by Mike Potter
BB&T BALLPARK/WINSTON-SALEM It’s the 16th edition of the California-Carolina League All-Star Game, so A-ball stars from both coasts are gathered for their annual battle.
Of course it’s the Carolina Mudcats’ first season in the Carolina League and the Zebulon club – which finished in last place in the Southern Division in the first half despite the fifth best record in the league – is well represented by designated hitter Jeremie Tice and right-hander Shawn Armstrong, the home team’s setup man tonight.
Former Winston-Salem manager Bill Slack, who spent two tours of duty as pitching coach of the Durham Bulls in their Carolina League days and is the league’s all-time winningest skipper, is the honorary manager of the home team.
The Cal League leads the all-time series 7-6-2 – yes, there have been two ties – and has won three straight. The game was first played at Rancho Cucamonga in 1996, ending in a wild 2-2 tie – before the 1997 contest was played in Durham and the West Coasters got their first win with an exciting 6-5 comeback. (The game was not contested in ’98 because of a comical scheduling snafu.)
The Carolina League takes command in the middle innings, scoring in the third through seventh to win in a 9-1 runaway.
The Californians strike for a run in the first off Winston-Salem’s Matt Heidenreich as Bakersfield’s Billy Hamilton – who leads the minors with 80 steals – reaches on a bunt single, steals second and third and scores on a grounder to short from Lancaster’s George Springer.
The hosts tie the score off Visalia lefty Andrew Chafin in the bottom of the third. With one out, Potomac’s David Freitas walks, advances on a double from Frederick’s Ty Kelly and scores on a grounder to the mound from Salem’s Jackie Bradley.
They pour on four more against Lancaster’s Bobby Doran in the fourth. Salem’s Travis Shaw draws a leadoff walk, advancing on a single to right from Winston-Salem’s Brady Shoemaker before Tice’s RBI single down the third-base line. Lynchburg’s Tommy LaStella grounds to second to score Shoemaker, and then Freitas doubles to left to score Tice.
They tack on two more in the fifth off Modesto’s Tyler Matzek. Salem’s Jackie Bradley reaches on an error, then steals second and advances on another error. Then with one out, Shaw launches a 2-0 offering into the right-field stands.
The margin increases in the sixth. LaStella reaches on an error, later scoring on Kelly’s two-out double to left.
And the hosts’ spree continues in the seventh off San Jose’s Jack Snodgrass. Winston-Salem’s Michael Earley doubles to center, scoring on another double to center from Garcia. Garcia later scores on a wild pitch to make it 9-1.
The visitors don’t get a hit out of the infield until there are two out in the eighth.
Tice goes 1-for-3 with the RBI and a run scored.
Armstrong starts off the ninth, striking out two before Potomac’s Rob Wort comes on to finish.
Shaw earns the Star of Stars award for the Carolina League, Hamilton for the California. Wilmington’s Sugar Ray Marimon gets the win while Doran takes the defeat.
They said it …
Shaw: “This was pretty fun. The Dash did an unbelievable job of setting this up. … (On the homer) Matzek fell behind 2-0 and I was just looking for a pitch to drive and put a good swing on it. He put it right over the middle of the plate.”
Tice: “I knew the kid threw hard. He spiked his first-pitch fastball and gave me a curveball up, so I just pulled it down the line. I was just looking for good pitches to hit, because in this situation guys are going to come after you especially in an all-star game.”
Armstrong: “I wasn’t really nervous either way. All-Star Games are all about having fun, but for sure I wanted to go out there and dominate. I didn’t find out until I got to the field until Tice pointed out that I had the ninth inning, and I said ‘All right. Sweet!’ I felt good out there. If you go out and have a good outing, whether you’re hitting or pitching in an all-star game it’s always a plus.”
What does it all mean?
That the Cal League front offices owe the Carolina League front offices a case of California wines and will be receiving no Krispy-Kreme doughnuts.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Shaw’s homer in the fifth.
Carolina League: Won 1.
Mudcats (Danny Salazar 0-2, 3.75) vs. Wilmington (TBA), Thursday, 7:15 p.m.