The First Lofgren 2nd Chance Invitational Tournament is officially in the books. Tournament play wrapped up last night with Guest Roller Mr. Ben Lofgren (my older brother, fellow teacher and coach).
The games were rolled in my tabletop ballpark aptly named APBA PARK with college football on the TV in the background serving as “white noise” while my wife and three boys had fallen soundly asleep upstairs. Sounds like the perfect way to spend time with your brother, right? After talking about the current events of the day, and dealing out some of our dry humor to each other, it was time to get after it!
The final four teams were all looking at redemption, and especially in the case of the 1994 Yankees, simply to have a chance to win due to the strike wiping out their opportunity 23 years ago. The 2003 Cubs likely have the biggest monkey on their collective backs, losing in seven games to the Florida Marlins in the 2003 NLCS after being up 3 games to 2 and ahead 3-1 with one out in the top of the 8th inning with Mark Prior on the hill. Enter Steve Bartman – and the rest is history as the Cubs imploded! The 2008 Brewers and 1992 A’s were teams that fell into the “pretty good” category. Nothing really notably stands out about these two squads, but all around, are certainly solid squads.
The first semi-final pitted the 2008 Brewers up against the 1994 Yankees as a bunting-filled Cleveland Municipal Stadium never looked better.
Milwaukee’s offense got to Jimmy Key (BYZ) early and often. The Brewers would plate eight runs off Key in just three innings of work as Milwaukee won 9-4 over the hapless Yankees. A two-run triple by Corey Hart and a two-run homer to left by Mike Cameron were the big blows. CC Sabathia (BXYZ) pitched a complete game for Milwaukee, allowing two earned runs, eight hits, and striking out five to win his third game of the tournament as the ’08 Brewers advanced to the championship.
The second semi-final saw the 2003 Cubs take on the 1992 A’s with Mark Prior (AXZ) squaring off with Ron Darling (B). As in the first game, the winning team scored early and often to coast to a comfortable win. The Cubs knew the A’s possessed a strong bullpen, so it was key for them to get to Ron Darling early. They did. After scoring a pair of runs in the first two innings, the Cubs put up three more runs in the 3rd to take a 5-0 lead. Sammy Sosa’s two-run homer to dead center knocked Darling out of the game, entering in Oakland’s string of four “A” relievers.
It proved to be too little, too late. The A’s scored three runs to cut it to 6-3 before eventually losing 7-3. Prior tossed a complete game for the Cubbies, allowing three earned runs, seven hits, and struck out five. Vince Horsman (A), Jim Corsi (A), Dennis Eckersley (AXYZZ), and Jeff Russell (ACY) tossed 6 2/3 innings of relief, allowing a pair of runs while striking out 9 to keep the A’s close. Guest Roller Ben Lofgren rolled both the Brewers and the Cubs to victory so I gave him first dibs on this team for the title bout – he chose to roll with the ’08 Brewers in the grand finale.
I would not have pegged this championship matchup at ALL back in April when I started this journey. Nonetheless, here we were with the 2008 Brewers and the 2003 Cubs, two very deserving teams for a shot at redemption. I was happy that the two finalists were non-pennant winning teams, proving the point that the margin of victory/defeat is a fine line in MLB, as well as other sports. For the Brewers, Ben Sheets (BYZ) took the ball while Carlos Zambrano (BY) started for the Cubs. Both would go on to pitch GEMS for their respective clubs….but only one would wind up a winner.
After a scoreless first, Moises Alou hit the first pitch Sheets threw in the 2nd inning for a solo homer into Municipal Stadium’s left-field bleachers to break the scoreless tie.
Corey Patterson and Eric Karros both worked out walks and later executed a perfect double-steal, forcing an intentional walk to Amaris Ramirez to load the bases for Damian Miller with no outs. Miller grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, scoring Patterson while Alex Gonzalez lined out to 2nd to end the inning as the Cubs led 2-0. The Cubs would manage just two baserunners for the rest of the game (walks worked out by Miller) as Sheets held the Cubs’ lineup in check. However, the Brewers had no answer for Zambrano as he had allowed one lone single through five innings. With two outs in the 6th, Ray Durham lined a double down the left field line. Ryan Braun then hit a grounder deep into the hole at shortstop. Alex Gonzalez fielded the ball and fired it to Ramirez at third to nab Durham to end the inning. Mike Cameron led off the 8th with a double, but was unable to get any closer. With the 9th inning looming and Zambrano now an A, would it be Zambrano in to seal the deal or closer Joe Borowski (AXZ)? The decision was made to stick with Zambrano. A lead off single by Braun sent Borowski to warm up in the bullpen. Prince Fielder struck out and Russell Branyan grounded out to third, moving Braun to second with two outs. Gabe Kapler was the last hope for the Brewers, but his 46-13 resulted in a game-ending strikeout as the 2003 Cubs nipped the 2008 Brewers 2-0 to take home the championship!
Carlos Zambrano was the winning pitcher, tossing a four-hit shoutout with 9 K’s and zero walks!
He also took home the 2nd Chance Invitational Tournament MVP Award as he was 3-0 with two complete games, four earned runs allowed in 25 IP with 24 K’s in his three starts. Ben Sheets was just as amazing in defeat, throwing a complete game while allowing just one hit! He gave up one hit, two earned runs, and five walks (one intentional) with four strikeouts to take the loss. Even with the recent World Series championship by the 2016 Cubs, these 2003 Chicago Cubs can now officially close the book on their traumatic ending to their otherwise stellar season as this title puts them above, at least, the multitude of hard-luck losers MLB has come to know. I’m very pleased that this team wound up winning! Whenever the next 2nd-Chance Invitational will be held, the 2003 Cubs will be invited to play and it will be their one chance to defend their title. Tournament winners will be invited back to play in the following tournament and then that will be it.
Following the championship game, the crowd at Municipal Stadium wanted more and chanted, “Encore! Encore!”
With Ben and myself still amped to burn the midnight oil, we decided to break out the APBA Baseball Home Run Derby Game, something neither of us have ever touched. We decided to pick one representative from the teams that lost in the semi-finals. The 1992 A’s selected Mark McGwire to participate while the 1994 Yankees elected to have Mike Stanley take his whacks. The Derby consisted of 9 innings with three outs apiece for each participant per inning. Stanley led most of the competition. However, a five homerun effort by McGwire in the 8th inning propelled him to an eventual 16-12 win over Stanley to officially conclude the events of the tournament. The City of Cleveland did a spectacular job of reconstructing Municipal Stadium for this event. However, Cleveland said it would not be able to host any future events due to the negative publicity regarding former Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell that resurfaced during the tournament.
All in all, this tournament took WAY LONGER than I wanted it to. I was hoping it would take me a couple of months…instead of 8!! I’m accustomed to single-team replays, so doing a 64 team tournament challenged my organizational skills, constantly changing teams, writing down/tweaking lineups, etc. My window to play games isn’t at my peak time of attentiveness and alertness (after 9 PM once the kids are all in bed). Life has been very busy (and tiring), and APBA sometimes so low on the totem pole for me that I sometimes forget it’s even there. BUT…it is ALWAYS on my mind! It was especially fun to share parts of this with my brother Ben, and I’m blessed to have an APBA-holic just a few blocks away from where I live and he also works where I work…so we’re constantly talking APBA!
With the dawn of hardcore winter setting it, I really wanted to get this done because it was really fun, I miss playing the game, and now to focus back on a season replay of some type. What that will be, I’m not so sure yet, but I have plenty of ideas! Thanks for reading and for those that followed this – I really appreciate your insight and comments! Look below for some final tournament tidbits!
2003 CHICAGO CUBS (88-74, Lost in 2003 NLCS to the Florida Marlins 4-3)
Beat 2009 Phillies 4-2
Beat 1989 Giants 3-2
Beat 2004 Cardinals 7-4
Beat 1994 Expos 9-2
Beat 1992 A’s 7-3
Beat 2008 Brewers 2-0
TOURNAMENT MVP: SP Carlos Zambrano (2003 Cubs)
HOME RUN DERBY CHAMPION: 1B Mark McGwire (1992 A’s)
PENNANT-WINNING TEAMS: 22-29
NON PENNANT-WINNING TEAMS: 41-34
TEAMS OF THE 80’s: 9-19
TEAMS OF THE 90’s: 26-23
TEAMS OF THE 2000’s: 28-21
FINAL TOURNAMENT BRACKET