Instant Karma’s Going To Get Them

By Jonah Keri


The Montreal McGaffigans may have used up all its good luck for the entire 2006 BrassWorld season in its April series against the visiting Virginia Patriots.


The two teams appeared evenly matched on paper, with deep starting rotations and ample power hitting the hallmark of each squad. But a series of fortuitous, at times fluky plays propelled Montreal to an unlikely three-game sweep over the formidable Patriots.


Game 1 saw McGaffigans fifth starter Bronson Arroyo opposing Derek Lowe. Montreal jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, then watched as Arroyo held Virginia scoreless for four innings. But the loaded Patriots lineup struck for three runs in the top of the 5th. Lowe led off the inning with a double, then moved to third on a balk. Kenny Lofton cashed Lowe in with a groundout, narrowing the margin to 2-1. The big Virginia bats then awakened with two outs, as Gary Sheffield and Milton Bradley blasted back-to-back homers. Arroyo wiggled out of the inning, but not before Virginia had taken a 3-2 lead.


The McGaffigans started the 5th in uninspiring fashion, sandwiching an Adam Dunn walk between a Dave Roberts groundout and a prodigious whiff by Tony Clark. A Jhonny Peralta single put two men on with two outs. Virginia summoned lefty Eric DuBose to face Orlando Palmeiro with two outs. Montreal countered with Frank Thomas as a pinch-hitter. Thomas drew a walk, loading the bases for Jorge Posada. Already 0-for-1 top that point in the game, Posada was homerless, with a batting average below the Mendoza Line, entering the series. A poor clutch hitter, he appeared overmatched in a key bases-loaded situation.


Posada promptly smashed a grand-slam to deep left-center, launching Montreal to a 6-3 lead. The margin would hold up the rest of the game, giving the McGaffigans a Game 1 win.


Game 2 figured to be a classic pitcher’s duel, with Pedro Martinez taking the hill for Virginia, Roger Clemens for Montreal. The two aces lived up to their billing in the early innings, both holding the other team hitless through four frames. Former Astros teammate Jason Lane then led off the top of the 5th with a nasty surprise for Clemens—a bomb to left field that made it 1-0 Patriots. Martinez responded by striking out the side in the bottom of the 5th, giving him eight Ks to that point and marking the second time he’d struck out the side in the game.


Montreal finally got its first hit of the game—and its first run—in the 6th, as a Dave Roberts double cashed Luis Castillo from second base. Both Clemens and Martinez would get through the 7th inning unscathed. Both teams were forced to pull their aces for pinch-hitters in key spots, but their numbers still left a mark: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 11 K for Martinez, 7 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K for Clemens.


In an unusual move, Montreal went with closer Derrick Turnbow in the top of the 8th, hoping to hold Virginia down and set the table for a late McGaffigans rally. The move immediately blew up in Montreal’s face, as Paul Konerko took Turnbow deep, making it 2-1 Virginia. The Patriots held the McGaffigans scoreless in the bottom of the 8th, setting the stage for a Virginia win and a tie to the series. But the McGaffigans had other ideas. Consecutive singles by Emil Brown, Thomas and Castillo tied the score at 2-2, and the teams were bound for extra innings.


Virginia finally looked ready to bang the nail into Montreal’s coffin in the 10th. Lane led off the inning with a double. Konerko then smoked a long homer over the center-field wall, his second bomb of the game. With Virginia up 4-2, closer Todd Jones looked poised to slam the door. The McGaffigans had the meat of their order coming up. But a Dunn strikeout left Virginia just two outs from knotting the series at 1. Vladimir Guerrero then smacked a sharp single. Clark stepped to the plate. Like Posada, he was in the midst of a nasty cold spell, and was 0-for-4 for the game to that point. But the Montreal first baseman responded, belting a two-run homer that tied the game in the McGaffigans’ potential last at-bat for the second straight inning.


The Patriots still had a good chance to take the contest. In the bottom of the 11th, Jones retired the first two Montreal batters he saw. Adrian Beltre then hit a seemingly innocuous single. Manager Mike Bardos summoned his lefty from his pen, bringing DuBose back to claim redemption for his Game 1 struggles. Facing two straight lefty batters, he looked to be in good shape. But Roberts slapped a single, bringing Dunn to the plate. The slugger cranked DuBose’s offering into the Olympic Stadium bleachers, and a fountain of poutine erupted. Montreal improbably snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for the second straight game, prevailing 7-4.


Game 3 was a battle of lefties, with C.C. Sabathia toeing the rubber for Virginia, Doug Davis for Montreal. The Patriots jumped out to a lead for the third straight game, going up 1-0 in the top of the 1st. McGaffigan runs in the 2nd and 3rd brought the margin back to Montreal. But back-to-back doubles by Paul LoDuca and Olmedo Saenz and an RBI single by Sabathia provided enough bottom-of-the-order thunder to put Virginia back up, 3-2. A Peralta homer in the bottom of the 5th again tied the score, though.


Lane, a thorn in the McGaffigans’ side all series, laced an RBI single in the top of the 8th to make it 4-3 for the Patriots. Posada singled for Montreal with two outs in the bottom of the 8th. But Montreal’s luck appeared to run out a moment later, as Al Reyes deftly picked Posada off first. Reyes would turn in one of the most dominating pitching performances of the series, pitching 3 2/3 scoreless innings, yielding just two hits and fanning six. His first win of the season appeared imminent as he handed the keys to Jones for the bottom of the 9th, with Virginia still up a run.


But Clark had other ideas. The former Tiger, Yankee and all-around stiff took Jones deep to lead off the inning, as Montreal manager Jonah Keri unearthed yet another four-leaf clover from the Big O FieldTurf. Jones briefly lost his composure, hitting Palmeiro to put a runner on 1st with nobody out. A Castillo lineout brought up Peralta with one away. The McGaffigans shortstop cracked a double into the gap, leaving Keri with a decision: send the runner around all the way from 1st on a 1-9 scoring chance, or hope the next batter could come through. The pitcher’s spot loomed on deck, and the McGaffigans had only weak-hitting Deivi Cruz available to pinch-hit. The Montreal manager elected to send his runner, figuring he might hit another stroke of luck. But the throw from Bradley easily beat Palmeiro home.


With two outs and a runner on 3rd, Cruz came to the plate. Owner of one of the most devastating relief cards in the game, Jones figured to eat Cruz alive. Indeed the utility infielder sported just a 17% on-base chance as he dug into the batter’s box. Overanxious, Cruz offered at the first pitch, hitting a harmless grounder to second baseman Tony Womack that figured to send the game to extra innings.


Then the unthinkable happened—Womack booted the ball. Just like that, Montreal scored a 5-4 win, its third straight comeback victory, capping one of the luckiest sweeps in BrassWorld history.


As the two managers exchanged congrats on a well-played series, Bardos may have wondered when Lady Luck had stranded him. But the Virginia manager needn’t fear: the Patriots shape up to be one of the best teams in the league this year. And as for future Montreal opponents, they’re surely licking their chops. After this series, the McGaffigans have probably used up all of their nine lives.