Sunday, April 29, 2012

'Rakers derail Trainwreck in opener

CONCORD -- Cool. Calm. Efficient. Three words not necessarily featured in the Muckrakers’ lexicon. Not that past ‘Raker editions were models of inefficiency. Far from it. But the Muckrakers have always done things their way, in a certain unique style. And they’re still doing it their way, a way in which Frank Sinatra/Paul Anka would fully understand.
Yet …. Cool. Calm. Efficient.

Sure, the ‘Rakers can make a major change to their corporate structure, but the machine just keeps on a’rollin.’ That was fully evidenced in an opening-night, come-from-behind 13-8 derailing of Trainwreck on Thursday on Field 3. In other words, things have pretty much stayed the same, yet big changes are afoot for Los Muckereros, starting with the front office.

After many years of selfless, untiring service, Chris Wagnon has stepped down as general manager and manager. Chris, we can never thank you enough for your work on behalf of the team. Stepping into the vacancy is longtime ‘Raker stalwart Matt Knauff, who, like Wagnon, donned two Muckster hats (GM, manager).

 That it was truly a new Muckraker era was borne out even before play began, when the Beer Hero list was emailed in spreadsheet form! Dare we say it: Cool, calm, efficient.

 Manager Knauff wasn’t afraid to shake things up a bit on the field as well. Witness the placing of longtime third baseman Dave Alcorn at first base, a position he’d never played before. Shortstop Reed Johnson became the man at the hot corner. Subtle changes perhaps, but moves that would pay off handsomely in the ‘12 Summer League lid-lifter.

Not that the payoff was immediate, although when it kicked in, it kicked in nicely. But first the Men of Muck had to stare down an early deficit after Trainwreck scored three times in the first inning and two more in the second for a 5-1 advantage. But the ‘Raker teams of the past would not have panicked, and this edition kept its eye on the prize as well.

Yer ‘Rakers exploded for six runs in the third and four in the fourth, and gave themselves breathing room with a two-run top-off in the sixth. The gob smacked Trainwreck hardly threatened in the face of the Muckster uprisings.

That was largely because a solid Muckraker defense, the likes of which is seldom seen in D-League, dashed T-Wreck’s hopes of making inroads into the ‘Rakers’ lead. For example, in the fourth inning, Wagnon made a spectacular snag of a Trainwreck drive to right field that had extra bases written all over it.

In the fifth, winning pitcher Chris White fielded a weak dribbler, pump-faked a throw to first base, then threw to catcher Brian Kroll to nail a Trainwreck base runner attempting to score from third. And Kroll delivered again when he tossed out a Trainwrecker who’d ventured too far off second base.

And yet the Muckrakers also showed that a long offseason had not dulled the thunder in their (USSSA-approved) bats. Wagnon blasted a triple in the third to plate Erick Leithliter, who’d singled, and leadoff man Matt McCall delivered Wagnon with a sacrifice fly. Two batters later White singled in another run, and Alcorn ripped the ‘Rakers first home run of the season, a two-run shot to right as the Mucksters took a 7-6 lead.

The fourth inning was more of the same as Manager Knauff singled in a pair of runs, and McCall and Johnson added an RBI each. In the sixth, White’s base hit drove in Randy Striegel and Wagnon to basically put this thing on ice.

Trainwreck didn’t score a run after the fourth inning, done in by White’s solid pitching and a ‘Raker defense behind him that came to play. A better business plan could not have been drawn up. After all, it’s the efficient way to go about things.

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