Even before winning his first ever championship last Friday, Michael Sullivan has had a fantastic JAL career... But despite that, his entire career had been littered with scrutiny. Since the end of his rookie debut in JAL 10 he had been labeled "that really good player who can't win a title," and even worse "a choke artist."
Over time his status as the butt end of "collapse" jokes got worse and worse, to the point where the whole ordeal became commonly referred to as the "Sullivan collapse saga." But all great stories have happy endings, and so to does this one. Today the JAL congratulates Michael Sullivan on finally overcoming the quest to become a champion and putting an end to this story that will undoubtedly go down as one of the best in league history. Let's take a walk down memory lane....
In his rookie season (JAL 10) Sullivan lead the Cobras to an undefeated 3-0 season at pitcher, but ended up losing to the bottom seeded Rapids 6-0 in the playoffs because of a horrendous final 2 innings..... Going into that game he was averaging an incredible 0.66 runs per game allowed and was surely on his way to winning MVP, but of course did not.
His next time out wasn't until JAL 13, but once again, the Cobras were championship contenders. In the National Conference Semifinals vs the Rapids (again) Sullivan looked as good as anyone has ever looked at pitcher in the league. He (and the Cobras) defeated them 6-0, and seemingly Sullivan had recovered from what happened in JAL 10... Only that wasn't the case. In the next round (the National Conference Finals) the Cobras took on the Storm and were heavy favorites. But once again, in the final 2 innings of the game, Sullivan surrendered the lead and the Storm won shockingly 3-2.
At this point, the jokes were in full swing. Now way it could happen again right? But sure enough, the very next season (JAL 14) the whole thing took a turn for the worst.
Throughout the entire JAL 14 season Sullivan was dominate. He lead the Cobras to the top seed in the NC and eventually to the WWCD Cup. His performances had him on pace to be the league MVP, and it carried over in the championship..... But only to the 4th inning. Heading into the 5th and final inning the Cobras lead the Express 1-0, but with 3 outs to go to victory, Sullivan surrendered 2 runs and the Express won it all. The whole thing was so bad that pretty much everyone is in agreement that it was the "most dramatic thing" that's ever happened in a game in league history. Even Sullivan admitted "I choked" afterward.
In JAL 15 (this last season), Sullivan began with the Cobras, but mid-way through the season was traded to the Express. In the team's final regular season game vs the Bambinos Sullivan took the ball and a win would have secured the #1 seed in the playoffs. Through 3 innings the score was tied 0-0 and Sullivan was red hot. Towards the end of the game though, he gave up the lead and then shortly after that gave up a grand slam which put the game away.
This narrative was never going to end until a week later in the JAL 15 playoffs. Of his team's 6 games in route to a title during the playoffs Sullivan pitched only 1 game (game 2 vs Washougal in the AC Semis). It was a closeout game for the series, so of course everyone was in anticipation of another inevitable "collapse," but Sullivan pulled through and got the win. His demeanor was even so serious in that game that despite the temperature being 34 degrees Sullivan wore no sleeves to have complete motion of his body.
For the rest of the playoffs the pitching was left to teammate Kyle Godinho, but make no mistake that Sullivan definitely earned his title... To finally get over the hump Sullivan did it with the bat instead of the ball. In the AC Semifinals he made work of Scott Coleman (Washougal pitcher) and then in the AC Finals he chipped away at MVP Colton Titus's confidence. In Game 1 of that series he helped hang 11 runs on the #1 seeded Bambinos - more than they had given up in all their games this season combined.
In Game 1 of the WWCD Cup (vs his former team, the Cobras) Sullivan was responsible for stretching the Express lead with an huge triple and they went on to win 3-0. In Game 2 he scored the team's only run in their 1-0 win by not biting on a high fastball with bases loaded and 2 outs.
In the end, Sullivan became a JAL champion, but ironically did so by playing great not at pitching, but batting. Surely some will still try to argue that the "collapse" legacy still continues to live on until he wins a title as the primary pitcher for a team. But if that turns out to be the case, then at least now Sullivan has a Championship Plate to eat a much deserved chicken dinner off of while he listens to their scrutiny.