BRIAN RICHESSON Video motivates Scrappers
NILES -- Willie Aviles used it as a motivational tactic. But a game as good as this just has to be replayed.
During a recent Mahoning Valley Scrappers road trip, Aviles, the team's batting coach, brought out a tape of the 2000 season to show first-year players.
"We had a five-game stand with Jamestown [recently], and I wanted to pump these guys up," Aviles said. "I didn't want these guys to slip with what they had to do."
The tape showed Game 2 of the Scrappers' New York-Penn League Championship Series against the Staten Island Yankees.
After losing 9-0 in the first game at Staten Island, the Scrappers returned to Cafaro Field with hopes of keeping alive the best-of-3 series.
What was about to happen bordered on miraculous.
"That was one of the best baseball games I've ever been involved in," said pitcher Simon Young, who took the mound that September night as the starter. "It's something you'll never forget for as long as you live."
Pitcher Victor Kleine, who saw limited action for the Scrappers that season, concurred: "It was the best game I've ever seen," he said.
Staten Island seemed poised to win the series, having taken a 5-1 lead in the fifth inning. The Scrappers, however, tied the score 5-5 with four runs in the seventh.
"We just kept battling and battling and battling," recalled catcher Jeff Haase, then a first baseman for the Scrappers. "The game didn't want to end."
The Yankees brought home the go-ahead run in the eighth for a 6-5 lead before summoning closer Oscar Martinez, the team's leader in saves, to end the Scrappers' season.
Thing was, the Scrappers weren't finished.
"Our whole attitude all year was never die," Haase said. "We proved it that year."
And that night.
With two outs and the count full on Scrappers batter Nate Janowicz in the bottom of the ninth inning, Martinez decided on a fastball. Janowicz decided to take advantage.
"Full count, two outs, Jano up. He hit the tying home run," Kleine said. "Just every situation was unheard of."
Janowicz homered over the right-field wall to send the game into extra innings.
"I thought it was good to show that tape, what it takes to get to the playoffs, and that comeback we made against Staten Island," said Aviles, also the batting coach in 2000. "I wanted to show them how we battled throughout the whole game."
In the 10th inning, Staten Island hit two RBI singles for an 8-6 lead. The Scrappers' chances seemed bleak. Or were they?
Martinez, the Yankees' top reliever, got wild in the bottom half of the 10th. Two wild pitches allowed the Scrappers to tie it again.
Destined to win
"It seemed like we were destined to win that game somehow, because we were down to our last pitch twice and came back," Young said.
Then came the 11th inning when the unforgettable, the unthinkable, happened. Henry Pichardo hit the first pitch off Yankees reliever Jason Willis over the left-field wall to end the game.
Pichardo rounded the bases and was carried off the field by his teammates. Final: Scrappers 9, Staten Island 8.
The Scrappers lost 4-2 in the decisive Game 3, but the path they took to get there will never be forgotten.
"These guys control their own destiny," said Aviles of the 2002 Scrappers, who are in contention for a playoff spot.
"I told these guys that there's no better feeling in the world than to get to the playoffs at the minor league level," Aviles said, "because it's the hardest thing to do."