One strike away from extra innings...

JUNE 5 - In a clash that will go down in Queen Anne AAA history, Caffè Ladro edged out Werner's Crash Shop in the second round of league playoffs, moving to the top spot in the tournament's semifinal and eliminating the regular season front runners from post season competition.

The scent of a classic pitchers' duel was in the air from the moment Ladro took the field, with their usual power closer, Jack "J.J." Lund, on the mound. But the Crash Shoppers' offense was not intimidated, and leadoff hitters Jake Adler and Lucas Ford got things started in an offensive direction with a one-two punch from the plate and steals all the way home: 2-0 Werner's. That was enough for Lund, who proceeded to strike out five of the next nine Crashers he faced. An airtight defense put on by the Thieves (look it up) shut off the few small openings Lund gave to the Shoppers before, to their great relief, his allotted time at the pitcher's spot ran out.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the inning, Werner's hot new starter, Christian Stewart, was answering in kind. After giving up a couple to the top of the Cafeterians' order, in three strong innings Stewart struck out five. The Body Man defense, anchored by shortstop Tyler Hoogendoorn and first baseman Sam Baldwin (and Stewart himself, who with Baldwin pulled off the game's only double play), took care of the rest: 2-2 tie.

Then things really got serious. Los Baristos replaced Lund with the legendary Abe Friedman, but the Fender Benders' Adler again rose to the occasion and managed to speed his way around early. 3-2 Werner's. Then Friedman brought the hammer down and struck out eight over the next three innings, and the omnipresent Lund added the ninth out with a picked-off pop foul.

Fighting firepower with firepower, Werner's countered Friedman with Ford, who took control and promptly retired the side for two scoreless innings. That brought the game to the bottom of the sixth with Werner's still on top by 1. Ford retook the mound to put the game away, and fanned the first batter up, but the Latte Pumpers turned up the pressure with a base hit-turned-triple from Joe Eskanazi. Unruffled, Ford cooled things off by fanning one more, but then Friedman connected for another three-bagger and all the gauges went to redline.

Ford turned the heat back on Lund, who followed Friedman at the plate. As Ladro's big home runner swung away, the Crashers' fearsome power hurler quickly pushed the count to two and two, and the stage was set.

The game was one strike away from extra innings, with the top of the Crasher lineup coming to bat, and one hit from a walkoff Ladro win. Ford was just starting back to the rubber to deliver the coup de grâce, and Lund was at the plate getting ready to pound it into fois gras, when there appeared from nowhere El Ladrito himself, Friedman, streaking down the third-base line two-thirds of the way home. Ford quickly spun and flipped an underhand right to Van Hoogendoorn, and the big Werner's catcher expertly applied the tag, but Friedman somehow slipped under it by an inch (some say less) and the game was up.

Friedman's big gamble paid off with all the playoff marbles. Ladro's 4-3 win assured it a prime spot in the semifinal round and brought Werner's fine winning season to an abrupt and surprising end. But it was a storybook ending to a ball game that everyone who played in it should be proud of, and none who watched it will soon forget.

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