The Rangers and Redlegs continued their 13-year tradition of the Backyard Battle series, but this one had more meaning as the winner of the best 2-of-3 format would be crowned league champions!
The stage was set at Athletes in Action Sports Complex in Xenia, the site of the Rangers first-ever title in 2009. Playing a bullpen game for Game 1, Mike Seebock toed the rubber and allowed a hit to Kyle Arend but got out of the inning unscathed. Playoff MVP Eric Becker continued his hot hitting by leading off with a triple over Redlegs starter Jesse Jones, and scoring on Ben Schooler's single. The Redlegs countered in the top of the 2nd as Joey Watson, Evan Koogler, and Matt Mattice singled in succession to give the Redlegs a 2-1 lead. Seebock helped his own cause in the bottom of the frame with a 2-out RBI single to score Chris Ridl and tie the game. In the top of the 3rd, Jones doubled and Mike Hartman plated him to give the Redlegs the lead back.
But the Rangers got the lead back in the bottom of the 3rd. Schooler singled with one out, followed by a double from Noah Schleinitz. Nick Gilmore then doubled them both home to give the Rangers a 4-3 lead. Kyle Moyer made it 5-3 with a run-scoring single.
Eric Becker relieved Seebock and tossed a scoreless 4th inning. He helped his cause as well with a 2-out two-run double in the bottom of the 4th. Rob Pederson added an RBI single to increase the lead to 8-3. The Redlegs got a run back in the 5th as Mattice scored on a wild pitch to cut the lead in half. The Redlegs chipped away in the 6th after Brad Malott tripled and Chris Flaherty plated him on a fielder's choice.
Ben Schooler took over on the mound in the 7th but loaded the bases before Jones drove in one run to make it 8-6. Joe Becker then came on in relief, allowed a sac fly to Arend and got 2 more flyouts to escape with an 8-7 advantage.
The score stayed the same until the bottom of the 8th, as the Rangers looked for a little more breathing room. Kujo led off with a walk and Jaret Quinn singled. Seebock doubled home pinch-runner Joe Becker and Quinn for a 10-7 lead. Grant Kincaid doubled home Seebock and the Rangers went to the ninth with an 11-7 score. Becker finished off the 9th with 1 hit and a strikeout to earn the save.
Kenny Owens got the call to start game two against Redlegs pitcher Tyler Eaton. The Redlegs struck first in the bottom of the 2nd as Watson and Koogler had RBIs. The Rangers tied things up in the 3rd as an error with the bases loaded allowed 2 runs to score. Eric Becker then contributed with an RBI double to give the Rangers the lead. Kyle Arend smacked an RBI single in the bottom of the third to tie the game again for the Redlegs.
Koogler and Eric Jameson launched sac flies in the 4th as the Redlegs went ahead again. Seebock came in to pitch again in the 5th inning, and the Redlegs pushed another run across to double up the score at 6-3. The Rangers got the run back in the 7th on an error, but it was short-lived as Malott's RBI double in the bottom of the 7th kept the Redlegs' lead at 3 runs. Koogler's RBI fielder's choice in the 8th gave the Redlegs some cushion as Eaton finished off the complete game with a 1-2-3 ninth to force a decisive game 3.
It would be the Becker and Becker show for the Rangers' mound matinee on Sunday. Eric started the game and blanked the visiting Redlegs in the first 2 innings. In the bottom of the second, Cooper Nolte was hit by a pitch and came around to score on Gilmore's opposite field double. Moyer singled up the middle to score Gilmore as the Rangers built a 2-0 lead early. The Redlegs, as they've done all weekend, didn't go down without a fight. Mattice doubled home Koogler in the third and Jacob Robinson added a sac fly to tie the game.
The Rangers regained the lead in the bottom of the third off Redlegs starter Chris Flaherty. Rob Pederson singled home Seebock for a 3-2 advantage. Schooler followed with a single and Pederson went homeward on a Nolte single.
As the midway point of the game was reached, the Rangers defense showed its toughness. Eric issued a walk to Watson and Koogler blooped one to right to put runners on the corners with no outs. Max Ramsey then hit a groundball up the middle that the shortstop Nolte fielded behind the bag, flipped to second baseman Jaret Quinn who barehanded the ball, touched the bag and fired to first, with a great scoop from Pederson for the crucial double play. A runner did score to decrease the Rangers lead to just 1, but a very important play in the game. Joe Becker then came in to relieve Eric and got Mattice to ground back to him to end the inning.
Eaton relieved Flaherty in the bottom of the fifth and went through the top of the order without a blemish. Joe got a couple runners on with two outs in the top of the 6th but struck out Eaton looking to end the threat.
The Rangers pushed some insurance across in the 7th. Ridl led things off with a solid single to center. Kujo reached on an error and Seebock walked to load the bases. With the infield in, Quinn's grounder to short was fielded and Ridl was gunned at the plate for the first out. But Eric Becker came through with a bloop single to left to score both pinch-runner Joe Becker and Seebock to give the Rangers a 6-3 lead. After a couple of flyouts, the game went on into the 8th.
Ramsey cranked things up with a leadoff double down the left field line, and went to third on Mattice's flyout to right as Schleinitz made a nice play on a ball that nearly sailed over his head. A throwing error on a Robinson groundball allowed another baserunner as Ramsey scored to make it 6-4. Joe got Jones to flyout for the second out. Then stepped up hard-hitting Kyle Arend who tattooed a fastball destined for sure extra bases that Chris Ridl astoundingly ran down at the base of the left-centerfield fence to make a game-saving catch!
The Rangers got singles from Schleinitz and Moyer in the bottom of the 8th but Eaton got Ridl to flyout to end the inning and put all the marbles on the Rangers defense in the top of the 9th inning.
Mike Hartman hit a hard grounder to Nolte who threw a seed to Pederson at first base for the first out of the inning. Eaton then hit a pop fly behind home plate that Gilmore made an acrobatic grab to earn the second out. Chris Flaherty then roped a fastball off the left field fence for a two-out double putting the tying run at the plate. In a battle of MVABL Hall-of-Famers in Joe Becker and Joey Watson, the audience was on pins and needles as two league stalwarts duked it out. Watson fouled a couple 2-2 pitches off as the intensity increased. Becker then got Watson to keep a foul ball in play near the third base dugout as third baseman Mike Seebock came scampering over with a sliding catch in front of the wall to send the Rangers home with its 4th MVABL Championship.
Amazingly, all 9 postseason games that the Rangers were a part of were won by the home team. Even more astonishing, all 6 Rangers' wins came from relievers.
Eric Becker earned Playoff MVP honors, going 16-for-35 for a .457 batting average. Eric added 3 doubles, a triple, and 9 RBIs and finished with a 3-0 record on the mound with a 3.46 ERA.
Rangers 11, Redlegs 7
Rangers 6, Redlegs 4
Offensive highlights: Game 1: Eric Becker 2-for-5, 2 runs, 2RBI, double; Ben Schooler 2-for-5, RBI; Noah Schleinitz 2-for-3 double; Kyle Moyer 3-or-3, 2 RBI; Jaret Quinn 2-for-3, 2 runs; Mike Seebock 2-for-3, 3 RBIs, double; Grant Kincaid 1-for-2 RBI double. Game 2: Eric Becker 2-for-3, RBI, double; Ben Schooler 2-for-3, run. Game 3: Eric Becker 2-for-4, 2RBI; Nick Gilmore 1-for-3, RBI double; Kyle Moyer 2-for-4 RBI, SB.
Historical Notes: Rangers lead all-time Backyard Battle series 30-24. Rangers win their 4th championship (4-5 all-time). 25-10 record, second only to the 26-5 record of the 2015 champion squad. Eric's 16 hits was 2nd only to Zach Carroll's 19 hits in the 2012 postseason. Joe Becker's 2 playoff wins ties him with Shawn Schmitt all-time with 11. Joe Becker's 4 pitching appearances in the playoffs gives him 28 appearances, passing Schmitt's mark of 25