By Jim Buckley: The magic of Willie Kuhl (pictured) and the awakening of the Foresters’ slumbering bats keyed the Foresters’ latest big win at the NBC World Series, 6–3 over the Greeley Grays. They face the St. Joseph Mustangs from Missouri in the winner’s bracket final on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. Santa Barbara time.
Kuhl was simply magnificent, taking over from embattled starter Andrew Vasquez in the second inning with no outs and the bases loaded. With the Foresters down a run, he struck out the next three batters and went on to retire 18 straight Grays, half by strikeout, and 24 of the 26 batters he faced in his longest outing of the summer. Meanwhile, the Foresters backed up that sterling effort by coming back to recapture the lead with runs in the third, fifth, and sixth to give Kuhl the well-deserved victory. In all, the Foresters offense racked up eight hits including four for extra bases.
For the first time in this World Series, the Foresters got on the board first. After a leadoff walk to Arby Fields in the first, Richy Pedroza reached on a walk. After Pedroza stole second, Austin Davidson stroked a two-out single to center to score both runners.
The lead didn’t last long. Vasquez gave up a pair of hits to the first two batters, and then the Grays scored both runners on a bad-hop bloop to center that turned into a triple. A double that scored the go-ahead run was followed by Vasquez’s first walk of the game. An attempted sacrifice bunt turned into an infield hit that loaded the bases, and Vasquez was out of the game. But as the Foresters have done all tournament long, they turned to their bullpen for powerful relief. Kuhl came in to strike out three straight batters and the Foresters headed to their half of the second only down by a run.
In the third, Austin Davidson’s sacrifice fly scored Richard Sanguinetti with the tying run (and Davidson’s third RBI), after Sango reached on a base hit and moved around on his 16th steal and a groundout by O’Hearn. Buoyed by the success of Kuhl on the mound, two innings later, a Sanguinetti sacrifice fly scored Arby Fields, who had tripled to lead off the inning, to put the Sters back up to stay, 4–3. Robert Vickers had an RBI in the sixth on a double that followed a double by Austin Davidson. Vickers scored on a wild pitch, the first delivered by reliever Chris Hammer.
Kuhl went out for both the eighth and ninth and why not: The Grays simply could not figure out his tremendous mix of off-speed pitches and timely fastballs. Though Kuhl had not pitched more than 3 innings in a game all summer, on this evening in Kansas, he was all-world.
The win makes it 11 straight at the NBC World Series for Santa Barbara and 13 straight in 2012. They’re still guaranteed at least two more games in this tournament, starting with the winner’s bracket final Wednesday night.