The Cardinals and Pirates met tonight for the MLB Little League Classic at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field. The event is being put on by Major League Baseball in conjunction with ESPN to promote the the Little League World Series and baseball with the younger generations, in general. The event to the spiritual successor to last season’s Fort Bragg Game, which was played on a military base.
Bowman Field is located about 4 miles across town from Howard J. Lamade Stadium and Little League Volunteer Stadium, the homes of the Little League World Series. BB&T Ballpark plays host to Low-A PHI affiliate Williamsport Crosscutters of the New York-Penn League, which also features STL affiliate State College Spikes and PIT affiliate West Virginia Black Bears. It is the second-oldest ballpark in minor league baseball, behind Centennial Field in Burlington, VT, home of OAK NY-PL affiliate Vermont Lake Monsters.
Built in 1926, BB&T Ballpark was originally an enormous park (400 LF, 450 CF, 367 RF) that saw just 10 home runs hit in its first 8 years of existence, before the walls were brought in. It would later host the lighting fixtures from the recently-demolished Polo Grounds. It was also the site of the infamous “Potato Incident,” which involved a catcher throwing a fake potato ball away to trick a runner into straying off base so he could tag him out with a real ball.
It underwent a $4M renovation in 2016. Among the changes made were an adjustment to the drainage system and re-positioning of the outfield walls. The outfield used to feature a sloped design to allow water to run off toward the outfield corners, but was leveled off to meet major league specifications. The outfield walls were brought in by 15 ft in the corners to create room for outfield bullpens, and to bring the dimensions (345 LF, 405 CF, 350 RF) closer to those of Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Williamsport Crosscutter’s MLB affiliate.
Matt Carpenter led off the game by working a full count and ripping a single over the shift into RF. But Ivan Nova buckled down and struck out Piscotty to strike out on 3 pitches and got DeJong to line out to deep LF. With 2 outs, Dexter Fowler socked a ball off the wall in LF, but Marte caught the Cardinal center fielder trying to stretch it into a double. Replay showed he was safe, but Mike Matheny opted not to challenge. Nova escaped with just 16 pitches thrown.
The Pirates afforded Mike Leake no such generosity. Starling Marte led off with a single to RF, and Josh Harrison followed with a double to LCF. After McCutchen grounded out to SS to knock in a first run, Josh Bell demolished his 25th HR of the season, to RCF. Leake recovered to retire Freese and Frazier on fly outs. This disaster of an inning cost Leake just 17 pitches. 3-0 Pirates.
Yadier Molina ripped a single off Mercer’s glove and into CF to start the 2nd, and Jedd Gyorko cashed him in by torching the first pitch he saw into the LF bullpen. Wong grounded out, and Grichuk & Leake struck out to end the inning and turn over the lineup. Nova was at 32 pitches. 3-2 Pirates.
Leake bounced back against the bottom of the Pirates lineup. He got Mercer and Stewart to ground out on balls back up the middle, then struck out his counterpart to end it. He was now 30 pitches.
The offense saw a handful of “almosts” in the 3rd. Carpenter just missed a ball and got under it, flying out to RF. Piscotty then followed with a ground ball up the middle that Josh Harrison made a great diving play to stop, but couldn’t get the throw to 1B in time. And after DeJong popped out to the middle of the infield, Fowler gave a ball a ride with a line drive to deep LCF, but McCutchen got on his horse and turned it into an out. Nova was at 49 pitches.
The Pirates went back to work in the bottom half. Marte led off as he did in the 1st, with a clean single to RF. The gods of BABIP then decided to smite Leake. Harrison and McCutchen each singled past a diving DeJong, and Bell ripped a single past a diving Wong to score 2. After Freese struck out, Adam Frazier singled just in front of a sliding Fowler in CF to knock in another run. Finally, Mercer struck out and Stewart lined out to LF on the best-hit ball of the inning. Leake was on fumes through 3, at 52 pitches, and done for the evening as a result. 6-2 Pirates.
Yadier Molina led off the 4th with a broken-bat flare into shallow center that glanced off Harrison’s glove, and Jedd Gyorko followed with a double to RCF to give the Cardinals 2 in scoring position. Gifted such a strong start to the inning, naturally, Wong & Grichuk struck out, and Jose Martinez, who was pinch-hitting for Leake, grounded out to 3B. Run Expectancy with men on 2B & 3B with nobody out is 1.964, and the Cardinals showed why that number is less than 2.
Sam Tuivailala relieved Leake. His counterpart worked him to a full count before lining a hard line drive down the RF line. But he forgot Stephen Piscotty was back, and the prodigal RF made a spectacular diving catch to prevent extra bases. Sam recovered to get Marte to loop out to 2B, and struck out Harrison. He threw just 12 pitches.
Nova seemed to settle in by the 5th inning. He got Matt Carpenter to ground out on a comebacker, Piscotty to line out on a hard-hit line drive to LF, and DeJong to pop out on the infield again. He was at 85 pitches.
Tuivailala came back out for a 2nd inning, in which hasn’t usually fared very well. Andrew McCutchen tried to keep that trend going by grounding a double down the 3B line to start the 5th. But Sam composed himself and got Bell & Freese to ground out to 3B, and Frazier to ground out to SS. He was at 26 pitches.
Fowler led off the 6th by battling Nova for 8 pitches, but ultimately grounded out to 3B. But Molina ripped a double down into the LF corner and, after Gyorko grounded out on a hot shot to 3B, Wong knocked him in with a single to RCF, and knocked Nova from the game. A.J. Schugel relieved and struck out Grichuk.
Tuivailala returned for a third inning, trying to match the man he was tasked with bailing out. Mercer tried to beat out an infield single on a soft chopper up the middle, but Wong made a great, ranging play and difficult throw to retire him. Stewart grounded out, but Tui walked his new counterpart on 4 pitches to bring his total to 37. Despite this, Matheny decided to leave his reliever in, and Tui rewarded him by inducing a fly out to short CF off the bat of Marte.
Greg Garcia pinch hit for the gassed Tuivailala, and dropped a perfect bunt down the 3B line over which the little league coaches must have been salivating. After Carpenter struck out, Piscotty worked a full count and drew a walk to knock Schugel from the game. But Dovydas Neverauskas relieved, and got DeJong to trade places with Piscotty on a fielder’s choice, and struck out Fowler with a curveball.
Brett Cecil relieved Tuivailala, and tossed his first dominant inning in what feels like forever. The embattled lefty got McCutchen to wave at low-and-away change-up for a strike out, Bell to ground out on a come-backer, and then Freese in the same manner he did McCutchen. All of this he accomplished with just 13 pitches.
Juan Nicasio relieved next. Molina singled up the middle for his third hit of the game to start the frame, but Gyorko grounded into a crippling 6-4-3 double play, and Wong grounded out to 1B.
John Brebbia relieved Cecil. He continued the impressive Cardinal bullpen performance by getting Frazier to ground out to 2B, Mercer to strike out waving at a slider away, and Stewart to fly out to CF. He threw 17 pitches.
Felipe Rivero entered to close it out. Grichuk got a hold of one of the lefty’s 100mph fastballs, but hit it right at McCutchen in CF. Tommy Pham, inexplicably unused up to this point in the game, pinch hit and worked a walk. After Carpenter struck out swing, Piscotty singled through the left side to bring up the tying run, but DeJong flew out a couple feet short of the track in CF. Pirates win 6-3.
Mike Leake: 3.0IP, 6ER, 8H, 3K, 0BB, 1HR, 21GSc
Ivan Nova: 5.2IP, 3ER, 8H, 5K, 0BB, 1HR, 48GSc
- Before the game, Randal Grichuk and Lance Lynn played some ping pong with a couple of the little leaguers. Grichuk lost a game (“I haven’t played since 2004!”), but Lance Lynn won every game.
- There was an on-site umpire in a trailer available for instant replay rulings. He went unused.
- Starling Marte’s trip around the bases in the 1st reminded us all that this is, still, a minor league field. Marte had several issues with getting traction on the infield.
- Tim Kurkjian’s nickname on the back of his jersey is “Tom.” He went to an auction a couple years back with his wife to auction off a book. The person in charge gave him the following introduction: “Our star of the night, the guy who wrote this book, you listen to him every night on ESPN: MISTER TOM KURKJIAN!!” Tim later made the mistake of telling Karl Ravech and Dan Le Batard, so the nickname spread like wildfire and he’s just decided to own it.
- Mike Leake hasn’t cracked a Game Score of 50 since June.
- Carson Hardee, of Carolina’s red-hot Little League World Series team, got to hang out with Yadier Molina today. It was apparently very exciting for Carson, who got to say “Hey, what’s up, dude?” The ESPN crew got a kick out of it.