The names of the hitters weren’t Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin. They were Conner Murray, Josh Zach, Adam Barletter, Chris Johnson and Alex Michaud. It didn’t occur in the 1934 All-Star Game. It happened in a Sunflower League game Tuesday evening at Lawrence High’s new baseball field.
Still, it was mighty impressive. Like another lefty 76 years before him, LHS senior Albert Minnis struck out five batters in a row. Carl Hubbell messed up the American League All-Stars with a screwball. Minnis twisted the vision and minds of the Olathe East hitters with a tight-biting slider that appeared to do precisely what he wanted it to do nearly every time he threw it, which was often.
The five-strikeout run against the Nos. 2 through 6 hitters started with the final out of the third inning and ended with the first out of the fifth. He was terrific on both sides of that stretch as well.
Minnis tossed a two-hit shutout, walked one, struck out 13 and hit a solo home run in the first inning of the Lions’ 6-0 victory against Olathe East.
Nothing about the way Minnis went about his business suggested this was a pitcher battling bouts of wildness, a pitcher trying to restore the consistently dominant ways of his junior season.
Mixing high fastballs with late-breaking sliders, Minnis had the hitters in defensive mode and looking confused. They had trouble distinguishing the pitches from each other and often took sliders that snapped into the strike zone and swung under fastballs.
Minnis credited a mechanical adjustment he made during a midweek bullpen session after studying film for his dominant outing.
“They were fishing because I was able to throw my slider for a strike or a ball at any time,” Minnis said.
Five of his 13 strikeouts came on called third strikes, and all 13 came in the first six innings. Before taking the mound for the seventh, Minnis was told by the coaches his pitch count had reached 95.
“I could have nibbled and tried for the strikeouts, but when it comes to that seventh inning, you don’t want to take any chances,” he said.
It’s difficult to watch Minnis without thinking about a potential pitching duel with Free State’s junior left-handed power pitcher/hitter Cody Kukuk. The city’s two high schools meet May 10 and again May 13.
What better way to call attention to what a great baseball town Lawrence is — six players on the Kansas University roster played for Lawrence high schools — than to have two big-time pitching prospects oppose each other? Such a duel would draw more radar guns than that stretch of road on Mass Street, just north of 23rd, where blinking lights violate rear-view mirrors all day, every day.
“I’ve texted Kukuk a few times,” about the possibility of the duel, Minnis said. “I think it would be awesome for the town. I think it would be awesome for Kansas baseball. He’s unbelievable, obviously. He’s having an unbelievable year. I think it would make for a really interesting game. Whoever gets that big hit’s going to win that game.”
The second city rivalry game will be played at Hoglund Ballpark. If there is a baseball god, the duel will happen then.