A walk-off win from a pitcher making his second professional at-bat was just the way Memphis drew things up to win the American Conference and advance last night to the Pacific Coast League Championship Series.
“Yeah, I figured he needed some notoriety. He hadn’t done anything in a while, so we’d give him a little shot at it–I wish it was that easy,” laughed manager Stubby Clapp. “I was giving him some hand signals from third to tell him to get the ball up and swing. The last thing I wanted him to do is watch three pitches go by without giving it a shot.”
Giovanny Gallegos took the first pitch for a strike and swung through the second one before connecting on the game-winning hit.
Memphis will open the PCL Championship Series on the road at Fresno, before the series returns to AutoZone Park for Game 3 on Friday.
And while the team is looking to repeat as PCL champions, Clapp again received the top managerial honors for the league.
“It’s a different dynamic this year,” said Clapp, who is 174-104 the last two seasons. “Last year, we had a lineup that 1-9 could hit home runs. We could get guys on base. We didn’t have to necessarily worry about stealing a base and stuff like that, whereas this year we’ve got speed in the lineup and we try to utilize that speed–whether it’s stealing a base or going first to third and putting pressure on the defense as far as the offense is concerned.”
Over 95 different players have worn the Memphis uniform over the last two seasons.
“With pitching, the guys are doing a good job,” continued Clapp. “The pitching staff here and it starts with the guys that are up in the big leagues now, they set a new franchise record for ERA here. They’re continuing to evolve and pound the zone and attack hitters and make the hitters put the ball in play early. They’re doing a good job with that. It’s just a different dynamic. It’s getting a read on what the team’s character is all about and how to use them.”
Very recently, Adam Wainwright was among those taking the mound in Memphis, making his final two rehab starts with the team.
“Phenomenal,” described Clapp. “It was fun to watch, really fun to watch. Spotted his fastball, had a good curveball. Used his curveball when he was behind in counts to keep the hitters honest. It was fun to watch him compete.”
“It wasn’t just smoke and mirrors,” continued Clapp. “He knew exactly what he was doing and when you can locate the fastball and use your offspeed to keep hitters off-balance, especially when you’re behind in the count and you can locate that curveball like he did for a strike, that’s fun to watch. He was able to do that. It wasn’t scattered. It was pretty much premeditated pitches and he did a good job with it.”
Clapp has also enjoyed delivering the news to so many players this season that they are finally heading to the big leagues. Two of the more notable occasions were for Patrick Wisdom and Dakota Hudson.
“As a manager or a coach, that’s the ultimate reward when you get to tell someone they’re getting to go live out their dream in the big leagues,” said Clapp. “Being able to tell anyone, it’s special. Those two guys–Wizzy, grinding through a little bit longer than what Dakota did, but they both deserved it and it was a lot of fun giving them that news.”
While Wisdom was told in a more straightforward manner, Clapp made an in-game mound visit and handed over a special baseball to tell Hudson the news.
“Honestly, just off the top of my head,” he shared about the idea. “Here’s the thing with Dakota, there were several times leading up to then when I had to call him and say hey, we’re going to push your start back today or we’re going to cut your pitches down because just to keep you fresh for the next start because of the All-Star game or when you come back from the All-Star game we’re just going to build you back up a little bit so there was always a phone call leading up to that moment.
“You could hear it in his voice every time he picked up the phone and it was my name on the other side–he was hoping to get that call. But you could hear the disappointment when I’d say ‘hey, listen we’re just going to cut your start back before the All-Star game. You could hear ‘oh, that’s what you’re going to tell me?’ So at that moment, I thought I had to make that special for him. He’s been waiting for this and he’s been such a good trooper about putting his time in and just getting better every time.”
The video of the exchange on the mound was well-viewed by Cardinals fans, but Stubby had an extra detail to share.
“The ball that I gave him was actually a big league ball,” he said. “I said ‘give me that minor league ball, here’s your next ball you’re going to throw’ with a little note on it.”
Win or lose, Clapp plans to be up in St. Louis this month as the organization will have meetings with its minor league managers.
photo credit: Memphis Redbirds, Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports