The beautiful weather that ushered in the first weekend of June was welcome respite after a rainy May that resulted in seven postponements. The Oconomowoc Five-O's celebrated the opportunity to play by posting victories over the Monches Irish and Lannon Stonemen, on Saturday and Sunday respectively. The two opponents were the talk of the league due to an upset that Monches pulled over more traditional powerhouse Lannon recently. But on Saturday the luck o' the Irish was nowhere to be found and it would be the O's that found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
As the game opened, the staff on hand was experiencing problems getting the scoreboard on. Just before the top of the second, Steve Rhoads came to the press box to provide his expertise in showing how the board worked-he flipped the "on" button. Appropriately cued, the Five-O's offense flipped the "on" button immediately after that in a five-run second inning that rendered the game over before the fans were in their seats. Three walks, an error, a bunt single and two sacrifice flies keyed this soft, but deadly rally.
The bottom of the third drove a nail in the coffin of the Irish. Derek Nelson uncorked a home run to left-center to ignite another rally that would leave the score 9-0. With the game in hand, all that was left was to witness Rob Becker's masterful performance on the hill.
Becker took a no-hitter into the sixth inning until a single by Dan Mastalin broke up the bid. He took just 48 pitches to coast through the first five frames and until Mastalin's hit, no ball was even hit to the outfield.
Monches would finally post two runs in the seventh, after Becker left the game. Oconomowoc opened the offense back up in an effort to get everyone home early. When Luke Nelson doubled in two runs to make the score 14-2, the game was over by run rule. And the good-hearted celebration that is characteristic of an Irish funeral commenced.
Steve Rhoads pointed out after the game that the team allowed only six runs in its first five games-and that all was needed was to shut out Lannon on Sunday to get the average back to an even one run per game. We joked that if the Stonemen put a man on third early maybe the infield should pull in to protect the shutout at any cost. Little did we know how quickly such a scenario would materialize…
…The flags flew at half-mast on Sunday to honor the passing of former President Ronald Reagan. "The Gipper" as he was affectionately called in honor of his most famous acting role prior to his political career also worked radio broadcasts in minor league baseball in his early days and this grass-roots patriot of Middle America always held a special place in his heart for locales such as this. Surely the magnificent baseball game that followed and the effort poured out on both sides constituted an appropriate way to honor his memory and impact on American culture.
Lannon, desperate for a win at 1-2, loaded the bases with just one out in the first inning. Ron Koslowski ripped a single to score two runs. Jay Olsewski beat out an infield hit to score another and the Stonemen were up 3-0 before the fans were settled in.
Oconomowoc came blazing right back in their own half of the inning. The O's put the first two runners on and Jeff Rhoads singled to center to drive in the first run. Mike Mitchell drove in another and Steve Rhoads singled to left to give the home team a 4-3 lead.
The O's tacked on another trio of runs in the bottom of the second. Luke Nelson doubled in Mike Bolson and Jeff Rhoads hit a ground ball that brought home Adam Schlosser. A sacrifice fly by Derek Nelson left the score 7-3 and another rout seemed to be in the making.
Lannon would fight back with a triumvirate of their own in the third. And it would be Koslowski that delivered the big blow. After Steve Guden beat out an infield hit, the veteran-whose continued dominance at an age when most players have retired-conjured up comparisons to the Gipper-slashed a double to center. Two throwing errors resulted in him circling the bases to cut the lead in half. Scott Hagen was then hit by a pitch and subsequently scored on a walk.
The teams traded runs in the bottom of the fourth and top of the fifth respectively. Luke Nelson singled and ended up scoring on a passed ball. Lannon countered when Ben Kaebisch doubled and scored. With the scoreboard showing 8-7 as the game reached the halfway point, there seemed no end to the runs that might be posted on this day.
But the game changed gears again and suddenly both offenses were unable to deliver the key hit. The final frames had the look of two boxers, each still landing blows, but unable to deliver the knockout punch. Koslowski-as though having decided that his four hits were not sufficient contribution, came in to pitch and held Oconomowoc scoreless the rest of the way. Lannon would put the leadoff runner on base and ultimately in scoring position each of the last four innings-and fail to bring home the run that would tie it. The eighth and ninth inning were each epic classics.
Luke Nelson matched Koslowski blow for blow, in delivering four hits of his own and came on the final two innings to try and close out the win. In an amazing eighth frame he used 32 pitches-more than were thrown in either half of the long first inning-and survived unscathed. With two outs, the bases loaded and the count full, Nelson induced Dean Haase to pop out to short.
The ninth inning provided more drama. Dan Wnuk's line drive to center field deflected off the glove of Mike Bolson and placed the tying run on second base. With one out, Bolson redeemed himself in spades. Guden crushed a pitch to deep center that bounced near the wall. Wnuk did not break with the pitch waiting to see if the ball would be caught. Bolson fired a bullet all the way to the pitcher's mound where Derek Nelson took the relay and cleanly got the ball to catcher Kevin Raasch well in advance of Wnuk's arrival at the plate. Raasch took the collision and hung on to the ball preserving the lead. After an intentional walk to Koslowski, Scott Hagen flied out deep to right field and Oconomowoc survived. The O's are now 6-0, with a 4-0 record in league play. The possibility of earning the number one seed in the postseason tournament-and its automatic berth in the Western Division championship game is a very real possibility.
This was a weekend of baseball that took place against the backdrop not only of President Reagan's passing, but to the anniversary of D-Day on Sunday. Even horse racing had its say--Smarty Jones came within a mere length of winning that sport's coveted Triple Crown on Saturday afternoon in Belmont. And though it may have taken place away from the national spotlight and even in the LOL context was still very early in the year, these back-to-back games conjured up similar values of country and of America's great traditions. Shortly before gametime on Saturday, I looked out onto the field and thought that something CNN personality Larry King once said about his hometown Brooklyn and its legendary Ebbets Field truly applied to these hallowed grounds-"Coming here is coming to baseball."