Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Muckrakers near-perfect in bopping Hard Knocks

CONCORD -- Such is the state of things for your much-improved Muckrakers is that they amassed 20 runs in an 16-run rout of Hard Knocks last Thursday to win for the second time in the past three games -- and that comes nowhere close to being the story.

No, your humble scribe has, as they say in the profession, “buried the lead” because that lead is just too yummy, too delicious, to just reveal all at once. No, better to let things linger for a second or two, just to build up that wonderful anticipation and suspense.

There. That oughta do it.

The story behind the story here is the Muckrakers had a perfect game going for 4 1/3 innings. Yes, you read that right. Thirteen Hard Knocks batters up, 13 Hard Knocks batters down. Folks, it’s hard enough producing one perfect inning in slow-pitch softball, much less 4 1/3 of the little suckers. Try it some time, then get back to us.

As you now know, it takes a village to fashion 4 1/3 innings of perfection. Pitcher Dave Taxier was doing pretty much what he’s always done, lob the ol’ sphere over the plate and let the big, burly foes do with it what they might. What was special here was that no matter where the Hard Knockers hit it, there was a ‘Raker defender who knew what to do with it.

This was, in short, a breakout game in the breakout season of one Matt Knauff. The fleet center fielder went hither and yon, tracking down whatever Hard Knocks sent his way. Ball in the gap to the left? Knauff’s there. Ball gapped to the right? Knauff runs it down. A blooper over second? Speedy Knauff has the knack for that play, too. Hard Knocks tested Matt every way it could, and he came up aces each time.

Chace Bryson in left and Bob (BB) Brindley in right-center were tested less, but when it was their turn to come up with the big play, they did, no problem.

The infield was similarly tight. The corner configuration was a relatively new one -- Rick Browning at third and Luke (I Usta Roova) Abbott at first -- but both played like 20-year vets at their positions. Abbott gloved each throw that came his way and showed nifty judgment on snagging one short-hopped throw.

Throw in the stellar gloves of shortstop Randy Striegel and second baseman Mike Yurkus and you got yourself one nifty defense that came an inning or so of pure perfection.

But this was not one of those all-field, no-hit kinda deals. Far from it, brother. No, on this special night The Men of Rake had their hitting shoes on as well, striking for a season-high 20 runs on a season-high 21 hits.

Serving notice early that this would be a game for the ages, Yer ‘Rakers came viciously out off the box to rally for 10 runs in the first inning, sending 16 batters to the plate.

The big splat was provided by that guy Knauff, who plastered a three-run home run after Yurkus and Bryson had each walked. The Mucksters continued on from there, using a variety of singles and walks to plate run after run after run.

From then on, the only suspense was whether the ‘Rakesters could pull off Concord D-League history, and they almost did -- they nearly did.

About the only negative was that Manager Chris Wagnon sustained a pulled hammy that limited his baserunning and defense. The injury was believed to be minor, and Wagnon is not expected to miss this season’s finale on Thursday.

If this Thursday’s Summer League curtain-closer is half as eventful as the previous game, then you absolutely, for certain, don’t want to miss it. You just can’t make this stuff up.

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