NLA Spiel 27, Sep. 29, 02

Challengers 12032005316111
Flyers 001120000483
W: Brunner, R. L: Koller

Challengers again Champions

The Challengers did it again - for the fourth time in five years, the Challengers took the title as the best team in Switzerland, beating the Therwil Flyers three games to one.

The 2002 Swiss Champions Zürich Challengers
And they did it with what they are known for, their offense.

After beating their opponents 16-5 in seven innings in Game 3, the Challengers combined for 11 hits - five of them homers - to trash the Flyers 16-4.

The Flyers tried to mix up the Challengers' rhythm by mixing starter Stefan Koller and reliever Jacob Clinton on the mound, but the strategy backfired.

Neither pitcher looked as effective as they used to be. Starter Koller lasted on 1 2-3 innings before being lifted for the first time.

Clinton walked Anubis Benitez but picked him off to end the second inning.

But Benitez already homered in the first inning to lead off the game, and Harry Bregy's RBI-double plus Patrick Zöllig's run-scoring ground out put the Challengers up 3-0 after just two innings.

Anubis Benitez led all Challengers with two homers and five RBI's.
Koller again started the third inning, but quickly loaded the bases without retiring a single Challenger.

Again Clinton came on to put out the fire, and he was successful in doing so.

Armin Blickenstorfer hit a comebacker that enabled the Flyers to turn a 1-2-3 double play, and Kurt Kovac flied out to right to end the inning.

Of course, Koller started the fourth inning, but again without much success.

Nick Lehmann led off the inning by getting hit by a pitch, Zöllig singled, and Benitez plated both runners with his second homer of the game, and third in two days, to put his team up 6-2.

Challenger starter Roger Brunner cruised along as he allowed only a single to Daniel Eichenberger through the first three innings.

Alain Kurz' RBI-single in the fourth inning scored Koller from second base, but the Flyers' offense wasn't what it used to be.

Flyers coach Anthony Bennett then changed his plans and started Clinton in the fifth inning.

But even that didn't seem to bother the red hot Challengers as Tobias Siegrist led off with a walk and Blickenstorfer scored him with his fifth homer of the season.

The Flyers got two runs back on Eichenberger's two-run homer, but they weren't able to produce anything else.

Brunner allowed just three more baserunners in the sixth and seventh innings, and the Challengers were still leading 8-4.

Roger Brunner probably pitched the best game of his career in the clincher.
After switching pitchers back and fourth six times in the first six innings, coach Bennett decided to try Siegel on the mound to start the seventh.

It worked out as only Siegrist reached with yet another base-on-balls. But Blickenstorfer struck out and Kovac grounded out to end the inning.

But an incredible display of power offense in the eighth inning led to the icing of the champagne bottles in the Challengers' dugout.

Benitez collected his game-high fifth RBI with a single that scored Lehmann from third, and two batters later, slugger Jose Valdez followed with a huge grand-slam over the left center field fences for a commanding 13-4 lead.

It was Valdez' league-leading 10th homer of the season.

Landis then was called on to pitch the final two innings after having pitched a complete game victory the day before.

But what Randy Johnson is capable of doing, Landis is as well.

Eichenberger was the only baserunner as he received a base-on-balls with two outs in the ninth inning.

The Challengers' bench awaits the final out in the ninth inning.
But before that, the Challengers got greedy and scored three more runs off reliever Alain Kurz, the Flyers' eighth men on the mound.

Landis hit a sac fly that scored Bregy, an error by Siegel sent Zöllig home, and substitute Chris Palatinus hit an RBI-double for the final run for his team.

Landis retired Anthony Bennett to deep left field for the final out of the season, giving his team its seventh overall title after 1982, 1983, 1986, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

The Flyers, on the other hand, appeared in every Final since 1999, but lost all of them. They last won in 1996.

Game and season notes

Benitez set a new personal best with 26 walks - the second-highest total in Challenger history - , but also struck out a career-high 20 times. With 240 career hits, he moved into third place on the Challengers' all-time list behind Landis (439) and Valdez (252). ...Blickenstorfer had a career-high three sacs on the season. ...Bregy hit his first triple and first homer this season. He is the first Challenger since Gary Kochlefl in 1997 to hit two triples in a season. ...Brunner set a new career-high with nine doubles, but he also struck out a careeer-high 12 times. And he was also hit-by-pitch for the first time in his career. His five wins are the highest total since getting seven wins back in 1994. His record is 7-0 over the last two seasons. ...Kovac had one of the best rookie seasons ever, getting six doubles and stealing 17 bases. ...Landis' 21 doubles are the third-highest total in Challenger history. He popped out weakly to pitcher Koller in the first inning in his 1'000th NLA at-bat. He set a new career-high by striking out 15 times, giving him a total of only 111 in 1002 career at-bats. This year was his ninth in a row with at least one complete game pitched. He has pitched 756 innings in his career and has struck out 48 or more batters in his last 10 seasons, giving him a grand total of 807 K's. ...Lehmann scored a season-high three runs in the final game of the season. He had only 24 at-bats during the season, his lowest total since getting 15 in 1996. ...Manny Marchant has set new career highs with 14 stolen bases, 12 walks, a .541 on-base percentage, a .477 batting average, four wins, six saves, 37 strikeouts pitched and an ERA of 3.20 - second-best in Challenger history. ...Palatinus got the team's final RBI with his double in the top of the ninth inning. He also had the team's final RBI in 1999 on a solo homer off Kurz, giving his team a 12-11 win in the fifth and final game of that year's Finals. ...Benny Räber has gone undefeated (6-0) for the first time since his rookie season in 1996. ...Angelo Rodriguez scored a run in three of the four games he appeared in with the Challengers, and also getting three hits in 11 at-bats. ...Siegrist collected a career-high 18 walks, stole a record seven bases and also hit a career-high five sacrifices. ...After hitting eight homers in 2000 and nine in 2001, Valdez added one more and hit a league-leading 10 homers in 2002, giving him a total of 68 with the Challengers, second only behind Landis' 80. ...Zöllig tied his career-high by scoring 29 runs. But he also hit a record four doubles, received 20 walks and also struck out 12 times. His on-base percentage of .494 is his highest ever. ...The team has set only one record, the one for sacrifices. With 22, they beat the previous record of 18 from 1994 and 2001. The combined .480 on-base percentage was the third-best in the team's history behind 2000's .500 and 2001's .486. ...The six wins against the Flyers were the most against any Flyers team in history.