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CERTAINLY NOT "SMOKE" and MIRRORS!!
Dateline - Greensboro, North Carolina
The dog days of summer as the calendar flips into August can be brutal on the constitution of any man, young or old. Gone are the hopes of a long summer vacation for schoolboys and girls, as parents long to send their beloved little one's back to school. August represents the last moments of summer, though the summer sun and humidity let everyone know that the Fall Equinox has not yet arrived. As poet Ryler Dustin writes:
"The season wears a windless dirt road shoulder, a crop of lilies, fields as burnished brown as beach glass, bright beyond the stony odor of sidewalks wet from sprinklers. August: now and always never, deeper, best believer in the lastingness of bees, and boyhood, rust-colored crickets, wet retrievers, teachers working in their rented rooms of plywood."
No truer time than at the corner of Bellemeade and Edgeworth, where local shop owners sweep sidewalks before a big game, come rain or shine, to welcome visitors to the Smokehouse; a place where North Carolinians can now proudly go and find winning baseball. This month the boys of Charcoal and Emerald welcomed in the fierce combatants from the Eastern Division, who have had teams dominating the playoff picture for years. With a bit of hard work and trust in the Almighty, the Smoke welcomed in Albany, Buster’s, Gilead and Mississippi. They are welcomed in to do battle the way of Southern Gentlemen, over the game of boys in every sandlot, on fields of Emerald, lined with the ivory chalk, bathed in the hopes and prayers of the masses. This is baseball in August in North Carolina.
August Series 1: Greensboro nearly misses the sweep, taking on the difficult task of hanging on with Albany.
Game 1: Greensboro 4, Albany 0
WP: J. Montgomery (12-1). LP: J. Odorizzi (1-1). SV: W. Smith (16)
HR: C. Mullins (18)
Welcoming in Albany is like welcoming an old friend home from a long season away. Though the time seems short, there seems to be enough fun and frivolity to enjoy a three-game series, but any more might cause both parties to rethink the enjoyment that might be in each other’s company. The Internationals continue to impress in every way, as they pulled into town in their Corporate Jet and accompanied by their personalized team shuttles. Men who have long had great success in GUSSOMO, stepped onto the corner of Bellemeade and Edgeworth, with the realization that this Smoke team is not the door mat that had been an easy series win in the past.
Welcoming in the likes of Freddie Freeman, Nick Castellanos, and Gary Sanchez was Carolina’s favorite son, Jordan Montgomery. The tall, lefty seemed to approach the mound as a Sabal Palm tree, swaying as he began his tosses to the course of the Old North State… “The weak grow strong and the strong grow great!” It seemed that there was a different approach to this potent lineup, where Montgomery lived on the corners and challenged the International’s hitters to only hit pitcher’s pitches. Montgomery was solid over five and a third innings of shutout ball but was removed to allow specialists Alex Vesia and Luis Garcia to handle two difficult outs.
Offensively, the Smoke were led by Greensboro native, Cedric Mullins as he walked three times and provided the majority of the offense in launching a three-run home run in the bottom of the second. That is all the team needed to pitch with the lead. The Smoke were otherwise largely held in check to a mere five hits in route to their 4-0 shutout of the Internationals.
“It was a good night of a baseball,” Owner Lars Nielsen stated. “It not the flashy 21st Century baseball we are watching, but situational, fundamental baseball.”
Game 2: Greensboro 8, Albany 3
WP: M. Minor (13-4) LP: L. Lynn (11-7)
HR: C. Mullins (19), K. Schwarber (28)
As we enter game two of the three game series, the first 10,000 fans were welcomed into the stadium with a Hometown Hero Bobblehead of Cedric Mullins. The #31 emblazoned on the back, showed the speedster in full stride as he seemed to chase down a ball in the Deep Centerfield Trapezoid of the Smokehouse. Cedric was also available before the game to welcome young fans with his gregarious smile and to sign autographs for all the local little leaguers in attendance.
With just shy of 47,000 in attendance, the energy in the stadium was electric, though the team stumbled out of the gate giving up two hits and an error by normally sure handed Jeimer Candelario, who got the start at third base for Gold Glove Candidate Ryan McMahon. Though the crowd did not boo the top of the first inning, many Smoke fans had a moment of questioning if this team is really championship caliber. This idea was compounded by the bottom of the first as the Smoke managed to load the bases in the bottom of the first with only one out, they were unable to get anyone home.
Mike Minor took the ball then and seemed to reach a next level as a starting pitcher. Minor went the next seven innings, giving up only one more run and seemed to shut down Internationals’ hitters., limiting them to hitting 3 for 11 with runners in scoring position. He was also picked up by Brett Phillips in the 5th inning. With Ramon Laureano at first base, Brendan Rodgers hit a ball up against the warehouse, down the right field line. Maverick kicked in the after burners and robbed Brendan Rodgers of what would have been an easy RBI double. Combine that with turning two double plays, the Smoke hitters needed only to get the offense started, and where better to look than the man of the hour, Cedric Mullins.
Mullins seemed to play to the crowd all night as he became the offense for the Smoke. Cedric walked and stole a base in the first, hit a two-run homerun in the third (to bring things back to even pegging), hit a two RBI triple in the seventh and a RBI single in the eighth. Mullins accounted for six of the eight Greensboro runs on the night and seemed to have his way with Albany pitchers.
“It was such a special night tonight,” Mullins began in his post-game conference. “I really love this city and wanted to be able to give back. It seems like yesterday I was wearing that little league uniform and had to drive some distance to watch big leaguers. How amazing to be able to play in front of these families.” When asked about his approach at the plate, “As the kids started clapping and chanting, I saw pitches tonight incredibly well. All night, it was the stuff of movies, whether to see the ball leave over the left centerfield wall or leg out that triple, all I heard was the kids erupt in joy and saw my teammates cheering and smiling.”
Greensboro goes for the series sweep tomorrow night as the Smoke welcome back free agent Logan Allen and his 12-6 curveball as he takes the bump against Albany starter Joe Musgrove.
Game 3: Albany 5, Greensboro 4
WP: S. Okert (2-3). LP: V. Velasquez (5-7), SV: K. Graveman (20)
HR: G. Sanchez 2 (12, 13)
Whether enjoying the temperate weather, enjoying a glass of the official drink of North Carolina (Milk) or wins in Greensboro, the good people of North Carolina have been experiencing the good life this summer of 2022. However, in every life there are days where the weather turns sour, milk curdles, and the ball simply does not bounce the way of victory for the men of Emerald and Charcoal.
Greensboro had Free Agent/Minor League pitcher Logan Allen take the bump. A former mid-round pick of the Smoke, Logan had been working his way around the free agent and minor league scene before his call up for his first GUSSOMO action of 2022. Words had spread about Logan having become a Slider, Cutter, Sinker pitcher, meant that a great deal of the baseball fans, wanted to see if this new pitch mix meant more dominant stuff for the former Smoke prospect. And Logan did not disappoint, as he had a decent start going head-to-head with Joe Musgrove. Each man gave up three earned runs in a little more than five innings of work, with Logan Allen exiting the game in the sixth with a 4-3 Smoke lead.
However, it seemed that tonight was not the night for the Smoke starting pitcher (who multiple young ladies thought was the star of the Netflix series, Stranger Things). The Smoke simply did not have the ball bounce their way as they left ten runners on base and were an abhorrent one for eleven with runners in scoring position, striking out twelve times. On the other hand, Albany had a man who seemed to wield a Herculean sized club as he strolled to the plate all night.
Internationals catcher, Gary Sanchez seemed to be the son of Zeus each time he came to the plate. Whether going down swinging, Sanchez seemed to put swings in the location of the ball, that reminded long-time baseball fans of Rob Deer or Steve Balboni. Sanchez entered the first and hit a ball that at the time of this edition, still has not decended from orbit over the left field wall. In the fourth inning, he seemed to have trouble with the Slider and went down on strikes. In the seventh, he intimidated reliever Vince Velasquez into giving up a home run on a BP fastball. In the ninth, he seemed to take three strong cuts, but was baffled by Velasquez as the location of each pitch was just off from Sanchez’s swing path.
The Smoke could not rally in the later innings as the managed just two walks in the seventh and got no baserunners the reminder of the game. Greensboro finishes their series, taking two of three games and finishing with an overall record of 75-36 and Albany leaves Greensboro with an overall record of 65-46.
August Series 2: Greensboro handles the Battalion from Buster’s in a three-game sweep.
Game 1: Greensboro 5, Buster’s 2
WP: J. Montgomery (13-1) LP: S. Matz (6-7) SV: W. Smith (17)
HR: T. O’Neill (17), D. Swanson (21), J. Crawford (12), C. Mullins (20).
As Buster’s Battalion arrives from out of state, the Smoke fans tend to quickly sell out the first game of a series, knowing that Jordan Montgomery is taking the mound. Jerseys seem to be flying off the shelves as both adults and children seem to dream of moments that their favorite lefty takes the mound for the boys of Emerald and Charcoal. Jordan entered the stadium to signs galore stating the undying affections of Smoke fans and a low, hum and meditation like that of the Jewish word, Hagah; “The weak grow strong and the strong grow great.”
Montgomery was stellar tonight as he gave up a mere three base hits, including a solo shot by Darby Swanson in the sixth inning. “It was a good night tonight,” Jordan stated after the game. “I had a good feel and it seemed that the corners of the plate were a little extra wide, which I’m happy to take on a night of pitching.”
On the offensive side of the plate, it seemed that the Smoke had Steven Matz chasing ghosts as they were able to get to the starter for twelve baserunners in less than five full innings of work. The major damage was done by J.P. Crawford’s leadoff homerun, which then led local hero Cedric Mullins to do what he does best, make pitcher’s lives a living hell. Mullins drew two walks his first two times up and stole a base, before making his way to the plate in the fifth, to hit a deep fly over the warehouse in right.
Will Smith came in to get a 1977 save opportunity in mowing down nine hitters in route to his 17th save of the year. Game two has Mike Minor facing off with Andrew Heaney to see if Greensboro can continue their winning ways.
Game 2: Greensboro 4, Buster’s 0
WP: M. Minor (14-4), LP: A. Heaney (4-6)
HR: J. Crawford (13)
This evening’s contests pits surprise starting pitcher, Mike Minor against journeyman tosser Andrew Heaney. Though it seemed that Minor was dominant for most of the evening, there were moments of brilliance by Heaney, showing that perhaps he is one year away from playing dominant baseball in GUSSOMO. Heaney largely shut down the Smoke offense except for a blip in the third inning, where a two-out Texas league single by Tommy Edman, lead to his lack of focus to J.P. Crawford. Anytime you lack focus against a big-league hitter, they will be able to damage the baseball, in this case, it was the one mistake that put Greensboro up 2-0.
Otherwise, both pitchers were able to handle the lineups effectively, as each team only gave up seven hits. However, the Smoke were able to capitalize on a wild pitch in the seventh and moving a runner from first around with ground balls to the right side. “I’m really proud of the way the team played tonight.” Manager Lars Nielsen stated, “There are times you can out mash a team. And there are times that you simply need to be fundamentally sound and let the ball bounce your way.”
Greensboro hopes to have the ball bounce their way in this next contest as the Smoke go for the sweep as Logan Allen takes the hill against Buster Ace, Zach Wheeler.
Game 3: Greensboro 6, Buster’s 5 (10 innings)
WP: J. Romano (2-2) LP: C. Holmes (1-2)
HR: T. O’Neill (18), F. Reyes (13), D. Swanson (22), C. Mullins (21)
There is an old saying around the plantations of the South as it relates to the proper way to roll tobacco: “The longer the roll, the cooler it smokes and the slower it burns.” It would seem that there were plenty of big gauge cigars being rolled and sold at tonight’s game, as the Smoke went extra innings, as they faced potential Cy Young candidate Zack Wheeler. Prior to the game, Wheeler lead all of GUSSOMO with 152 and a third innings pitched, an ERA of 2.84, the most complete games with eight, and fourth in the league with 173 strikeouts. Tonight, was going to be a long haul and a time to allow the Smoke to simply remain cool in their approach at the plate and allow the team heat up slowly.
Greensboro did not have any extravagant inning, but they remained patient at the plate, tallying two runs in the first, one in the second and two runs in the third. Their approach to remain cool at the plate, allowed J.P. Crawford to hit a Baltimore chop, leading off the game, before Mullins pulled a ball over the Left Field Wall. In the second, Tucker Barnhart leaned into a breaking ball, to be hit by a slider, before Crawford hit a deep double off the Left Centerfield wall. In the third, Greensboro got a bit of luck as they scored twice from a double by Ryan McMahon and Ketel Marte, misplaying the ball, which allowed two runs to score. It seemed that the Smoke might have had enough in the tank for this slowed approach.
However, the Battalions were ready to respond. They were able to put up a three spot on the board in the fourth and were able to hit solo home runs in the eighth and ninth off of Will Smith, thanks to the approach of Tyler O’Neill and Darby Swanson. This blown save, meant that though the Smoke had to go to extra innings, it also meant that they could move beyond Zack Wheeler and get a chance to see someone else.
After Jordan Romano shut down the Battalions in the 10th, the Smoke were able to dispatch reliever Clay Holmes quickly. After a weak ground out to first by J.P. Crawford, Cedric Mullins hit a seeing eye single and promptly stole his 30th bag of the year, allowing Jeimer Candelario to wrap a ball to the outfield, which plated the speedy Mullins for a 6-5 win and a sweep of Buster’s Battalions.
The Smoke now stand at 78-36, while Buster’s drops to 47-64.
August Series 3: Greensboro welcomes a much-improved Gilead roster, as both teams start to jockey for postseason positioning.
Game 1: Greensboro 8, Gilead 0
WP: J. Ross (6-4) LP:R. Ray (10-8)
HR: T. Edman (7), C. Blackmon 2 (9, 10), C. Mullins (22), A. Vaughn (8)
The franchise of Gilead has certainly been going through the rebuilding formula that Greensboro has the last several years. The former Milwaukee Beers franchise, now finds itself in solid positioning for the post-season, currently holding down the second wild card spot, and a mere four and a half games behind Albany for the divisional lead. Every citizen in North Carolina, knew the importance of this three-game tilt with the Gunslingers, as the names of Soto, Guerrero Jr., Posey, Baez came in with some very large sticks and the arms in the arsenal for Gilead now show names from other franchises, brought in to bolster the roster. That is the case for tonight’s starter, Robbie Ray, a mid-year addition from Rocky Mountain.
The Smoke hitters, a bit familiar with Ray, were not surprised and were able to touch up the left-hander for six runs over seven innings, including five homeruns from the lineup. It was as if the additional look at Ray, gave them the upper hand in the bought, as Lars Nielsen attempted something different. “I wanted to see how a couple of our boys would do throwing at home, as we prepare for the post-season.” Nielsen began. “I know the folks around here love seeing Jordan throw, but we wanted him to take an outing or two on the road, to see how he’d fare.”
Tonight, Greensboro sent out Joe Ross and his rubber band arm to the hill and he was excellent, giving up a mere four hits over six innings, as he neutralized the Gunslingers with his Paige-like approach to the mound. “Tonight, was fun,” Joe Ross said after the game. “I see why Jordan and Mike like pitching here at home. You literally just hafta sling that old cowhide up there and let the boys behind you play.”
Game 2: Greensboro 5, Gilead 4
WP: V. Velasquez (6-7) LP: K. Gibson (12-9) SV: J. Romano (11)
HR: J. Soto (19), W. Flores (10), C. Mullins (23), J. Candelario (12), K. Schwarber (29), O. Herrera (14).
There is a rare moment in the history of a franchise that you see things you’d never think you’d see. Tonight, was that night. Though the people of North Carolina are still waiting to see a no-hitter, tonight they saw several firsts. The evening got off to as rocky of a start as the folks from the Volunteer State would ever be happy to see. Starter Vince Velasquez simply could not see to catch a break as his pitching could only be called, “Effective Wildness.” He walked the first two hitters in the game, before throwing junk to Guerrero and Posey, who hit two singles plating two and loading the bases before he walked in a run with C.J. Cron’s patient approach. Then, lightning struck. Lamante Wade Jr. with the bases loaded, hit a laser up the middle, which was speared out of the heavens by Tommy Edman, who fired immediately to third base for the force out, confusing Buster Posey at second base, thinking he was forced at third. However, Ryan McMahon flipped the ball back to Edman at second, completing a TRIPLE PLAY, the first in Smoke history.
Coming back from down 2-0 in the first, with no outs and the bases loaded, would send any team into a downward spiral, but Edman’s Triple Play seemed to rally the Smoke and pulled themselves out of the defeatist attitude. Team Captain, Tommy Edman stated after the game, “That was remarkable. I was simply amazed. As we came back the dugout, everyone was so excited, we knew that the offense would start clicking.” Edman spoke the truth. The Smoke clawed their way back with a run in the first and a three-run inning in the third from the long ball.
As the Smoke came to the plate in the third, they seemed to be still figuring out Kyle Gibson with Barnhart’s weak ground ball to second and Crawford taking three poor swings at breaking balls. However, for the first time in team history, the Smoke went BACK-to-BACK-to-BACK. Local hero Cedric Mullins hit a ball over the warehouse in right, to get the team on their feet. Jeimer Candelario then came up and hit a ball a bit further over the warehouse in right. This got everyone on their feet as the energy seemed to multiply in the stands. Then, strolling to the plate was big Kyle Schwarber. He crushed a ball to deep left center, into section 127 (formally known as the Suarez section). The sound of hickory wood meeting the ball, reverberated around all of downtown Greensboro, as everyone in the stadium collectively held their breath. It was a magnificent drive that seemed to carry almost 500 feet. Player, coach and fan alike simply just watched as the ball seemed to gain wings and flew over the fence. As the crowd realized what had happened, they now saw that they were leading in this game four to two and the momentum had fully shifted.
After a couple of solo homeruns by Gilead in the sixth and seventh, coupled with Odubel Herrera’s solo homerun in the sixth, the game was turned over to the bullpen and Jordan Romero came out for a rare five out save, which he mowed down hitters with his fastball, striking out all five hitters.
Game 3: Greensboro 4, Gilead 3
WP: K Freeland (9-4). LP: C. Flexen (7-8), SV: J. Romano (12)
HR: C. Mullins (24)
Finishing out the three-game set, veteran lefty Kyle Freeland took the bump for the first time at home this year. He did not disappoint in his six strong innings of baseball. Kyle was not dominant as he gave up three earned runs, while scattering ten hits. However, he was efficient as he held the Gunslingers to hitting three for fifteen with runners in scoring position, leaving ten men on base.
Freeland got into trouble in the first inning, loading the bases with only one out, yet was able to work around trouble to limit the Gunslingers to one run. In the second inning, the Smoke throughout Buster Posey at home plate to end the inning. They limited the Gunslingers to two runs in the third after two singles and a double. And when the bullpen came in, they shut down the opposition in three innings, allowing just one hit and allowing Jordan Romano to pick up his 12th save of the year.
The Smoke end this three-game series with an overall record of 81-36, tying their franchise high in wins in only they 117th game. Gilead drops to 60-51, still in the hunt for the playoffs this year. Greensboro welcomes in Mississippi for to end the month of August as they too are fighting for a playoff spot this year.
August Series 4: Greensboro able to claim yet another rubber match after several scares in games one and two from an incredible Mississippi team.
Game 1: Greensboro 7, Mississippi 6
WP: A. Vesia (2-1), T. Rogers (1-3), SV: J. Romano (13)
HR: K. Farmer (9), R. Jeffers (5), K. Schwarber (30), O. Herrera (15)
For the second straight series, Greensboro Owner/Manager Lars Nielsen, has decided to allow Jordan Montgomery to pitch on the road, rather than sticking with his main arm to open the series at home. As mentioned previously, he was going to see how some of his mainstays faired away from the Smokehouse or at the friendly confines against playoff bound teams. Enter in again the Paige-like right arm of Joe Ross, who simply went up there and threw everything in his arsenal against the Big Orange. However, Ross was wildly ineffective, giving up two runs, one earned in five innings, allowing five hits but walking five batters before turning it over to the bullpen after a laboring 103 pitches.
The Big Orange seemed ready for Smoke pitchers, as they put up six runs, however most of their damage came off reliever Logan Allen, whose Slider, simply didn’t slide tonight, giving up homeruns to the likes of Kyle Farmer and light-hitting catcher Ryan Jeffers. “They took a great approach tonight,” Nielsen said after the game, “I’m just glad our offense carried us tonight.”
The Smoke hitters were up to the task. After staking the team to a two-to-nil lead after the first inning, by playing small ball. The Smoke then had to claw back thanks to a blast by Odubel Herrera in the sixth, a two-run homerun by Schwarber in the 7th and a RBI single in the eighth. By the time the top of the ninth rolled around, Jordan Romano came out for a one-two-three inning, nailing down his 13th save of the year.
Game 2: Mississippi 8, Greensboro 2
WP: M. Foltynewicz (4-5), LP: K. Freeland (9-5), SV: M. Wacha (1)
HR: Y. Hernandez (4), R. Grossman (9), R. Jeffers 2 (6, 7), K. Schwarber (31), B. Phillips (9).
The tables certainly turned-on Tuesday night in Greensboro, whether the wind shifted, or Kyle Freeland was unable to keep his pitches located, the Smoke found themselves in trouble tonight, dropping game two to the Big Orange, 8-2. Smoke pitchers were not good tonight, as they gave up thirteen hits, walking four batters and giving up four home runs. Chief among them, the Smoke are making Ryan Jeffers look like a future Hall of Fame Catcher.
Jeffers was brilliant tonight as he smashed a home run in the third with a man on and hit a second mammoth home run in the ninth, en route to a 2-for-3 night, with a base on balls. “I love playing in this park,” Jeffers said after the game. “It’s beautiful, the BBQ smells amazing and I see the ball really well here.”
Hopefully, the Smoke won’t see more of Ryan Jeffers in Game Three, the dreaded rubber match.
Game 3: Greensboro 8, Mississippi 1
WP: D. Duffy (4-0) LP: E. Morgan (1-5) SV: J. Romano (14)
HR: Y. Hernandez (5), J. Crawford (14), C. Mullins 2 (25, 26), J. Candelario (13)
Knowing that tonight’s matchup was going to be a defining moment for the Smoke, Nielsen trotted out former ace Danny Duffy. The left-handed veteran had pitched in many big games in his career. Nielsen, trusting in Duffy, meant that the Smoke were meaning business to ensure they took the rubber match with Mississippi. Multiple longtime Smoke fans, saw the number 41 and took their seats quickly to see Gordo take the mound.
Duffy was able to masterfully control not only the strike zone but the pace of the game. Aside from a fifth inning mistake to Yadiel Hernandez, Duffy seemed to have the Big Orange hitters off their game all night. As he struck out eleven of the twenty-one batters he faced. He was masterful and as he exited in the middle of the sixth inning, a chorus of people began chanting “The weak become strong and the strong become great.” Duffy merely tipped his hat to the crowd as he realized that his night was done.
Thankfully, the remainder of the evening was quite simple as the Smoke hitters resembled the great lineups in history tonight. Everyone in the lineup got on base and they were led by the top of the order. Jeimer Candelario was solid in his approach, drawing two walks and hitting a big fly in the second inning. Hometown hero Cedric Mullins would have received player of the month based upon August, but for tonight, his two home run night was not the best performance of the night. Instead, leadoff hitter J.P. Crawford went a perfect five for five as he had three RBIS and three runs scored. “Tonight was fun. It is always good to be behind Duffy as he works quick and gets us into the dugout.” Crawford stated, “It seemed like a beach ball out there tonight. I was able to hit the ball where I want.” Crawford raised his batting average this month from .289 to .310.
The Smoke have finished the month going 10-2 and now have a record of 83-37 as they enter the cooler months of September, hopefully the Smoke will continue their winning ways.