Borealis Beat Back Bears; Enter Evil Evas

Updated: June 30, 2015
All The News Fit For The Front Range

All The News Fit For The Front Range

by Francis Ferry, NLN baseball beat writer

October 17, 2021: Bakersfield, CA – The Aurora Borealis and the Bakersfield Bears have perhaps the most storied rivalry in the Planetary Extreme Baseball Alliance’s short, 15-year history, and that rivalry extends into the post-season as the 2021 season marked the 6th time the teams squared off in the playoffs – the 5th time in the Division Series.

And for an equally divided rivalry that has been dominated by punch-counter punch, low scoring, regular season affairs, the Borealis have had the upper hand during the playoffs, winning the past four encounters.

You can now make that five.

During the regular season the teams alternated wins over the first 12 games before Aurora went into Bakersfield and swept the Bears (as positive an omen as they come), only to see the Bears return the favor at Northern Lights in the final three games of the regular season – a sweep that nearly knocked Aurora out of the #2 seed position and into the wild card round; only a pair of 5-4 wins by Fargo over Crystal Lake over the last two days saved the Borealis’ bacon.

Aurora needed a break and they backed into one, and with a little help from the Yuman’s – The Bears had to go the distance to beat the ‘Dozers, ‘Fireworks’ would be on the bench for games 1 & 2, while a rested Provost, ‘Tugboat’ & Co. were lined up and ready to go – as was a bullpen that has been more than just leaking oil down the stretch – they’ve been flatlining.

Provost would set the tone for the rotation, despite the game 1 loss

Game 1 saw Provost take the mound at Northern Lights against a Bears team he’s had great success against: 3-0 and a 2.97 ERA this year in 5 starts – all Aurora wins. Neil Maes was on the mound for Bakersfield with a decidedly different season of results: 0-2 and a 5.85 ERA in 3 starts – all Bears losses, despite 17 wins and a 2.83 seasonal ERA. And as one might expect in a rivalry such as this, throw that stuff out the window.

Maes and Provost were toe-to-toe over 5 IP, each allowing an unearned runs thanks to error’s by Giles and Souza. But then the Bears broke out the big lumber in the 6th and Boyd Johnson and Javier García would blast big flies off Provost and suddenly the Bears had a 4-1 lead. Johnson would hit a second HR in the 8th to secure the Bears 6-4 win in the opener, stealing home field advantage at the get-go.

‘Tugboat’ showed his value in shutting down the Bears – much needed with ‘Zoom’ and ‘Massacre’ out for the playoffs.

Game 2 was all about the man that GM Will Topham had been pursuing for seasons, who was brought in for just a moment like this. ‘Tugboat’ strode out to the mound and was dominant. He had faced the Bears just once, giving up only 2 hits and 2 unearned runs over 8 innings in a tough 2-1 loss on his first day on the Front Range. On this day he was equal to the task. Lonnie Cole touched him for a lead-off HR in the second, but the Bears would fail to get more than a baserunner in any other inning. Meanwhile Fred Benjamin would surrender 11 hits and 6 runs – a Nick Giles 2-run HR capping a killer 4-run 6th. Smith would go the distance, throwing 99 pitches and evening the series.

Anastasio López was Aurora’s game 3 starter: 1-2 with a 6.20 ERA v. Bakersfield in 2021, but the lone win was at YUM!. He had his work cut out for him as the PEBA Legend, Markus Hancock, was the opponent on this day. ‘Fireworks’ had a sweet rebound-season, but against Aurora this year he was… average. The Bears split the 4 games he started, while Hancock posted a 4.25 ERA. Perhaps Aurora had a shot.

An All-Star for the first time, Lopez showed his stuff in out-dueling ‘Fireworks’

If you were told ‘Fireworks’ threw a complete game, surrendering 2 runs on 6 hits, you’d feel pretty good betting he won, but on this day Anastasio López was more than his equal. Ferringo and Hale led the game off with singles and a River Pope ground out, driving Pedro home, ended up being all López would need as he held the Bears to 4 hits – 3 of which came in the 4th – but a spectacular throw from Paul Carlisle nailed Boyd Johnson trying to take third on a Lonnie Cole single. That, in essence, killed the Bear rally and they would get only one more basserunner on the night. The lately maligned Bryant Burris would throw a 1-2-3 9th for the save, and for Aurora, they’d regain the home field advantage.

Despite the expected and unexpected shut-downs by Smith and López, Bakersfield had to feel good going into game 4 as Phil Anderson (2-1, 3.72 ERA v. Aurora, despite his 11-10, 4.50 on the year) took the hill v. the even more maligned ‘Sawmill’ (who started a pair of Aurora loses, pitching well at home, but horrendously at YUM!). Francisco missed a number of starts with recurring injury issues, but managed an 8-6 mark along with a 4.41 ERA on the season. Many of those starts were poor and coaches and fans alike had begun to lose faith.

After game 4, he may have restored much of that faith.

A gutty, gritty ‘Sawmill’ gave Aurora a chance to win. He’ll have to do the same v. the Evas.

For the third straight game Aurora scored in the first (a José Rivera HR), and a Paul Carlisle 2-out double capped a 2-run 4th, staking ‘Sawmill’ to a 3-0 lead. Bryan Cleveland would get Bakersfield on the board with a lead-off HR in the 5th, but Francisco was grinding. He’d go 7 innings, and only in the first did he retire the Bears in order: Boyd Johnson (what a nemesis for Aurora) doubled in the 4th to put runners at 2nd and 3rd with 1-out – stranded; Carlos Sáenz 2-out double in the 6th and Bob Arnold 2-out triple in the 7th – both stranded.

Finally in the 8th, Johnson (again) doubled off ‘Sawmill’ and that was it. Manager Koki Kojima brought in rookie John Gray, who allowed a Sáenz RBI single. That wold be it for the Bears as Aurora had solo HRs by Britt (in the 8th) and Butler (in the 9th) to solidify the win and take a 3-1 series lead. With Provost on the mound in game 5, suddenly the idea of a game 6 back in Aurora was looking iffy.

And Provost didn’t disappoint. Then again, Bears-Borealis… Sometimes it’s just not that easy…

The Bears would touch Provost for a pair of runs in the 2nd off a pair of singles, a double and a wild pitch – but that only got the Bears closer as, for the 4th game in a row, Aurora scored in the first – a 3-spot, thanks to doubles by Ferringo and Rivera a walk to Pope and a pair of singles by Giles and Ferrell. Giles would double again in the 7th to make it a 4-2 lead.

Provost continued to mow down the Bears until he was inexplicibly pulled in the 9th and rookie John Gray – not Burris, inserted to close out the Bears. With one out, Boyd Johnson worked a walk and Carlos Sáenz instantly followed with a game tying HR. ‘Stork’ Holbrook (who like the rest of the bullpen, has struggled of late) came on to end the 9th, but off to the 10th these storied rivals went.

But for the Bears, their season was on the brink as Giles led off the 10th with a triple off of former-Auroran Francisco Garza, and he scored on a Matt Ferrell sac fly. Holbrook would issue a 2-out walk to Cruz, setting up a nerve-wrecking encounter with Hooper, but a ground ball to Juan Toro ended the game and sent Bakersfield on vacation and the Borealis onto the Sovereign League Championship – the first to be competed for in Japan.

2021 will be remembered in PEBA annuals for many things, but the primary historical note will be that this was the season of The Merger – the joining of the PEBA and LRS that saved baseball in the Land of the Rising Sun. As spring training opened, and then Opening Day arrived, many fans in baseball awaited what was thought of as the ‘Big Match-Up’ – the Giants-Dodgers or Red Sox-Yankees of yesteryear; how would the storied Japanese juggernaut Shin Seiki fair against the equally juggernauted Borealis?

While most of the teams from the LRS – those that remained in Japan as well as thoughs who picked up roots and moved to Dayton, Rio Grande Valley, and Havana, struggled, Shin Seiki systematically devoured the Sovereign League with a league best (and tied for PEBA best with the F-Heads) 107 wins. They lost 4 in a row once. They lost 3 in a row two other times – swept twice (by K-Zoo in the 4-game streak and Okinawa later in the year). One of those 3-game streaks included a pair of loses to Aurora – whom the Evas beat 4 out of their 7 games. They beat the Bears 6-3. They domnated their division of weaker Japanese foes. Oddly enough, the one team they struggled with is the team they have just jettisoned in their opening playoff series – the Badgers.

And now the match-up fans across both sides of the Pacific wanted to see.

And with that series win, the fans across the globe get the match-up they wanted: The Evil Evas v. The Evil Empire I. José Rivera, the longest-tenured player on the Borealis – and one of the most experienced post-season players in PEBA history (73 games), was asked as he got on the plane for Japan what it meant to be opening the series half-way around the world, on the other side of the Pacific, and he replied, “It’s really just another series – no tougher than heading to Bakersfield. If we hadn’t already flown out there a couple times this year, maybe it’d be different…” Aurora’s other long-time vet, Bryant Burris replied, “Sure the fans out there are boisterous – and man, they let you have it in the ‘pen, and the atmosphere is different than it is here in the States – I mean, I think this means a whole lot more to them than us, the merger and histories and all, but at the end of the day it’s about hits and outs and just winning another series – that’s what baseball is all about, winning series.”

Sure… and I’ve a bridge I’d like to sell you.

This will be a series that has all sorts of significant, historical sub-text to it – The Series that stamped the word ‘Planetary’ firmly upon the PEBA for good. This is the way it was supposed to be, post-merger Season 1: Aurora-Shin Seiki.