Saturday, September 23rd was a red-letter day for the PLAAY Games crew, as we met up in Seattle for the fifth annual Fall Classic pre-PLAAY! We gathered at the legendary Mox Boarding House Game Cafe in Bellevue, a truly incredible place with a national reputation as being one of the best board game venues in the world—no exaggeration! It certainly lived up to that billing for us, and there's just no other way to begin this recap than to express our thanks to Frank Stanley and the amazing group of people at Mox for hosting our event!
Not only was it was the best-ever Fall Classic Pre-PLAAY in terms of the venue, it was also the most memorable series we've ever had in terms of drama and excitement. Of course, EVERY Pre-PLAAY has been awesome in terms of the people, camaraderie and fun: this one had that, AND an amazing series of games as well...
The stage was set in the two weeks leading up to the event. Saturday, September 9th, we began the process of writing our own ending to baseball's 2017 season. Using the actual big league standings as a starting point, we quick-played the remainder of the regular season with the Instant Results Matrix (which comes with the In-Season cards), and generated our playoff field: our six division winners were Boston, Cleveland and Houston in the AL, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles in the NL; our AL wild card entrants were Los Angeles and New York, while we wound up with Arizona and St. Louis in the NL. The PLAAY Games community took it from there, with various gamers conducting the playoffs on their tabletops, chronicled on the PLAAY Games Community Facebook page. Both leagues saw wild card winners on hot streaks! In the AL, Los Angeles knocked off New York in the play-in game, and then sent Houston packing in five games, while Cleveland outlasted Boston in another series that went the full five games. In the NL, Arizona defeated the Cards and then eliminated Los Angeles to move to the NLCS against Washington, which needed five games to knock out Chicago.
That action set us up for the grand finale at Mox. We used our "game seven" format to determine the two league champions. That is, we assumed that both the Arizona-Washington and Cleveland-Los Angeles series had gone to a deciding game seven, which we then full-played in full-drama, on the game tables at Mox, starting around noon. Here's how they went down. (PLAAY gamer managers and starting pitchers in parentheses)...
ALCS Game Seven: Los Angeles (MGR: Scott Howard, SP: Bridwell) vs. Cleveland (MGR: Art Campana, SP: Kluber). Angels scored four runs in the third, triggered by Trout's three-run homer, but Cleveland responded with five runs in their half of the inning, with homers from Lindor and Encarnacion. Ramirez doubled in Jackson for an insurance run in the Cleveland 5th, which turned out to be the game-winner when the Angels got a run in the top of the eighth. Miller shut down LA in the top of the ninth to send the Indians to their second consecutive pre-PLAAY series! FINAL: Cleveland 6, Los Angeles 5.
NLCS Game Seven: Arizona (MGR: Brien Aronov, SP: Greinke) vs. Washington (MGR: Jule and Joseph Sigall, SP: Strasburg). We had drama right from the start when Game Day revealed a Scherzer injury TFN! Given our tournament format, we decided that we would have Scherzer roll a decider die each game, with a "bullet" needed for clearance from the trainer. So with a trip to the WS on the line, the Nats had to improvise and went with Strasburg. He didn't look sharp, and got the hook in the third inning after Ianetta's triple gave the D-Backs a 5-0 lead. But the Nats came back. Back-to-back solo homers from Taylor and Harper in the bottom of the fourth made it 5-2, a two-run shot from Murphy followed by a solo dinger from Baldwin tied the game in the sixth, and Taylor homered again in the seventh, a two-run blast that put Washington in front! Doolittle came on to close it out with two innings of hitless pitching, sending the Nats to the pre-PLAAY WS! FINAL: Washington 7, Arizona 5.
After a half hour or so of re-hashing and savoring the league championships and discussing pitching rotations for the big showdown, we got our series underway...
Game ONE, Cleveland (MGR: Brien Aronov, SP: Cleavinger) at Washington (MGR: Scott Howard, SP: Gonzalez). Scherzer not available, so Gonzalez got the start for Washington. The series started with extra innings, after Cleveland rallied with solo home runs from Chisenhall and Gonzalez in the top of the sixth to tie the game 4-4. Santana's homer in the top of the eleventh off Kinztler gave Cleveland the lead, and McAllister retired the Nats in order to make it stand up for a surprise road win to sieze home field advantage. FINAL: Cleveland 5, Washington 4 (11 innings).
Game TWO, Cleveland (MGR: Art Campana, SP: Carrasco) at Washington (MGR: Keith Avallone, SP: Scherzer). (Yes, I got to manage a game in the Pre-PLAAY for the first time, as an unscheduled game of HISTORY MAKER GOLF broke out at Mox among the other PLAAY Gamers, temporarily detaining our scheduled manager! More on that later.) Scherzer gets healthy just in time, makes a much-needed start for the Nats. He scatters three hits before getting trouble in the sixth inning, score tied 1-1. After Encarnacion grounds out, Santana singles, scoring Chisenhall who had drawn a lead-off walk. Kipnis reaches on an error by (SS) and a questionable call from home plate umpire gives Perez a free pass and loads the bases with one out. Doolittle comes on and promptly bails the Nats out, getting Ramirez to pop out and striking out Bruce (pinch hitter) to end the inning with just one run across for the Tribe. Bottom of the seventh, Lind smacks a pinch-hit double that scores Harper and Difo, giving the Nats the lead 3-2. Albers gets Cleveland 1-2-3 in the eighth, including two strikeouts (Encarnacion and Santana), and Kintzler closes it out in the ninth by retiring three consecutive Insian pinch hitters. FINAL: Washington 3, Cleveland 2.
Game THREE, Washington (MGR: Brien Aronov, SP: Strasburg) at Cleveland (MGR: Art Campana, SP: Kluber). This one was all Kluber, who tossed a complete game five-hit shut out, with eleven strikeouts. Strasburg pitched will for Washington, six hits in seven innings, but gave up homers to Chisenhall and Gonzalez to take the loss. FINAL: Cleveland 3, Washington 0.
Game FOUR, Washington (MGR: Scott Howard, SP: Gonzalez) at Cleveland (MGR: Eric Lutzker, SP: Cleavenger). This game started out with a bang, but ended up as another nail-biter. After Turner grounded out to start the game, Kendrick walked, Harper got plunked by Cleavenger. Zimmerman lined out, but Rendon smashed a three-run homer for a quick 3-0 Washintgon lead. Cleveland got a tun back in the fourth (Kipnis' double driving in Chisenhall), and another one in the fifth (Brantley scored on Jackson's single). Zimmerman's solo homer in the sixth made it a 4-2 game, but the Tribe kept chipping away with runs in the seventh and eighth innings tying the score at 4-4. Bottom of the ninth, Santana leads off with a single, Kipnis takes first on a fielders choice, and Gomes hammers a double off Kintzler that scores Kipnis for the walk-off win that gives Cleveland a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. FINAL: Cleveland 5, Washington 4.
Game FIVE, Washington (MGR: Ryan Beegle, SP: Scherzer) at Cleveland (MGR: Alexandra Beegle, SP: Carrasco). (Side note: Alexandra became the first woman to manage in our Fall Classic series! Very cool!) This turned out to be a truly epic pitchers duel, with both pitchers throwing scoreless baseball through—this is not a misprint—twelve full innings! Carrasco gave up just six hits, two walks, eight strikeouts, and Scherzer allowed only five hits, no walks, nine strikeouts. Top of the thirteenth, though, the wheels fall off for Carrasco, giving up hits to Rendon and Werth. Miller comes in to try to keep the game scoreless, but Wieters with an RBI single. Taylor then grounds into an inning-ending double play, but the run is in and Madsen comes in to close it out for the Nats, striking out the side (Bruce, Gomes and Brantley) to keep Washington's hopes alive. FINAL: Washington 1, Cleveland 0 (13 innings).
Game SIX, Cleveland (MGR: Jule Sigall, SP: Kluber) at Washington (MGR: Brien Aronov, SP: Jackson). Unlike game five, game six had instant fireworks, Santana with a grand slam homer in the top of the first to give Cleveand a 4-0 lead. Lind makes up some of that with a two-run homer in the bottom of the second and the Nats scratch out another run in the fifth when Kendrick triples and Harper knocks him in with a single. Bottom of the ninth, Indians lead 4-3. Weiters leads off with a double, chasing Allen. Jackson sacrifices Wieters to third, and Taylor knocks him in with a single, we're tied 4-4! Allen gets Harper to hit into a DP to end the inning, but we're going to extra innings again. Top of the tenth, Indians take the lead a two-out double from Gonzalez (off Perez), followed by a base hit from Lindor that plates Gonzalez. Perez K's Santana to end the inning. Bottom of the tenth: Zimmerman leads off with a single and Murphy walks, but then Allen fans Rendon and Werth and suddenly the Nats are down to their last out. Wieters steps to the plate and rips a single to CF that scores Zimmerman and ties the game. Out comes Allen, in comes Goody to face Taylor—who laces a base hit that scores Murphy! Game over, the Nats pull it out again! FINAL: Washington 6, Cleveland 5.
...So "three hours later" (that's the great thing about tabletop baseball, we didn't have to actually sit and wait for three hours for the rain to clear out!), we're back in action: top of the ninth inning, Cleveland runners on first and third, two out. Encarnacion pinch hits to try to drive in the go-ahead run(s), but Doolittle strikes him out to end the threat! Bottom half of the inning, Miller strikes out the side for the Tribe. So the series will be decided in early morning extra innings!
Madson gets three Cleveland batters to ground out 1-2-3, and we go to the bottom of the tenth, Joe Smith on the mound for Cleveland. Wieters draws a lead-off walk. (NOTE that in my Facebook post from after the event, I incorrectly posted that there were two out and that Wieters had singled.) Goodwin comes in to pinch hit—and connects for a double (off the umpire mini-chart)! Wieters heads for home, the throw looks like it's on-target and on-time...but (Questionable) home plate umpire Doug Eddings says--he's SAFE! Whaaa? Nats fans go crazy, Indians fans are incensed. Video review...it's VERY close...and (die roll), the call is UPHELD! The Nationals win the Fall Classic! FINAL: Washington 3, Cleveland 2.
As a post-script, I want to personally thank everyone who attended! As always, it was a wonderful day of building friendships around this great hobby of ours. After the event, those who could stay hung out for dinner at Mox (it is, after all, a Game CAFE with an amazing menu of GREAT food!), but eventually (around 9 PM!) the time came to say so long. Another great Fall Classic in the books!