I'm heading for Albany airport in a few hours for the long haul to Las Vegas and the big Russball reunion. Fueled by prednisone and the hunger for competition, I can hardly wait. I felt that way 24 hours ago, but after last night's exhibition series, I'm much more psyched. Let me tell you why.
Freddy Berowski came over for dinner yesterday. Freddy was my colleague and sidekick for seven years at the library of the Hall of Fame, and we became such good friends that we called ourselves "Bat-Mensch" and "The Goy Wonder." He recently left the Hall of Fame to run the library at the college in his hometown about an hour away from here, but was in town this week for a librarians' conference. So last night he came to dinner, and Linda made a delicious dinner--roast chicken, roasted potatoes and onions, corn on the cob--which we quickly devoured before getting to dessert: a game of Russball.
I introduced Linda to this wonder of table-top baseball a few weeks ago, and Freddy had never played the game. Now, after last night's thrilling series, they're both ready to start a four-team league, as soon as we can round up a fourth manager.
I let Freddy have his pick for a starting lineup, and he came up with: Henderson, Carew, Mays, Aaron, Schmidt, Berra, Banks, and Mattingly. That left me to struggle along with a lineup of Gwynn, Clemente, Brett, Frank Robinson, Bench, Murray, Molitor, and Ripken. Even though our starting pitchers were immortals, too, only one of them was sharp enough to avoid decimation at the hands of these scary squads. We also chose three relievers and three pinch-hitters apiece, and headed into action. Freddy, using a team name which has won him several pennants in fantasy leagues, managed Sonic Death Monkey, while I, in honor of the prednisone, captained The Invincibles (or so I hoped).
When I played two introductory games with Linda, the lineups weren't as formidable and the starting pitchers were hot, so we saw just eight runs in two games. Last night, we saw eight runs in the first inning! I led off with a single, triple, and two doubles off Warren Spahn, but Freddy came back with five runs off Tom Seaver, including two singles and two steals by Henderson. I tied it in the fourth inning on back-to-back homers by Molitor and Ripken, soon fell behind 7-5, and rallied in the seventh inning against the beleaguered Spahn, who lasted long enough to surrender 16 hits. Bench tied it with a two-run homer and Gwynn singled in the go-ahead run.
But Sonic Death Monkey got two runs and the lead right back on RBI hits by Banks and Mattingly, leading to the thrilling ninth inning. Facing Dennis Eckersley, I got a leadoff single by Murray and a ground-rule double by Molitor, but Cal Ripken (3-for-3 up to that point) took a called third strike. In came John Franco, who got Wade Boggs on a comebacker and fanned Gwynn to save the 9-8 victory.
Between games, Freddy wandered into the kitchen and spotted a box of Mallomars. "Be careful," I told him as he opened it up and found only one of the cherished cookies remaining. He groaned and said he couldn't take the last one from me. But as we began the second game, Linda started busting my balls for not letting Freddy have the last Mallomar, and pretty soon it was decided that if he beat me again, he could have it. Fair enough, though the ballbusting continued and it became the running theme of the rest of the series.
I was the home team in the second game, pitching Sandy Koufax against Bob Gibson. Koufax had nothing and Sonic Death Monkey jumped all over him. Berra's three-run homer capped a four-run second inning, one more run followed in the third, and Mays' two-run shot in the fourth game him an 8-2 lead. He said he could already taste that Mallomar, but Russball isn't such a simple matter. No lead is safe unless you have a hot pitcher, and Gibson soon faltered while my bullpen duo of Dick Radatz and Tug McGraw took over from Koufax after the fifth inning.
Bench hit another two-run homer in the sixth inning to make it 8-4, and doubled in another run in the seventh. In the eighth, Hoyt Wilhelm relieved Gibby and was greeted by back-to-back homers off the dice-bats of Ripken and Carl Yastrzemski. That set the stage for another thrilling ninth inning. John Franco, hero of the first game, had replaced Wilhelm after the Yaz blast to mow down three straight Invincibles to hold the 8-7 lead. But he weakened in the ninth inning, giving up a one-out single to Clemente and walking Bench. Molitor singled in the tying run, with Bench racing to third. In came Eckersley, but his first pitch sailed high and past Berra for a wild pitch that brought in the winning run.
After coming back from the 8-2 deficit, I felt pretty good about protecting that Mallomar. We even added another reliever and pinch-hitter to give us more managing options, but that turned out not to be a factor. I started Nolan Ryan against Juan Marichal, and it was the Dominican Dandy (known fondly in our traditional Las Vegas Russball leagues as "the high-steppin' Dominican motherfucker") who proved the only starting pitcher hot enough to stifle the opposition.
Ryan had nothing and was drilled for seven runs in the first three innings. Four straight hits fueled a three-run outburst in the first inning, and home runs by Willie McCovey and Banks opened up a 7-0 lead after three innings. I got one run back in the fourth, but Radatz weakened in the fifth, and Aaron's three-run homered made it 11-1. "You're only ahead by one," I said in a feeble attempt to slow the momentum, but Marichal was too hot, leaving after seven innings with that 11-1 lead. Aaron hit his second homer of the game in the eighth inning, and even a three-run rally by The Invincibles in the ninth didn't spark much excitement.
The whole series was a hoot, with 84 hits (42 for each team), 13 home runs, and five different guys putting up four-hit games (Robinson, Molitor, Clemente, Aaron, and Carew). Cal Ripken had the most impressive series with seven hits including three homers and three doubles. There was plenty of excitement, lots of razzing, running jokes, and the usual roller-coaster of Russball emotions. Now Linda understands why this weekend in Las Vegas is going to be fun. What she isn't sure of is how we're going to make it through 15 games a day, considering how drained I was after a mere three-game series last night.
Meanwhile, who knows if we'll get a Cooperstown Russball league going. Freddy will certainly play some more. Next time, we're playing for a whole box of Mallomars! Bring it on!