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PLAAY Games in St. Louis: 7th Annual Fall Classic Pre-PLAAY with HISTORY MAKER BASEBALL, September 28, 2019

Fall Classic in The Lou: "Group Photo!" PLAAY Gamers gathered at Game Nite Games in St. Louis for the 2019 Fall Classic Pre-PLAAY, Saturday September 28th, 2019. (A list of names is at the end of this article.)

Saturday September 28th, 2019 PLAAY Games visited the great baseball city of St. Louis for the Seventh Annual HISTORY MAKER BASEBALL Fall Classic Pre-PLAAY! A cadre of fifteen PLAAY Gamers descended on GameNite Games, 8380 Watson Road, St. Louis as we once again "pre-PLAAYed" baseball's Fall Classic championship series a full month before the real thing using the 2019 Pro In-Season card set for HISTORY MAKER BASEBALL Big League Baseball Game!

September 10th, we fast-forwarded through the last few weeks of baseball's 2019 regular season with HMB's Universal Instant Results chart to establish our own playoff field. Then, members of the PLAAY games online community completed the preliminary playoff series, including the Wild Card Play-In Games and first-round divisional series, for both leagues. Here's how everything's shaking out so far...

The divisional champions are no surprise: Yankees, Twins, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers. No race was closer than six games. A mild surprise: Houston ended up with the best record in baseball (108-54) winning 14 of its final 18 games. The Dodgers and Yankees each won 105 games, the Twins won 101.

The wild card race had some excitement, though, especially in the NL. The Phillies were red-hot, winning 16 of their final 20 games to finish 90-72, just six games back of the Braves—not bad, considering they were 14 games out of first when the fast-forward began. That surge gave Philly the top Wild Card slot. The second slot—well, it went down to the final day of the season. Washington had a chance to clinch it at home, but lost to the Indians. That left the door open for the D-Backs. Arizona defeated the Padres, forcing a play-in game for the play-in game (both clubs 87-75)!! Arizona won the season series 4-3, so they hosted. The winner traveled to Philadelphia for the NL Wild Card Game.

In the AL, the Indians faded out of the picture by dropping 11 of their last 18 games. The Red Sox hung in there for awhile, but split a weekend series with the Rays when they really needed to sweep. The Athletics played well enough to keep distance between them and the Sox. Last game of the season saw both the A's and Rays win, leaving them with identical 95-67 records. The A's won the season series 4-3, so they hosted the AL Wild Card Game.

Two Lukes: Luke Holman (top left) managed the Braves against Luke McEvoy (bottom right)in game three of the 2019 Fall Classic Pre-PLAAY, Saturday September 28th, 2019. That's (dad) Brent Holman sitting next to Luke.

So our Big League PLAAY-Off Schedule (and results) looked like this...

Washington at Arizona: Arizona 5, Washington 4 (played by Wes Wilson).

AL Wild Card: Tampa Bay 3, Oakland 0 (Wednesday, September 11, AFR Wild Card Wednesday)
NL Wild Card: Arizona 8, Philadelphia 2 (Thursday, September 12, PLAAY Games YouTube Channel)

AL Divisional Finals

Tampa Bay at Houston [James Cast]: Houston wins series 3-0.
Minnesota at New York [Chris Dinkins]: Minnesota wins series 3-0.

NL Divisional Finals

Arizona at Los Angeles [Wes Wilson]: Los Angeles wins series 3-0.
St. Louis at Atlanta [Cooper Gilbert]: Atlanta wins series 3-0.

Wow—sweeps in all FOUR series! Totally the opposite of last year's playoffs, in which all four divisional series went the full five games!

That got us down to the two league championship series: Minnesota at Houston and Atlanta at Los Angeles, which were played on-location in St. Louis, using our "game seven" winner-take-all format to determine our Fall Classic participants. Both games were edge-of-your-seat thrillers...

Houston/Minnesota was a pitchers duel (Cole vs. Berrios) through eight innings, with the Twins (managed by Scot Long) clinging to a 1-0 lead forged on C. J. Cron's second-inning RBI base hit. But in the bottom of the ninth, the Astros (piloted by Chad McEVoy) got a one-out double from Correa. Springer was then walked intentionally. Reddick struck out, and the Astros were down to their final out. Maldonado swings--and lines a base hit into shallow left field to load the bases! Altuve then steps to the plate--double to left field! Correa and Springer score, and Houston punches its ticket to the Fall Classic!

Atlanta/Los Angeles started out as a slug-fest, each team roughing up the other's pitching staff for early runs: the Braves led 4-3 at the end of two. From there, though, it was all goose-eggs, Soroka vs. Kershaw. Top of the eighth, Freeman added an insurance run for Atlanta with a solo homer. 5-3 was the final, Soroka going the distance and allowing just one hit after the second inning.

So it was Houston vs. Atanta for our Fall Classic! Here's a game-by-game summary(starting pitchers in parentheses)...

Game ONE at Houston: (Verlander vs. Fried): Gary Brown managed Houston, Scott Johnson led Atlanta. A solo homer from Freeman and a pair of run-scoring doubles from Markakis was all the Braves neeed, as Fried silenced the Astro bats. Atlanta 3, Houston 1.

Game TWO at Houston: (Greinke vs. Keuchel): Andy McEvoy piloted Houston, Kevin Albertina called the shots for Atlanta. Greinke tossed a playoff gem, a complete-game four-hit shut-out, striking out six and walking just one. The 'Stros roughed up former team-mate Keuchel for four runs in the fourth inning, more than enough runs to seal the win. Houston 5, Atlanta 0.

Game THREE at Atlanta: (Cole vs. Soroka): A managerial battle of Lukes (and kids!): Luke McEvoy led the Astros, Luke Holman led the Braves. Scoreless through four innings, Houston got two runs across in the fifth inning with consecutive singles by Alvarez, Bregman and Correa. Bregman added a solo homer in the seventh inning. Houston 3, Atlanta 1.

Game FOUR at Atlanta: (Miley vs. Tehran): Bob Jinkerson managed the Braves, Chad McEvoy the Astros. Extra base hits in the sixth innning from Markakis and Riley plated three runs sent Miley to the showers and gave Atlanta a 6-1 lead. Bregman belted a three-run homer in the eighth to make it 6-4 and give Houston hope, but Green shut down the Astros in the ninth to even the series for the Braves. Atlanta 6, Houston 4.

Game FIVE at Atlanta: (Fried vs. Verlander): Brien Aronov took the Braves, Andy McEvoy the Astros. Again, the Astros benefitted from Bregman's big bat—he blasted home runs in the first and third innings to stake Houston to a 4-1 lead. The Braves got a run back in the fifth on ALbies' RBI double, but the bullpens took it from there, shutting everything else down, both teams. Houston 4, Atlanta 2.

'Stros in Six: Mike Gant (L) and Luke Holman (R) shake hands after an epic Fall Classic Game Six. Scot Long smiles in the background--what a game! Game Nite Games, St. Louis, September 28, 2019.

Game SIX at Houston: (Keuchel vs. Greinke): Mike Gant ran the Braves, Luke Holman piloted the Astros. This may have been the greatest Fall Classic Pre-PLAAY game ever played! The Astros got to Keuchel early. Altuve led off with a walk and Brantley tripled him in for an instant Astro lead. But wait—there was more! Including yet another dinger from Bregman, his fifth of the series, a solo shot that made it 5-0. Atlanta got a run back in the second on Duvall's solo homer, but the Astros answered with second-inning doubles from Maldonado and Correa to make it 6-1. At that point it looked bad for the Braves, but they hung in there, nicking Greinke for base hits and chipping away at the lead. The Braves got a run in the third and another one in the fourth. Two more in the fifth when Greinke's wild pitch allowed Freeman to score, and Joyce followed that up with a run-scoring base hit that made it a one-run game, 6-5. The run production amped up for Atlanta in the sixth inning. By that time, Greinke was gone and the Braves clobbered Houston's bullpen for three more runs, Acuna's two run homer off Harris doing most of the damage. Rondon came in and give up doubles to Donaldson and Duvall, and then loaded the bases by walking Joyce and McCann. Swanson drove deep, DEEP fly ball--snagged by Brantley at the warning track to end what could have been a crushing inning. But Atlanta had siezed momentum and the lead, 8-6. Bottom of the seventh, Webbon the mound for Atlanta, Altuve doubled and Brantley tripled to make it 8-7. Correa drove in Brantley, and the game was knotted at 8-8! Arementeros sets the Braves down 1-2-3 in the eighth. Springer blasts a one-out homer, and the Astros regained the lead, 9-8! Top of the ninth innning, Osuna on the mound for Houston, the eighth Astros pitcher this game. Acuna leads off with a single. Freeman legs out a single of his own, and suddenly there are two Braves on the base path and nobody out! Donaldson's grounder moves the runners to second and third. It was here that Osuna found his groove, getting Markakis and Duvall on back-to-back strikeouts! It's OVER: Houston wins game six and the series! Houston 9, Atlanta 8.

Our unanimous series MVP was Bregman, who batted .320 with eight RBI, six runs scored and five home runs. Notable for his performance despite his team's loss in the series Freddie Freeman batted .438 for Atlanta, with four doubles, a home run and five walks. As an exclamation point to this year's Fall Classic, we had our champion Houston play a one-off World Championship game against the Saitama Seibu Lions, Brien Aronov's Japanese League In-Season champion! (You can download Brien's 2019 Japanese League In-Season cards here!) The Japanese champs took a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning, but the Astros rattled reliever Hirai for a couple base hits (Altuve and Springer), and Bregman, Brantley, and Reddick each connected off Ogawa. When the dust settled, Houston had taken a 5-3 lead. They added another run in the ninth on Maldonado's RBI single, scoring Bregman. So, Houston ended the day with two championship titles! Houston 6, Saitama 4.

Our "official" hotel for the event was the Hampton Inn St. Louis South/I-55, 4200 MidAmerica Lane, St. Louis, MO 63129. We had games going on almost non-stop in the hotel common area when we weren't playing games at Game Nite!

Thanks to the wonderful crew at Game Nite Games, who made us feel so welcome and graciously provided spacious accommodations despite having a Magic the Gathering release event going on at the same time as the Fall Classic Pre-PLAAY! Thanks also to everyone who participated, especially those who came in from out of town (we had gamers from 7 different states in attendance!): Kevin Albertina, Brien Aronov, Gary Brown, Mike Gant, Rick Hargraves, Brent and Luke Holman, Scott Johnson, Scot Long, and the McEvoy gang (Chad, Andy and Luke). Special thanks to Bob Jinkerson, who was our St. Louis point person and made the arrangements for us to spend the day at Game Nite Games!