AKRON, Ohio – Tony Franklin has spent the entire year working his way back from offseason knee surgery. When he walks, it’s with the gait of a man fighting against gripping pain. So when he took off in a full run toward home plate to dispute a late out call on Thursday night, one could easily recognize the urgency in his movement.
The argument was to no avail. Tom Woodring stuck with his call, which pictures later proved correct, and the Thunder eventually fell to Akron, 7-5, in Game 2 of the best-of-five Eastern League Championship Series at Canal Park.
With the Thunder down four and with runners at second and third, Rob Segedin shot a ball through shortstop and into left-center field. J.R. Murphy scored easily, but because the ball was hit in front of him, Mahoney had to freeze briefly. That, plus a momentary stop sign from Franklin before Tyler Holt bobbled the ball, cost Mahoney some time.
The throw in arrived just before Mahoney, and catcher Roberto Perez threw his body in front of the dish to cut off Mahoney’s path. His tag was high, though, and the play at the plate was very close. Mahoney briefly screamed at Woodring before Franklin interjected vehemently enough to earn an early shower.
“I thought I had cause to be out there on that play, because I definitely thought Mahoney had gotten in there before the tag was applied,” Franklin said. “Close play, no question about it, but from my vantage point from where I’m standing – and I’m a long way away – it just looked to me like he got his leg in there.”
The call changed the face of the game. Instead being down one with a runner on second and one out, the Thunder were down two. Adonis Garcia bounced harmlessly to short on the next pitch from Kyle Landis, killing Trenton’s rally.
Afterward, Woodring explained what he saw.
“I just had him going too far out. Never got his foot to the bag and he got blocked off the plate,” he said.
Mahoney, of course, disagreed. He thought that because the tag was high there was no way it could have come in time to beat his foot to the plate. He also added that he didn’t believe Woodring was in the correct position to make an accurate call.
“Coming home, I felt that the catcher was way too far away, for me, that he wasn’t going to make the play,” Mahoney said. “When he caught it he came at me high, so I went low, slid through the plate, and as soon as I hit the plate I popped up. … All I can say is it’s a tough call from where he was at. I didn’t think he was in the best position to make the call.”
Shoved aside by all the ruckus was a poor performance from Shaeffer Hall, whose gem in Game 2 of the Division Series helped swing the momentum back from Reading. Hall, a command specialist who needs to live down in the zone, was up all night, and he paid for it.
He allowed seven runs – five earned – in three innings before being yanked for Craig Heyer. No matter how far the series goes, Hall’s season finished in incredibly bitter fashion for a pitcher who has been a rock in the rotation not only this season, but since the beginning of 2011.
There was no doubt in the clubhouse afterward that this one is going to gnaw at him for a long while.
“I take a lot of pride in being that No. 1 or No. 2 starter in our rotation all year and going deep into games,” he said. “Having that pressure of being down 0-1 in the finals of the Eastern League, trying to get our team back on the winning track and tie this series up, I take a lot of pride in it. I wanted to do that for my team tonight and unfortunately I didn’t get that done.”
After a day off on Thursday, the series shifts back to Waterfront Park for its final act. In Akron, the Thunder are facing both their foe and, if they choose to look at it that way, their inspiration. The Aeros were down 0-2 to Bowie in their Division Series only to come back and win the final three games at Canal Park.
And although he knows the road isn’t going to be easy, the convictions Hall has formed by watching comeback after comeback over the last five months lead him to believe that if any team can overcome this deficit, it’s this one.
“We have three games left in this series, and I’m not counting us out yet.”