Antonio Armas Sr.’s Finest Game

Be it a walk-off grand slam or most putouts by a right fielder in a game, Antonio “Tony” Armas had an interesting MLB career.

Just at the entrance of callejón El Alacrán, before the brightly-colored walls wound off deeper into the city of Sucre, stood a big maroon door. As Pedrito and Ramón approached, they could already hear the voice coming from behind it — a voice strangely familiar, challenging, as though it had come from decades past.

“Today, the topic of discussion will dwell on the most impressive performance Antonio Armas Sr. had in a single game in Major League Baseball,” the voice said.

“Ramón,” Pedrito asked as they drew nearer. “Do you remember the Juvenile National Baseball Championship they played at Cumaná in August of 1970?”

“Of course I remember,” said Ramón. “I remember it as if it were yesterday. Don’t you? We went to the stadium every day to see the Sucre state team games.” He paused, gesturing toward the door. “And before we went, we stopped by this house to listen to all the comments they made about every team and the most impressive players.”

Pedrito would always recall that tournament. From the beginning, the two main contenders for the title were the Anzoategui and Sucre teams. He’d enjoyed the integrity and hustle of the Sucre players the most. But he’d known the Anzoategui team was going to be difficult to defeat, all the same.

***

Ramón opened the door. The men sitting down at the table were all aged, bald or white-haired. Pedrito and Ramón stood at the end of the corridor. A man with grey hair was standing and speaking — the voice they’d heard from outside.

As Pedrito and Ramón watched, the grey-haired man took out a yellowish clipped paper from his notebook. There he had the recap of a Boston Red Sox game in which Pokey Reese had hit homers inside the park and over the fence.

“On May 8, 2004, Reese hit an inside-the-park solo homer to the right-field corner of Fenway Park against Jimmy Gobble to give the Red Sox a edge 2-1 over the Kansas City Royals. It was the bottom of the fifth inning with one out. In the bottom of the sixth, Reese batted a two-run homer against Jason Grimsley, this time over the fence. He batted his homers in consecutive innings. Boston ended up winning that game, 9-1. But before Reese, Tony Armas Sr. had been the last Red Sox player to hit a home run and an inside-the-parker in the same game.”

He stopped, looking around the table.

“It took me several visits to the public library to get the box score of that game,” the grey-haired man said proudly.

The group of old men gave silent, considered nods.

Satisfied, the grey-haired man continued, this time reading directly from his own notebook. “Now listen to this. On September 24, 1983, the Boston Red Sox played against the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium. After two outs in the first inning, Jim Rice singled, and Armas smacked a dinger over the left-center field fence. Boston 2 – Detroit 0. In the top of the eighth inning, Jeff Newman doubled, and Jerry Remy flied out to center field. Wade Boggs singled, and Newman arrived to third base. Rice hit a sacrifice fly to center, and Newman scored.

“And then Armas hit an inside-the-park homer to left field!” The grey-haired man shook his head with amusement. “It must have been a great experience seeing Armas running all the way to home plate, since he wasn’t exactly a speedster. Armas hit his two homers against Dan Petry, a very good right-handed pitcher during the first half of the 1980s, and the Red Sox won that game, 5-3.”

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The grey-haired man closed his notebook with a flourish. “That must certainly have been his finest performance.”

***

As a bald man raised his hand and began to respond, all Pedrito could think about was the night he’d gone with Uncle Carlos to watch Sucre play Anzoategui. It was the preliminary round — both teams had already qualified for the final round robin. The Sucre team won that game, and though Pedrito didn’t remember the score, he still could hear Uncle Carlos’ complaints. Sucre had won, sure, but he wished they could have beaten Anzoaetegui in the round robin, when it actually mattered.

When Pedrito tuned into the conversation again, the bald guy was speaking of a game played on June 11, 1980 at the Oakland-Alameda County Stadium: Mike Norris for the Athletics against Jim Palmer for the Orioles. The A’s scored two runs in the bottom of the first inning as Rickey Henderson walked, stole second, and advanced to third on Murphy’s grounder to second. Consecutive singles by Dave Revering, Wayne Gross, and Mitchell Page plated runs. The O’s tied the game in the top of the seventh inning through an Eddie Murray’s homer — then, with two out, Pat Kelly hit a double to left field, and Kiko García drove him in with a single to center.

From then on, the game developed into a pitching duel between Norris and a parade of Orioles relievers: Tippy Martinez, Tim Stoddard, Sammy Stewart, all fulfilling their duties. But in the bottom of the 14th, Armas hit a walk-off grand slam, Oakland 6 – Baltimore 2. Norris hurled all 14 innings, allowing 12 hits, two earned runs, and two walks while recording five strikeouts.

As the old men nodded, Pedrito thought about raising his hand. As great as that game was, he could think of a better one.

***

One day, far in the past now, Pedrito’s mom had hired two men to paint their house in the town of Cumanacoa, 50 kilometers southwest from Cumaná. When Pedrito came home and saw a skinny guy moving on the ladder, painting the living room ceiling, he was struck with a sudden feeling of recognition.

“Were you a ballplayer for the Sucre state team in the 1970 Juvenile National Baseball Championship?” he asked.

The skinny guy almost fell off the ladder.

After two or three minutes of uncomfortable silence, Pedrito was about to leave, fearing he had talked to the wrong person. But the skinny guy finally responded. “Yes, I was the center fielder of that team,” he said, still facing the ceiling. “Why do you want to know about that? You must have been too young to have attended that tournament, even as a fan.”

“Yes, I was young. But I went to Cumaná stadium to all of the Sucre state games in that tournament. Your name is Cesar Campos, isn’t it? And you were the leadoff batter of that Sucre state team, right?”

The guy got off the ladder in a hurry.

“Yes, you’re completely right. I thought no one would remember me or that team since we lost that final game and the championship to the Anzoategui state team.”

Pedrito remembered how sad he felt, standing in the right-field bleachers after that last out was recorded. It took many minutes of consolation from his brothers until he finally agreed to leave the stadium. With everybody gone, even the happy people that had come from the nearby Anzoategui state, the ballpark looked like a cemetery.

“Do you remember that Antonio Armas was the left fielder of that Anzoategui team?” Pedrito asked Campos.

“Sure I do. Armas was a great ballplayer. He hit for power, he moved very well in left field, and most of all he had that tremendous arm. Everyone respected that arm.” Campos rubbed his eye — perhaps some paint had gotten in it, or perhaps the sting of memory. “Nowadays all the people laugh at me when I tell them I played against Antonio Armas in a National Championship.”

***

“I can think of another Armas game that was better,” Pedrito said.

Ramón pulled on Pedrito’s shirt in horror — the baseball club was sacrosanct, and only members were permitted to speak. To interrupt the discussion was an unthinkable act of disrespect. But it was too late. The old men all turned their heads, looking straight at Pedrito’s face, their own faces inscrutable.

After some discussion among them, they decided to listen to what Pedrito had to say.

“But make it quick,” the grey-haired man with the notebook said severely.

Pedrito smiled. He had read the story of the game so many times from the back of that baseball card that he knew every detail by heart. Then he discovered a site on the internet called Retrosheet and continued adding details to that file in his mind. And so, with Ramón looking on in disbelief, he began to speak:

“On June 12, 1982, the Oakland A’s arrived at Exhibition Stadium to face the Toronto Blue Jays. In the top of the first inning, the A’s scored two runs. Armas batted in one of them with a single to left field. In the bottom of that inning, he made the second out on a fly by Willie Upshaw. In the top of the second inning, Oakland scored one more run, and in the bottom of the second Armas made the second out again, this time to a Lloyd Moseby fly. In the third inning, the A’s scored four more times. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Armas made the first out on a fly by Rance Mulliniks.”

***

The next day, as Cesar Campos went to Pedrito’s house, he brought a green little bag. He arrived very early in the morning to avoid having to show what was inside the bag to his painting partner.

As Pedrito watched in awe, Campos took a grey jersey from the bag, smelling of old sweat with some dark brown spots by the left side. In the middle of the chest, in blue navy letters, was the word SUCRE. Then he pulled out the blue navy cap with a capital S in the front side. Campos put on the hat, and when Pedrito smiled, so did he. He put on the jersey, and the old smells of the ballgame mixed with the turpentine of the new paint on the walls. Campos climbed on the ladder and surveyed the room as if looking for his teammates on the field.

Pedrito had so many questions he wanted to ask. But the silence, holding within it all the emotion of that tournament, was too immense.

***

“In the bottom of the fifth inning,” Pedrito continued, “Rick Langford retired the side and completed a streak of 14 batters dominated in a row. He had only walked Mulliniks in the first inning. Barry Bonnell was the first out with a fly ball to Armas in right field. Moseby hit another fly that was caught by Armas.”

Ramón elbowed Pedrito in the ribs. The old men had stood up from the table and were inching closer with every word out of Pedrito’s mouth, surrounding Pedrito and Ramón like cannibals closing in on their prey.

In spite of Ramón’s obvious fear, Pedrito kept reciting the facts of the game, coloring each catch by Armas, describing every detail on the pitching performance by Langford. Each time he noticed the old men getting closer, Pedrito raised his voice as though he was Enrico Caruso or Luciano Pavarotti.

“In the sixth inning, Ernie Whitt broke Langford’s no-hitter with a single to right field. In the seventh, Armas made the second out on a fly hit by Dave Revering.”

The old men were completely upon them now. Pedrito extended his arms.“Come on, misters, please don’t get so close, it’s too hot here. We need some space to breathe.”

***

Campos took a glove from the little green bag. It had a triple C on the webbing, written in black ink: Cesar Campos, Centerfielder. He put the glove in his left hand and hit the inside of the glove with his right fist as if ready to start the first inning.

“We arrived undefeated to that final game, the same as the Anzoategui team. But they had lost to us in the preliminary round. So we had the big responsibility of winning the most important game in the tournament. We knew the Anzoategui team was a very hard team to defeat. They really had a great team. But we had prepared for a long time to win that championship; we wanted to celebrate with our people.”

***

“In the eighth inning, Armas caught the fly ball hit by Moseby for the first out, and Hosken Powell hit another fly ball to Armas’ glove. Langford lost the shutout since he conceded consecutive doubles to Whitt and Garth Iorg. Dámaso García flied out to right, and Armas gloved the ball for the third out.”

The old men were silent.

***

Inside the glove, there was a baseball. It had all the signatures of Campos’ teammates. And at the bottom, just by stitches, there was an almost-illegible signature: Armas.

Pedrito stared in awe. He looked up at Campos. Could it be?

“Yes, it was his signature,” Campos said, reading the question in Pedrito’s eyes. “I went to talk with him before batting practice at that final game. We wished each other’s teams the best of luck and exchanged signatures.”

For a moment, Campos was silent, looking down at the glove. “I never imagined he was going to play in Major League Baseball.”

***

“For the final inning, Langdorf got into some trouble by walking Mulliniks. Then Upshaw singled to left field. With men at first and second, Revering and Bonnell hit consecutive flies to the glove of Armas in right field. Langdorf got the win by inducing Moseby to ground to second base for the last out.

“With 11 outs in his glove, Antonio Armas had set a new MLB record of putouts by a right fielder in a nine-inning game.”

***

“Losing that game was terrible for us.” Campos shook his head, and in doing so almost fell down from the ladder again. Pedrito had to hold the ladder to avoid an accident. “We had the chance of winning it in the seventh inning. We loaded the bases with no outs and couldn’t score a single run.

“Freddy Mata, our pitcher, kept leaning on the wall at the bottom of the dugout for more than two hours after the game. None of us could even breathe. Our faces were down and full of tears. But when I looked at the rival’s dugout, I could see there was a player there looking back at us. Not to laugh at us, no. But as if he wanted to say he recognized we had made a great game.”

Campos stopped. He looked down at Pedrito. “I know it was him. It was Armas.”

***

The room was completely silent after Pedrito finished his story. After a few moments, though, the old men began to look at each other.

“How could it be possible,” the bald man finally said, “that one of the most important games in the Tony Armas’ MLB career has been ignored by all of the members of this discussion club?” His voice rose with each word. “We’ve been meeting here for more than fifty years. An omission like this is unforgivable!”

The old men began to clamor. Pedrito tried to calm them down, but Ramón grabbed him by his left arm and pulled him to the exit door.

“Let’s go, man,” Ramón said, hurrying the two of them out into the cool evening air. “These guys get very intense when they talk about baseball.”

***

Campos told Pedrito he had left baseball after that game. He didn’t keep in touch with anyone, even his teammates of that 1970 Sucre state team. But he would always remember all those talks he had with Antonio Armas before those two games between Anzoategui and Sucre teams. He, too, had dreamed of becoming a big leaguer. But his route in life was different.

Campos took off the hat, the jersey, the glove. He put them back in the green bag. He got back to painting.

***

Before saying goodbye that evening, Pedrito and Ramón went to the municipal stadium of Cumaná. When they got there, the stadium empty, Pedrito ran straight to the right-field wall. He began climbing it — like a little kid, allowed to play on the big field for the first time. Ramón protested at first, but when he saw Pedrito up there, calling down to him, he finally relented. The two of them sat up there, quiet, watching the last of the sun fade over the horizon.

“You know, Ramón,” Pedrito said softly, “after the Sucre team lost that championship in 1970, I went back to this stadium every Sunday. I did that for weeks. Months, even. At least ten times. I just couldn’t believe they’d lost.”

His words hung in the air, under the darkening sky. Pedrito thought of Antonio Armas — talking to Cesar Campos, watching from the dugout, his walk-off grand slam against the Orioles, his 11 putouts against the Blue Jays. The faded, scrawled signature near the seams of Campos’ old baseball.

Pedrito looked out at the municipal stadium at Cumaná, remembering the game Sucre had played and lost. He felt, for the first time, at peace.


Alfonso L. Tusa is a chemical technician and writer from Venezuela. His work has been featured in El Nacional, Norma Editorial and the Society for American Baseball Research, where he has contributed to several books and published several entries for the SABR Bio Project. He has written several novellas and books and contributed to others, including Voces de Beisbol y Ecología and Pensando en tí Venezuela. Una biografía de Dámaso Blanco. Follow him on Twitter @natural30.
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Jetsy Extrano
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Jetsy Extrano

Fine reading as always.

MadMonk
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Member
MadMonk

wow. that’s a great read. the power of memory and recollections. thanks, man.