on my
breaking balls in the past.”
The victory concluded a week in which the Pirates produced a
unique playoff sweep of the three opponents they lost to during round-robin
play. The previous day, Carolina topped the NY Isotopes 5-0 in the
quarterfinals, with Flach earning the save following 3.1 innings of relief.
Later that evening, Flach went the distance in a 4-3 victory over the
top-seeded Patriatos to set the stage for title game.
Flach, who reached AAA while pitching from 1996-2000 in
major league baseball’s Atlanta Braves organization, struck out eight and
induced double plays in the first, fourth and sixth innings to stifle scoring
threats. Not surprisingly, on a day when he seemed in complete control, it was
Flach who started two of them following grounders back to the mound. "I take a lot of pride in fielding my position,” he said.
"Those two plays were huge.”
Just as important was Carolina’s single run in the first.
During a week when Pustulka admitted that his team didn’t hit as well as
expected and following the earlier shutout loss to Atlanta, getting a quick
lead was paramount. "To get a run in the first was huge,” the manager said.
"We’re a team that likes to run and put pressure on you and it helps to get
Luke Roberts drew a leadoff walk from Atlanta starter Jeff
Craft. Drawing on their trademark small-ball style, a sacrifice bunt moved
Roberts to second, before Mickey Munn staked the Pirates to a 1-0 lead with a
double to left. Three innings later, Munn was at the center of another
His lead-off single to center and steal of second came two
batters before Kirk Bennett’s RBI double to left pushed the lead to 2-0. When
Roberts’ run-scoring single to right made the score 3-0 an inning later, Flach
had all the support he’d need.
Munn paced Carolina’s 11-hit effort, finishing 3-for-5.
Pustulka said he’d been one of the few Pirates’ hitters to hit well all
Carolina had several opportunities to increase the lead, but
ended up stranding 11 runners on base, including leaving the bases loaded twice
without scoring. Pustulka admitted that the missed chances weighed on him, but
that with his ace on the mound his nervousness was short-lived.
Trailing by three and running out of innings to stake their
own claim to the title, Atlanta put together its only rally of the game. John
Demarco led off with a walk and moved to second on Tom Nohstadt’s single to
right. But, just as quickly as the rally began, one pitch all but put it to
rest as Flach induced a comebacker that began a 1-6-3 double play.
Still, Demarco went to third on the play and scored on Shawn
Callaway’s single to left. The hit brought Atlanta within 3-1 with four innings
to play, but the Braves would get no closer.
"We know what type of pitcher Jason is, what type of
competitor he is,” Atlanta manager Gus Dotsikas said, "so to get down 3-0 makes
it even more difficult. I’m disappointed to not win, but you have to give them
credit. They made the plays and we ran into a guy that just shut us down. "When you face a guy of his caliber, you have to take
advantage of every opportunity and we didn’t. It came back to hurt us.”
Flach retired nine of the final 11 Atlanta hitters, allowing
runners via only a two-out Bob O’Brien single in the seventh and an infield
error in the eighth. He then set the Braves down in order in the ninth to
clinch the title.
"I’ve thought about what this would be like, but honestly
what I thought isn’t close to how great this really is,” Pustulka said of
winning the title. "We’re going to enjoy this for a while.”
While Carolina needed two playoff victories to reach the
title game, Atlanta needed only Chris Evers’ complete game gem in a 9-1 blowout
of the Criollos to earn a trip to the final day.
Carolina 100 110 000 – 3 11 1
Atlanta 000 010 000
– 1 6 4
WP: Flach; LP: Craft. Pitching: Flach and Matheny
(C). Craft, O’Brien (5) and Frellick (A). 2B:
Munn, Bennett (C)