A magical season for the Applegate Paperclips saw them record the I-75 League’s first perfect game in 36 years, and a tide-turning triple play in the World Series that brought the club back from a 3-1 deficit to capture its third championship crown.
Tim Hudson hurled the perfecto for the Clips (see details and box), striking out nine in a 6-0 win, but Hudson didn’t even make Applegate’s postseason roster, as the Paperclips rode good fortune and a stellar bullpen to the title.
The victims of those feats — Hickory and Chatfield — dropped out of the league after the season, along with Wisconsin, which as far as we know suffered no similar traumatic episode at the hands of the Clips. Managers Mike Wilson, Phil Roselli and Dan Wilson, with about 40 years in the league among them, decided to commit to other aspects of their lives.
Applegate’s season was far from a runaway, as the Clips got off to a 15-25 start after the first two months, leaving them questioning their strategy of building a shutdown bullpen, modeled after the Kansas City Royals’ 2014 march to the World Series. The bullpen, in fact, featured two of those Royals in Greg Holland and Wade Davis, along with lanky Yankee lefty (say that fast three times) Andrew Miller.
But things began to click in May and June with 12-8 months, and the Clips caught fire in the second half, notching a pair of 17-3 months en route to a 59-21 mark in the second half. A trade deadline deal with Hickory brought them a to-that-point unused Ken Giles, sporting 46 nearly unhittable innings, in exchange for Holland and Nick Castellanos. Applegate climbed from last to first in the Northern Division, breaking from the pack with 97 wins to earn the second seed in the playoffs.
The first seed went to Western Division champ Chatfield with 103 wins, marking the third time in four years that a Roselli club had eclipsed the century mark. Chatfield swung 15 trades between the time rosters were submitted in the winter and the end-of-July deadline, ultimately winding up with a max roster of 37 players, many of whom were among the best cards in the set.
Bushwood matched Applegate with 97 wins but finished second in its division to Chatfield, forcing it into first-round action as a No. 4 seed against the Bismarck Bombers, a No. 5 seed, where the Bombers pulled off an upset in five games, winning a pair of starts from aces Zack Greinke and Hiroki Kuroda.
Springfield and Savannah, which battled all season long for the Southern Division crown, squared off in a 3-vs.-6 battle, with the underdog Scorpions also recording the upset, also in five games. David Ortiz carried the Scorpions, while Clayton Kershaw remained snake-bitten for the Isotopes in playoff action, as he has been in real life for the Dodgers.
The Scorpions and Bombers, the only two teams in the 15-team league to earn playoff appearances in each of the four years of the expansion era, thus advanced to the semifinals, but it was there that their dreams collapsed. Applegate dispatched Savannah in five games, winning both starts hurled by Johnny Cueto and Stephen Strasburg. Chatfield was dominant in its five-game set over a suddenly listless Bismarck squad.
That set up a rematch of the 2012 World Series between the Paperclips and Choo-Choos, with Chatfield still searching for its first World Series crown despite unparalleled regular-season success. It looked like the Choos were headed for that elusive title as they won three of the first four games, and took a 2-1 lead in Game Five in the fourth inning and threatening for more. With men at first and third and no one out, all-world shortstop Troy Tulowitzki lined into a historic triple play, killing the rally and opening the door for Applegate to turn to its MVP, Mo Mentum. The Clips took the lead in the bottom of that inning and went on to win 4-2. The series returned to Chatfield but the momentum never returned for the Choos. Applegate won Game Six 4-1 and Game Seven 5-2, capturing a World Series in which they were outscored 24-23, outhit 60-45 and outhomered 10-6.
Although pitching was critical this season (the six playoff teams were all among the top seven in league ERA), only Bushwood’s Sonny Gray won 20 games (24). Kershaw won the league ERA title at 2.73 and Boulder’s Huston Street coasted to the saves title with 43.
Robinson Cano of Margaritaville won the batting title at .317, one of only six players to clear the .300 mark. Ortiz led the league in homers with 46, while Bismarck boasted both the RBI (Adrian Gonzalez, 113) and runs-scored (Andrew McCutchen, 122) champions.