If you had asked me in January to guess which baseball game I'd watch this year that would be the most exciting, most nerve-wracking, and most entertaining, the LAST thing I would have answered would be what I watched today.
Heck, if you had asked me that question two weeks ago, I would have said that, given the Phillies' doldrums, there was going to be no such thing this year.
But then the Taney Dragons happened. They won the Pennsylvania state championship. They wound up the #2 seed after open play in the Mid-Atlantic regionals. Mo'ne Davis became a sensation. And, if you're anything like me, thirsting for winning baseball, loving the city of Philadelphia, believing in kids having fun playing this amazing game, and being committed to breaking down gender barriers, the Taney Dragons have become your team.
It really makes no sense - a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds playing baseball is not what should be keeping us on the edge of our seats. But this Taney team has grabbed me, and hopefully you too, and thrilled us with what they're doing.
Today was no different, other than that it was the first Dragons game we was able to actually watch on TV (rather than follow on-line). And it did not disappoint.
Taney started off shaky against the New York state champs from Colonie, the only team Taney lost to in open play. The Dragons decided to pitch Jared Sprague-Lott in this game, rather than Davis, so they could save her for the finals if they reached it. Sprague-Lott did not have his best stuff. In both the first and second innings, he walked several batters, his pitch count was high, but he didn't allow any runs, stranding runners on first and third in both innings.
At the plate, Taney couldn't solve the Colonie pitcher. He was on the money with all of his pitches, and Taney was hitting them weakly at fielders. Through two innings, Taney didn't have a base runner.
With the score tied 0-0 in the top of the third, Colonie finally got to Taney. They scored 2 runs in the third and then another in the top of the fourth. Going into the bottom of the fourth, Taney still hadn't scored and was down 3-0.
And then their offense came alive. With two runners on, Zion Spearman hit a no-doubt-about-it home run to tie the game. As the ESPN announcers said, if you had closed your eyes and just listened, you would have known it was a home run by the perfect sound off the bat.
The home run was just the jolt Taney needed. They held Colonie scoreless in the top of the fifth and then took the lead in the bottom. Sprague-Lott, who struggled on the mound in the first three innings, made up for it at the plate. He came through in the clutch with a bloop single with two runners on base, giving Taney a 5-3 lead. Taney tacked on another run and took a 6-3 lead into the top of the sixth.
In came pitching sensation Davis. She was held back from starting today so she could pitch Sunday, but the Dragons brought her in to close out today's game. (And she can still pitch Sunday since she threw less than 35 pitches today.) The announcers raved about her. Karl Ravech went on and on about her perfect mechanics. On the mound, her motion was effortless. Compared to her, Cliff Lee takes eons between pitches.
Davis's fastball was more powerful than any of the other pitchers today, and her curve was devastating. Unfortunately, she made the game interesting by walking the lead-off batter and then, with two outs, giving up a center-field home run.
With the game now 6-5, the Taney manager visited the mound. The managers were mic'ed for the game, so we got to hear the conversation. He assured Davis that they were going to win by 1, his prediction before the game. She didn't seem bothered at all, even though I was a basket case watching this unfold.
6-5 game, top of the sixth inning, two outs, the city's new folk hero on the mound - this was the moment. This was as exciting as little league baseball gets. Maybe as any baseball gets.
The amazing thing was, from that nerve-wracking moment, the game ended so quickly. Davis came back firing at the next batter and immediately got him to ground out weakly to second to end the game. Game over, Taney wins 6-5. Davis made it interesting but saved the game nonetheless. And she still gets to pitch Sunday.
This game had it all and was a joy to watch. Next up for Taney is the Mid-Atlantic finals against the winner of the 3pm game, either Tom's River, NJ or the Delaware state champs.
The finals are Sunday at 6pm on ESPN2. The winner of that game goes on to Williamsport for the Little League World Series.
Go Taney! Keep making us proud!