We are less than two hours from the commencement of RBA Saturday, which includes the 2012 RBA Championship. This season it will be contested by two teams who are both looking for their first title. Ft. Duquesne came into the league originally as the Chicago Wave, who never made the playoffs in their 7 years of existence. This is the Corsairs’ 2nd playoff appearance in their 4 years in the league, and their first trip to the Championship Series. Dunedin entered in the 2007 expansion, making this their 6th RBA season. The Clear Blues have been unquestionably the most successful of those 3 expansion franchises, as they are the only one to even make the postseason as yet. This is their 3rd trip to the playoffs and their 2nd trip to the Championship Series. In 2009, Dunedin lost to Las Vegas in what is the Effect’s only title to date.
The 2012 Ft. Duquesne Corsairs entered this postseason with the #1 seed and best record in the league at 53-28. They rode strong starting pitching, a powerful offense, and a bolstered bullpen to the Puckett Division crown. With their 1-2 punch of Kershaw and Verlander, they are a formidable opponent for any team, but their 3rd and 4th starters give them a chance to win any game. In their first round series against State College, Ft. Duquesne had to endure a mediocre Game 1 start from their ace and PMA winner Clayton Kershaw, but Ben Zobrist’s 11th inning HR walked them off with an opening victory. Justin Verlander proved equal to the task in Game 2, as Ft. Duquesne took a 2-0 series lead with a 4-1 win. The Cows snagged their only victory of the series in Game 3, in another extra inning affair, as Prince Fielder hit a walkoff HR in the 12th inning. And though the series only went 5 games, it was thrilling in many areas and will perhaps become exemplified by Game 4. Remarkably, it was the 3rd extra inning match of the series, and it was indeed the game on which the entire series turned. State College rode the momentum of Game 3 to hang 5 runs on Ryan Vogelsong in the first 2 innings, taking a 5-0 lead to the 6th. The Cows appeared to have a tied series well in hand. However, the Corsairs mounted an incredible comeback, first forcing extras, and then winning it with 4 in the top of the 10th. State College succumbed to Kershaw in Game 5, losing 4-1 to end the series.
The Dunedin Clear Blues came into the playoffs with the #2 seed and a 52-29 record. They coasted to the Larkin title, leading that division for most of the season, but they had to hold off a charging Elm Grove Cardinals squad in both the stretch run and the playoffs. Elm Grove was confident coming into the series based on their second half performance, the best in the RBA, and they followed this up with a 4-1 win in Game 1 behind their ace, Felix Hernandez. However, it was at that point that Dunedin found the close game magic that might carry forward into the Championship. Mixing and matching pitchers, they held off the Cardinal offense time and again. They took Game 2 4-2 behind their ace, Jered Weaver, and then Game 3 2-1 behind a remarkable performance by Jair Jurrjens. Once more, as usual, Game 4 was the keystone of the series. Dunedin used a different pitcher for each cycle through the Cardinal lineup, bringing them to the 9th inning tied at 2. And in that inning it was Cameron Maybin who hit a 2-out pinch-hit HR to give Dunedin the pivotal Game 4 win. And in Game 5, Dunedin pulled off one of the most remarkable closing games in playoff history, winning in resounding fashion, 8-0.
Both teams enter the RBA Championship after winning their divisions and then their first playoff series in 5 games. And for the first time since 2008, we have a matchup of teams that have played each other before in the postseason. In 2009, Dunedin and Ft. Duquesne faced off in the first round, in one of the more thrilling series to date. Ft. Duquesne won the first two games at home behind Justin Verlander and AJ Burnett before Dunedin charged back to tie the series with 7-0 and 8-2 wins in Games 4 and 5. The Corsairs took a 3-2 series advantage back to Ft. Duquesne by winning Game 5, but Dunedin prevailed with wins in those final two games. Joey Votto and Ryan Braun, as now, were big bats in Dunedin’s 4 wins, but the key shot was Mark DeRosa’s stunning 9th inning HR in Game 7. With Dunedin down 5-4 in that frame, DeRosa hit a 2-run HR to turn the deficit and send the Blues to their first RBA Championship series. Holdovers from that series include the aforementioned Braun and Votto, Dunedin hurlers Lester, Weaver and Jurrjens, Verlander, Kershaw, Pujols and Napoli on the Ft. Duquesne side. Ben Zobrist played for Dunedin and Placido Polanco played for Ft. Duquesne. Both have now switched allegiances.